Tag Archives: happiness

Why God Likes Vacations

 By Eugene C. Scott

Where do you go for rest and relaxation?

Is it twelve miles from nowhere up a mountain in the Pecos Wilderness? I’m willing to bet most people don’t consider strapping on a 50 pound backpack and hauling it into the wilds a restful idea.

I mean seriously.

Rest? You have to walk the whole way. There’s no escalator.

Relaxation? There are bears and mountain lions and mosquitos. And dirt. And you eat out of the same pot you cook with and wipe your spoon on your pants when you’re done. And you sleep on the ground in a tent and poop in the woods.

And there’s no Facebook or Twitter.

Still that is exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next few days.

And I will love every inconvenient, dirty, grueling, quiet, slow, peaceful, real minute of it.

A lightness of soul

Why? Mainly because there is a moment after hiking for miles that you shed your heavy backpack and feel a physical lightness that makes you want to grab onto something for fear you might float away. Then later, before crawling into your tent, that physical lightness turns into a lightness of soul as billions of stars salt the night sky. With those stars comes a lightness–a freedom, as if my soul has taken flight and is soaring and breathing again for the first time. To see the vastness of God’s creation–of God himself–is to be reminded I am not in fact the center of the universe. Hunkering down below those mighty peaks and brilliant stars I remember I do not determine the course of world events, or often, even of my own life just as I don’t direct the stars.

Being busy does not equal being important

Up there I know I am not responsible for who becomes president, poverty in Haiti, global warming, or your happiness. That is not to say I do not play a role in these things. I do and so do you. But wilderness tells me in no uncertain terms, you are not all that. 

I believe this is why so many of us have a difficult time unplugging and truly taking time off. We are comfortable in our delusion that we are all that.

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Busy!” we exclaim. “OMG, you would not believe all the things I have to do.”

But here is what we’re really saying:

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Important!” we exclaim. “OMG, if I stopped doing what I’m doing for just one second, the entire world (at least the one that revolves around me) would collapse.”

The truth is, however, that our worlds do not collapse when we rest.

God likes vacations

Years ago–at the beginning of human time–God created rest saying, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work . . . .” Sabbath–taking one day or more off–is God’s gift to us so that we can feel that lightness of soul. So we know that God, not us, is All That.

Modern science is finally catching up with God on this concept. Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist who wrote a book titled A Happy You, says, “Taking a break . . . affords you an opportunity to step back, put life into perspective, and remember what’s really important. It helps get your priorities straight.”

And all this time we thought God was trying to be unreasonable and bossy. And the funny–meaning ironic–thing is that Christians are the ones most guilty of believing being busy equals being important. And pastors may be the worst of the worst at unplugging and resting.

Cat Stevens’ (now Yusaf Islam) old song “Miles from Nowhere” speaks of unplugging and getting our priorities straight:

“Miles from nowhere

I guess I’ll take my time

Oh yeah, to reach there

Look up at the mountain

I have to climb

Oh yeah, to reach there.

Lord my body has been a good friend

But I won’t need it when I reach the end.

Miles from nowhere.

Not a soul in sight.

Oh yeah, But it’s alright.”

Eugene and Stasia

For me the beautiful thing about being miles from nowhere and falling asleep under the stars, and marking time based on hunger pains not calendar appointments, and spending several days with a fly rod rather than a key board in my hands is knowing that the world is in God’s hands and not mine. Under that vast dome of stars, I realize true importance comes not from busyness but rather from the fact that the God who created those billion stars and that towering mountain knows my name and has written my story in his book. And this is true whether I am resting or working.

When I return, and you ask me how I am, I hope I answer, “I’m not all that. But it’s alright.”

Eugene C. Scott also believes God likes us to take vacations because it gives God time to clean up the messes we’ve made. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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The Year a Watch Changed Christmas

By Eugene C. Scott

Looking back I don’t know how we hadn’t lost our house. My mom had tried to sell our simple suburban red brick ranch several times but my brother and I didn’t want to move so we kept taking the for sale sign down. Maybe the market was similar to today too. I’m not sure. I was only fifteen and didn’t pay attention to such things. All I knew was that our Christmas tree stood nearly naked in the front room, centered in the picture window, and there were only a few presents under it, one each.

My dad died several years earlier and left us with no insurance and no savings. My mom had found work as a cashier in a local drug store and selling clothes in home shows for a company called Beeline Fashions. Sometimes she also worked as a cocktail waitress in a bar called the Front Range Inn. I worked in a local greenhouse and helped with the bills when I wasn’t being selfish. Times were tough.

