I walked into her trailer for what could have been the 50th time in the past few years, but this time, her eyes were inverted down. I quickly looked around to see if there was something I was missing in her home- a new man, perhaps, that I had caught her in the act with, or some kind of afternoon substance fix she forgot to cover up. I saw nothing; and then, she looked up. The bruises on her arms, she could cover up. The black eye, she could not. I knew right then and there, Juan* had come back. Layers of pain and hurt from years of protecting herself from feeling anything prevented her from letting even a single tear flow, but the hurt in my heart caused me to blink mine back in an effort to stay somewhat professional.
“Pamela*”, I started to say, searching for some kind of words, “You know,”…. I didn’t finish. Pamela cut in. “Ms. Morgan. You can stop. You don’t understand what my life has been like. You don’t get what I go through every day. So just don’t even try to give me some positive soap box because I already have enough bullsh*t in my life, okay?”
As Hugh and I walked back to the car after dinner, car seats in our hands, a man rolled down his window. “Twins?” He questioned. What a dumb question, I thought to myself. “Yes, sir,” I enthusiastically responded back. “I have twins!” He proudly stated back, “How old are yours?” “14 months!” I said quickly, putting Ally into the car in hopes he would get the hint and drive off. “Walking yet?” He responded. Hugh and I looked at each other with the same look we always do. “Not yet”, Hugh responded, before I could give my non-filtered response. “Lucky you!” Mr. Man said, “Once they start that, it gets even crazier. But don’t worry, it gets easier and easier.”
Hugh and I fake laughed and got in our car, both of us silent for a few minutes. “You know, it makes me so mad when people give us that line. He has no idea what we are going through. He has no idea that for us, it’s not going to get easier. He just doesn’t get it.” As these words came out of my mouth, I flashed back to my conversation with Pamela. Such different pains, but such a similar response. Both of us, so caught up in our own stuff, so consumed, that we could not see outside of our own circumstances.
What consumes you? Consumed essentially means completely filling one’s mind and attention, whatever absorbs you. In different seasons of my life, I can look back and recognize different things that took the utmost of my attention. There have been varying degrees of consumption, but theone common thread that ties them together is self. Self-consumption. Self-centeredness. The truth is, the more wrapped up I have gotten in myself, the more miserable I have become. In a practical sense, does thinking about your own problems and feeling sorry for yourself ever get you anywhere new? I have found that the more I think about myself, my life, me, I never feel better. It only makes my own trials look bigger. But, what do we do when it seems as if our own problems are glaring us in the face and we can’t seem to get past it? What do we do when as hard as we try, our own stuff just won’t seem to get off the forefront of our brains? Jesus.
As I was reading the Word this morning, my mind got fixated on this verse from the book of Psalms,
“My soul is consumed with longing for Your rules at all times.” (119:20).
David was consumed alright, but what consumed him did not bring him to despair, but rather, hope. You see, because of the Lord’s great love for us, He promises us we are not consumed by the afflictions and present sufferings of this world (Lamentations 3). This frees us up to be consumed with the things of heaven; but what are those things? The things of God; which are the things that don’t perish, that don’t fade. You see, that’s the risk of being consumed with self: not only is it futile, but it is passing. The troubles of yesterday may or may not be the troubles of today. They aren’t worth our time because at some point, no matter what you believe, they are going away. The things of God, His word and His love, last. When I get so fixated on comparing how hard our life is in light of someone else’s, I am brought to despair. When I think of Christ and the hope and purpose He brings, the fog is lifted and I feel free. The thing is this: we are right in thinking that there may be other people around us suffering less; but for every person that suffers less, you can find someone who has suffered more. Beyond that, in comparison to Christ and how He suffered for us, all our trials are rags. Because of His death on the cross, we are promised that all trials are light and momentary but serve an eternal purpose. Further more, the purpose of our suffering is to make us more like Christ, not more likely to be bitter at the cup in our hands. It is to make us more compassionate with others, not to formulate our own measuring stick of comparison in which we determine who is suffering more. The relieving part is this: we are not left in our own strength to follow through with this. We have Christ as the example who said, “Yet not my will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This is not some altruistic, “You will feel better if you get your mind off yourself and on others” kind of thinking. That may work sometimes, but in times of immense pain and heartache, we need something tried and true; something that lasts. Christ has freed us up for all time to look not to our own lot, but to put it in His hands and trust Him to do the rest. To fix our eyes on the unseen rather than the seen. This is true freedom.
So, friends, I ask you again. What consumes you? Is it that nagging health problem that just won’t go away? That name brand dress you don’t have the money for but just have to have? “Your team” in the World Cup that just has to win? The thing your spouse does that drives you crazy? The things you feel you lack? Work? Politics? Your children? Singleness? Alcohol? Food? The list goes on and on, and only you and the Lord know what truly fills your mind. My encouragement to us all today is that we would choose to be consumed with God Himself. That we would look to heaven with an attitude of trust and gratitude, confident that whatever He has given us is His absolute best. He is worthy.
*Names changed for privacy.