Timeless Truths for Troubled Times
To say that we live in troubled times is an understatement. There are massive street protests in countries around the world, the actions of terrorists have taken many lives and created an atmosphere of suspicion and fear, most government leaders seem more interested in protecting their own wealth and power (and that of the corporations who fund their campaigns) than in working together for the common good, and millions of people struggle to survive after losing their jobs or their retirement savings, their homes, their access to medical care, and their ability to feed their families.
Even if your own life has been relatively untouched by these realities, you probably have family members, friends, or co-workers who are not so fortunate. Newspapers, magazines, television, and the internet also bombard us with stories about how bad things are, and how difficult it will be to agree on solutions to the problems, much less implement them. How can we hold on to hope in these troubled times?
That question is both universal and deeply personal for me. My husband has been out of work for almost a year now, and I was laid off a couple of months ago. We are surviving for now, thanks to unemployment benefits and help from family and friends, but there are many questions about what the future holds for us and I worry about our financial situation. We used to joke that we would be able to retire two years after we die; that joke isn’t so funny anymore.
My own efforts to find something to hold on to when everything seems to be falling apart, and to find words of hope in the midst of my despair, led me to the words of Scripture and other ancient texts. In the Psalms, especially, I found great comfort, because the full range of human emotions are expressed there. From angry tirades asking why God seems to be doing nothing and demanding that God intervene to save lives and punish evildoers, to heartfelt cries of grief from those who feel hopeless and helpless, to shouts of joy and gratitude when times are good, the Psalms has it all. Jesus himself used words from the Psalms when he cried,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
What I realized as I read these texts is that while ancient writers certainly could not envision the details of the specific challenges facing the world today, the reality is that throughout history, humans have had to deal with corrupt leaders, wars, and fears about having enough food and other basic necessities to survive. Different cultures have always struggled to understand and accept each other, and there have always been those who put their own self-interests above what is best for everyone else.
There have also always been prophetic voices challenging us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, to resist the temptation to scapegoat others when times are tough, to work together to improve things, and to settle our differences without resorting to verbal or physical violence. My hope and prayer is that the ancient words of wisdom I have gathered in this book, and my reflections on how they relate to the difficulties we face now, will strengthen and encourage all who read these words, and inspire all of us to hold on to faith, hope, and love, and work together to make our world a better place.
P.S. I have not grouped the meditations in any particular order; they do not necessarily need to be read consecutively. My suggestion is to read only one each day, and then take the time to reflect on what you have read and how it relates to your own life experience. I’ve concluded each meditation with questions for personal reflection; you may find it helpful to write your responses in a journal.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
If I had to pick a single Bible verse as my favorite, it would probably be this one. I have it on a keychain, on my nightstand, and on a shelf in our living room. I refer to it often, especially when I’m not feeling very hopeful about the future.
It’s important to understand this verse in context, though. The preceding verse reads, “For thus says the Lord: only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” God is speaking to the people sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, telling them that one day they will return and their fortunes will be restored, but only after seventy years of exile!
Somehow I don’t think that’s the good news the people were hoping to hear. In fact, another prophet, Hananiah, was telling them that God would defeat the king of Babylon and rescue them within two years, and Jeremiah criticizes Hananiah for making the people trust in a lie.
One of the challenges facing us today is that we have leaders who tell us what we want to hear. Instead of helping us face some harsh realities and proposing realistic, long-term solutions, they promise quick fixes and reassure us that everything will be fine. The brave few who acknowledge the complexity of the problems we are facing and dare to suggest that major changes need to be made and that it won’t be easy or inexpensive to make them usually don’t remain in leadership positions for long.
I like this verse not only because it reassures me that God cares about my welfare and plans to give me a future with hope, but also because it reminds me that instant gratification isn’t always possible or even desirable. When I am going through tough times, I get impatient and want God to magically make it all better right now, or at least tell me how and when my situation will improve. When I look back on other difficult periods in my life, though, I see that those times are often necessary for me to learn an important lesson, grow in my faith, or achieve something deeply meaningful to me. They also help me empathize with other people, and be caring and compassionate when I am in a position to help. In some cases, like when I didn’t get a job I desperately wanted but then later got a different job for which I was much better suited, I can even see that what was a devastating experience at the time was actually a great blessing.
In my digital book The Butterfly Principles: Nine Steps to Transform Your Life, I tell the story of a man who watched a butterfly struggling to squeeze its body through a tiny opening in its cocoon. The man decided to help by carefully creating a larger opening, through which the butterfly soon emerged quite easily. However, its wings were small and shriveled. What the man did not realize is that the process of squeezing its body through the tiny opening is what enables a butterfly to force fluid from its body into its wings and become capable of flight. Perhaps the same is true for humans: any transformation requires a period of struggle first.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. Think about a difficult period in your past. What good came out of it? How were you changed by that experience, and how has it changed the way you respond to others facing similar situations?
2. Do you believe that God has plans for you? If so, what is God asking you to do to help those plans become a reality?