by Mike Genung
10 years ago, I was given a poster with the images of 3 players of the Los Angeles Lakers, all who played in different decades. Under their pictures are the records of losing seasons: 36-43, 40-42, and 34-48, with the words “They Who Endure, Conquer” underneath.
When I was originally given the poster I threw it in the trash… who wanta a poster with losing records on it? But then something hit me, and I retrieved it.
Today, that “losing season poster” hangs in my office. It encourages me by reminding me how God took me through the losing seasons of my life, some which went on for several years. While the writer of that poster probably didn’t intend it so, the philosophy behind “They Who Endure, Conquer” could have come from Scripture:
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written: “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
Some of you are in the midst of what feels like a long losing season, and you’re worn out, run down, and beat up. Maybe your marriage has been teetering on the edge for so long you can’t think straight. Maybe your faith is in pieces, and doubt is having its way with you. Just believing God is there or cares about you is a struggle, let alone being joyful on Sunday morning.
For those who are in this place, here are several markers of hope to keep you going:
This time of the year, rest is often the last thing we hear about. We’re told of all the things good Christians “should be doing”… Get involved with Christmas events and ministries, run around in insanity trying to get it all done, decorate, be the perfect host/hostess with family get-togethers, some which may over-the-top in stress, and oh yeah, “peace on earth and good will towards men.” Meanwhile, those who are weary and broken are doing all they can just to function, let alone pull all that other stuff together.
So you will need to go against our culture, and give yourself permission to say no to the demands and expectations of others, including those in the church. Give yourself space and time to slow down and rest. Avoid toxic people. If you’re run down, now is not the time to go for a marathon. Aim for less and quieter instead of more, bigger, and louder. Spend time with people who care for you and will pour life and love into you.
It’s okay to slow down, even this time of the year.
Allow yourself to be broken
Some people get caught up in the “I’m supposed to be a happy, cheery Christian who always has their A game on for others” thing. It’s not okay to be depressed, discouraged, or struggle with doubt, they think. God has a special place in His heart for the hurting (“A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise,” Psalms 51:17) It’s okay to be a mess in the middle of a losing season where everything is coming undone.
I heard someone on the radio say that “A Christian should always be manifesting joy.” Yeah? I don’t remember joy oozing out of Jesus in Gethsamane, or while He suffered on the cross. A lot of American Christians don’t want to deal with pain, yours or their own. They prefer to live in an anesthetized state and don’t have the depth to feel pain or walk along side others who are suffering. Their Facebook pages are filled with happy-happy-joy-joy posts and trite Christian clichés; introduce them to someone who is hurting, and they bail.
It’s okay to be in the midst of a losing season. Many of the greats of the Bible endured them; if God doesn’t have a problem with it, you shouldn’t either.
“Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?”
Huh? Shouldn’t I be laying some super-spiritual thing on you to do, like fast for 40 days, or get involved with every ministry invitation that comes your way? Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our problems that they own us. Recovery, counseling, support groups, do the work, read books, go to conferences… all good things, but if our sole focus is on “getting fixed” we will “ruin ourselves,” as Solomon wrote.
It’s okay to step back and enjoy life. Have fun with your family, or do something you love with a good friend. Take a bath, read a book, watch a fun movie, go on a date, or go away for a weekend. Eat chocolate (okay, not too much). Have sex with your spouse.
Doing these things will recharge your batteries.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.
All you need is the grace and strength for one day. Don’t obsess about the future. If you ask God to give you what you need, just for today, my experience has been that He will come through. There are moments when we barely have enough strength to make it through the next temptation or trial. That’s okay. God comes in and fills in the gaps of our strength with His own, when we ask Him.
There is hope…
…Maybe not in the way you want to see it, but there is hope. Depression has been described as “the loss of hope.” If all of your hope is based on your circumstances coming together the way you want them to, then yes, you will struggle with depression and discouragement. If you define hope as God being with you, no matter what, and you look for, and see, the signs of His encouragement, love, and presence with you, then glimmers of light will break in through the darkness.
“and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Let go of that thing you’re trying to control that blows up in your face every time you touch it. Sometimes the breakthrough comes after we take our hands off the wheel and let God have control.
Remember that no losing season lasts forever.
I’ve had losing seasons that went on for years to the point where I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Every losing season will come to an end. The end result will probably not be what you expected, but if you keep going, enduring in the face of adversity, you will wake up one day and discover that you’re not the same person you were before: you’re kinder, less fearful, more patient, loving, and possess a wisdom that can only be gained in the fires of suffering.