But before my dad died, Christmases had been ample.

One Christmas Eve I woke to a buzzing sound. I thought it was my father shaving with his electric shaver. I woke my younger brother, not noticing it was still ink black outside.

“Santa’s come. Dad’s up and shaving. Listen.” We sneaked out of our little bedroom. But the buzz was coming from the living room. We peaked around the corner. My mom, in her robe, looking disheveled, sat on a chair facing the overflowing Christmas tree. My dad was on his knees running race cars around a track. Two new shiny bikes stood cocked on their kickstands and presents of all kinds filled the room. We gaped and then shouted in delight.

My dad jerked around. A car spun out. “What are you boys doing up?” He was caught. Then looking at the track he said, “Santa had to rush off. So, he asked me to finish setting up your car set. Want to give it a try?” He held a controller out to my brother and me.

We rode the bikes up and down the hall and played race track long into the night. Finally, my parents forced us back into our room to sleep until the real Christmas morning. That was 1964 or so.

Christmas of 1972 was anything but ample. I had spotted a wrist watch and let my mom know that’s what I wanted. It was a Timex with a copper face and a big, three-inch wide, tooled leather band. Really cool. I’ve always loved watches. It cost about thirty bucks. Well beyond our budget. Plus Christmas had become about getting clothing we needed not luxury items. Still a boy could hope.

We were not a church going family. Our tradition was to open one present each on Christmas Eve. Then open the rest on Christmas morning. Trouble was, there was only one present. We all sat in the living room staring at the tree trying to decide what to do. Good old immediate gratification Eugene argued to open them now and just sleep in on Christmas morning. My mom loved sleeping in and that argument carried the night. I took the wrapped box with my name on it and tore it open.

Afterwards I stood downstairs in the middle of my bedroom, my long hair covering my face, alone, weeping. The summer before I had been introduced to the Person whose birthday Christmas is a celebration of: Jesus. My life had become a whirlwind of change and newness. It was like a hard cast of clay that encased my life and heart had been broken and was flaking off, letting me breathe real life. That year, as Christmas drew near, through Thanksgiving especially, I ached to experience Christmas as a true celebration of the new friend and Savior I was learning about. I wanted to be thankful for the gift of life.

I didn’t want Christmas to be about getting, even really cool wrist watches. I didn’t know what I did want though. A star hanging over our house. Angels singing. Cattle lowing. Miracles breaking out. For Jesus to erase our pain and loss and emptiness and poverty–not just financially–but emotionally and spiritually too. Yes, that was it. Though that night I could not have said it that way.

I smeared my teenage tears. No angels had sung. And my family was still a mess, and would always be. But my tears were not sad only. There was joy in them too. The cool Timex swallowed my skinny wrist. My mom had sacrificed to buy it for me.

I looked at the watch and realized that’s how much Jesus loved me. Loves us! And in a few months we would mourn and celebrate his loving sacrifice at Easter.

My mom sold our house a couple of years later while I was in the Navy. And since that Christmas Eve, Christmases have been richer and poorer. But they have never been empty. For that I am thankful.

Eugene C. Scott’s favorite holidays are Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In that order. He still loves watches, especially the two 1940 something editions of his dad’s. Eugene also co-pastors the Neighborhood Church which is preparing for Christmas through an Advent series called “The Gift of Christmas Presence.” It begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

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Are You Living A Dog’s Life? Maybe You Should.

By Eugene C. Scott

Anastasia on a hike

“Look, that dog is smiling,” kids would say pointing at Anastasia, our white and black spotted dog.

It was true. Her dark lips curled up in a discernible smile and her eyes sparkled whenever we took her for a walk.

“Is it a Dalmatian?”

“Nope, just a happy mutt.” Then we would follow her down the trail as she loped along with her white tail turning like a crank on one of those old “Jack in a Box” toys.

It didn’t take much to make Anastasia happy. Just being with her people. We called her the “velcro dog” because she would always stick to the closest human in the house. And if any human uttered those cataclysmic words, “Wanna go for a walk?” she would explode with happiness. Even in her last days, when she could barely walk and couldn’t see, those words gave her an unexpected burst of new life.

Anastasia’s priorities were simple: people, going for walks, and food. In that order too.

Maybe we got the phrase “It’s a dog’s life” from dogs like Anastasia.

