30 June 2011 – Remaining Positive (Cancer and Me 16)
I got back into job-hunting around the same time as the house move, and eventually found a short-term contract role to start in June 2011.
By that stage I had not been in paid employment, apart for one month in December 2009, for 27 months.
People sometimes ask me how I have remained positive throughout that time, even when I was ill and facing uncertainty. And in reality I haven’t always been positive. I have had periods of real frustration and despondency, periods of real confusion where I’ve almost been unable to do anything. But overall I’ve never given up.
I sometimes look at what has happened to us realistically. Really it’s not as bad as the hardships some people face. Sure, compared to having a steady job and stable health from youth to old age, my life has been hard. But we still live in a 4-bedroom house, own a car, occasionally go abroad on holiday and have a house full of Apple gadgets! The kids get to do many of the things they want to do – football, music, horse riding, gaming. We have friends and family nearby, good neighbours, and live in a nice town. We’re not starving, wondering where we are going to get water, or facing homelessness or the physical dangers of war. There is always somebody worse off than us.
But it really comes down to perspective and goals. How could I “rejoice in my derailment”? Because I believed that God was teaching me to rely on Him and not myself. How could I face an uncertain future? Because I don’t believe the future is ultimately uncertain, because I firmly believe in the reality of God and His promises through Jesus Christ, and because I believe that the gospel that gives salvation is the same one that comforts us in our suffering.
For the unbeliever reading this, I’m not commending faith in Jesus as first and foremost something to comfort us when we need help. Jesus is not a crutch. I commend to you faith in Jesus, because the need for salvation is real and Jesus is really the only way of salvation. The way that faith helps is not by ignoring reality to tell ourselves that there are better things in store for us, but by taking into account the full spectrum of reality.
If I believe that reality ends with the physical, material world, and there is no spiritual realm, then my demise here is the end. If I believed that, I would try to maximize my pleasure, through wealth and relationships, within the bounds of this life. So if that wealth, those relationships, the extent of that life, gets curtailed in any way, then it limits the achievement of my life goals. In short, health and employment problems are big issues in a life lived within those limits.
On the other hand, if I really believe that my ultimate purpose is not me-focussed, if I really believe that there is a better and much more significant life waiting for me after this one, then the troubles of this life can be seen as little hiccups. Of course, that’s an exaggeration – pain is still painful, and hardship is still hard, whatever the perspective – but it’s the contrast I’m getting at.
In the really difficult times I often consider giving up, giving in to despondency. But I can never do it. I don’t even know what giving up would look like.
In some ways God had trained me for this earlier in my life. When I worked for Travelex, more than 10 years ago, things were tough. I was a divisional Finance Director – I’d just turned 29 when they appointed me after buying the business I worked for from Barclays. So I had a steep learning curve. I had 3 departments, totalling 45 people, to look after. And there was an aggressive business growth plan. At one stage we were doing projects to take on major new contracts, projects to speed up processing of existing work, projects to increase capacity, an office move, at the same time as trying to fix some of the niggling little things that were still not working correctly after the business transition. I was personally working more than 60 hours a week, and my Finance team was under pressure. We constantly had to assess resources, workload, progress and priorities. I can remember one of my senior managers criticizing me for being too positive, for “having his head in the clouds”, because I refused to accept that things were impossible. My reply was basically that it was our job to try to find a way through, and that giving up was not an option. I had to remain positive and give the team some belief that we could succeed in at least some of the projects.
I always saw that as a bit of a defining moment, and it did show me how much you can do even long after you’ve suspected that things are hopeless. And it sold me the benefits of staying positive, of not giving up.
But I’ll come back to perspective. Sometimes there are real failures. Sometimes projects are impossible. Sometimes, like happened to me 3 or 4 times, you lose your livelihood and your income. And you can’t live the lifestyle you want. Businesses go under, leaving the owners with literally nothing. Sometimes illness prevents you from living the way you want. Sometimes catastrophe destroys everything we’ve worked for. Eventually, for some, it will get to the point where it is no longer possible to rebuild and try again. They have to accept they have failed – their dreams of comfort, wealth, and happiness, shattered. Sometimes we have to accept that the rest of our lives will be hard.
If this life is all that there is, then no wonder people turn to suicide (assisted or otherwise). If your life is at a dead end, with no options that will give you the pleasure you seek, then your life is pointless and needs to be ended. On the other hand, with Jesus Christ there is no dead end. There is no ultimate failure. He promises rescue from this hard life, if we will only turn to him, turning from our self-centred ways. The ultimate picture is that of Jesus himself, who looked like he had completely failed as he died in agonizing pain on a Roman cross. But he rose from the dead 3 days later, never to die again. So whatever failure we face here and now, we can look forward to the same reversal – we will be raised from the dead, never to die again, but to live in God’s perfect eternal world forever.
I really believe that hardships in this life are God’s way of waking us up, or testing us.
If you are not a believer, hardships will make you ask what life is really all about. You will seek out that perspective that will make sense of it all. God wakes you up to seek Him.
If you are a Christian, or call yourself one, then hardships will prove whether you really believe what you say you believe. Even you may not know whether your faith is genuine. You may say all the right things, sing about heaven, pray, read the Bible. But will you persevere when the testing comes and things are hard?