There are times in the journey of my life that I feel as though I am stuck on Setback Street. There is wear and tear, time spent, fuel used, and yet no positive progress seems to be made. It’s like sitting in a traffic jam where the light repeatedly changes color, and the only thing that moves is the number on the clock in the car.
Frustration, anxiety, and anger creep in, as does the conviction that as soon as possibly can I will find another road to turn off on…only to find that I made a right hand turn onto Complication Circle, which lead to Depression Drive, and took me to a dead end on Breakdown Boulevard.
Financial set backs, health complications, strained relationships, disappearing dreams, broken hearts, tragic circumstances, haunting consequences, trials, and tribulations can all feel like the wheels of our life are going to come off right in the major intersection during morning rush hour for all to see.
In moments like these the temptation is so great to look around and wish for a different life. When we sit stuck, it is easy to look around and covet those in the polished convertible next to us. We gaze into the rear view mirror wishing we could just go back and try again, better this time.
We may even glance with self righteous indignation towards the clunky junky Pontiac next to us, thankful our vehicle is not quiet so old (I can say this having relied upon more than one junky Pontiac in my lifetime). But none of the ogling and leering that we do infuses our journey with any joy.
Faith Faces Forward
“Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.”
This wisdom came long before the invention of the first automobile, but it is a fundamental focus of learning how to drive. Face forward and keep your eyes on the road.
I write this because I, probably more than most, need the reminder to look forward in faith, especially when setbacks, breakdowns, and trials happen. I have a habit of looking back with great longing and lamentation.
If I am completely honest, in those times, I look back through a cracked rear view at a disproportionately distorted imagine. The good times look rosier than they may have been and the challenges of that leg of the journey have faded from focus.
Sometimes, in my personal life, the mountain I need to move is my own eyes, mind, and memories. In the moments of setbacks and struggle having a mustard seed of faith to move that mountain feels impossible. I want to squirm my way out of the struggles rather than remain steadfast through them. But at the same time, I desperately desire joy for my journey.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of
your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.”
Trials test our faith. Trying our faith produces perseverance. The process, the journey, it matures and completes us.
When we are stuck on Setback Street, Complication Circle, Depression Drive, or Breakdown Boulevard we can consider it a pure joy because perseverance purifies our faith, helping us to face forward.
Pure joy. Can you just imagine how glorious that must be? Joy that is free from all pollutants, free from dirt, free from dust, free from all artificial substitutes, and free from all that would weaken it. Joy that is refined, unadulterated, full bodied, and strong.
I can’t helped but ask, is it possible that I can have pure joy in my journey?
We live on a fixer upper farm in the middle of nowhere Minnesota. We have a lot of dirt here. We live on a dirt road, with a gravel driveway. There’s even a dirt floor in the machine shed. Everything is covered in dust. From the cattle my husband raises we have what feels like mountains of manure.
I say it is a fixer upper because if we are up and awake chances are something needs fixing. A tire goes flat, a hose breaks, a latch on a door sticks, a motor won’t start, what was sharp has gone dull, what was full is empty, and what once moved is now stuck. There are holes, ruts, leaks, weeds, divots, bugs, cracks, and an abundance of cobwebs.
Did I mention we have the occasional snake here that slithers across my path? I shutter and shake just recalling that. I try to live in denial that at any given moment in any day I could come across one my greatest physical fears so close to my home.
I should probably mention that I didn’t venture out to this place with seeds of hope, and an eager anticipation filled with desire to live a country life. My demeanor was more so one of stubborn reluctance, grumbling grumpiness, and a spirit forfeiting out of frustration. I really wanted to be a wife that submits and wholeheartedly trusts the leadership of her husband, but the taste of this submission seemed excessively sour.
Our move took us 90 miles away from our faith family too. So many of my sweet, beloved, and cherished sisters in Christ who gave me such steadfast support felt like they were now a world away. It took away the closeness with the mentor couples we had whose marriages offered such resilient leadership and rich example for our marriage.
The reality of it was that I couldn’t see the feasibility of us living on this fixer upper farm. In my mind it just wouldn’t work for our family, for our finances, for our future. My surrender did not come without substantial surliness and significant sulking.
Seven years later, I still get grim and grumpy about it all. Especially during those times of setbacks and breakdowns. Every time I work on our farm finances, I feel like being on the farm infeasible and impractical.
So the image of having pure joy amidst this all can seem like a mirage in the desert. It leaves me asking in prayer,
Can I, Julie,
really have pure joy
for my personal journey?
Through all of these breakdowns, setbacks,
complications, and dirt?
Is that really possible?
I Can Because Jesus Could
Let me be blunt, we can not have any joy without Jesus, especially any pure joy. Without Jesus any “joy” is just a cheap, empty, and unsatisfying imitation.
Can you feel happiness without Jesus. I think so, but I think that kind of happiness is pretty fleeting and fickle. It certainly won’t be a robust, full bodied joy.
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him
he endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus endured the cross, a cost beyond that which I will ever be able to imagine. He bore my sin, was shamed, and suffered for us. Not just so that he could have joy, but so we could have joy with him, a joy so pure that it will satisfy our souls and rise from us in songs of praise.
The work and sacrifice of Jesus prepared a way for us to be given faith that flows from a forgiving Father, a faith that can face forward in times of trial. Jesus also blesses us with a joy for our journey, even for the days we find ourselves on Setback Street.
We can sing while we sit, worship while we wait, forgive those who fail us, and dutifully dust the dirt away…again…all with the joy Jesus set before us as his good gift.
Live it Out
What are the current struggles or complications you are facing in your circumstances right now?
Do you feel like you have the faith to face the struggles or are your trying to avoid looking directly at them by allowing your eyes and thoughts to wander?
Do you feel reluctant, sulky, or frustrated? If so, what is causing that?
Take a few minutes to face the dirty parts of your circumstances in prayer. Offer them up to Jesus for a good dusting.
Pray Through It
Please bless each of my readers with the purest of joy today. Give them joy that is robust, full bodied, and strong enough to persevere through all of the setbacks, complications, depressions, and breakdowns.
Please remove all of the artificial pollutants in their joy that causes weakening in their faith. Help them to have fortitude in their faith that comes from You, Jesus, that allows them to face forward with eyes fixed on the journey ahead of them – not comparing circumstances to those around them or dwelling on a cracked rear view.
Lord, please show Your goodness to each of them, show them the great lavishness of Your love, make it personal and individual so they know without a doubt that You are for them.
In the joy filled name of Jesus, amen.