Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Archive for the tag “Disease”

Becoming Perfect

I’ve learned so much about following Christ over the almost twenty years that I’ve been dealing with this frustrating disease known as ALS. It’s been a long and, in every sense, a painful road to travel. But, from a Christian perspective, it’s these difficult trials that are supposed to shape and perfect us:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

One word stands out to me when I read the above passage – perfect.

Perfect: being entirely without fault or defect: flawless b: satisfying all requirements: accurate.

Jesus did say that His followers were to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). That’s a tough standard; the toughest of all standards. It’s kind of funny to think about now, but before making a commitment to follow Christ, back when I was still committed to following myself, Matthew was the first book I read; I’m kind of surprised I didn’t throw that Gideon Bible across the hotel room when I came to that part about being perfect.

I was so far from perfect back then, but I’m still so far away; “perfect” seems as far from me as a tiny star in the darkest of nights. But it was a tiny star that led the kings of east across the wilderness to Jesus. Like that tiny star, “Perfect” is unattainable for even the best of Christ’s followers, but it should always be our focus. I think that’s what Jesus meant.

Even late in his life, after suffering through many difficult trials, the Apostle Paul knew that he still wasn’t perfect, but he still had perfection as his goal:

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:12-13)

If I asked for some examples of spiritual imperfections, most of us would give examples like gossiping, angry outbursts, impatience and so many other faults of our words and/or actions.

One would think, as I once naively thought, that if a person was unable to speak or move, it would be easier for him or her to become spirituality perfect. As someone who can’t speak or move, I now know this isn’t the case.

Religion is all about right and wrong actions, but Christianity is a lifelong journey of perfecting the spirit and the soul (mind, will and emotions) of man. Actions are important, of course, but only if done with the proper motives.

“But the fruit of the Spirit (Godly character) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Before ALS paralyzed my body and silenced my voice, I wrongly believed the above passage only applied to our actions. Now I know different. ALS (not being able to move or speak) has forced me to focus on my spirit and thought-patterns. This can be a frightening process, like confronting long-entrenched demons. But, on the road to becoming perfect, this is a process that we all must go through, and it shouldn’t take a terminal diagnosis to force us into it.

Over these difficult years of struggling with this dreadful disease, I’ve discovered that the fruit of the Spirit, or lack thereof, is more about our inner man. Good actions can just be an act.

How do you know if your actions are directed from godly (perfect) motives?

The first and most important thing is to determine whether you’re doing the act to please God or man.

A people-pleaser will never be viewed as perfect in the eyes of God. Christians motivated by a desire to please God will be viewed as perfect in His eyes. But, their words and actions will not be viewed favorably by all men. Jesus is proof of this.

Jesus is the only perfect (flawless, sinless, righteous…) being that’s ever stepped foot on earth. He was despised by both secular and religious people. Keep that in mind when you’re standing up for what you believe; this is the greatest and most difficult action of all.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Life Goes On

“Life Goes On”

Whether we’re going through the worst of times or the best of times, history and our own experiences show us that life does go on. This is true, but I don’t recommend saying “life goes on” to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

“There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven —
A time to give birth and a time to die…
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

I thought about the above passage last week when our daughter gave birth to a beautiful seven pound girl on Wednesday, then a close friend died of cancer on Friday – “A time to give birth and a time to die.”

Those who are grieving and those who are rejoicing have this in common – life goes on for both of them.

life goes on quote
It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in 1996 that the neurologist informed me that I had ALS and would likely be dead in three or four years (so much for predictions). I vividly remember driving home that day in stop-and-go traffic. I was exhausted after three long days of examinations so Mary was driving and I spent much of that long drive home staring out the window at the other drivers. I imagined that they were thinking about dinner or maybe they were making plans for the weekend ahead. In the midst of horrible news, when it seems that our life will never be the same, the world seems like such a cold and cruel place when you look around and realize that life goes on just as it always has.

