The fullness of life comes through many small deaths.
For much of my life, I had this unspoken belief that the older you get the easier your life will be. I walked around thinking the hard times like grad school, hands-on parenting, keeping the family and ministry in the black, would slowly fade into the background and an “all is well,” bountiful existence would eventually begin to take shape.
It seemed like both the Bible and culture supported this.
Didn’t Jesus say … “I’ve come so you can have abundant life?” (John 10:10)
And aren’t we taught somewhere that if we work hard and sacrifice much, over time our life will gradually be “up and to the right?” Didn’t someone say that success is available to everyone if they really want it?
But life doesn’t work this way.
I lost count of the times things like this happened:
We put money in savings and a car would die. We’d be off on a much-needed summer vacation and get called home early because of a serious emergency (this happened more than once.) There was the time trusted co-workers were adamant that the church I was leading should be run a different way which led to difficulties between us which led to their resignations… which led to fallout in the congregation which led to a complete stall, overhaul then reboot of our mission as a church (this happened more than once.)
You’ve got similar stories where things, people or organizations break down just when everything was going so well. It seems like “it’s always something.” While part of life is going according to plan another part just isn’t. I kept looking out on the horizon wondering when that abundant life thing was going to materialize.
For all my study and desire to follow Jesus I had missed one of the most obvious traits of “The Way” of his life. The pattern of Jesus’ story is meant to show us the path of our own human journey. He didn’t come just to die and get resurrected for us, He also came to show us how our life will play out.
And it looks like this:
Stage 1: ORDER
- This is the construction stage. In human life, it takes up what, Richard Rohr, calls “the first half of life.” Under normal circumstances, without major tragic interventions, this happens from ages 1-35 or 40.
- There’s constant construction of our ego identity, a necessary structure. This egoic structure and our identity believe that they get the full picture of who we are and how things should be.
- During this stage, our thinking is mostly black and white, (dualistic thinking) where we see everything about ourselves and others through the lens of good or bad, right or wrong, for or against me.
- We think who we are is based on what we do, have, or accomplish as well as what religious or cultural tribe we belong to.
In Jesus life, there was His ordinary, day to day existence for 30 years. Part of His identity was built around being Joseph and Mary’s son; a carpenter; and part of the Jewish tribe.
Stage 2: DISORDER
- This stage seems to happen when something in our life ‘fails’ us like our belief system, our health, our marriage, our parents, our job, our church, etc. What used to ‘work’ for us, no longer does. We go through “the dark night of the soul.”
- During this period, there seems to be a lot of deconstruction Everything that used to be well-ordered, now feels as if it’s in complete disarray. The order that we counted on becomes too small and self-serving and is being deconstructed by the trials of life.
- During this period, our either/or, good/bad, dualistic thinking breaks down- even though we fight against it. If we allow it, we learn to see that things and people can be BOTH good and bad. And we also come to see that Order cannot solve all or even most problems, especially pain and suffering.
- During this stage of disorder, we heavily question who we thought we were and who other people were to us. We face questions about God, life, and death. We might even think we are losing our faith.
In Jesus’ life, we see this in His trials, misunderstanding, betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, and death.
Stage 3: REORDER
- We get a significant, breakthrough in our life. It could be a shift in our thinking, identity, or relationships.
- During this period, reconstruction is happening. Everything that seemed to be in complete chaos and disarray now finds itself rearranging into a new way of being, often a more lasting and fulfilling way. We learn to go above and beyond what has happened. We learn that death, many little ones and ultimate the big one, are a normal part of life. Something new emerges from the ashes. Without rejecting either ORDER or DISORDER, grace moves us toward God’s Reorder.
- We realize that we are MUCH MORE than we ever thought. We also experience God as MUCH MORE that we had ever known.
In Jesus’ life, we see this in His resurrection. A part of who He was, is still recognizable to His friends and yet a part of Him is new and transformed.
BACK TO ORDER AGAIN:
So guess what happens after there is a major re-order? We then think we’ve ‘got it’… don’t need anymore… and we start trusting in our new ‘it.’ This is when the cycle re-appears again.
But instead of despairing at this we can know that 1) This IS how life is supposed to go 2) we usually aren’t just going around in circles… we are increasing in wisdom and understanding. We are going up in an ever tightening spiral into higher stages of God awareness and self-awareness.
I’m continuing to learn that life, relationships, work, etc, all go through various seasons and cycles, only to re-appear again. The more I can understand what stage I’m in, the more I can cooperate with what ‘it’ asks of me… as well as be able to anticipate what stage is in front of me.
Also, I can understand that my relationships my be in RE-ORDER; my job in DIS-ORDER; and my spiritual life in ORDER. That helps me balance out that life is neither all horrible nor completely terrific.
But the big thing this continually reminds me of is that: EVERY cycle of pain, suffering, or loss, is ALWAYS followed by resurrection, in one form or another.
So which stage are you currently in?
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