I asked myself recently what keeps me steady in times of crisis. What keeps me from giving up and saying, “I don't want to keep trying,” “I don’t want to give so much,” “I don’t want to care anymore,” “I don’t want my heart broken anymore,” “This burden is too heavy for me to keep carrying.”
What keeps me from doubting God’s promises when all of my faults and failures hang over me like a black cloud and my feelings threaten to overwhelm me? When I don’t know if I can cope, what keeps me from giving in to that feeling?
The evening of December 9, 1914, an explosion set fire to a large scientific laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. At least ten buildings were destroyed, along with years of research and development. Property loss alone was estimated at $7 million ($148 million in today’s dollars). “There go all our mistakes,” the laboratory’s founder and CEO said as he watched the blaze. “Although I am 67 years old,” he told a New York Times reporter who was at the scene, “I’ll start all over again tomorrow.” The next morning’s newspaper included a notice that all 7,000 of the lab’s employees were to report for work immediately, to begin rebuilding. A disaster of lesser proportions would have demoralized just about anyone else, but years of trial and error had conditioned Thomas Edison to see disasters as opportunities.
As I strolled along the river, swans and other birds added to the beauty of a sunny Sunday afternoon that was wasted on me. The past few years had been a nightmare. Alcoholism was taking its toll. Guilt, negativity, and discouragement hung over me like dark clouds. I was separated from my wife and had lost my job. I had also lost the respect of all my friends and coworkers. I felt like a worthless failure.
When I was a child we played a game in which we would each stand straight as a board and then try to fall backward into the strong arms of an adult who was waiting to catch us. It’s strange, but no matter how many times I’d seen it done or tried to do it myself, it was still difficult to keep from bending my knees or doing something else at the last split second to try to break my fall. Not chickening out took a certain “letting go” that went contrary to my natural reasoning and reflexes. It took complete trust in the one who was catching me.
It was 6:30 am. I had woken early, only to be met by the sight of a rained-out world on a day our extended family had planned to go on an outing together. I didn’t mind the rain much. Heaven knew the land needed it. I paused and looked out into our garden to see a little brown bird hopping around, eyeing the soggy earth in hopeful expectation of finding a meaty feast in the form of a hapless almost-drowned worm.