Compared to life’s great highs and lows, day-to-day life can seem so trivial. When we experience the extreme highs and lows, we tell ourselves that we’ll never again settle for the trivial life. But our emotional or spiritual highs and lows gradually find their old balance, and we return to a mundane normalcy. I think this is the root cause of much of the addiction and depression we see around us; “life goes on” is difficult for many people to cope with.

What’s the answer?

Even for someone that’s been paralyzed by a horrible disease and can no longer eat or speak, “life goes on” can be a great message if you truly learn to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

I try not to focus on the personal and professional “highs” (or the financial gains) that I’ve missed out on over the last 19 years. Instead, I make a conscious effort to focus on the good things in my life, like our beautiful new granddaughter, and to share in the highs and lows of others. Living vicariously through others is not the life that I envisioned, but years ago I concluded that the only alternative was to throw a pity party and make myself and everyone around me miserable. I’ve been to several pity parties, and I didn’t like the company (me, myself and I) or the hangover of guilt.

Life is hard, but it’s much easier if we surround ourselves with people that won’t only rejoice with us in the good times but will also support us in the difficult times. I’m so thankful that Mary and I have family and friends like this.

For my daughter, her husband, their son and their beautiful baby girl, life goes on.

Lauren and Peyton 2
For the family of our friend that passed away last Friday, life goes on.

But the great news is that the friend we lost was a committed follower of Christ so life goes on for him also.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Revelation 21:4)

Life goes on!

I Can’t Resist A Good Challenge!

Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Top $100 Million in 30 Days compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 29).

Mary looked at me like I was crazy when I told her that I wanted her to dump a bucket of icy water over my head.
“You might gasp and breathe in water and choke,” she warned. But after a few days of prodding she finally agreed to play her roll in the Ice Bucket Challenge. I was hoping that the ice cold water being poured over my head would cause me to jump out of my chair and run, like my Australian friend, Phil, but (SPOILER ALERT) unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Seventeen years ago, almost a year after being diagnosed with this horrible disease known as ALS, I was asked by MDA to participate in the local portion of the Labor Day Telethon. As one of the reporters was asking for donations to help cure ALS, he said, “It’s too late for Bill…” I know that sounds harsh, but it took everything Mary and I had not to burst out laughing on live TV.

Medically speaking, that insensitive reporter was right. I think that’s what made his statement so funny; there’s no need to state the obvious, especially when the dying man is sitting three feet away. Those diagnosed with ALS live an average of 3 to 5 years (I’ve always wondered why they don’t split the difference and just say 4 years). I doubt that the reporter or any of the doctors that diagnosed me would have thought I’d be typing a blog post with an eye-tracking computer 18 years later.

That’s the whole point, nobody really knows what the future holds. We hope and pray for a cure for so many horrible diseases, especially those that have devastated our life or the the life of someone we love. We may not know what the future holds, but we should do our best to leave the world better than we now find it. Yes, dumping a bucket of icy water over your head and/or giving a small donation to the ALS Association, might seem insignificant and even silly in the grand scheme of things, but I’m convinced that these people are trying to shape a better future for those suffering with ALS.

Thank you so much!

When God Intervenes

Before having ALS, I would have thought that it would be the big effects of this disease that cause the most frustration—things like not being able to walk and talk. But it’s losing your ability to do simple things, things you once did with little or no effort, that cause the most frustration. Imagine having an itch you can’t scratch or having a mosquito biting the back of your hand and all you can do is sit and watch as it becomes fat with your blood, leaving another itch you can’t scratch.

Being confined to a wheelchair and not being able to speak would be more bearable if I was able to read books, but even that once-simple pleasure is now impossible. I was especially frustrated with my inability to hold a book and turn its pages when I received a copy of a book titled “When God Intervenes” in the mail two weeks ago. This book was written by a friend named Dabney Hedegard, and I had been looking forward to reading it since she told me about it several months ago. Fortunately, Mary had also been looking forward to reading it so she volunteered to read it to me.

