I'll admit I struggled with this one, more than either of those other monumental milestones. Why? In part, I guess it just seems like a big number, almost definitely more than halfway through life. More significant than where this year falls on my life's timeline, however, are the ideas of what my life has been so far and of what it is right now.
The longest I have been in any one place in my adult life is six-and-a-half years. That time frame (or shorter) isn't long enough for me to really become part of a place or to have a significant impact within a ministry. To put it bluntly, there is no unforgettable legacy, no legendary status, and no automatic linking of my name to a particular place. Added to that lack of continuity are the challenges of the past eight to nine years: significant and recurring health issues, job losses, relocations, and relationship struggles.
Currently I find myself still alone; I'm more restricted physically and socially than I would like. I'm working a secular job. My ministry in the church is in small areas - assisting in a children's class and helping with the nursery. My heart is to help people, and I long for that to be in teaching and sharing the Word with teens or ladies. I would love to see my devotional book ministering to many who struggle with illness. Those things are not happening, and I just learned this week that one opportunity I thought might be happening isn't.
I guess the bottom line of my struggle is that life seems somewhat empty. My impact in the past seems limited, and my impact in the present seems even more so. I suppose it is rather natural and all-too-human to face times like this of reflection and evaluation. It is also wrong to become mired down and discouraged in such times. How must I handle this challenge and others like it?
First, I must subordinate my emotions. They cannot rule. Focusing on discouragement, sadness, self-pity, sorrow, loneliness, unfairness, etc., serves no good purpose. Emotions are real, and they are part of how God made me. Emotional responses can be perfectly natural, but "soaking" in them can lead to sin. At other times emotions are inexplicable and mysterious; they can change with a piece of news, laughter with a friend, or a good/bad night's sleep. Emotions can provide necessary releases or helpful expressions, but they cannot be depended on. Life evaluations and decisions cannot be based on them, and I cannot dwell in them.
While I don't readily think of a particular Bible verse that says so, the concept of subordinating one's emotions is quite Biblical. The following verses come to mind: Psalms 42 and 43; Psalm 27:13-14; Psalm 73; Philippians 4:6-7; John 14:1; Hebrews 12:3. Each of these passages speak of an emotional response that is to be countered by or overpowered by truth. This doesn't mean that the emotions no longer exist, but they cannot be the master. They must be held in check by right thinking, which leads to the next step in dealing with struggles.
Second, I must take my thoughts captive. Not just any thought will serve for controlling my emotions. They have to be the right thoughts. It would be easy to think, for example, that my life is pointless, that I have no impact on others, that God has let me down, that my life has fallen apart, and so on. These thoughts are neither correct nor helpful. Dwelling on thoughts like these will drive me to wrong conclusions and wrong decisions. They will leave me miserable and without answers or hope. I have to think God's thoughts - Biblical thoughts.
What is right thinking for me? God is sovereign. He is and always has been in control of my life. God guides my steps. He has guided each step of my life, and I am in His will as much now as I ever have been. God is the master over all other rulers, so the fact that my job transitions were unusual does not mean that God didn't plan them. God works all things for His good plan. The reality that unpleasant things have happened in my life does not negate God's doing something good through them. God has superior wisdom. While my current job situation isn't what I've trained for, financially it is helping to make up for the times of unemployment that depleted my savings. While my ministry is currently not what I would like, God knows my physical and mental limitations. I could look at my life and consider it to be a series of failures and disappointments, but God does not fail. I am reminded of the life of Joseph. His life repeatedly took "wrong" turns, and God's hand seemed absent, but God was working through it all. God was accomplishing exactly what He wanted to accomplish, just as He always does. God does not intend for every person to leave an "unforgettable legacy"; He simply asks that I faithfully obey Him.
The wonderful thing about these thoughts is that each one can be supported by a verse (or verses) from the unchangeable Word of God. This makes the right thoughts infinitely better than my fickle emotions. These thoughts provide stability in the midst of struggle. They don't necessarily make the troubling emotions disappear, but many times they do. At the very least, my mind is now occupied by something positive rather than something negative.
In times of struggle I must subordinate my emotions rather than letting them be foremost, and I must control my thoughts rather than thinking what seems right to me or what first comes to mind. In reality, this is the essence of Christian maturity. Maturity, by its very definition, requires that someone start at a lower level than he will ultimately achieve. Maturity comes by working through life's struggles to learn things that were not known before and to increase growth that was started before. There is no shame in facing difficult times, most of which are completely beyond my own control. They are a platform for growth if I will seek God's help and God's answers in them. Maturity comes as I more quickly and more automatically begin to think God's thoughts and when I allow His truth to provide stability for me. Will I continue to face struggles in life? Without a doubt. My pathway to maturity can continue through them, however, as I purpose to fight within each new challenge to learn God's truth.
"We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." II Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)