Growing up, I missed out on an important lesson – how to live with success. Instead, I became an expert at coping with failure and disappointment.
Years later, when a major Christian publisher accepted my book, “On Unclipped Wings,” I still hadn’t learned. I didn’t understand the impact it could have on others. For every success exposes someone else’s failed dream. Every joy exposes someone else’s sadness.
Well, the threat of litigation put an end to my success, but God used that small window to teach me something profound. To live well with success is to always remember others, to “Rejoice with those who who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn.”* It is about intentionally giving dignity and worth, my time, in a world where disappointment is rife.
Derek just finished leading the Navigators UK. Eight good years, and I thank God from the bottom of my heart. Derek did such a good job.
Yet, for all this joy, I grieve. I cared for the people we worked with – deeply. Prayed for them. Hoped for them. And now it is over, even though that care for them keeps flowing.
So, in desperation I look to Jesus, and he reminds me of this – he is the author and perfecter* of my life and theirs. All of us are turning the page to the next chapter in our lives. All of us wait with bated breath. But as our lives diverge, we are in good hands, for Jesus knows what happens next. He has our stories mapped out.
Some things frighten me – especially another’s anger. I can wake up in the night, my heart aching over how a person’s anger manipulates me and those I really care for. For anger actually blocks me from freedom of choice.
The other day I read how Jesus reacted. “Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him” (Luke 20:47). Angry people opposed Jesus, but he didn’t crumble with fear. He lived with an audacity that surprised me.
He did what God wanted him to do. He sat where those leaders said he shouldn’t. He didn’t flinch.
It released me to live with the same audacity – to take bold risks despite the blocks.
What if someone told you, “Forget about your God and just do what I say”? What would you do? Would you listen?
God knows that many voices shout out, confusing us, but he still speaks: “Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention. Forget your people and your father’s house” (Psalm 45:10) Those near and dear might try to control, might want to keep us ‘safe’, but God wants to take us where we have never gone before.
He asks us to trust him, to take a step into the unknown. He stretches out his hand and invites us to grasp it. “Come, follow me,” (Matthew 4:19) he calls. And we can, into his adventure, individually designed for each one of us.
The other day someone asked a good question: “Do you feel scarred?”
At first, I wanted to say, “No, all is well now.” But no matter how much I dreamed of returning to those pre-trauma days, my heart-scars had altered me. They still affected the way I responded in certain situations.
So, I said: “Yes, I do have scars. But just like the physical scars many of us endure, we learn to work around them. We get on. And in the end, they no longer take centerstage in our lives. They are there, but they don’t hold us back from life.”
And this is a most beautiful part of our human heart – we can find a way to live.
We may have done everything properly as we grieved:
Gone through the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance*.
Committed our broken hearts to God and asked him to heal us.
Trusted him for our future, that he would help us through.
We moved on… but then something happened to remind us. A conversation. A situation. An emotion. And we grieved yet again.
I have learned to lay each flashback at Jesus’ feet, to sit with him in the night for as long as I need. I have learned to accept his precious promises as my own. “The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm” (Zephaniah 3:15). We don’t have to be afraid. Jesus is with us. We can get up and live.
I used to think that power comes from self-confidence, of knowing my mind and fulfilling my dreams. But if I fall into the hands of a manipulative person, they can change my reality. And sometimes it takes years to come to my senses. Then grief overwhelms – How could I have been so deceived? Anger – This was wrong! Shame – Why didn’t I see it before? Guilt – I let my life get ruined.
But I forget where my true power lies – not in capability, cleverness, or even my goodness. It comes from God, who says, “At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame” (Zephaniah 1:19)
God puts us back on the road so we can relearn to walk. He enables us to lift up our heads without shame and live.
I was 27 and didn’t know how to cope. I thought my life should revolve around pleasing others, but I was never good enough. I could never be enough. Finally I had a breakdown. Sure, I acknowledged that God was all-loving. I agreed that he had created me unique and beautiful, but I didn’t know how to live it.
All pretending stopped as I lay there shivering on my bed. I could no longer be strong, brave, or even good. It was just me and God, and to my astonishment, he still loved me. And he came to me, just as he has come to millions of others, “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 63:1). I would live again.
Six months later I went back to work, and it took another three years to recover, but, I finally knew who I was – BELOVED.