The following photo was presented recently to a class I am enrolled in. It is of a tree, once cut down, now bursting crazily with life.
Planted beside a pond, I could not help but think this replenished tree puts the disappointments, dangers, and disasters of life into a whole new perspective. When we feel cut down, what might we do to recover? Where are the promised flowing streams to replenish our life?
When I Needed to Replenish My Life
Being a Christian minister, you might be surprised to learn I once found myself unemployed due to retrenchment (“being laid off” is the expression in North America). The following 8 months were some of the worst of my life.
I took up an Associate Minister position alongside a man I respected greatly.Knowing he had the potential to be a great mentor for me, he nonetheless retired about 2 years in.
An Interim Minister was called in. A nice enough guy. Until, that is, a new Senior Minister was chosen. This man was not interested in me at all; he didn’t bother even trying to get to know me and how I could contribute to his team.
The word came in from the Selection Committee: The Ministry Team would be cleared out in advance so the new minister could choose his own team. We were all politely invited to find our own way out of there. For about 3 months the IM would come into my office weekly and ask if I had found a new job yet. Giving up on me, the church offered a severance package and I was put out.
I had an idea for a side-hustle business I could develop but my heart was in church leadership. As repeated interviews turned up no offers, my despair increased. Many times, my family and friends innocently asked, “Why don’t you find something else to do?” While their intention was to be helpful, these comments served only to diminish my already-shrivelling heart.
I gave it due consideration. What was I good at? What other work could I do that would use my skills and experience to contribute to my family and others? Unfortunately, I am that ‘special’ breed who are wholeheartedly committed to encouraging and equipping friendship with Jesus. Thus, in my lack of employment as a minister, my faith was faltering. What happened to the “flowing streams” I was allegedly planted beside? I was bearing no fruit, my leaf was withering, and I was certainly not prospering in anything.
Faith in Jesus and a Christian lifestyle is the best kind of life. But it is no guarantee we won’t suffer disappointments, dangers, and disasters. Yet, even ‘cut down’, we can have access to a source of peace, provision and power that will replenish our life again.
Words Too Simple to Be True?
One of my favourite passages from the Bible opens The Book of Psalms:
How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams
that bears its fruit in its season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
The wicked are not like this;
instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgement,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin. (Psalm 1)
These ancient song lyrics have always been a source of comfort for me … until, that is, I found myself cut down unexpectedly.
I will be the first to admit these lyrics present a rather simplistic view of the world. Is it true the righteous always triumph and the wicked get their just rewards? Maybe herein lies the problem. When the friends of Jesus come to expect this simplicity, they set themselves up for trouble. Despite all God has done in Jesus to rescue, reconcile, and restore humanity, this remains a fallen world, for the time being at least.
How then can we replenish our life once we’ve been cut down?
The lyrics above do not actually present an once-for-all or a life-is-beautiful-and-nothing-hurts experience. The lyrics presume an experience of faith and lifestyle based on delighting in the Lord’s instruction found recorded in the Bible. Meditating on and continually learning from the commands of God is akin to a tree planted by flowing streams. It is from this spiritual discipline we have access to that experience of peace, provision, and power.
The lyrics above do not deny the disappointments, dangers, and disasters of life. Due to these ever-present possibilities, we may feel cut down. Nevertheless, we still have access to those flowing streams through our meditating on and continual learning from the commands of God. In time, our life will blossom again, even if we seem a little wonky afterwards, like the tree in the photo.
Things to Continue or Start
When you feel cut down in life, here’s a couple of things you can and should do:
- Continue to read the Bible, even if only for a minute or two a day. Whatever plan you follow, the wisdom contained therein will remind you of our Creator’s care and concern. You may even find some advice for a way forward.
- Continue to pray, even if only for a minute or two a day. Having been cut down, you will likely feel spiritually dry, unable to pray, to express yourself to God. That is perfectly understandable. But even spending a minute or two in silence can be quite refreshing to one’s soul. Lifting up complaints to God is also perfectly acceptable —the books of Psalms and Lamentations have been included in the Bible for good reason. Just keep the lines of communication open and those streams flowing!
- Continue to gather with a community of faith. No, they likely won’t understand and will likely offer lame words of consolation. At least they care enough to try to offer comfort. The worst thing you can do when you’re cut down is to sever ties with your network of support. Sharing your experience with others may lead to legitimately helpful offers and resources.
For more inspiration and ideas, Brett and Kate McKay, over at The Art of Manliness, have written a great article touching on a similar theme: “Life is Hard; Get Drunk on This”. A little tongue-in-cheek, they present some other principles for recovering when you feel cut down by the hardness of life. I can’t recommend this article enough.
As for me, those months were bleak and I hope never to find myself in that situation again. I did find employment as an Associate Minister with a new church, which brought a different type of disappointment into my life. But 4 years on, I am now the sole minister of a small community of faith in Sydney. Those who gather there are great, full of faith and good humour. I am finally in a legitimate program for gaining licensing as a Minister of Religion. And my life is starting to blossom again.
Have you ever felt disappointments, dangers, and disasters in life had cut you down?
Have you recovered?
What helped or is helping to replenish your life?