Pets, like Anastasia, Are More than Furry Friends.

Over the 14 years Anastasia was part of our family, I learned a lot from her.

Anastasia taught me companionship is crucial. As much as she liked to go for walks, she never did so without one of us, even if we left the front door wide open. But grab that red braided leash and watch out.

How much of our human unhappiness comes from our dependence on rugged individualism? I believe there is a correlation between the modern proliferation of emotional and psychological problems and our self-imposed isolation. One of the main symptoms of depression is a feeling of isolation which then drives the depressed person into deeper isolation.

Humans, like dogs, are pack animals. Some more so than others. But we, like Anastasia, would shrivel up and die if left completely alone.

She also showed me a good, natural smile breaks down walls. Even grumpy, scardy-cat, non-dog-lovers would stop and comment on Anastasia’s smile. Many would even bend down and pet her. Funny how we humans think a fancy car, or the right deodorant, or a pile of money, or lots of educational degrees, or whatever will make us attractive and important.

They don’t! But a smile can. Is that because a smile is a gift to others we can’t see unless we are looking self-centeredly in a mirror?

Anastasia had simple priorities.

Like I said, people, walks, food. Toss a good nap in there and she was done for the day. My life? You gotta be kidding me. I have to consult my “to do list” just to get out the door.

“Let’s see, I have my wallet, is there any money in it? My keys, my iPhone, which, of course, contains my iCal calendar and my Google Map to get me where I’m going.”

Have you ever heard of a dog searching for his key to the storage locker where he keeps all his stuff he hasn’t used or touched in two years?

The things that are truly important in our lives are few. Maybe as few as people, walks, and food.

Anastasia didn’t think more of herself than she should.

Comedian Brian Regan does a hilarious routine called “I Walked on the Moon” that makes fun of our human tendency to one-up each other in personal story-telling (see the embedded video). Regan points out we seem convinced that lifting ourselves above others while putting others down, will actually make us feel better about ourselves.

Anastasia had no such delusions. If ever, while she was running down the trail, she saw another dog approaching, Anastasia would stop, lay down, and assume a submissive stance. She was not an Alpha Dog. And it served her well. The other dog would approach and stand over her. Thus, Anastasia got in few, if any dog fights. Soon the two dogs would be smelling each other (I don’t recommend this for humans) and then bounce off playing and exploring until us humans hurried them along our way.

How many of our fights come not from real disagreements but from wanting to be the Alpha Dog, standing above others? Too many of mine do.

In my opinion, a willing, vulnerable submissiveness is crucial to a growing spiritual life.

In relationship to God no one I know is the Alpha Dog.

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this same advice to some of his friends telling them, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Whether you believe in God or not, there is a truth here. Pride, putting ourselves above others, often lands us in the bottom of the pile, while humility often lifts us up.

Funny the best thing about Anastasia is she seemed to know herself and her place: with her people on the trail smiling at all life brought her. Maybe living a dog’s life isn’t a bad idea.

Eugene C. Scott, co-pastor at The Neighborhood Church, misses Anastasia. It has been a year since Anastasia passed away. But along with the lessons she taught, he still finds stray white hair clinging to the couch. He’d love to hear of lessons you’ve learned from your pets.

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Size Matters

By Eugene C. Scott

Size matters. Especially to 12-year-old boys. That’s the year, 1969, I began to believe bigger was better. Every Friday night my best-friend Bruce and I would walk to a mall in our neighborhood to hang out. We always hoped there would be girls there. There usually weren’t and, had there been, we would have been afraid to talk to them anyway. Bored Bruce and I would saunter over to Hodel’s Drug Store to buy a bottle of Dr Pepper each. Since we were scrawny kids, we’d buy the biggest bottle of DP available: 16 oz. Then we’d stroll around acting big and sipping our Dr Peppers.

Not my truck

To us size mattered. Bigger was better, especially where Dr Pepper was concerned. By high school, however, we needed something even bigger. Monster four-wheel drive trucks filled the bill. Most Friday nights you could find a dozen trucks with those huge tires, roll bars, and loud 8 track players parked in front of my house. My mom complained they blocked her view of the mountains.

Does size matter?

According to my high school buddies it does (not to mention the spam email industry that promises a magic pill that can enlarge a body part most high school boys value even over their trucks.).

It seems like many people in the modern world suppose bigger is better.

