I am, I must admit, a complainer. And, perhaps, a bit of a pessimist. One might also call me a whiner. And, why not? There are so many things in life to complain and whine about. I never have enough money for ALL the things that I want. There is never enough time to do ALL the things that I want. My job requires that I travel every week, which may sound cool until you have done it for four and a half years. Living out of hotels Monday through Thursday can really suck. I don't have my dream job (which, by the way, is mattress tester). So, as you can see, I've got it rough.
At least that was what I have been thinking over the past several months. I won't lie and say that everything has been perfect. I have been struggling with these things for a while now. My attitude has been severely impacted by "what I don't have" and "what I can't do". However, two things have happened over the past few weeks that are opening my eyes to a single thought. Maybe it's not all that bad after all.
A few weeks ago, a couple that I know from my church, Sam and Kristen, were facing a tragedy that was, not only sudden, but heart-wrenching. Ethan, their 20 month old son, was rushed to the hospital with uncontrollable seizures. After being brought back, miraculously, from a cardiac arrest, he fell into a coma with little hope of recovery. Like most people in my church, I was glued to my mobile phone, checking Facebook constantly for an update. It seemed like Facebook was on fire with posts about people from all over the world who were praying for Ethan. In the end, Ethan passed away. After that, life went back to normal for me. The brief distraction was now gone and I was back to focusing on the hardships of MY life.
Around the same time, I started reading the Book of Ecclesiastes. If you ever read Ecclesiastes, you were probably close to suicide before you reached chapter three. It is not the most cheerful book, and probably not the best book to read when you are already whining about life. For those who have not read Ecclesiastes, the recurring theme in the book is "It is all meaningless". One might consider it to be the ultimate demotivator. For example, verse eight of chapter one say "Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content." That certainly makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning.
So, how do these two events, which seem in no way connected, impact my life enough to make me want to write about them?
It started this morning as I was scanning through recent updates on Facebook. I came across a post with a link to a blog that Kristen had started writing. She was opening her heart to the world, not only about the pain that she was enduring, but also the life lessons that she learned from her 20 months with Ethan. The blog entries were sometimes touching, sometimes heart-wrenching. Kristen's blog opened my eyes to a level of pain that I have never experienced. But, it also opened my eyes to a level of faith that was inspiring. When I had finished reading her blog entries, I went back to Ecclesiastes, reviewing my highlighted verses from the past few weeks. Three verses jumped out at me, starting in chapter five: "Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life - this is indeed a gift from God"
Then came chapter six: "Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless - like chasing the wind."
And finally, chapter seven: "Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life."
I will probably never suffer the level of pain that Kristen and Sam have suffered. But, through their ordeal, they have set an example of how to accept their lot in life. They are doing what is written in Ecclesiastes, chapter seven. When I look at the things in my life that I call "hardships", they don't even compare. I complain about having to travel for my job. A job which pays for my house, cars, kayaks, insurance, Internet, computers, mobile phones, food, and other gadgets. I was going to add wife to that list, but I was afraid how it might be taken.
My point is that I am starting to realize that my suffering might not be all that bad. Sometimes, I think we, as humans, miss what is around us and focus only on our own little world of suffering and despair. We create a kind of tunnel vision that only sees our circumstances. We amplify our suffering to the highest level, as if it is the worst that any person has ever endured. We fail to consider what others may be experiencing. Then, along comes a tragedy like that which Sam and Kristen are enduring. It makes one take a long look at life and realize that maybe it's not all that bad after all.
As chapter seven says, I need to "accept the way God does things". I can dream of things that I don't have, but as chapter six says it's "like chasing the wind". Where is the pain from not having some material object? Where is the suffering with spending a few nights a week in a hotel (other than getting a really bad mattress)? Where is the hardship in having a job, house, cars, kayaks, insurance, Internet, computers, mobile phones, food, and a wife? There is none when you compare it to those who do not have those things. Where is the pain, suffering, and hardship in all of those things compared to a couple who have just lost their son? If Sam and Kristen can endure the worst pain of their lives, why can't I endure the small inconveniences in my life?
Maybe it's not all that bad after all.