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.
“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.
Electronic devices have changed the way we live, work, communicate, entertain and inform ourselves. However, a tiny glitch, freeze, crash, or virus in our laptop, TV, phone, tablet, or gaming console can temporarily disrupt our lives and cause us frustration. When these issues arise, we can always reboot the device and hope that takes care of the problem. The manufacturer, knowing the fragility of the devices, provide us a way to reset when problems come up.
Wouldn’t be great if life had a reset button?
No matter what you are facing in life- the death of a love one, a divorce, a chronic sickness, job loss, depression, anxiety, or anything else life throws at us, we have a chance everyday to reset. Though we can’t change what has happened, we are able to change our perspective and response to the problem.
Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?” we ask, “What can I learn from this?” What if we were able to look at our difficulties as opportunities for growth? I’ve spent a lot of time in my life bemoaning “woe is me,” and wondering why events happened the way they did. If you are going through that, let me save you some time- that thinking is a dead end street. We always want to look for reasons or try to figure out where our situation fits in with a divine plan, but we are better off moving forward.
Changing our perspective and growing though life’s difficulties involves a lot of work- dirty, sweaty, grimy, yucky work. When we come to that point, we have to examine ourselves and work towards making today better than yesterday. You will have to face some truths about yourself, but you will also discover an inner strength and resolve to face the world.
The work doesn’t have to take years. If you are willing to work at it, you can get through it in a matter of months. You set the pace. In the months since my wife filed for divorce, I have spoken to a therapist, began the process of dealing with my depression and anxiety, I find time to meditate, and I have gone back to church. I don’t say that to brag, I know I have a long way to go. I am also dealing with chronic health problems as well, which affect my energy and mindset on a daily basis. Every morning I hear the alarm or the dogs whining to go out, I attempt to see the day as a chance to improve upon yesterday.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”-Mike Tyson
The greatest coaches and managers across all sports are able to make adjustments. These coaches and managers will study hours of film and spend additional hours putting in a game plan. It’s game day and all hell has broken loose. The plan isn’t working. The opponent has found a hole in your defense and is exploiting it. The offense can’t score, let alone gain any ground. What does the coaching staff do?
Make adjustments, that’s what the coaching staff does. The team gets together at halftime and tweaks the plan. The ability to adapt to an unplanned situation could mean the difference between a coach hoisting a championship trophy or being unemployed at season’s end.
Adaptability is a necessary skill in life. Adaptability is the difference between moving forward or staying stuck in an unfavorable situation. How do you adapt when a once solid relationship falls apart? What do you do when your financial bottom line changes? How do you handle a life-altering diagnosis? A crisis of faith?
I have chronicled many of my life’s changes and struggles from my mental and physical health to my current situation, which is my impending divorce. It is still early in the divorce process, and I know the process has to play out. However, I never thought I would be making this particular “midlife adjustment.” This 1275 square foot home looks empty and sounds very cavernous, especially when the dogs bark. However, I am making the best of the situation, and adjusting my financial lifestyle. I have never been a man of means, but I have found some fat that needs to be trimmed.
Adapting to life’s changes doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying your life. This lesson I learned after my Celiac disease diagnosis. I had to be diligent in reading food labels and look out for the words”wheat,” “barley,” and “rye.” I have since learned there are derivatives of these products as well. I would often lament over the food I couldn’t have, but I learned to enjoy a bevy of new foods. Truth be told, many of the gluten-filled foods weren’t that good for me in the first place. If I can change my eating habits at thirty-nine, I can make adjustments from a divorce at forty-one.
I know it sounds cliche, but I am getting through this process one day at a time. It’s just me, the two dogs, the guinea pig, and the turtle. I must continue to take care of my physical and mental health in this situation, as the stress of all this has affected my body. My wife and I have told our immediate families, but there has not been a widespread announcement, which will come shortly. Part of me wants to get it out there and into the open, but another part of me doesn’t want the barrage of questions and the looks of judgments from others.
This looming divorce was never in the game plan. In the back of your mind, you always ask the “What if” questions of life, but you never see it coming. This was the punch in the mouth I did not expect, but I am clearing out the cobwebs. I have had my good days and the bad days that make you want to dig a hole and stay there, but I know I must persist. I will be fine. A long period of adjustment is coming, but I am willing to do the work and improve myself.
Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) is considered to be both one of the last great emperors of Rome and along with Seneca and Epictetus, one of the pillars of Roman Stoicism. Aurelius’ book Meditations serves as a great insight into the mind of Aurelius and provides a framework of Stoic philosophy. However, Meditations isnot a book written for the public, but was Marcus Aurelius’ personal journal, written on the war front and during his quiet time at the palace.
Book One of Meditations details the list of people who have influenced Aurelius on his life’s journey and what he received from each of them. For example: “From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper. From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness. From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrong doing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.”1
Aurelius’ note on Appolonius really embodies Stoic aspects: “…to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness…”2
Stoicism as a philosphy is about focusing on improving our inner character, controlling the things within our control (thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions) and not worrying about what’s not in our control (our reputation, whether or not we’ll be famous, the weather, to give a few examples). Aurelius is what we could call a reluctant politician, but he recognized that we cannot control how people act, we can only control our response to them. Book two starts off with this applicable nugget of wisdom:
“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling,ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own- not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong.”3
Other major themes throughout Meditations:
*Live each day as if it was your last, not with reckless abandonment, but careful thought given to your ways andwords, doing all with excellence.
*Look for the beauty in everything.
*Minding our own business,working on improving ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or being judgmental.
*Being adaptable to whatever circumstances come our way.
*No matter how long we live, the same fate, death, awaits us all, as it did the generations before us and the generations after us.
*Manage our perceptions, thereby, we manage our judgments of events.
*What happens to you as an individual affects the whole of humanity.
The Stoics have often been characterized as being emotionless, which is far from the truth. The Stoics were people of great inner reflection and who were able to manage their emotions, thereby keeping their perspective of circumstances. As Aurelius wrote:
“Reflect often on the speed with which all things in being, or coming into being,are carried past and swept away. Existence is like a river in ceaseless flow, its actions a constant succession of change, its causes innumerable in their variety: scarcely anything stands still, even what is most immediate. Reflect too on the yawning gulf of past and future time, in which all things vanish. So in all this it must be folly for anyone to be puffed with ambition, racked in struggle, or indignant at his lot-as if this was anything lasting likely to trouble him for long.”4
Where do we fit into this scheme?
“Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny-what fraction of that are you?”5
Stoicism began to decline after Aurelius’ death, which coincided with the rise of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Stoicism, however is making a comeback of sorts, as there are business leaders, athletes, and everyday people who are putting its principles to practice. I also find that Stoicism is compatible with my Christian faith, as some of Aurelius’ passage echo themes found in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
You don’t need to have any extensive background in philosophy or religion to read Meditations, as Aurelius brings forth his points that are still relevant almost 2,000 years later. What if we were to focus our limited time on improving ourselves and not pointing the finger or bickering with each other? What if we could see that others are like us, they too are on their own journey, trying to find their place in the world? I will leave you with the perspective of Aurelius- we are all in this together, let’s make the best of it.
“All things are meshed together, and a sacred bond unites them.Hardly a single thing is alien to the rest: ordered together in their places they together make up the one order of the universe. There is one universe out of all things, one God pervading all things, one substance, one law, one common reason in all intelligent beings, and one truth- if indeed there is also one perfection of all cognate beings sharing in the same reason.”6
1Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translation and notes by Martin Hammond. London: Penguin Books (2006): 3.