Though many people complain about them, mega-churches are all the rage. In the new church (church planting) world the going philosophy is, “Launch Large.”

Fast food joints offer to “super-size” already big burgers. Thus our waist lines have grown bigger.

Think too of Walmart, The Home Depot, Google, colleges, public school systems, and–please no–big government.

Since growth is usually good and a sign of life–and bigger often means cheaper prices or more services–most of us haven’t given the bigger is better mantra the scrutiny it needs.

But “big” is not a synonym for “best.”

Think of the trend in education. At one time, students learned one-on-one or in small groups led by one teacher. Then communities formed small schools that could educate all the children there. But as communities grew so did schools. As did the size of the problems. Curricula became uniform, teaching to a median rather than specific needs, leaving many kids treading water in a sea of students. Grades and over-all knowledge dropped. This, in part, developed a mind-set of information dumping rather than mentoring.

Standardized testing ignores diversity. This one-size-fits all mentality lends to a loss of individual achievement. To battle that we award students with a generic “you are special” rather than getting to know them and what they are capable of. We can’t; there are too many of them. In large schools discipline problems have exploded exponentially because there are few real, relational consequences.

Big is not synonymous with bad but is often impersonal, cumbersome, unaccountable, one-size (BIG!) fits all.

Big churches have more money for mission and programs. It’s just that they often lose touch with their people. Likewise big businesses offer better deals but few personal services.

Still big has a dangerous down side. Think of the internet. Its main flaw is its offer of anonymity and lack of accountability. But the internet is not evil. Just the aloneness and distance it fosters. Humans were created to be connected. Big strains or destroys that.

I know I sound idealistic and unrealistic. Maybe so. But I remember the problems my friends in high school and I had with those huge trucks. We each owned one (you were not cool if you didn’t) and all drove alone to the same hangouts. Soon we fought over who had the biggest and coolest truck and our friendships frayed. Then OPEC declared an oil embargo and gas prices shot through the roof. After that we all walked together down to the local park and talked and hung out. Life was good.

Whatever you think, I believe the distance this focus on big creates between us as humans is insidious and dangerous. It eventually forces us to be less than human, less than we were created to be.

God faced this same problem. God was so big we could not really connect with him. So he poured himself into a tiny baby, and lived a small life where those within several hundred miles could touch him, argue with him, love him and be loved by him.

Does size matter? God thought so.

Eugene is a recovering Dr Pepper addict, could not afford a real monster truck–so was not very cool in high school–and is not very large himself, but doesn’t have small-man syndrome. He also is co-pastor of the intentionally small but really relational The Neighborhood Church.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part II

By Eugene C. Scott

It’s true, like the old bumper sticker said, that “God Doesn’t Make Junk.” But after 50 plus years of watching the people around me and daily looking in the mirror, it’s plain God certainly created his share of peculiar, screwy, and eccentric people.

I think that’s one of the reasons I liked J. K Rowling’s main setting for the Harry Potter stories, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” I felt right at home. Rowling peopled and staffed her school with bizarre and broken people.

Outwardly handsome and cool but secretly unsure of himself, Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the many Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, was a fraud.

And let’s not forget half-giant game keeper and failed wizard Hagrid or the sadistic janitor Argus Filch.

Many of the students too are screwy. Luna Lovegood is loony, marching to a drum that may not even exist. Even the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are a bit odd.

These people are largely dismissed by the “main stream” wizarding community but not by their Head Master equally strange Albus Dumbledore.

In this Hogwarts reminds me of the church. After 30 some years involvement in the church, it occurs to me God too has peopled his community with peculiar, screwy, unconventional and downright broken people, myself not being the exception.

Luna Lovegood would not have been friendless in most churches I’ve served.

Dr. Bob was a retired PhD in one church I pastored who truly believed he had evidence of extraterrestrials having come to earth. During a Sunday school class I taught, a man asked to do an announcement advocating adopting orphaned baby Chinese girls. He proceeded to put on a Chinese Queue and sing the Elvis song “My Little Teddy Bear.”

I won’t name the broken, bleeding, angry, confused and disillusioned.

Rowling lends humor to her increasingly dark stories through fleshing out these eccentric characters. God, however, seems to attract them. As popular as Jesus is today, he hung out with a pretty unpopular, scraggly group back in the First Century.

I feel at home, just like when I read Harry Potter, then when I read of these early peculiar, broken students in Christ’s school of life, or look around me in today’s church. You’ve met them too–or are one.

