Just before I was a Christian, I was reading the works of Jewish Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl. In A Man’s Search for Meaning[i], his story and what he learned from it, caught my mind and heart, and sent me in search of something beyond myself, something big enough to swallow up all my smallness in the face of big troubles.
A couple of principles from Frankl came to mind this week as I was praying. He wrote that one of the most important principles of building meaning and purpose in life is “Changing our attitude when faced with a situation or circumstance that we cannot change.
Writing in 1946, in the direct aftermath of WWII, as a survivor of immense suffering, he knew better than anyone ever has, that even when life is good, just around the corner suffering can appear. If, or rather, when, that happens, a person must have something to hang on to.
As Frankl put it: “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”
One more quote brings me to my comments for today: He said “… the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
It didn’t take long to realize that my own search for meaning and purpose was going to come to a screeching halt in short order, because I couldn’t do what Frankl was saying…. How exactly do you change your own attitude? Who ever really does their fullest best all the time? And even if one could, what about all the others who aren’t? If I didn’t fail to do my best so regularly, I would be furious at those who were messing it up for the rest of us by not doing their best!
It was unmistakably clear to me that what Frankl was saying was absolutely true–and absolutely impossible to accomplish myself. Fortunately, it wasn’t long after that I discovered ultimate Meaning and Purpose and gave my life to Christ.
So from that last three paragraphs, you know a bit about how I came to faith and the motivation and principle behind what I do. What relevance does all that have to the readers of A Measure of Grace, the Where Grace Abounds newsletter?
Good question! I’ll try to connect the dots.
I agree with Frankl that the world is “in a bad state,” and “everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best” to pray, discern God’s provision and plan, and work together toward that plan. I believe that God is with us, that we have everything we need to do so. I also believe that it will not be by might or power, but by His Spirit that this will be done, brought to “completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil 1:6
So what does “doing one’s best” look like for a parent facing realities like a son or daughter now claiming to be “non-binary” or “queer?
What does “doing one’s best” look like for someone who wants to be free from a full blown sex-addiction long indulged?
What does “doing one’s best” look like for a person who is experiencing restlessness, maybe a ‘still small voice” that whispers “aren’t you wanting more? Aren’t you missing out on something more that the Lord has for you?”
For all three of those scenarios, I have these points for each person to consider:
- “Some things only go by prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:29
Set up a rhythm of prayer; make it a habit, morning and night for what John Eldredge calls a Pause to focus on God. Eldredge has a free app for that: One Minute Pause – Apps on Google Play
I also like Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: The Heart’s True Home[ii], for a great experience of different types of prayers and a sample of each to pray.
But the most familiar kind of prayer is one I heard a Christian comedian describe once, “I hear all these formal prayers in rolling sophisticated tones. But mine are most heart felt when I fall to my knees in the hallway, sliding up to my bed, my whole body bursting with my need….. It comes out in a deep groan… “G—O—D!”
- Therefore, confess your faults to one another and pray for each other that you might be healed. James 5:13-16
A regular time spent in honest conversation and reflection on our lives is a therapeutic experience in and of itself. There is relief in shared sorrows, freedom in confessed sin, and joy in the journey together as we “do life” together in the Lord! A support group is a good start for this.
- “Constantly undertake, for God, those good and holy things you cannot accomplish in your own strength.” Dallas Willard[iii]
This statement is the second of three made by Dallas Willard when he was giving a talk on how to know God. The first one was: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and the third was “Stay after it; never give up.”
I have found it true that as I pray and get a sense of what the Lord might have me do, if I wait ’til I think I can do it, when I finally do my part, it just seems something is missing—just rather blasé. But if I take on a task or project that it seems the Lord is leading in, knowing that I can’t make it happen myself, then the adventure begins! No longer alone in the pain, the journey with Jesus ensues!
Let’s pause here for a personal reaction to my own writing. There was a time when the three points I just offered would have triggered an angry response from me.
It often still rises up in anger, if the author doesn’t acknowledge the suffering of parents in pain, the lonely hopelessness of an addict’s life–when hearts are crying out like Job for relief. And the soul pain of other seasons, when a person is stuck in the sheer ennui[iv] of life in a fallen world—and their spirit hungers for an undefinable “more.”
Like most people, if it seems my pain is being trivialized, I close my heart to a message that comes across as simplistic, formulaic, and seems to say that suffering doesn’t matter—”just pray it away, Mary.”
If that is what the reader is getting from this.. I am so sorry. God does know your pain and is your advocate. In the context of speaking to deceitful leaders, God says:
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say,
when there is no peace.
Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?
Jeremiah 8:11, 21-22
No, our pain isn’t trivialized. The God who sees how crushed we are, became a human being to show Himself and to take onto Himself all the pain of humanity—took it to the cross and killed it there.
It is for us now, then, to open our hearts to the Jesus way—First things first—Follow Him and let everything else fall into its proper context along the way. I know no other way .. and I have frantically searched for them, finding myself in one blind alley after another… until I found Him.. and the way opened.
That’s the miracle—all the pain of life points us to Jesus—who joins us in it, reveals His provision, walks with us all the way. And then, mysteriously, almost as a by-product, we find ourselves…
…relating better to our loved ones,
…finding help to get free from addiction,
…and even finding the next level…something more of Him.
This is the only way to “do my best” that I have found to be mine to do: hanging onto Jesus, doing life with Him and a few of His people. And together, we and Jesus will be doing the best we can do!
[iv] (Ennui: Listlessness, painful or wearisome state of mind due to the want of any object of interest, or to enforced attention to something destitute of interest; the condition of being bored; tedium. A feeling of weariness and disgust; dullness and languor of spirits, arising from satiety or want of interest; tedium.)
Mary often characterizes herself as “a seeker of Truth” and has a long-standing fascination with human behavior and motivation. Her education consists of lay and discipleship counseling, independent study about the integration of psychology and theology, counseling and human sexuality. She also holds a BS in Human Services and an MA in Psychology from Regis University.
Mary attends a Friends (Quaker) Church.
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