Managing the Potholes of Life

Last week when my wife and I were in the car, I was zigzagging down the road, having difficulty dodging all the potholes left over from winter, not yet repaired. It was impossible to miss all of them, jarring the car each time we hit one. My wife commented, "This is like trying to dodge the potholes of life. You just can't miss them all no matter how hard you try."

How right she was! Life has many potholes, and when you hit them, you are jarred, the wheels of life are knocked out of line, and sometimes your tires blowout and you have to come to a complete stop. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically. But you know what I mean by the potholes of life, and unless you are a very unusual person, you have experienced many of them yourself.

Just how does one cope with the potholes of life? No matter how hard we try, regardless of how much we zigzag though life, we just can't avoid all the potholes. There are those times that life's potholes just shake and rattle us beyond what we are able to tolerate.

This matter is addressed in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, as well as by theologians and philosophers.

In the Old Testament Jonah found himself in the belly of a whale, but there was a reason for this: he intentionally disobeyed God. We can understand this; there are those times in life we make our own potholes. Job, on the other hand, was a righteous man who bent over backward to do things God's way, and he fell victim to circumstances he had no control over. We also can identify with this because there are those times we have no idea why we should have to suffer the consequences of the potholes facing us.

Isaiah, Old Testament prophet, addressed these seemingly contradictions of life: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (55:8-9)

In the New Testament Jesus is quoted as saying: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8) At another time Jesus says: "Therefore do not be anxious, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' . . . But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." (Matthew 6:31, 33) Or another time: "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move hence to yonder place,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you." (Matthew 17:20)

But in real life it doesn't always seem to work out that way. Many times we see faithful people seek and not find, or not have adequate food and clothing for themselves or their children, and the mountains in our lives do not always move when we ask them to.

Paul addresses this problem: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully . . ." (I Corinthians 13:12) Paul is saying we just don't understand these things now, but someday we will. Of course, that is not easy when you need your life to be different now and don't understand why your prayers are not being answered.

Perhaps it would be helpful to remember the old Arab adage: "All sunshine makes a Sahara," referring to the 3,500,000 square mile desert in northern Africa.

Or read what Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), American clergyman, wrote: "The steel that has suffered most is the best steel. It has been in the furnace again and again; it has been on the anvil; it had been tight in the jaws of the vice; it has felt the teeth of the rasp; it has been ground by emery; it has been heated and hammered and filed until it does not know itself, and it comes out a splendid knife. And if men only knew it, what are called their 'misfortunes' are God's blessings, for they are the molding influences which give them shapeliness and edge, and durability, and power."

John Ruskin (1819-1900), English essayist and reformer, wrote: "The highest reward for man's toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it."

From Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), American physician and author: "I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."

Great athletes--baseball players, football quarterbacks, golfers--all do the same thing. They actually picture in their minds just how they will hit a ball, throw a pass, or swing a golf club. They see it as if were actually happening.

Many people picture in their minds how they will be after they lose weight, or get well, or become successful--that is, they picture the end result. But few of us picture in our minds the step-by-step things we need to do to reach our end goal. If more of us did that, more of us would reach our end goals. And for Christians, the end goal is achieving the ultimate prize: eternal life in God's Kingdom. We need to picture in our minds having the faith that does move mountains and to be patient until we fully understand.