The wonderful thing is God created such eccentrics and loves us despite our brokenness and he wants them/us to people his spiritual community called the church.

This is where I find the pervasive philosophy in the modern church focusing on bright-shiny people false. Years ago I had a college professor who taught that because we were followers of Christ, we should be the best of the best, with the whitest smiles, nicest clothes, best grades. “God,” he said quoting the bumper sticker, “doesn’t make junk.” I bought it until I looked in the Bible or in the mirror again.

Not that I equate, as he seemed to, offbeat, broken people with junk. God made no one expendable. Jesus died for every Lockhart and Lovegood among us.

But, somehow, despite the church’s ability to be filled with outcasts and Jesus’ willingness to embrace them, this is not the demographic the church focuses on nor the image we portray. To our shame.

When was the last time you saw a pastor preach or teach from a wheel chair? Or have any kind of visible disability? I recently attended a huge church planter’s conference where all of the speakers I heard were cool looking and pastored mega-churches. There was not a halting, unsure Harry Potter among them.

Or closer to home, when was the last time you shied away from the Luna Lovegood or Gilderoy Lockhart in your life or church?

You see, what I believe Rowling knows is that we’re all Lovegoods and Lockharts. We just don’t want anyone else to know it. So, we think surrounding ourselves with the cool and the smart and the successful will make it so for us too. What we often don’t see is that they too are not really bright-shiny either.

But God knows our fears and failures and forgives them. God knows too our eccentricities and revels in them.

This is where Hogwarts reminds me more of the church than the church does sometimes.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part I

By Eugene C. Scott


Like J. K. Rowling’s wonderfully weird invention of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans, her Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and God’s equally wonderful and weird church are both humanity flavored hope. Sometimes they’re sweet and sometimes disgusting.

The truth is Rowling gave Hogwarts the same humanity flawed quirkiness that God created the church to reflect.

In chapter six of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a confused but expectant Harry Potter stands on platform nine and three quarters waiting for the Hogwarts Express–a magical train that will take him–for the first time–to Hogwarts, where he will be schooled in magic. Once there, Harry’s life changes dramatically.

In this magical castle filled with moving staircases, strange rooms, stranger people, talking portraits, and ghosts, Harry, among other things, will cement life-long friendships with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley while discovering that even the best witchcraft and wizardry school is full of quirks and imperfections and–more-so–quirky and imperfect people.

As I have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s classic stories as pure fun reading, I also have been challenged by some of her deeper themes. Did she, for instance, intend to draw parallels between the mythical castle called Hogwarts and God’s mysterious community called the church?

Intentional or not, the parallels are there.

Relationships Define the Church and Hogwarts

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not a building nor an institution. It is a community. Yes, most often the church meets in a building and–unfortunately–becomes far too institutional. Hogwarts too is a particular place and has rules–most of which Harry breaks. But this is not what defines Hogwarts.

At Hogwarts, Harry, the orphan, finds his family. Through his friendship with Ron Weasley at Hogwarts, Harry is unofficially adopted into the Weasley clan. It is at Hogwarts also that Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black and is mentored by a father figure, Albus Dumbledore.

Like Hogwarts, the church, first and foremost, is a community. A family thrown together in a myriad of relationships. Orphans all adopted by Christ.

I grew up in what is commonly called a dysfunctional family. We weren’t completely dysfunctional, however. We did two things very well: fight and meddle in each other’s business. What we did not manage was to foster intimacy. We loved each other to the best of our ability. Still my family was a lonely, chaotic place.

Then I became a follower of Christ and was adopted into this quirky, imperfect family called the church. Like Harry, it was in this completely foreign and unexpected place that I discovered true family. I am who I am because of God speaking and working through the family members I have met in various churches. I have served in six churches over the last 32 years. In each one God has introduced me to people who have become life-long friends. We have, as the great theologian and poet Paul said, “carried one another’s burdens.” We have cried, laughed, fought, feasted (a lot), and lived life together. Rowling was brilliant in drawing Harry as a hero who needed friends to accomplish his mission. And Hogwarts as the place those relationships formed and thrived.

This too is us.

The Church and Hogwarts Are a Mix of Angels and Demons

Much to Harry’s dismay, however, Hogwarts is far from perfect. It is there, under the Sorting Hat, that he discovers his own dark side. It tells Harry, “You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.” But Ron warns him, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Should Harry join the darker, more prone to evil House of Slytherin, or the more benign House of Gryffindor? Each of us, whether follower of Christ or no, face the same choices.