The reason I used the example of not being able to scratch an itch is because the book begins with Dabney visiting doctor after doctor and having test after test to determine what was causing the constant itching all over her body. (I began to itch just thinking about it). Every doctor said or inferred that Dabney was a Hypochondriac. She would soon prove all of those doctors wrong, the hard way!

hedegards

Dabney endured the constant itching and the sleeplessness that came along with it for five tortuous months. Then, as Dabney retells it in the book, something happened that, by comparison, made her constant itching and the exhaustion seem like a minor annoyance: “I propped my feet on the couch and scratched across my belly, trying to chase away the tickles. In the silence of my apartment, I tried to nap. But my midmorning indigestion had progressed into a heavy weight against my lungs. The roll of fruit-flavored TUMS refused to calm the pressure. Then it happened. One gasp followed by strained constriction— as if someone had popped my lung. I banged my fist to my chest to pound out some relief. Nothing. Sitting up straighter, straighter, I struggled to suck in air. “I c-can’t breathe…”

Dabney’s husband, Jason, rushed her to the ER where doctors discovered a football-sized tumor in her chest; it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In some cases, for some unknown reason, this type of cancer can cause the itching that she was experiencing. To complicate matters and add to the drama of this miraculous story, Dabney was six weeks pregnant with their first child.

This was the start of what would become a ten year trial; a decade of Jason and Dabney having their faith repeatedly tested and God intervening time after time with miracle after miracle. A ten year trial that included four near-death experiences and twice doctors telling Jason, “She’ll never make it through the night.”

“…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint…” (Romans 5:3-5)

The above passage came to my mind when I read what Dabney said this book was about: “This story is about an ordinary girl in search of hope.”  Mary and I saw that passage unfold in Dabney and Jason while reading “When God Intervenes.” This “ordinary girl” finds the hope that she was in search of and is now giving that hope to others through her public speaking engagements, her blog and now through this inspiring new book.

And no, I’m not recommending When God Intervenes just because Dabney flattered me by including a quote from one of my blog posts in the book. I’m recommending this book because reading it encouraged us and increased our faith and hope and I know it will do so for you also.

To order When God Intervenes, click here.

Why Me?

I’ve become convinced that for a Christian to retain hope in the midst of a trial, he or she must believe that God allowed the trial for a purpose; a purpose greater than what Christ would have been able to accomplish in and through that person apart from the trial.

“…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

They might phrase it differently, but I think every Christian that goes through a difficult trial will eventually ask “Why me?”  But I’ve learned that our motive behind asking this seemingly simple question tells a lot about how we view God and how we view ourselves.

The first man asks the question like this: “Why me; out of over 6 billion people in the world, why did I get ALS (or whatever)?” He’s really asking, “Why didn’t God put this on one of the other 6 billion + people?” This man has a warped view of God and an exalted view of himself. He views his trial as pointless and thought that he was somehow exempt from the suffering of humanity.

I know what I said about this first man sounds harsh and judgmental, but I know this man well; in a spiritual and emotional sense, I wrestled with him for several months after being diagnosed with ALS. Thankfully, with the help of God’s word, wise counsel from Christian friends and a well-timed conversation with our then non-Christian next-door neighbors, I began to see that there was a purpose behind my trial and I defeated that “woe is me” man that was trying to get into my head. (More about our next-door neighbors further down).

The second man asks the question like this: “Why me; what’s God’s purpose behind allowing this horrible trial?” This man has the correct view of God and of his place in the world. As a Christian who knows the Bible, this man knows that God wouldn’t have allowed this trial unless He had a purpose.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

That verse can only be true if we have an eternal (“Big Picture”) view of our trial. God still heals and performs miracles, and I believe that we should always pray for that result. But regardless of the outcome, God can bring about eternal good from every trial. In a hundred years, the eternal good that came from our trial will be the only thing that matters.

