Navigating the Low Times of Life
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Plots where the main characters are happy, successful, and lead stress-free lives don’t seem to make the most captivating stories or become bestsellers. If the protagonist’s life is perfect already, what is the point of the story? Whereas books with plots along the lines of “Man is falsely accused of a crime he did not commit, is imprisoned for countless years before he finally escapes with the intention of confronting his accusers and clearing his name” are stories that are more likely to interest people. We are curious to know what happens next, and we want to find out if things turn out right in the end. We begin to hope for a just and happy ending for the characters in the story because of the difficulties and lows they face in their lives.
In real life, however, most of us are not fond of dwelling on the low points in our lives. Our natural tendency is to wish that we could skip them, or we could put life on fast-forward to get to the good parts, the happily-ever-afters, and the scenes where one gets to ride off triumphant over the obstacles of life into the sunset as an orchestra plays in the background. But it is actually the highs and the lows that the protagonist of the story went through before that ending scene that give meaning to the plot of a book or a movie. If that were not the case, movies would be ten minutes in length instead of an hour and a half on average.
While directors and authors might write in a heartrending scene purely for effect, in real life, I have yet to encounter someone who hasn’t experienced a taste of the lows. Tough times in life come in all shapes and sizes. It could be depression over situations or circumstances that don’t appear to have hope of getting better, or impatience toward situations or people that are not meeting one’s expectations, or times when tragedy has struck—and times when we once enjoyed life seem to be either a distant memory or a foggy future hope.
Psalm 139:16 states that “All the days ordained for me were written in [God’s] book before one of them came to be.” And seeing that every person in life experiences troubling times, there must be something within the low points of our lives that God has ordained to be good for our spirits and that will bring increased value to the ending scene of our lives.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years before he went on to lead South Africa during a crucial time in that nation’s history. Those 27 years were indubitably some of the lowest times in his life. But during those 27 years in prison, he never gave up hope for his country and his cause. He learned, he studied, and then when his moment arrived, he was ready. The 27 years he spent in prison mattered; most likely, the time spent behind bars counted toward his becoming the person he needed to be to lead his country.
The low points in life can be important touchstones in our lives, as they compel us to think about our purpose and the things that truly matter in life. More importantly, they can cause us to consider what God wants for and from us. They have the potential to bring insight, direction, wisdom, and valuable lessons if we are open to receiving them.
The long and short of it is that the “lows” in life teach us things that the “highs” don’t. They build character and remind us of the things that truly matter. While I may never come to enjoy a “low” in life, I think that by finding meaning in the lows, I’m coming to terms with the fact that they’re often the walkway that God uses to bring me to a different point in life and new spiritual growth.
The following Psalm has been a comfort to me during such times: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me [up] out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”1
Life continues beyond the lows, but as you go through those times, God can give you a new song to sing.—T.M.2
Feasting on worms
It was 6:30 a.m. I had woken early, only to be met by the sight of a rained-out world on a day our extended family had planned to go on an outing together. I didn’t mind the rain much. Heaven knew the land needed it. I paused and looked out into our garden to see a little brown bird hopping around, eyeing the soggy earth in hopeful expectation of finding a meaty feast in the form of a hapless almost-drowned worm.
At the moment I felt like that poor worm. For months prior to this, dark clouds had slowly been gathering over our little family. Our young son was facing developmental delays that resulted in him having frustrated, heartrending tantrums and affected his happiness on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. He often even awoke in the middle of the night crying out. When he was himself, he was a sweet, sensitive, affectionate, and delightful little boy. But we needed to know more about his challenges so we could better meet his growing needs, and we needed to know now, while he was still young and malleable, before the secondary and sometimes more tragic effects of low self-esteem and depression entered his tender little life.
To make matters even more challenging for us, four days earlier my husband and I had received the news that his place of employment would not be available for much longer, and as a result we would have to find a new job and a new house. In the past I had leaped with dizzy anticipation into the arms of an unknown future, hopping the globe and chasing my destiny wherever the breeze seemed to blow me. But now I cowered in the face of such a major change coming right at this crucial time in my son’s life.
Four days had seemed like four years as I clung hour by hour to some straw of hope, usually in the form of a scripture or quotation, in the midst of the deluge. Many men and women of faith down through the ages faced dark and trying times, and they lived to write anecdotes or poems or hymns about them. I clung to those inspirational thoughts now. Sometimes I quoted one line over and over, like a mantra, just to keep my presence of mind as I continued to care for my children and tend to household duties. It was working, too.
Standing in my doorway, looking at that little brown bird, I heard the voice of comfort I have come to know so well as my Savior’s. “You’re not the earthworm, dear, but the bird. The rains and storms that I have allowed to fall on your world have provided for you a feast that you would otherwise have to dig for.” Suddenly my perspective changed. Jesus was laying before us a spiritual feast in this seemingly dark and dreary time. Treats we would have had to dig for under normal circumstances were coming to the surface—the special gifts of greater closeness to Jesus and each other, greater love and appreciation for our friends and family, and a fervent desire to commit our daily needs and fears to Jesus in prayer.
Has the rain stopped? Not yet. While some of our prayers have been answered wonderfully (we moved and my husband found a new job) and we are encouraged, we still face major challenges on other fronts. But we will remain bright and happy little birds even through the rain, because odd as it may seem, we’re feasting on worms!—Megan Dale
A very present help
The Bible says that God is near to the brokenhearted3 and a very present help in times of trouble.4 He’s more than a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold. He can reach into the deepest places of your heart. He can soothe the pain and suffering, and fill you with His love, peace, comfort, and yes, even joy—in spite of the circumstances you are facing. When He shines the light of His Word on your tears, they turn to rainbow hues. It’s sunshine after the rain, light at the end of the tunnel. In your most trying times, His Word—His written Word and His living word spoken directly to your mind—will come alive to you as you reach out and receive it.—Rafael Holding
Published on Anchor March 2022. Read by Reuben Ruchevsky.
Music by Michael Dooley.
1 Psalm 40:1–3 NIV.
2 This article was adapted from a podcast on Just1Thing, a Christian character-building website for young people.
3 Psalm 34:18.
4 Psalm 46:1.
- Living in God’s Word
- God’s Healing Balm in Times of Grief
- Hurry and Worry
- One Thing Before All Things
- Faith Like Gold
- Learning About God’s Mercy
- Trusting Through the Silence
- A Life Well Lived, Today and for the Future
- How God Gave Me a Home
- Setting Our Affections on Things Above