Mark 9:17-27 tells the story of a desperate father who longs for his sick son to be healed.
“…Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” (Mark 9:17-18, NASB).
After Jesus laments the generations unbelief, He calls for the child to be brought to Him. The child immediately goes into a convulsion. Jesus asks the father how long this has been happening and the father replies:
“From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:21-9:22, NASB, emphasis mine).
I sympathize with the father here. When I was a small child, I suffered with seizures. I don’t remember having one, but I’ve heard stories from my parents and other family members. I was never diagnosed with epilepsy or any disorder, but I took medication until I was ten years old. When I read the father’s words, I can hear the helplessness he must have felt when his son had these attacks. My parents must have felt the same way when I had a seizure. (For the record, I’ve not had another seizure for over thirty years).
Jesus then puts the emphasis on the father’s faith: “‘If you can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23, NASB).
“Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.'”
Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the child, which causes more convulsions before the child is healed and freed from the demonic spirit.
We often look at this story as one of Jesus’ miracles, which it is or we only walk away with the “All things are possible verse.” However, as I re-read these verses this week, I really empathized with the father. I have been in those desperate situations, whether it be health, financial, marital or loved ones dealing with a sickness, only to have my faith tested. When the pain goes on for a long time with no answers in sight, the doubt creeps into our spirits. We question what we know, we question God, and we question the point of having faith.
Mark’s text doesn’t say how old the child was, but he dealt with this spirit for a long time. I know the father had to be emotionally and spiritually drained from the ordeal. I’ve been wearied through many battles myself and I’m sure you have as well. I believe the worst thing we can say to someone is “you just need more faith.” I believe this statement is damaging to one’s spirit and reflects our ignorance of someone’s situation. We don’t know someone’s level of faith. We truly don’t know what someone has gone through up to that point. The best thing for us to do is to love and accept someone right where they are. God bless.
“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”1 -Epictetus
I don’t deserve this. I try to do everything right. I show up and do my job. I’m a dedicated spouse and an even more dedicated parent. Why am I suffering? Why is God silent? Why is He allowing this to happen?
Does that train of thought sound familiar? I have gone through that script so many times, I should’ve been nominated for a major acting award.
(Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer: No one, under any circumstances deserves to be abused, mistreated, harassed, or tormented by anyone else. If you find yourself in that situation, please seek help).
Deserve. A word which signifies an entitlement or something that is owed to us. We often think of deserve as a reward for doing the right thing, for not acting like everyone else around us. Deserve means we should be spared from a life of pain and suffering. However, all of us, deep inside know that is not the case.
Life is unfair. Legal or social justice does not always prevail. A husband or wife can decide they want out after decades of marriage. You can be fired or laid off from that job for which you earned while climbing the corporate ladder. A retirement fund or savings account can be wiped out with one swift downturn in the market or a major illness. You may have reached middle aged or older only to find yourself starting over. Life is unfair.
To paraphrase the above Epictetus quote: It’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we get. We must manage our expectations of love, marriage, career, health, and everything else we deal with in this life.
I never thought my health and career would take a turn for the worse at thirty-eight. I never conceived that I would be divorced three years later. I didn’t expect to start over in a one bedroom apartment. Life will take you places you don’t want to go. Life will drag you kicking and screaming if it must. However, it’s not all bad and you are tougher than you think you are.
I agree with Epictetus that we must temper our expectations as we go through life. I’m not saying to prepare for catastrophic failure, but we must train ourselves to adapt to changing circumstances. Jesus said that in this world, we will have tribulation, but we can take solace in knowing He has overcome the world. The Buddha said existence is suffering. Yoda said that we must let go of everything we fear to lose. Basically, bad times are going to come, we must find peace and contentment in the worst of circumstances. To use a sports analogy, if our game plan is not working, we must be able to make adjustments on the fly. Embrace where you are and God bless you.
1Epictetus The Art of Living: A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 7.
Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.
I’ll never be successful.
How can anybody love me?
I’m a failure.
How could she do that to me?
I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.
The list goes on and on.
Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.
The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.
As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes. My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?
Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”
As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.
Focus on what you can control
We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.
Temper your expectations
There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.
This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7, NASB.
There is a sharp contrast between the light and the darkness. When I take my dogs out first thing in the morning, it’s still dark outside. The apartment parking lot is dark, but a street lamp lights up the grassy area adjacent to the building. I walk my dogs over to the grassy area, but sometimes they are curious about their surroundings and I have to tell them to “get into the light.”
Get into the light. A simple statement with spiritual implications. Jesus referred to Himself as “The Light of the world,” (John 8:12). Jesus also calls us to be light in the dark world around us. If your electricity were to go out and left you in the dark, just the act of turning on a flashlight or lighting a candle, penetrates the darkness. The darkness cannot seize total control as long as there is light. We need light in our current world, as we are surrounded by darkness on all sides.
As I write this, the date is September 11, 2019, the 18th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I remember well the darkness and the terror of that day. Evil made its presence known that day, as nearly three thousand people lost their lives. There were equal parts tragedy, horror, confusion, and anger in the ensuing aftermath. 9/11 is that “where were you?” event of a generation, the same as Pearl Harbor or the John F. Kennedy assassination was to previous generations.
For a brief moment of time, light shined in the darkness, as the world came together to mourn. For a brief moment differences were put aside, as they seemed petty and insignificant compared to the catastrophic losses suffered on that day. However, that unity was short-lived because of the responses to the war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan which followed 9/11. The division and hatred has only grew worse, as we are now in a time of deep political and personal division.
How are we as Christians to respond to the current climate? We must follow the words of the Apostle John and simply walk in the light of Christ. We have a living hope that the world needs. We cannot allow ourselves to fall victim to the darkness and feel overwhelmed, but we must shine our light. We must walk in the darkness. Even if we are a mere street lamp in a dark parking lot, we must shine.