“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Since God loves all people, everywhere, all the time, it’s instructive to take a step back and see how God’s people fare in places far from home. Most of us have a tendency to think that what we experience is “normal”, because it’s normative for us. Traveling across the United States to places where the Milky Way glimmers across the sky changes the perspective for those of us who call a city, somewhere, home. Most people on earth never see the stars, blanketed by city lights that mean the brightest star on the horizon beacons from the corner street-lamp.
God holds a long view of humanity we barely glimpse, we of clod feet consumed by little troubles. They may seem enormous at the time, yet end as swiftly as a hummingbird’s wing. So, it’s curious to me how caught up we tend to get with our aggravations.
Traveling abroad grants us the opportunity to express curiosity about how other people face their trials. For example, on one trip abroad, I visited a country where no one yelled at anyone, ever. It took a while to notice how softly people spoke to their children. Folks on the street greeted one another with a broad smile, whether they knew each other or not. When an elder passed by, young people stepped off the curb out of respect, making room.
Far and away the grumpiest and most sullen people walking any sidewalk, were North Americans like us. Locals observed that we seem angry at everything, all the time. Tourists walked with downcast faces, eyebrows knit together somewhere between concern and a scowl.
Clearly, God wants more for us than this. God reveals alternative ways to approach our troubles, and invites us to consider a better way. I once knew a woman of faith who discovered a more excellent path than perpetual distress. She was married to one of the meanest people I’ve ever known, who complained about everything and rarely smiled. At a game of cards, he regularly slammed his card on the table in protest if he didn’t win a hand, and harumphed when he won as if he had it coming all along.
This beautiful woman laughed all the time. She didn’t take responsibility for her husband’s bad behavior, didn’t apologize for him as if his behavior were her embarrassment. She simply went on about her life, loving him with as much vigor as he was willing to receive, shaking the dust from her feet and moving on to other occupations when rebuffed. She knit mittens for her ten children and legions of grandchildren, cooked up a storm that she frequently gave away, and never missed an opportunity to pray, worship or sing, practices that gladdened her heart above the fray.
I wonder what would happen, if just for today, we pause at each rising complaint and reflect on the point of our greatest gratitude instead. Maybe, just maybe, we’d recover our capacity to laugh despite the troubles that we so often allow to spoil our joy.
God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you,
Rev. Dr. Anna V. Copeland
The Community Church of Vero Beach, Florida