Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Comparatively Speaking

So, at long last, Christmas is over. The presents have been opened and feasts and parties for 2016 are memories now. I hope you made some good memories with your family and friends. How did you do with the stress of shopping and choosing gifts? I hope you were able to set aside unrealistic expectations and truly enjoy the holiday. But even if you did manage to do that, the holidays are often difficult for another reason.

At Christmastime, we see many people that we don’t see at any other time of year. It can be fun to catch up on what’s happening in their lives, but if we’re not careful, that catching up can cause us to stumble. I found this to be true for me this year, and I thought I would share with you, partly as a way of confessing and partly to see if perhaps any of you have struggled in this way.

Most of my family members are very fitness oriented. They are runners, cyclists, and exercise enthusiasts. Some are marathoners. I, too, have always enjoyed exercise, but my physical challenges limit me to the pool for the most part. I used to love to power walk, cycle, and do aerobics. I’ve had to give those up since my failed knee replacement and the encroachment of osteoarthritis in various joints. As I wrote about here, the loss of my mobility has been a real grieving process for me.

Enter Christmas, and the annual update of all my fitness enthusiast family members, most of whom are older than me. One shared about her continued progress in running; another eagerly told us about her new Cross Fit class and what a blast it is. The marathon runners chimed in too, with pictures of their finish lines and sense of accomplishment. Then, there’s me. I kept quiet in these conversations for the most part, other than offering the obligatory congratulations and encouraging words. In my heart, though, there was a desperate struggle going on between my flesh and my faith.

I have many Scripture verses and passages memorized for moments such as this. For some reason though, they were nowhere to be found. My flesh, which has a maddening tendency toward self-focus and self-pity, won out over the voice of faith, which was trying to tell me that their activities have nothing to do with me. But, alas, it could not outshout my fleshly response, which said, “Why do they get to do these things, while my body becomes more and more disabled with every passing Christmas? It’s not fair!” I am embarrassed to even type those words, but they are the honest truth. Sometimes, I just can’t get past the feelings of loss and grief.

So now, here we are a few days later, and I am back on track. How did I get there? By repenting, and focusing my mind and my heart on Christ instead of on other people or myself. This renewed focus shines a spotlight on what was wrong with my thinking. Here are just a couple of truths the Lord has shown my heart as I’ve thought about how I got to that place of sorrow:

1. Comparing ourselves to others will almost always cause us to sin.

Whether we think we are better off or worse off than someone else, comparison always leads to sin. If I think that I am in better shape than someone else, this will encourage me to be self-reliant, and I will forget my need of Christ. For example, if I see someone in a wheelchair and say to myself, “Well, at least I can walk,” then I will see myself as stronger than she is, and I will be less likely to lean on the Lord. Additionally, the fear of losing my ability to walk may creep into my mind as I look on her state as being worse than mine. After all, it could happen to me, too.

If I see myself as worse off than someone else, then I may become jealous of her, as I did on Christmas, and this can lead to bitterness. The other thing that jealousy does is take relationship and evangelism out of the picture. If I am jealous of someone’s physical ability, then my attitude toward her will be negative at best. How will I represent Christ to her, or even nurture a relationship with her, if my countenance reveals resentment and my motivation to approach her is squashed by envy?

2. There is a direct correlation between sorrow over loss and gratitude for blessings.

As I listened to these conversations on Christmas, I became more and more sorrowful about my losses. Accordingly, my grief got bigger and bigger, and my gratitude got proportionally smaller and smaller. I’d thought that I’d become pretty good at being grateful. I’d begun to thank God for the pool every time my toe hit the water, and I’d developed the good habit of sharing with others how grateful I am for the many ways He has sent comfort in my distresses. In retrospect, I am amazed at how quickly I went from gratitude to grumbling in a single conversation on Christmas day. Reflecting on it, I could almost hear the “whoosh” as gratitude left the building. This just shows me the truth that my will is weak, and my flesh is frail when it comes to combating sinful thoughts in this area.

3. When we are focused on self, we shut down our perception of others’ sorrow.

One of my fitness oriented relatives is estranged from her husband. He has chosen sin over his family, and she was alone on Christmas, without her children, who were with him. By being consumed with jealousy about her marathon, I completely disregarded the pain she must have been feeling as she looked around the room at the happy families sharing Christmas together there, one of which was mine. I had no sense of gratitude for my wonderful husband or my adult children in that moment; no compassion or care for her and her pain, though it is different from mine. When we become consumed with ourselves, my dear sisters, we miss many opportunities to express love and caring for those who may be hurting in a different way than we are.

I am very grateful to the Holy Spirit for His conviction of my sin in this area once again. I also thank the Lord for His forgiveness of me, which is ongoing. Part of my repentance has been prayer for my able-bodied relatives, none of whom know the Lord. I am so thankful that God saved me when He did. I hope that I would be willing to go through much more suffering if it would result in the salvation of my family members, through my testimony of gratitude for Him and love for them. I know that He is able to save them, just as He saved me. Hallelujah! What a Savior!