In June of 2011 …I turned 50 …that’s right I said 50.
Life has brought me so many experiences. Some of which were good and some which were not so good. Some of the experiences I went through are still wonderful memories and I cherish them so much, others still sting and cut me to the quick whenever I am reminded of them. The sum of the price paid for those experiences that were bad (mostly caused by my own hand) is higher than I care to admit. I cannot change the results of those experiences and as I look back, I would not change much of what I have gone through.
What is funny though is that my perception of some of these experiences have changed over the years. Some of the experiences I went through, those at one time hurt me, are now the ones that I look back on with appreciation. I have learned that my greatest growth as a person and as a follower of Christ, were from those times I went through a very difficult and trying experience. The end result is that the person I am today at 50 is the direct result of those experiences in my life. The good and the bad.
There is an ebb and flow to life and the balance of life comes from that contrast of good and bad, the yin and the yang. I believe that the bad experiences give you what you don’t want but what you probably need, which helps you clarify what you really DO want out of life . The things I wanted out of life and thought were so important at 25 are now just dull, faded drops of ink on a torn, tattered worn out piece of paper. Worthless.
At 50, I see that God has placed a new canvass in front of me. He has given me time to use the vibrant colors of this life to paint a picture of the things He would like to do in my life before He calls me home. The angry young man (me) that was frustrated because he discovered that life was not going to be perfect, has been replaced by a man that has learned that love, forgiveness and compassion for those that have had struggles in their life are far better than the judgmental spirit and self-righteous person he once was.
Life is Not Perfect
I am amazed at the number of people who think they have gone through trials in this life. When I read their status posts on FACEBOOK I sometimes just shake my head in disbelief. They list their trials as having to get up in the morning or having to go to work or school. The traffic is too heavy or they have too much homework, not enough money and no real, true friends to spend it on if they did. They complain about the weather, it is always too rainy, hot or too cold for them. I have heard and read more complaints about someone’s health and bodily functions than I have ever cared to know. If you really want to see them complain about the trials in this life, just let FACEBOOK change the format of their homepage and all hell breaks loose. They are organizing committees and start groups to fight the designers of FB to force them to return it to “way it was”. Really? Seriously people? Is this the sum of the “trials” you face in your life?
I honestly believe that most of the people I know have lived their entire life without a true understanding what trial and troubled times are. Some have had difficult times for sure, but for the most part, a vast majority have not. It is scary to me think what will happen to many of these people when something that is truly difficult really faces them.
I know that there was a time in my life that I was taught to believe that if I was a Christian and I prayed, read my Bible and didn’t miss church that the problems in life would not be bad. More importantly, I was taught that if I wanted a successful marriage that I should marry a Christian girl and everything would be wonderful in my life. Now before I comment any further, let me first state that I do indeed believe that all of those things are extremely important. The difference in what I believed then and what I believe now is that life is not perfect and those things do not keep problems from happening in your life.
When the trial and troubled times came into my life, I thought that if I just prayed harder, read my Bible longer that problems would not come my way. When things did not get better as fast as I thought they should, I would get very frustrated and then react in anger. Most times, I would take it out on someone or something that had little or nothing to do with the cause of my frustration. Soon afterwards, I self-destructed right before my very own eyes.
The end result?
A failed marriage, divorced and disqualified from my ministry as a Christian School Administrator, I was in a free fall for many years. Make no mistake, like Moses, who wandered in wilderness for 40 years, I too have more than my fair share of wandering. I journeyed far away from the things I had grown up with and strayed from my faith. With the exception of a few friends, everyone that was at one time were a big part of my life had abandoned me. In truth, I guess I could say I abandoned them as well. Either way, I was alone and was as far away from the Lord as I had ever been in my life. It was during this time that I learned so much about myself and my Christian walk. I learned that it is so easy to live for the Lord when things go well. For almost 35 years, I had lived my life with no real understanding of what having a true relationship with Jesus Christ really entailed. I can honestly say that I really did not understand what God’s grace was all about. It took me years but I learned that you are only as strong as that which defeats you and I came so close to giving up and quitting.
And He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling-blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:1-2).
Life is filled with stumbling blocks. We live in a fallen world. We live in a world where bad things happen. Jesus said, “It is inevitable that stumbling-blocks should come.” It is bad enough to stumble over a stumbling block. But it is a worse thing to be the stumbling block over which others stumble. Jesus says, “People are going to stumble; but don’t you be the cause of their stumbling.”
The term stumbling-block is translated from the Greek word skandalon, from which we derive our word “scandal.” The original term described a bent stick and referred to the stick that springs the trap or sets the bait. It also was used for a stumbling block, something that people trip over. When it comes to tripping up other believers, a skandalon is bad. Jesus is saying, “People are going to take the bait – but woe to you if you offer the hook. People are going to trip up – but woe to you if you are the stumbling block in their way.”
I still struggle with the knowledge that I was a stumbling block to other people. Now I know that we live in a fallen world and sin happens. Sin that causes you to change the “good” path on which you were headed. Some of these stumbling blocks will stop you in your tracks and even some will cause you to give up and quit all together. They are different for each of us. What may be a stumbling block for me, may not be one for you. For me, my temper and anger controlled most of my younger years. These were my stumbling blocks and I only wish I could have controlled them then. Because I know that the man I am at 50 is not the same angry, frustrated man I once was.
As the lyrics to one of my favorite songs so beautifully convey…
I wanna have pride like my mother has,
And not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad.
And I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become and not the man that I was.
– “The Perfect Space” by The Avett Brothers
I am so thankful for those things in my life that at one time were “stumbling blocks” but are now “stepping-stones” that lead me to my future. Things that at one time hindered me and stopped me in my tracks have now opened doors of opportunity for me that I would have not had if I didn’t experience the trial. That does not mean that I am happy that I went through the trials and difficult times but I am thankful for them.
We all have events and situations that we face every day that determines what our future will be and I believe that each one of these occurrences can be either bad or good for us. We constantly have these opportunities to regularly to interpret and react to these different situations. What will guarantee that those opportunities are stepping-stones rather than stumbling-blocks?
The bottom line is that it comes down to the choices we make.
Many times our true frustration comes from the fact that “our plan” for our life was interrupted by things we could not control. I firmly believe that some of my “stumbling-blocks” were just issues that kept me from doing my own thing. God had other plans for me and when I did not heed to His call and direction, He allowed some serious things to happen in my life. I think we all must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The life God has laid out for us. The life that takes stumbling-blocks and turns them into stepping-stones.
The choice is up to you.