Trials cause the person going through the trial and those that are close to that person, to focus more on the spiritual and the eternal things because, by comparison, the temporal and the material things begin to look more and more insignificant.

god's purpose“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Back to our next-door neighbors: Mike and Lorraine were not followers of Christ when we met them. We did our Christian duty and invited them to church and tried to share the “Good news” with them; even our girls (then 4 and 7) invited them to church, but all to no avail. (They later told us that they mocked us in private. I could relate; I once mocked Christians too. Let’s be honest: making fun of Christians is so easy).

But after I was diagnosed, they began to reexamine the faith that was sustaining our family through this trial. Lorraine told me; “…When you were diagnosed with ALS I began to see a man who held no anger with the God that ‘allowed’ this to happen. Then you began to demonstrate trust in God’s plan, I saw your faith and I saw 2 little girls accept what God was doing in your lives and I began to wonder how such young children could love God unconditionally. I opened my heart first to the possibility that this might be good thing for me as well. Then I finally got it and allowed my brain to accept the basic truth that God is only good, loving and faithful…”

Mike and Lorraine committed to following Christ and now faithfully attend church and share their faith with others. (Now people probably make fun of them). Would they have committed to following Christ if we had not gone through this trial? Only God knows the answer to questions like that. The only thing I know for sure is that this trial has strengthened my faith and given me more confidence for sharing that faith.

But I admit that trials can sometimes feel like you’re serving a prison sentence; especially when you have ALS and you’re imprisoned in your own body. But the Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament while imprisoned and many of his fellow prisoners and the guards that observed Paul became followers of Christ. Only Jesus can spread a message of hope through a prisoner!

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

God Doesn’t Make Sense!

The fact that God’s nature was difficult for me to understand used to be a real challenge to my faith. This was especially true after being diagnosed with ALS. I don’t remember ever asking God “Why me?” but I naturally wondered why God would allow this or any other horrible disease to strike anyone. I began to rethink everything I knew, or thought I knew, about this being we call God.

One of the first things I studied was the Christian definition of God; the Christian belief that God is made up of three separate beings (Father, Son and Spirit) that are actually one being. This doesn’t make sense! I have heard many different analogies that attempted to explain this concept of this three-in-one God by everyone from children’s church pastors to highly-educated Theologians, but I still don’t get it! I know better than anyone that I’m far from being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after many years of trying to figure out this concept of what we simply call the Trinity, I’ve concluded that no one is able to explain this Triune God in terms that are understandable to even the razor-sharp knives among us. And, I’m now okay with this because –

If we were able to understand God in human terms, He wouldn’t be God; He’d be a man.

C.S. Lewis was one of the best Christian apologists of the twentieth century, but before becoming a follower of Christ, he was an outspoken atheist. He concluded that there was no God because the idea of God didn’t make sense to him. He wondered why a supposedly loving God would allow his mother to die when he was just ten years old. He also wondered why a God that claims to care so much for His creation would permit the horrors he witnessed as a soldier in World War One. I imagine a lot of people asked similar questions after seeing innocent people being killed and maimed in Boston and in West, Texas. But, ironically, it was also this seemingly nonsensical nature of God that brought Lewis back to the God of Christianity.

“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

As a professor at Oxford, Lewis and some other professors, including his fellow professor and friend, the author J.R.R. Tokien (Lord of the Rings) formed a group where they would meet and discuss Philosophy, Theology and other “Big issues.” Tolkien was a Christian and he began challenging Lewis’ conclusions about God. Like me and so many others that have come to a crossroad, Lewis began to rethink his beliefs about this mysterious God.

lewis

 “Atheism turns out to be too simple” – CS Lewis

Lewis also came to the conclusion that mere mortals were unable to fully comprehend what we call the Trinity. And, like me and those who understand the implications of this conclusion, this idea of an incomprehensible God intrigued Lewis. He eventually ditched his “simple” atheism and turned to a complex God.

He wrote: “On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings… On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine…If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about…Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn’t have guessed. That’s one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It’s a religion you couldn’t have guessed.”  