No wonder so many wars and wonders have been wrought in the name of God. 

In Hogwarts Harry battles his nearest enemy, Draco Malfoy. Hogwarts, like the church, contains not just angels but demons (so to speak). In the church I’ve been and met both. Like Harry, all of us who have spent more than 10 minutes in the church carry and have inflicted wounds.

Rowling invents a fictional school that rings true because it is such a real mix of sinner and saint. Just like the church.

If Harry imagined Hogwarts as utopia, he was sorely disappointed. This may be why so many of us give up on the church. We are drawn to its divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.

Though I understand well the pain that the church can inflict (from personal experience as well as theoretically), the load that weighs heaviest on my pastor’s soul is trying to convince people that the church is both more and less than they ever imagined. More in that it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God.  Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.

And in that way the church reflects humanity and human community perfectly. Harry could have never become who he was born to be without Hogwarts and all the pain, joy, disappointment and triumph mixed together in one.

Imagine had Harry, as do so many people today in regards to church, refused to board that mysterious train bound for Hogwarts, one of the best stories written in modern times would have never come into being. So too, when any of us refuses to join that infuriating, dangerous, glorious, Christ-community God calls the church. What real story might you be missing?

Eugene C Scott is co-pastor of one of those wonderfully weird places called The Neighborhood Church.

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Surprised by Joy: The Joyous Defeat

by Michael Gallup

There are few things harder than to preach the funeral of a convicted murder who committed suicide. Not just that he was a criminal but that he was a father of an eight-year-old boy I befriended. This young boy with his father in prison latched on to me at camp and I began to find myself filling some of the hole left by an absent dad. I saw the boy come to follow Jesus. He was so full of life despite his difficult circumstances.

But then I received a phone call I will never forget. It was his mom telling me the horrible news and asking me to preach the funeral of a man I never met. There have been few times in my life when I have cried harder than that evening. Not so much over the loss of the man’s life, although tragic, but for the intense suffering my young friend was now in the midst of. I began to become angry and angry at the only one who could handle such rage, God. Hadn’t the boy had enough? Why does he have to suffer so much? Why does one so young have to face such harsh realities? Why, God, why?

While I will never pretend to know the full answer of those questions, God has shown me a part of the why. For joy. It seems ludicrous to insist that joy could possibly come out of such pain, but I am coming to believe that it may be ludicrous to think that joy could come out of anything but pain. One of the most perplexing pieces of scripture is James1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” We are to somehow find joy in our suffering? Because it leads to perseverance? Yes, God says.

As I have asked God hard questions, He has kindly revealed to me some answers. Last week I described how He showed me what joy wasn’t: happiness. And I am beginning to see why. Happiness is the product of pleasure. When something happens to us that is pleasant we become happy. But now I am seeing that joy is the product of pain. And rightfully so, the process from pain to joy is much longer and arduous than the one from pleasure to happiness.

One of the biblical authors compares the life of a Christ-follower with that of an athlete, suffering the agony of preparing to run the race. This metaphor still rings true when we watch the Super Bowl winners crying tears of joy at the victory they achieved. And that joy is not birthed in the winning but in the months and years of hard work that led them to this moment, that made it even possible. In that passage in James, the reason to consider it joy to suffer is because our suffering is not the end of us and our stories but a catalyst for change. Our suffering refines us, pushing us forward in the race of redemption in the story of our ultimate victory.

This picture is most clearly seen in the death and thus victory of Jesus Christ. It was only through his defeat that the world could know victory. The biblical book Hebrews says that he was able to endure the sufferings of his murder because of the joy set before him. He knew his death, which at the moment it occurred seemed like the biggest train-wreck in history, was not the end of his story. He knew what only he could know, that his pain was giving birth to the joy of the world. That his defeat brought true victory.

Ultimately, it is a defeat we must each embrace because it is the only path to victory, the only path to joy. Our very lives are found in the death of ourselves.

But what about my young friend? That funeral was not the end of his story. Just as Jesus’ and our funerals are not the end of our stories. God began to redeem that situation that was never his will in the first place and in that redemption I saw that boy’s life changed. He learned to let go, if only a little, of his father and to find acceptance in a new father who was there, not in jail but with him, in a man who also knew defeat but also knew life in Jesus.

Our suffering is not the end of our stories but in some ways the beginning.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This is part three of a four part series.

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