Life is not primarily about what we attain, but about what we go through and who we become along the way.
As we saw in the last post, all of us experience trials and hardships. Many of you, right now, are journeying through seasons of deep pain, darkness, and suffering. I am sincerely sorry for what you are experiencing.
There are no easy answers for why evil and suffering happens in this world – they just do. Not only do we experience dark times, but we also go through what a four-foot-eleven-inch, Spanish monk from the 16th century named John of the Cross described as “the dark night of the soul.”
Experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul
Gerald May, in his book The Dark Night of the Soul, states, “Dark night of the soul has become a catch phrase in the circles of pop spirituality where it is used to describe all kinds of misfortunes from major life tragedies to minor disappointments. Yet the dark night of the soul is much more than a simple misfortune.”
May wants us to understand that there is a difference between experiencing dark times and going through a prolonged dark night of the soul. Both require trust in God, but the dark night of the soul first feels like death to us. That’s because parts of you are indeed dying. But through the dark night of the soul, God brings transformation. Death always proceeds resurrection.
My Desire to Achieve
We are immersed in a culture that places a high value on performance and accomplishments. Some of us also have personalities that are strongly bent to the desire to attain.
My second highest strength on StrengthFinder is an achiever. That means I have a high drive and a relentless need to achieve every day, no matter how small. I take great satisfaction in being productive and staying busy.
On the Enneagram, I am a type 1 which means I hate mistakes, always try to fix things (and people!), and seek to improve myself continually. I also have this dark, ugly inner critic inside of me that unleashes a stream of self-critical thoughts that I must continually overcome with the truth of God.
Misery in the Wilderness
In this wilderness season, God took me from teaching the Bible to others once a week to only three group teachings in fifteen months! My passion is to help equip people to follow the ways of Jesus. Losing opportunities to teach the Bible was a slow, painful death to me.
Some might say that I allowed my identity to get wrapped up in what I did for a living. Indeed our jobs and accomplishments can become a substitute for our identity. However, you can also possess a Godly ambition that drives you to seek first the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul himself declared that his ambition was to preach the gospel (Romans 15:20).
You can know your true spiritual identity and still have a deep passion to do things for the glory of God.
Our identity and calling are often linked.
In the wilderness, I began to feel stuck, purposeless, and lost. Over time my frustration and disappointment grew as I thought that I was not accomplishing anything meaningful with my life. I began to believe that my calling in life seemed to have come to an abrupt ending. I was miserable, angry, and depressed.
A Breakthrough Moment
Then one day I was reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Miller was having a conversation with a friend and wonders whether we weren’t primary “designed to live through something rather than to attain something” (p. 70).
The Holy Spirit used that statement to teach me another lesson in the wilderness: the goal of life is not what we attain, but what we live through and how it transforms us.
I falsely believed that my wilderness season was meaningless since I was no longer teaching the Bible and equipping people to pursue Jesus. In reality, I had become blind to what God wanted to accomplish in me.
As followers of Jesus, life is not primarily about what we attain, but about what we go through and who we become along the way.
To Those Who Conquer
Jesus did not appear to the beloved disciple John on the Isle of Patmos and have him write letters to seven different churches in the book of Revelation that concluded, “To the one who attains I will… ” Rather, Jesus concludes each letter to his churches with a similar phrase: “Now to those who conquer, I will…”
Jesus joyfully bestows the blessings of the Kingdom of God, not on those who attain brilliant accomplishments in life, but on those who are transformed and overcome the struggles and challenges of life.
The Real Heroes of Faith
For me, the real warriors and heroes of the faith aren’t the one usually popularized by pop-Christianity. No, the real heroes are:
- The single mom who cries out to God morning and night, who works multiple jobs, and sacrifices everything for her children.
- The unknown follower of Jesus who has been ravaged by cancer, who has pleaded with God for its removal, but also suffers well by the strength and grace of God.
- The immigrant who has journeyed through the shadow of death to escape hell on this earth, who trusts Jesus to one day bring restoration and redemption.
- The 20-something that comes from a broken family and is now letting Jesus teach him how to be emotionally healthy in order for him to help raise a godly family.
- The young person who was horribly violated by another person, and who has let Jesus heal the deepest and darkest hurts that can fill a heart.
- The Christ-follower who lived through the ugliness of racial injustice (even within the church), who has forgiven others as they have been forgiven by Jesus, and who is now leading the way for racial reconciliation in his community.
The most important thing about a person is not what he or she does, but who they become.
I believe Tony Stoltzfus is correct when he states, “Our primary calling in life is not to do a certain task, but to incarnate the person of Christ through that task. In other words, we are first called to be something, then to do something that communicates that being to others.”