by Jonathan Hart, LPC
My wife and I were watching a recent episode of Burn Notice (#502: “Bloodlines”, if you’re interested), where the character of Fiona tries to keep a philandering scientist out of trouble.
**While I am trying not to give too much away, there may be spoilers in the next sentence.**
The two of them ended up in a fast car on the highway, with Fiona driving 130 mph with her eyes closed, while the panicking scientist shouted at her when she needed to turn.
I have, in my reckless youth, driven almost that fast, and I can tell you with all sincerity, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. When you’re driving 25 or 30 miles an hour, you can look around and enjoy the surroundings a bit. At 130 miles an hour, you must keep your eyes glued intently on the road in front of you, or you will die. You don’t really even have time to check the next lane before you have to move into it because what is coming at you is coming hard and fast. (Did I mention it yet? Do NOT try this at home!)
I am realizing that in a lot of ways, the difficulties and challenges that arise in life are a lot like traveling at excessive speed on the highway. Trouble is not an enjoyable thing. It can be draining and often fearful to look at the road that life has you taking, and it seems like trouble loves to stomp on the gas. The feeling and fear of losing control, spinning, and flipping end-over-end is *not* exhilarating when it comes in the form of a crashing relationship or the brick wall of a crushing diagnosis.
When our lives are relatively trouble-free, we can look around and enjoy the scenery. We can get distracted by things that are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. How green (or brown) the lawn is, what critters are eating the veggies in the garden, that Tommy got a “C” in algebra, who said what and what did they mean by it, all become larger issues and demand more attention than they really deserve.
But trouble demands more of our resources in order to cope. When the doctor says, “Cancer”, the lawn doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. The word “Divorce” tends to reduce the importance of how many tomatoes we are going to have this year. We need more of our energy to pay attention to the things that matter. Communication, study, emotional and mental effort are put toward dealing with the crisis, and the less important things fall by the wayside in a blur. Trouble has a way of re-setting our priorities, and this can be a good thing.
Another effect of trouble is to force us to realize that, no matter what we have come to believe, we are not in control of our lives. Oh, we can choose our socks and our favorite potato chips and a few other things, but circumstances change regardless of our precautions. Losing a job or a home or a loved one to disease is not something we generally have a say in. Our scientist friend in the story above was not driving, he was along for the ride, and the ride was terrifying. He could shout directions all he wanted, but he was utterly dependent on the skills of the driver.
The wonderful part is that for the believer in Jesus, losing control (or recognizing that control was not ours to begin with) can actually be *comforting*. We can find comfort when we learn that Trouble is not driving, God is. Paul writes in Philippians that he has learned that the secret to contentment lies in dependence on Jesus: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
No matter what it feels like, God is not a reckless driver who closes his eyes and waits for us to shout directions. He is, and has been, in charge of our lives and direction from the beginning, and (to push the illustration to its breaking point) he is the best driver there is.
Nothing makes the grinding trouble of this life less terrifying for us, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: most often, you are perfectly normal when you are afraid of the unknown future. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow precisely because he knew we would be worried about it. Knowing that God is driving and that he knows what he is doing gives us a place to go in our fear, a place to be afraid and most importantly, a place to find comfort.
Lest this entire post come off sounding fluffy and trite, please know that dealing with crises in life is not simple, straightforward or easy. There is no one “answer” or belief that will “fix” the problem or make the hurt and fear go away for good. This is one piece of what can often be a complex puzzle. When life accelerates and you feel it in the seat of your pants, find a friend or a counselor who can come along side you, who can help you make sense of your fear, and who can walk with you into the arms of Jesus. The fear will come and go. When it comes, keep on taking it to Jesus. He knows what to do with it.