“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.
I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.
I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.
I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.
I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.
When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.
At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.
I’m convinced my dog is a whiz at recognizing her shapes and colors.
Maggie, my eleven-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, does not eat the brown triangles in her food. She’ll pick out her favorite parts, usually the chunks of turkey or chicken, and the brown triangles are scattered all over the floor. Some days there is a long trail, while other days it looks like brown triangle subdivisions have popped up on the kitchen and hallway floors.
Occasionally Henry, my soon to be five-year-old Labradoodle-Beagle mix will help by eating some triangles off the floor, but mostly they remain on the floor until I pick them up. What goes uneaten during the day gets thrown back into the food bin and dished out the next day. With a new day, the cycle starts once again. I try to remedy this problem by buying different food made into other shapes, but I occasionally slip up at the store.
For anyone who has been blessed with a Miniature Schnauzer, you know they are the perfect combination of sassy and sweet. They love to cuddle and give you a piece of their mind when they deem necessary (which can be a lot). Maggie also loves to play and chase after the rabbits and cats who dare come into her tri-county territory.
When I first noticed the brown triangle issue, I tried to reason with Maggie, unsuccessfully of course. I was reminded of the scene in Turner & Hooch when Tom Hanks’ character made Hooch hamburgers with buns. Hooch was barking in the middle of the night, which woke Hanks up and he told Hooch to “eat the buns” if he was still hungry. I sympathized with Hanks’ character.
I have learned with dogs to go with the flow. Dogs, like people are who they are at a certain point, and they’re not going to change. Maggie is set in her ways and I embrace the brown triangles. I cherish everyday I have with my dogs because I know their lives are always too short. I also think about how blessed I am to be able to provide for my dogs in that Maggie is able to pick and choose what she wants to eat. A lot of dogs have to eat what they find and can’t be choosy (like a lot of people too, unfortunately). My advice to my fellow fur parents is to embrace your dog’s quirks because it makes for an interesting life.
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.
If you or someone you know suffers from inflammation, whether it’s from a type of arthritis or another chronic health condition, the pain is always an issue. I know from my experience, the pain varies from day to day. However, I do my best to keep moving and stay active.
Physical sickness can also intertwine with our mental health and our spirituality. If you deal with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, chronic physical pain can exacerbate the problem. Chronic pain, whether we want to admit it or not, affects our way of thinking and how we view the world. In our pain, we may seek God and doctors for answers, but we can become spiritually discouraged when the pain continues.
I live in Indiana, where the summers are very humid to go along with the heat. In the past, my joints seemed to be affected by rainy patterns and cold fronts, but this was the first summer I noticed the inflammation being off the charts. I have sought medical advice for the inflammation, taken up a new regimen of self-care, and I have also studied a little Scripture about it.
Proverbs, an Old Testament wisdom book, gives practical and spiritual advice on many life matters, the link between our spiritual,mental, and physical health being no exception. I just want to share some of what I came across to encourage you today.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22, NASB).
“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” (Proverbs 15:13, NASB).
“The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but as for a broken spirit who can bear it?” (Proverbs 18:14, NASB).
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25, NASB).
“A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30, NASB).
“Bright eyes gladden the heart; good news puts fat on the bones.” (Proverbs 15:30, NASB).
As you go through your day, I want you to be encouraged. I also want you to make sure to work on every aspect of your health- spiritual,mental, and physical. God bless.