In a hurry as usual, I climbed into the car to drive my daughter to school. When I turned the key in the ignition, nothing happened. I tried twice more with the same result. The battery was dead! We would have to walk. At least it was a pleasant morning and we lived only a few blocks from school.
What, I wondered, had drained the battery? Then I remembered that the interior lights had been on when I parked the car in the driveway the night before. I had meant to investigate but had been too busy carting groceries, getting dinner, and helping the children with homework. If I hadn’t overlooked a little problem in the first place, I realized, it wouldn’t have grown into a bigger one this morning.
That’s how it is with most things. Small problems that are overlooked grow into bigger problems that can threaten the peace. Take my friend Jan. A mother of three, she confided not long ago that she was worried about two of her boys because she had caught them telling lies. It wasn’t anything big. They would say they were going to bed when they were really hiding under the covers playing video games. Or they would assure her they had done their homework when they hadn’t. Or they would blame someone else for an infraction they had committed themselves.
She was shocked to realize both boys had become inveterate liars. Why hadn’t she and her husband noticed the problem earlier? She wasn’t quite sure. Maybe their lies had at first seemed inconsequential. Maybe she and her husband had thought it enough to simply chide them. Maybe both parents had been too busy to pay close attention to what their children were telling them. Whatever the case, Jan realized that overlooking the problem had made it grow larger and more entrenched.
Every day a thousand things assail us. Overlooking some of them is probably a good idea. But ignoring the wrong ones means we are asking for bigger trouble later. Ask God today to help you pay attention to what matters so that small problems will stay small rather than crowding out the peace he has for you.
The man was lying on a cheap straw mat, propped up on his arms. He felt lucky to get a spot at the pool, where the ill gathered, but not lucky enough to make it into the water as soon as it began to stir. Like many, he was sure the pool’s curative powers were activated by a visiting angel who would stir up the water from time to time.
“Would you like to get well?” the rabbi asked, balancing on his heels to look the man in the face.
The question startled him. Didn’t this teacher realize he had been an invalid for thirty-eight years, almost as long as most healthy men live? Something in the rabbi’s tone, however, kept him from giving an angry retort.
Instead, he replied, “I can’t, sir . . . for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me” (John 5:7).
There! That should put a stop to the conversation.
Instead came the quick command: “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” (verse 8). The man felt something lift him to his feet. Hardly knowing what he was doing, he bent down to snatch up his mat. To the amazement of all, he simply gave a quizzical look and then began walking.
The odd question—“Would you like to get well?”—may cause us to wonder whether the invalid had wanted to be healed. Commenting on this passage, Mark Buchanan says,
“Sickness can actually steal the place of God. It can become the sick person’s center, the touchstone by which he defines himself. Illness is a tyrant with huge territorial ambitions. It is a seductress with large designs. It wants not only the sick person’s body. It wants his heart and mind also.”1
Pain, especially when prolonged, can be a vortex that is hard to escape. If you are praying for healing for yourself or others, ask God to restore both body and soul as a sign of his powerful presence and his promised peace.
- Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 150–51.
I am a sucker for happy endings. A few years ago I read an early twentieth-century classic in which the main character suffers a fall from the moneyed class into social degradation and a tragic, untimely death. Though I loved elements of the story and the writing, I closed the book in a huff, feeling I had been cheated. After investing precious time and emotional energy into a story about a character I cared about, I discovered there was nothing redemptive about her story. She was doomed from the start.
Though I was surprised by how affronted I felt, I realized where my sense of indignation was coming from: I do not believe in bleak endings.
This world does not always produce happy endings. But as a believer in Christ, I cannot embrace a story that does not allow for the possibility of hope. Hence my addiction to stories with happy endings, like the movie Dolphin Tale.
At the lowest point of the narrative, when all the other characters have fallen into despair about the possibility of saving the life of a dolphin called Winter, a father reminds his son of a poem they used to recite together:
I must down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by.1
As the two reminisce, the father says to his son, “Just ’cause we haven’t got to where the star is taking us doesn’t mean it’s the wrong star.” This line is the turning point of the movie. It injects hope and galvanizes the characters to achieve what had seemed impossible only moments earlier.
No matter how bleak things may look, our story is going to end well as long as we trust Christ. The excruciating details of the life we now live are not building toward a tragic ending but toward a redemptive finale in which every one of God’s promises will be fulfilled.
No wonder we’re wired for happy endings. God has stitched hope into our souls, giving us the strength to go on.
- John Masefield, “Sea Fever,” in Salt-Water Ballads (New York: Macmillan, 1913), 59.
Want to know the leading cause of stress? Here’s what one perceptive observer has concluded:
“Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it.”
Or how about this:
“I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.”
“Cheer up, the worst is yet to come.”
“When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’”1
A little humor can help break up the stress we feel, easing the intensity of the moment. Perhaps it can even do more than that. Norman Cousins, former editor of the New York Evening Post, famously claimed that nonstop doses of Vitamin C, coupled with a diet of humorous books and movies, healed him of ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease that causes pain and stiffness, primarily in the spinal joints. Though his claims were never clinically verified, it’s clear that all those Marx Brothers movies he watched had a positive effect.
“I made the joyous discovery,” he said, “that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion-picture projector again, and, not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free sleep interval.”2
Laughter can at least help put our problems in perspective, breaking the cycle of worry and anxiety. If you’re in the market for some good laughs, try a few of these classic films to get you started: Groundhog Day, Big, Duck Soup, The Pink Panther, or The Trouble with Harry. Even better, make sure you get your fix of babies and toddlers, whose laughter is infectious, even if your “fix” merely includes getting a few good laughs from YouTube.
- Quoted in Elizabeth Scott, “Funny Stress Quotes to Brighten Your Day,” https://www.verywell.com/funny-stress-quotes-3144661.
- Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979), 43.