(I know, that title. Hear me out. I kinda liked the title, anyway.)
2 Corinthians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I love Paul’s writings, first of all. He is always so persuasive, so direct, so genuine. Strong in his faith, loving toward others, but never subservient or weak.
But 2 Corinthians is also a very low time in Paul’s ministry. He is exhausted and discouraged. Physical, mental and emotional fatigue all bleed through his words. He writes to the Corinthians to defend himself, but also to share his emotions with friends. His world was hard, and he was feeling the weight of it all.
Same, you say, right? Me too. I think I’ve said every day for the past 4 months, “this is such a weird year.” I mean, who would have thought we’d be here? Would anyone have ever predicted that we’d start the 2020-2021 school year wearing masks and faceshields? Teaching and learning behind plexiglass?
And we complain. I complain. I admit it. I verbally express fear, frustration, and even anger on a daily basis. I vent. Just like you, I’m a regular witness to all kinds of stupidity, at work, on the news, social media, and even in my own home. And sometimes, I’ve just had it.
But we shouldn’t, right? We shouldn’t complain. That’s not what good Christians do. We should have positive attitudes and smiley faces. All the time. Peace beyond understanding, and all that.
Let me just say that I don’t think all emotional disclosures are bad. While it is not good to be a person marked with negative speech or a sour attitude, I do think unloading some heavy feelings can be very freeing and healthy, if it’s done in the right way.
Reading 2 Corinthians, Paul is very open about his feelings. “We were completely overwhelmed – beyond our strength – so that we even despaired of life.” Um, hang on, Paul, what about peace beyond understanding and love and joy and all that? Where is Paul’s sunny disposition?
When someone is plotting your death and sabotaging your work, you’d probably feel kinda discouraged, too. Life was not easy for Paul.
It’s not easy for us, either. And it shows on us. This fallen world is experiencing some serious fear and anxiety. It is hard to keep our chins up.
But we can follow Paul’s lead in another way, too. Paul owned his heavy heart. But he also reminded himself what to remember. “We are pressured in every way, but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair. We are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.”
I’m visual. Let’s look at it this way.
not in despair
But, not ______. Aren’t we glad there is a second part to each of those sentences? Aren’t we thankful that there is a but?
Here’s some more buts.
For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, BUT one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:7
And I no longer live, BUT Christ lives in me. Galatians 2:20
Here’s the best but of all – The wages of sin is death (here’s the best but of all), BUT the gift of God is eternal life. Romans 6:23
In our own speech, in our own lives, we can practice adding a second half. We can add ‘but ____’ to the end of our complaints. Here’s some of my own recent negative statements and complaints, out of my own lips:
This is such a weird year.
That was such a stupid decision.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
I am a mess.
I am so tired of this.
I am so frustrated with feeling like no one is listening.
I feel like giving up.
I need to finish my sentences. I need to remember my buts.
This is such a weird year, but I am not alone
That was such a stupid decision, but I know God is in ultimate control
I have no idea what I’m doing, but God does
I am a mess, but God’s grace is enough
I am so tired of this, but God strengthens me
I feel like no one is listening, but God is closer to me than a brother
I feel like giving up, but I know that God is my ultimate hope
With God, there can always be a beautiful second half to a hard beginning. Wherever you’re at, it’s not the end. That’s redemption. We are redemption, broken people full of mess and misses and mistakes. We are the hopeless walking dead until the Spirit quickens us, sets new life in us, and sends us down His path.
We’re on His path. He’s not finished with us yet. Let’s remember to leave room for Him to work and allow Him to complete our sentences. Honor your feelings. Own the difficulty. But don’t forget the but.