Jillian will be born in August. As she grows, Jillian will develop a learning disability that will prevent her from learning to read at the appropriate age. Due to this disability, she will struggle with school for the rest of her years as a student. Despite her best efforts, her grades will always be average. In high school, Jillian will become friends with a girl named Megan. They will share secrets and be nearly inseparable for much of their junior year. But Megan will be diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer, and she will pass away just as the senior year begins. Jillian will mourn the loss, and her grades will suffer for it.
She will attend a local community college, working a job and taking a small course load. The two-year program will take her three-and-a-half years to complete, and just before heading to a state school, Jillian will be involved in a drunk driving accident. A drunk driver will hit her from behind, pushing her car into an intersection, where a family of three will swerve to avoid her. They skid off the road, hit a tree, and their youngest son will die.Though the fault isn’t hers, Jillian will blame herself for his death and spiral down into deep depression.
Eventually, she will make it to a state school, finish her degree and get a job working for a food distributor. She will love her job. Just as a promotion comes her way, an economic downturn will force the company to lay off much of their management, which now includes Jillian. In the devastating economic climate, Jillian will struggle to get work, and eventually she will file for bankruptcy, selling her house and moving in to a small studio apartment to make ends meet. Though she will strive to get back on her feet, the economy will make it increasingly hard to do so, and she’ll spend a few years living month-to-month.
She will eventually find another job, but due to her bankruptcy and season of unemployment, she won’t be able to retire the way she had hoped, nor will she ever make as much as she used to. She will have to work hard into her old age, piecing her life back together.
Obviously, Jillian is not born yet, but she would soon be. This scenario was presented to a group of people by psychologist Johnathan Haidt. The exercise is laid out in a book by Kyle Idleman called AHA. Awakening. Honesty. Action. The question for the participants was what hardship would you erase first from Jillian’s life? Most chose to eliminate the learning disability and the car accident and the financial hardships. We love our children and would want them to live a life without hardships, pains, and setbacks. We would all prefer our children’s lives to be free from pain and anguish.
But ask yourself: Is that really best?
Do we really think a privileged life of smooth sailing is going to make our kids happy? What if you erase a hardship that’s going to show them how to be joyful in spite of any circumstance? What if you erase some pain and suffering that ends up being the catalyst God uses in their lifetime to cause them to cry out to Him? What if you erase a difficult circumstance that wakes them up to God’s purpose for their life?
Did you know that the number one contributor to spiritual growth is not sermons, books, blog posts, or study groups? The number one contributor to spiritual growth is difficult circumstances. I can tell you this from personal experience spending thirty-seven years as an active drug addict and alcoholic, struggling constantly with difficult circumstances caused by my own actions and decisions. My addiction took me to three years in a state prison. I can point also to hundreds of other alcoholics and addicts who did the exact same thing.
Your AHA! moment comes out of the sufferings, setbacks and challenges of life. Many people could point to those moments as their greatest moments of spiritual awakening.
Sometimes it takes cancer to awaken us to things of eternal value.
Sometimes it takes unemployment to awaken us to a deeper prayer life.
Sometimes it takes a broken heart to finally let Jesus in.
Difficult circumstances don’t always wake us up; some times they cause us to turn over, cover our heads with a pillow, and go back to sleep. Disappointment in life will often bring about one of two very different responses: We will either cry out to God in desperation, or we will distance ourselves from God.
Right now someone is reading this excerpt from Johnathan Haidt who is experiencing difficult circumstances. In your pain and disappointment, there is a part of you that wants to turn from God and walk away. But don’t waste the pain. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, we read, “For God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life.” It doesn’t say “God causes,” rather it says “God uses.”He wants us to use rough circumstances to draw closer to Him.
I have, from time to time, participated in Bible study groups at two local county prisons. They would file in to the room, one after another, accompanied by a guard. This is a minimum security county jail, so they are not shackled and handcuffed. You can tell there’s not much pretense or pride, however. It’s hard to get caught up in impressing people when everyone wears the same outfit — an outfit that claims they are bad or guilty or outcast.
The inmates could teach the church a thing or two about authenticity and transparency. Over the few years I’ve been visiting with these men, I’ve noticed something. They say, “Well, now I’ve really hit rock bottom haven’t I?” I have never understood this mentality that we have to hit rock bottom before reaching out for help. This is also evident in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. It seems a man has to be stripped of everything and have no prospects before he is willing to admit that his way simply is not working.
Listen to me, I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I know you don’t have to hit rock bottom. You can wake up now. You can come to your senses today. This can be your AHA! moment.
Consider this: A paraphrase of the return of the Prodigal Son.
A young man walks down a long road. We can see he wears torn clothes. His sleeves are caked with mud. The young man crests the horizon, plodding along. But suddenly, the weary figure is blocked from view. Another figure is running toward him. This older man runs full tilt toward the worn and filthy figure. The two reach one another and embrace. The younger man, solemn and holding back tears, tries to speak. The older man doesn’t even seem to hear him — he kisses the young man, and tears of joy stream down his face. He looks back and calls to someone.
We see a courtyard full of people. Tables are set up everywhere, covered with a full spread of food. The guests aren’t eating yet. Every eye is on a larger table in the corner of the courtyard. The young man now wears a resplendent robe, and some color has returned to his cheeks. He smiles, watching as the older man, standing at the head of this table, addresses the crowd. He raises his cup. Everybody in attendance raises their cups and toasts along with the old man, applauding after they drink.
Redemption is indeed a mighty thing. When you suddenly realize that you can not go another minute without God in your life, without his guidance and love and strength and power and faith and grace and wisdom, you have hit your AHA! moment. There truly is nothing sweeter.