Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
It’s something they never tell you in the romantic movie. The ending of the storyline so full of twists and turns, where he and she might not have ended up together but seemed destined to be together, is so happy and perfect. Both are all smiles, with stars in their eyes, when we see “The End” and the credits roll.
They never tell you what happens after the fairy tale wedding or the long-awaited kiss. He refuses to ask directions as they fade into the sunset. They argue over where to eat that romantic dinner. He speaks without thinking and says something thoughtless, followed by tense silence.
I am not critiquing one of the sacrosanct principles of romantic movies and books. Happy endings can be a great escape from reality and a feel good experience. Yet, when we hold it up as the unqualified expectation for our own lives, we set ourselves up for trouble. Social media is rife with posts and pictures which can perpetuate the fiction that the people we friend and follow are constantly living out “happily ever after.” Life is always grand, and success and satisfaction is the constant.
Don’t misunderstand. So much of what we experience in life is shaped by attitude. Being positive can help us negotiate those hairpin curves in the road of life. But, coping through positivity is different from allowing disappointment to make us disenchanted with failing to meet the unrealistic expectation that every problem and adversity can be wrapped up into a pretty, neat package with a frilly bow on top.
It’s quite the balancing act, isn’t it? Scripture teaches to think on healthy, beneficial things come what may (Phil. 4:8). Or, as Solomon puts it, “All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15). Yet, Job (14:1) and Solomon (Ecc. 2:23) do not sugarcoat the reality that life is often painful, grievous, and full of trouble both day and night.
May I offer some encouragement?
- To the newlyweds, neither of you is perfect and there is no way you can always agree and get along without mutual compromise and effort. You will have so many great days, but there will be some mountains to climb and valleys you must pass through. No couple out there is breezing through married life. Turning to one another (and God) rather than on one another when marriage is hard will forge your bond come what may (1 Pet. 3:7).
- To the new parents, though that baby looks perfect and angelic, he or she will introduce demands, needs, concerns, and challenges you never knew existed before. Each developmental stage will be accompanied by incredible highs and lows. As you look into the faces of your children, you will be looking at eternity and knowing the weight of your decisions and leadership. But, savor those little ordinary moments. You are placing puzzle pieces that will one day become your children’s picture of their childhood. How you handled the hard times will be at least as important as how you handled the fun times (Prov. 22:6).
- To the new Christian, it is right for you to relish the feeling of relief and joy over being forgiven and cleansed from sins. The burden of guilt has been lifted. You are experiencing something in Christ that you never knew existed. But, there will be difficult days. The devil lurks (1 Pet. 5:8). Selfish desires can derail (Jas. 1:13-15). Suffering for your faith should be expected (1 Pet. 4:16; Acts 14:22), but by hanging on your eternal destiny is better than you can imagine. Along the journey, you will grow, mature, and develop into someone better and stronger as Christ lives in you (Gal. 2:20).
- To the Christian who publicly repents, you had no idea how much support, love, and encouragement you were going to receive. You feel the relief of forgiveness and restored hope. There’s clarity and purpose where there had been confusion and distraction. Things are better now (cf. Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9), but the battles and temptations that led you away are still there. You will still have to face the consequences of bad choices, but you will not regret turning to God and your spiritual family for help. This is the first step of your rededication. Keep walking and never stop (Mat. 7:13-14; 1 Th. 2:12).
There are so many other phases and circumstances deserving the same kind of encouragement. The bottom line for each is the same. When viewed with heavenly eyes, each of us is staring at the ultimate happy ending. Even as our exterior deteriorates, our inner man is renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16). Our momentary difficulties will give way to incomparable glory (2 Cor. 4:17-18). The best is yet to come (2 Cor. 5). But, between now and then, we all have to negotiate bumps in the road. That’s OK. Keep following Christ on this narrow road and the “ever after” will transcend your greatest hopes (Mat. 16:24ff).