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Reality Check

By Dan Baumgartner on
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Mar 15 in Musings
Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson- what do they have in common? I was pondering this on vacation as I read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Leadership in Turbulent Times.  Kearns is a prize-winning and bestselling historian who has previously written separately on these four presidents. In this book she uses "leadership" as the lens to view each of them. It is a fascinating study in many ways, but the thing which caught my eye in the biographical sketches was that all four men encountered devastating personal hardships. We tend to make celebrities out of our leaders and see them through rose-colored glasses, but real life is real life. "Rain falls on the just and the unjust."
What did real life look like for these four? Lincoln grew up in an impoverished family with a father who did not believe in education. Lincoln's proneness to melancholy as a young adult led his friends to remove all sharp objects from his house, afraid he might try to take his own life. Teddy Roosevelt was raised in affluence, and with a dad who wholeheartedly loved and invested in him...and yet died suddenly at age 46. Later his mother and wife died on the very same evening, his wife shortly after giving birth to their first child.  Distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt also lost a beloved father at an early age and then contracted polio, that crippled him for the rest of his life. Lyndon Johnson was devastated by an early career election loss and later suffered a heart attack that left him close to death.
The truth is, real life has hardship. A lot of it. People suffer loss, encounter failure, see dreams die and get sick. What do people of faith do with such calamity?  Sometimes we pretend that struggle and hardship won't happen to people who follow Jesus. This is the message of the prosperity gospel: only good comes to God's people, whether money or health or protection. Even those of us who reject such thinking on biblical grounds (in scripture it seems that God's people encounter more trouble, not less!) often carry some deep belief that we will be spared pain or trials. This is simply not true.
The story of Job from the Old Testament can give us a healthier perspective and a more realistic one. Job encountered more tragedy in a short amount of time than most people do in a lifetime.  He prayed, railed at God, argued with friends and thought about theology as he tried to make sense of his life. In the end, Job never received much of an answer. But he did receive the assurance of God's presence. And that seemed to be enough.
        Do you have something hard going on in your life, or with loved ones around you?  Most of us do, one way or another. Job's word to us is a good one–watch for God. Don't let the difficulties of your life crowd out the ability to see God's presence, or hear his voice. Yes, God is still in the miracle business...but there is also an ongoing miracle constantly unfolding. God-With-Us.

See you soon,
                 Pastor Dan

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