I recently saw a post from a dear friend who said that it was impossible for us to live our best lives now, and that we wouldn’t receive the fullness of God’s blessing until we got to Heaven. Now, I understand what she was saying. I recognize that she is probably not Joel Osteen’s biggest fan. I also know that she is tired, going through trial after trial, still healing from some very deep old wounds, and at her wit’s end in many respects. But something about the post got my insides churning. And that got me thinking. And it was around this time that I believe God showed me something that made me go “Whoa.”
What if we are living our best life now and we don’t even know it? What if our best life is only found when we are striving for something greater?
Another friend of mine once told me that he didn’t think God cared about us being happy. He thought that, depending on if God cared at all, it would have to be said that He was only concerned with our growth. I think there’s a degree of truth in this. But I also don’t think it goes anywhere near deep enough. And I think we have a very skewed idea of what happiness actually is.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”(1)
We all think of ourselves, in one way or another, as the hero of our own lives. It’s our story. Our own, personal movie in all its high-definition glory. And I think we often, though unconsciously, go to movies or books or games to help us bring definition to our own story. To find some shades of us in the heroes – or even the villains. And we certainly have our favorites: Frodo and Aragorn and Luke and Han and Kirk and Spock. These characters speak to us. We identify with them. They aren’t just some heroes: they’re our heroes. And in some subtle way we want to be more like them. But there’s something we might not see on first blush about these people we wish to emulate: our heroes all went through hell. They didn’t just pass through the flames, either – they sat on the coals for a spell and burned. But they all came out better in the end. More defined. Stronger and wiser. It wasn’t the end that made them that way, though. It was the in-between. It was because they strove.
As a writer, I can tell you that the only stories worth telling are the ones with striving. “Larry sat on the couch and ate nachos” is just not very compelling. And just like a story stinks if that’s the subject, so does a life. A life worth living is one with striving. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is our best life.
My dad’s mentor once said, “Be content where you are. But don’t be satisfied to stay there.” How true is that? How often do we just sit by when we know we’re supposed to be moving? How often do we make ourselves miserable by not stepping out? By not taking action?
Sometimes what we are striving for is so big that there’s no natural way that we can accomplish it in our lifetime – maybe even if many others join with us. Some people are driven to end the murder of innocents through abortion or finally bring an end to the global slave trade or attain a peaceful coexistence for all. But just because something seems impossible, should we stop striving for it? Just because your dream looks unreachable, does that mean you should cease reaching? What if William Wilberforce had stopped striving to abolish slavery in England? What if Saint Paul had stayed in Jerusalem?
Sometimes, though, we don’t see what we’re doing as striving or progressing or breaking through. We only see the pain that’s searing our flesh. The whirlpool that’s swirling us downward. The army that’s blocking our way. And when all we see is the pain and the failing and the falling and the fact that we just can’t seem to get traction, we start to lose our hope. We start to lose our faith. We start to flounder and give in to despair. Because “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”(2) And in this defeated state it is all too easy to give up. That happened to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He reached the point where he decided the best course of action was to commit suicide. And it took another person – in this case an angel – to show him all the incredible good he had done through his striving. To show him that he had truly had a wonderful life. Let me be that person for you.
Maybe you feel like a failure because your dreams just haven’t panned out the way you thought they would. Are you a failure, though? Or was God maybe more interested in your growth than He was in your self-envisioned “making it?” Maybe He was more interested in your journey than the epic finale. I’m not saying these things will never happen for you (or for me) – I’m just saying God’s more interested in how you get there and who you are when you get there. But what have you accomplished in the interim? Whose lives have you touched? Maybe it was your kids. Or a family member. Or a complete stranger that you only met for an hour. Or, maybe, possibly, it just changed you.
Your striving has not been in vain. Nor will it be.
The crucible burns. The fire sears. And it can undo us if we let it. But if we stand fast, with Jesus at our side, we will get through it. And we will be better on the far side. We will stand taller. And we will have more people who will say, “Thank you.” After all, do you think Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego ever regretted stepping into their furnace on the far side of it? (3)
It’s very possible you’re living your best life right now. In fact, if your pressing, pushing, or striving for something, if you’re working with Jesus as your partner, if you’re growing and changing and helping others, I think it’s very likely that you are. That’s not to say it’s easy. In fact, the best stories never are. But it will be a story worth telling. And the best can get better all the time: day in, and day out. All we have to do is see that, take hope in it, and have faith that God makes all things new every time we open our eyes.
I personally am striving for a number of things currently. I’m striving to be a better husband. A present father. I’m trying to provide enough for my family. I’m pushing to change the world with my writing and my words. I’m attempting to be more honest, open and transparent with those I trust and love. I’m working to create things that fill people with wonder and point them to God. I’m endeavoring to shine the light of Jesus on humanity’s darkness, and spread the peace and joy that only the Holy Spirit can bring. And, day by day, I get closer.
What are you striving for? I’d love to hear it.
1. James 1:2-4, 12
2. Proverbs 13:12a
3. Daniel 3