Why do we expect to understand why God allows tragedy and heartache when we cannot even comprehend the makeup of God? We haven’t yet even figured out why people do the things they do. God sees the Big Picture – the eternal picture, the picture that we’re incapable of seeing. For that reason alone we should give Him the benefit of the doubt when tragedy strikes.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Having the Right Perspective

I’ve discovered how essential it is to keep things in perspective in order to maintain hope when you’re in the midst of a trial. The first and most important lesson I learned was focusing on what I have and not on what I’ve lost.

blog family pic

Our family before I was diagnosed with ALS. (Mary still had BIG hair).

Perspective: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. (Webster’s Dictionary)

I know of many people close to my age, even some close friends, who have died of ALS, Cancer and other diseases or were killed in tragic accidents. These moms and dads have missed being able see their children growing up. They weren’t there to take pictures before prom, to watch with pride as their child graduated from high school and/or college or to witness their son or daughter’s wedding.

I force myself to think about these friends and acquaintances when I begin feeling depressed about my inability to fully participate in this thing we call life. At times like last year when my daughter got married, and I was unable to walk her down the aisle or dance with her at the reception. During difficult times like this, I make a conscious effort to think about some of these people that are no longer with us; people like my friend Rick, who died of Cancer, leaving a wife and two teenage sons. I think about another blogger named Patrick, who died of ALS in December leaving a wife and a teenage son and daughter. Sadly, Rick and Patrick won’t get the opportunity to watch with pride as their children go through graduations, weddings and other landmark events in their lives.

I think about these people every time I’m tempted to complain or get depressed about my situation. I ask myself what they’d say to me if I was to complain about things like not being able to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Would they tell me that I should be grateful for just getting to be there to watch as she walked down the aisle? Of course, Rick, Patrick and the others have gone on to heaven so I don’t know what they might say to me. But I know they would be right if they were able to tell me to be grateful that I was able to be there for all the events that they’ve missed and will miss. In a sense, I feel that I owe them; that, if for no other reason, I must be grateful for their sake.

james and girls

Our son-in-law and daughters (January, 2012).

I know it’s strange for me to imagine what deceased people might say to me (to give me the proper perspective), but it works for me and, regardless of the trial that you find yourself in, we all must find ways of coping; ways of changing our perspective and attitude – ways of convincing ourselves that our life isn’t so bad after all.

“…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Philippians 4:11)

The aim of every Christian should be learning to be content in the good times and in the bad times. But, for those that hope in God, contentment does not mean we stop believing for better days ahead; it just means we’re grateful for today and that we’re going to live it to the full – even if we have to live today in a wheelchair!

Wedding

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24-25)

Don’t give up!

After reading some of the comments from my last post (“More than just a Dream”), I’m afraid that I might have left the impression that my only hope (for physical healing) is in the next life. If I believed heaven was my only hope for healing, I probably would have checked out years ago. Waiting (for heaven) to be healed is merely my backup plan; it’s my Plan B. Whether it’s through medical science or a miracle from God, even after 16 years with ALS, I’m still hoping for the best outcome here on earth. This is what I believe for others too, regardless of the severity of their trial.

I realize how crazy it sounds for someone who has received a diagnosis of ALS to be hoping for a complete recovery. I’m not naïve; I’ve known so many good Christian people who have died of this and other insidious diseases like Cancer, Heart Disease and Lupus. And I realize that, medically speaking, ALS is 100 percent fatal. Well, technically that’s not true; there are medically documented cases of people being miraculously healed of ALS and even the ALS Association says, “There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.”  So maybe it’s only like 99.9 percent fatal – I choose to believe for that one tenth of one percent chance.

