Hope-Squashing Thoughts to Avoid
I made it home from my two-month trip to Chile just 5 days ago. It was a family “missions trip” of sorts, and I find myself filtering through the same feelings I see first-time missions trippers coming back with – you know, those strong feelings that they want to convince you to share:
#1 A renewed appreciation for all we have here.
Yes, my bed has been cozier than ever this week, and the espresso machine is back to delivering caffeine masterpieces.
#2 A heightened awareness for those who are suffering.
This time for me, it’s not just awareness of those who are suffering in poverty. More so, it’s for those suffering with things like anxiety, illnesses, loss of loved ones, or relationship heartaches.
The guy who suffered for 38 years
I was reminded of a story in the Bible this week of a guy who had suffered far longer and far more intensely than I hope I ever have to. In John chapter 5, Jesus was at a festival in Jerusalem, and while there, he went to the famous Pool of Bethesda where a great number of disabled people (the blind, lame, and paralyzed) used to lie. At this particular pool, when the water stirred, the first one in the water was the one to get healed.
Jesus locked eyes with a guy who had been an invalid for 38 years, and asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
How the guy responds in verse 7 is classic. I’ve made these same two claims of his more times than I’d like to admit. Maybe you have too.
- “I have no one to help me.”
- “Someone else always goes down ahead of me.” (AKA, “Others have it better or easier than I do.”)
Miraculously, Jesus told him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” Instantly the guy was healed. He picked up his mat and walked.
I wish I could’ve been there to see it.
This story is bursting with lessons from start to finish:
Verses 5-8 remind us of the sovereignty of Jesus who surely loved everyone at the pool that day, but he only healed one.
Verse 13 demonstrates how having tremendous faith is not a requirement for being healed. The guy didn’t even know who Jesus was.
Verses 16-18 show how the stuffy religious people erroneously cared more about their rules than about the well-being of this man who had suffered for 38 years.
But I’d like us to focus on the man’s two hope-squashing thoughts, because we’ve probably all thought them when we’ve gone (or are going through) hard times.
Hope-Squashing Thought #1 – “I have no one to help me.”
Maybe you’ve said it in other ways:
“Nobody cares about me.”
“Nobody understands me.”
“I’m all alone in this.”
“I wish I had more friends.”
I have to wonder how the guy got to the side of the pool in the first place. I’m thinking someone had to carry him there. Was the guy too scared to ask for the further help of getting him into the pool?
- Maybe he was taught as a kid to not “bother” people by asking them for help.
- Maybe he had a low self-esteem and didn’t think he was worthy of being helped.
- Maybe he had made really bad choices 38 years ago that left him as an invalid, and in his shame he was too embarrassed to ask.
- Maybe he did ask and was rejected.
- Maybe he asked 100 different people to help him into the healing waters and they all said “no,” so he decided he couldn’t handle any more rejection, and just gave up.
Jesus asked him the simple yes-or-no question, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus didn’t say, “Tell me all the reasons why you haven’t been healed in 38 years.” Yet, the man’s mind and words went right to the negative.
It makes me wonder how many times in my life Jesus has tried to ask me if I wanted something great from Him, only to hear me respond with all the reasons why I felt so alone because I was too negative to even listen to His hope-giving question.
Hope-Squashing Thought #2 – “Others have it better or easier than I do.”
Social media shouts it to us daily. Facebook photos can be powerful envy igniters. Look at her vacation. Look at her loving husband. Look at her beautiful children. The truth is, there probably are people who have it better or easier than you do in some areas of life. But we don’t always know that for sure, and the comparison game will never leave you feeling like a winner.
So how can we avoid these two deceptive and destructive ways of thinking?
1. Don’t let yourself believe that you’re the only one who’s ever gone through your type of struggle, or who understands the way you feel. It’s crazy how we isolate ourselves emotionally.
In the last two years, there have been numerous times when I have fearfully hit the “publish” button on a blog post, thinking, “They’re gonna think I’m crazy. I’m probably the only one who struggles with this.” Funny enough, those have been the posts from which I get the most “I totally relate” kind of feedback.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all feel good when we can help someone. Don’t rob people of the opportunity to bless you. When asking for help, be clear about what you need. Don’t express it jokingly or half-way and expect others to know what you mean – even if it seems obvious to you. In your heart, give people all kinds of permission to not help you, and don’t be offended or judgmental if they decide not to help.
In my first years as a kids pastor, I had over 100 volunteers in the ministry whom I really wanted to show I cared. There was a season in which I was cooking meals for families multiple times a week, buying all kinds of baby shower/birthday/graduation gifts, and spending many hours “doing life” with them. I was exhausted, and my husband never saw me. I had to slow way down in offering to help everyone, and I had to decide not to help many of them so I wouldn’t completely burn out. All that to say, many times, people have legit reasons for not helping you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.
3. Join a small group at your church. Invite people to your home. Invest in the lives of a few, not so they’ll owe you in return of course, but so we can live as members of the Body of Christ who are well-aware that we need each other.
Envy and Comparison Squashers
I believe the two biggest envy squashers are gratitude and humility.
The more I force myself to remember the things I’m grateful for, the happier I am. The more I take time to remember what Jesus did for me on the cross, the less I look to obtaining other people’s blessings to fulfill me.
When I was 25 years old and still single, and I was down because all my high school girlfriends were long-since married, I needed to remember the Son of God’s incredible love and sacrifice for me.
When I went through seasons in this past dozen years thinking my heart would be fuller if God would’ve allowed us to have kids, I needed to remember that because of Jesus, I am a child of God, dearly loved by Him.
Gratitude for the love He’s already shown us makes us desire being with Him in the valley more than desiring getting out of the valley.
Humility toward Others
There are people who seem to have more opportunities, wealth, popularity, or whatever than I have. If I approach them with humility, ask them questions, and seek to learn from them, I am left inspired instead of envious. Inspired to grow, and inspired to help others grow.
Humility toward God
“If only I had her ______(fill in the blank), my life would be so much better.” Really? How can you be so sure? And how can we as the creation tell the Creator that what we think is best for our lives is better than what He sees is best for our lives?
Do we know our Creator? Do we trust that He knows what’s best for us, even when we can’t understand it?
In the story, the guy at the pool of Bethesda clearly had no idea who Jesus was. Had he known, he would’ve said, “Skip getting me into the water, or even healing me. Give me YOU.”
Do we want to know Jesus more than anything? We know we should. But often, instead of seeking to know Him, we seek to make sure He knows what we think we need to make us happy. Humility allows Him to decide what’s best.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank You for Your Word. Thank You for stories like this one of the crippled man at the pool that inspire us to strengthen our trust and renew our hope in You.