During the Struggle

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“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” This is a line from Walt Whitman’s poem Oh Me! Oh Life! quoted by Mr. Keating, a character played by Robin Williams in what is one of my favorite movies. It is a powerful poem. It is a powerful movie. I think the poem itself exposes why I like the Dead Poets Society to begin with. It’s the struggle. The movie reveals a struggle with which I identify. I suspect we all do. William’s character struggles with an old system that he believes desperately needs reform. Within that system, young men at the all-boys prep school tussle with life in general, work to find their own way and struggle against the same system as Mr. Keating finding themselves thrust into it without choice. One of the students doesn’t survive it. Neither does Mr. Keating’s job. The movie captures Whitman’s foundational question well, “What good amid these, Oh me, Oh life?”

I’ve often wondered why I like this movie because it actually ends somewhat unresolved. But I think it’s because I identify with the struggle, the wrestling against brokenness and broken systems. I also watch the movie with a hope at which the movie never really arrives. The culmination of the story is when the young men who were touched by Keating’s life pledge defiant allegiance to him by standing on their desks proclaiming, “Oh Captain, My Captain!” Although I can identify in some ways both with Mr. Keating and students at that moment, what resonates more is the conclusion of Whitman’s poem, “That you are here—that life exists and identity…” Whitman points to more, to existence, to purpose, which leads to his conclusion of life as a powerful play and the opportunity to contribute. In the plot, this was Keating’s hope for his students, that they would find purpose. The fear? That they would be crushed under the weight of the struggle and miss the opportunity.

I think Keating’s point, and ultimately Whitman’s, is amidst the struggle there’s hope to make a difference—to contribute a verse. For me, the thought of contributing a verse is moving, exciting, stirring, and compelling. I even secretly and internally ask myself sometimes, can I make a difference? Can I contribute a verse? The questions arise all the more during seasons of struggle.

Here’s the truth:

It’s not the absence of struggle that allows an opportunity to contribute a verse, it’s actually the presence of it.

I wasn’t around in the 19th century when Walt Whitman penned his famous poem, so I have no idea what his thoughts are behind it. But I know how it speaks to me both in the struggle and the hope. It propels my mind to some promises given for this life. Here are two:

1. This life comes complete with tribulation (struggle)—John 16:33.

There is struggle in life and, at times, this struggle will feel unfair and unjust. But there is no reason for fatalism like Whitman’s question, “What good amid these, O me, O life?” Don’t give up because tribulation isn’t the only promise in this life.

2. There is always an opportunity to make a difference.

How? By learning to live out the supreme ethic of love. (Matthew 22:37-39). If you feel that your current struggles have you sidelined, just begin to make a difference in simple ways right where you are. How?

  • Smile at someone—you might make their day.
  • Be kind to someone—you never know how much of an encouragement you can be to a waitress, or waiter, or barista, or cashier, or coworker just by being kind in our world that is gripped with consumerism and self-centeredness.
  • Serve someone—whether it’s putting away your neighbor’s trashcan, serving at your local soup kitchen, visiting someone in the hospital, whatever it is, just serve someone.
  • Give an unexpected gift.
  • Ask someone how they’re doing…and mean it.
  • In short, find a way to love your neighbor. By the way, it doesn’t cost money to make a difference!

If you feel lost in the struggle of life, if you find yourself sidelined by circumstances beyond your control, start, or restart right where you are because Walt Whitman was right:

“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”

 

Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51568/o-me-o-life

Faithful when faithfulness gets difficult

Walking-Away Have you ever noticed that the longer you are a Christian, connected and involved in a church, the more seasons you see of difficulty? I’m speaking about the relational, spiritual and emotional challenges that cause some people to walk away from fellowship and seek it somewhere else. Often even seeking it in community outside of the church.

I find myself often talking to new and growing believers and almost warning them. I warn them because I know that what is now so fresh and so potent in their life, their new life in Christ and the unbelievably liberating joy it brings, is a feeling that they will not always have. Eventually, to continue in Christ and in fellowship with the local church in which He places us becomes difficult. There will always be seasons of that. Why does it become difficult? Because we know in our world that anything worth doing will be difficult or bring difficulties. If that is true, and it is, how much more true will that be for eternal things? So, we agree that difficulty will come. As a matter of fact, we’re promised that difficulties will come. (John 16:33)

But, here’s the question: How can I stay faithful when faithfulness gets difficult?

1.  Remember truth is not about how I feel. It’s about who God is.

On of the biggest stumbling blocks that keep Christians from continuing in what and where we’ve been called is self. In our culture of self, feelings rule. The problem is feelings so often take us away from the truth. That’s why Paul wrote Philippians 4:6-8. You’d better believe that he struggled from time to time with his feelings. But, he never let them rule his thinking. “Whatever things are true…”

2.  Keep Jesus as the greatest authority in my life.

The necessity of Jesus’ authority in life will always bring us to this question: who am I trying to please? The answer to this question will (or should) determine much, if not all, of what I do and why I do it.

This won’t be easy, however. There are times that Jesus will ask us to do things the we don’t want to do. Remember, He’s taking us away from self and toward him. We need to recognize that when He asks us to do things we don’t want to do, it’s not a curse, it’s an unbelievable act of grace!

3.  Recognize the spiritual battle.

The spiritual battle gets people off the path and out of the fellowship of faith quicker than anything. Satan wants to divide, and he’s good at it! He’s been practicing for millennia. That means that the major temptation you have to walk away may very well be straight from the playbook of the evil one.

This is why it’s paramount that when Christians have relational problems with others in the church, they go to that person, or people, and seek resolution. That’s what Jesus is asking the people of His church to do.

4.  Resist the devil and draw near to God.

This is the only response to spiritual struggle that will keep you on the path on which Christ is leading you. And, by the way, He is leading you into His church and to continue faithfully. (Jesus leads everyone that’s following him to the same place: the church, local, active and faithful. And also to the cross. But, that’s a different blog post.)

We are not told anywhere in Scripture to fight the devil. We are told to straight up run! He’s powerful and he’s a jerk. But, when we resist him the promise is that we can drawn near to God who will ultimately keep us where He wants us. (James 4:7)

5.  Pray – ask for help and strength.

Jesus connected prayer to both watching and waiting. Prayer keeps your focus right and that focus must always be the One you call Lord and Savior. Only then will you and I be able to stay faithful when faithfulness becomes difficult.

So, if your currently in community within a church and you’re struggling to stay faithful. Remember, God led you there for a reason, and He didn’t do that on a whim. Remember also that community takes patients, forgiveness and even a little work. But, because of the Gospel it is worth it! Remember, anything worth doing will be difficult.

 Stay faithful, He’s worth it!