As I typed that, a scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber came to my mind (don’t judge me). In this scene, one of the “dumb guy’s” named “Lloyd,” who’s in love with a beautiful and sophisticated character named “Mary,” is asking her what the chances of them ending up together are:

Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?
Mary: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…
Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.
[pause]
Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

Maybe some of you reading this think I’m like Lloyd for being excited about a one in a million chance of being healed of ALS. Maybe you’re thinking that I shouldn’t encourage people to hold onto “false hope.” I’m definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’m not “Lloyd” either; I’ve been contemplating this for over 16 years and here are some of my conclusions:

  • Miracles by definition defy all natural laws – including statistical probabilities.
  • For the 16+ years of this trial, God has sustained us with miracle after miracle; I don’t think I have the right, nor do I think that I’m qualified to categorize certain miracles as “big” and others as “small.”
  • There’s no such thing as “false hope” when you’re looking to the “God of hope.”
  • Jesus still heals; He “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb13:8)
  • “God doesn’t show partiality.” (Acts 10:34)
  • “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
  • I would rather die looking for a miracle than live not believing in them.

In Daniel chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the Jews bow down and worship his god. All those that refused to bow would be thrown into the furnace that the Babylonians used to make bricks. As most people know, three young Jewish men refused to bow and this is what they told the king; “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

For me, this is more than a great example of strong faith; I believe this is a pattern of faith that all Christians should emulate regardless of challenges we might be facing. We can proclaim that, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from [insert your trial here]. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT… we are not going to serve…” doubt, fear, worry, hopelessness or anything else that destroys faith, hope, joy and peace!

The Examined Life

When a person goes through a severe trial and/or is immobilized from an accident, old age or a dreadful disease like Cancer or ALS, that person will likely become more introspective than he or she might have been when they were healthier and busier.

Looking back to when I was “normal” (physically anyway), I now think that many of my activities, including my workaholic nature, could be classified as introspection avoidance techniques. I might not have been conscious of it at that time, and, even though I was a Christian, I don’t think I really wanted to contemplate my so-called innerself back then. Maybe this is at least partly why I fought so hard to stay active; working for a year after being diagnosed, enduring painful falls, which caused a bad concussion, knocked-out teeth, broken bones and more cuts, bruises and embarrassment than I can or want to remember.

Obviously I also fought so hard (to stay mobile) because, like any able-bodied person, I didn’t want to be confined to a wheelchair. And I’m sure my stubborn pride played a big part too. Regardless of the reasons, the transition from avoidance of introspection to forced introspection was physically, emotionally and spiritually painful. But it’s also been rewarding to discover truths about myself and about God that I don’t believe I would have found had I not gone through this trial.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

Whether forced by circumstances, as in my case, or the easier and wiser way of choosing to examine our inner-self, looking into this kind of emotional and spiritual mirror can be gut-wrenching; like the man that pumps out our septic tank, you might not like what you find. But, for the Christian, spiritual and emotional introspection is not optional; it is a must for spiritual growth. As Jesus told the hypocritical religious leaders (in Matthew chapter 23), for us to be right with God, man and ourselves, we must “first clean the inside” (our thoughts and motives…) so “the outside (our words and actions…) will become clean also” (CH 23:26).

I believe this is why, like so many other people, I repeatedly failed to keep my New Year’s Resolutions (dealing with outward actions) – it’s like washing the outside of the septic tank when the toilets won’t flush. (Sorry for the crude example).

I’ve personally observed or know of people who have gone through this reflective process and have overcome years of anger and unforgiveness and/or addictions; they’ve become more peaceful, joyful and hopeful. On the other hand, I know of people who have gone through this process and have become angry (at God and people) and some have even become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

What can account for these varying results?

I realize there are exceptions like a chemical imbalance, but generally speaking, from what I’ve observed in myself and in others, is that we have “tools” available to us that will either help or hurt us (make us more or less Christ-like) on this introspective journey, and I believe the tools we choose will determine the outcome.

Some of the harmful “tools” are:

  • Reading, watching or listening to critical or otherwise negative messages or people – “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
  • Comparing yourself to those who are healthier, wealthier or anything else that we might have a tendency to be jealous of or to covet – “…the message (of God) is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.” (Luke 8:14)
  • Comparing yourself to your “old self,” the younger, healthier and overall (physically) better you. (I cannot think of a verse for this one, but everyone who has done this knows it is depressing).

Some of the beneficial “tools” are:

  • Surround yourself with encouraging people, especially those that have gone through the introspection process and have emerged more joyful, peaceful and hopeful – “…encourage one another and build up one another… (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Comparing yourself to and helping those less fortunate than you; supporting or volunteering with an organization that helps those going through difficulties – “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
  • I’ve discovered that the most important “tool” is reading the Bible; it is a daily dose of knowledge, wisdom, understanding and encouragement. You don’t just learn about God’s nature when you read the Bible, you also learn about human nature – our nature and therefore the Bible is the ultimate introspection “tool” – “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)

Whether you’re currently going through a trial or everything is fine with you right now, I hope you’ll accept the challenge to suspend the blaming of your circumstances or the blaming of others and just focus on who you are in Christ. It took a severe trial for me to figure out that this kind of healthy introspection was the only way I could conquer my “demons” and finally “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)   

If you’ve gone through this kind of introspective journey (in the comment section) please share the “tools” you found helpful and those that you found to be harmful.

In my next post I will share how, through this process, I learned to deal with guilt and regret.

What would you do if…?

One night, about a year before I was diagnosed with ALS, Mary and I were up late watching “Nightline.” Ted Koppel was doing three nights of interviews with a retired college professor named Morrie Schwartz. Morrie had ALS and was sharing his life-lessons with Ted Koppel just as he had done previously with one of his former students named Mitch Albom. Mitch later compiled these life-lessons and wrote a best-selling book titled “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

I hate to admit this, but even after seeing the three nights of interviews and reading the book, I cannot remember most of the life-lessons that Morrie taught. But, I do have one vivid memory from watching those interviews; it occurred while listening to Morrie describe his daily routine – having to rely on his wife and caregivers for virtually all of his needs. After hearing how helpless he was, I turned to Mary and told her I would rather just go to heaven than live trapped in my own body like him.

About a year after making that statement, I was diagnosed with that same “trapped-in-your-own-body” disease. While I believe words are powerful and can even be self-fulfilling (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21), I don’t believe my statement had anything to do with my being diagnosed with the same disease the following year, but…

That hastily-made statement began to haunt and even taunt me when I began needing help from Mary with things I once did with little effort. The statement kept playing over and over in my head, challenging me to either disavow my words or live up to them. In this case, living up to my words meant throwing in the towel and going to heaven.

Obviously I chose to change my view and began trying to do my best to live one day at a time. But it wasn’t really me that decided to carry on; it was the grace of God in me, urging me to keep going. Not like a coach on the sidelines shouting, but more like the team captain competing alongside of me. It was then I knew the full meaning of verses like, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Hastily-made statements (like the one I made about Morrie) that are carelessly uttered by healthy people (like I was) are spoken out of pride. Pride is something we usually don’t know we’re guilty of before being humbled by a severe trial. Pride cannot comprehend the grace of God because pride is self-reliant, self-righteous and just plain selfish. God’s grace (to carry us through a trial) is one of the things people usually don’t factor in before making such statements.

Another thing people (who make statements like that) don’t consider or even understand, is how strong our God-given survival instinct is. Not merely for our physical survival, but also for our emotional and spiritual survival. This is an ironic thing because it would seem that a Christian (who believes in heaven) would be the first to cash in his chips, but the opposite is true. It is usually those that don’t believe in an after-life that judge the quality of their lives by physical, financial and other temporal pursuits and who cannot imagine a life worth living without these things. But the believer can know joy, peace, hope and have a sense of purpose without the worldly blessings. Of course, it’s always best to have both spiritual and earthly blessings, but, to the Christian, the former are essential and the latter are viewed merely as “bonuses.”

Trials cause us to reexamine the hastily-made statements we’ve made before the trial, when we so carelessly said what we’d do if this thing or that thing happened to us. As I discovered, no one really knows what they would do until faced with that situation. This is why the Bible tells us to “be slow to speak” (James 1:19).

This is the only advantage I’ve discovered from losing the ability to speak; I no longer say things that I regret!

Post Navigation