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Are you looking at light or shadows in your life?

Are you looking at the light or the shadows that you see as you walk through life?  Sometimes there are many significant obstacles in life, and we find ourselves focusing on the shadows they create instead of the light that is above it or beyond where we currently are walking.  Walking in a dense forest can feel this way because the woods makes things feel darker than it is at the moment.  However, if I keep walking, I find a way out as long I stick to the path and continue to observe the sun in the sky.  Counseling is often a journey through a dense forest created by our past and current obstacles that have arisen in our life.  To complete the mission to open spaces that provide freedom, we have to choose to look ahead or above to the sun that is in the distance.  Unfortunately, many of us have moments in which we focus on the shadows the obstacles have created, and we fail to keep moving because we think this is the way the rest of life, our day, or our week will look.  On a recent 10 mile hike through a massive gorge, I was forced to come to a decision that I needed to focus on anything positive I could see, feel, or hear around me as a means of forcing me to continue to make it through the gorge before nightfall.  I had to make that decision after I found myself counting every time I overturned my ankle (I was at 19 slips on the trail before I stopped that nonsense) or every time another member of our party complained.  The more I focused on the negative aspects of the journey, the harder the hike became to the point that I was sure one of our party would soon incur injury or death in the gorge.  I now marvel at my accomplishment, and so do others, but I know that the thing that got me out of that gorge was my choice to focus on everything that was positive on the hike.  I moved faster and more confident when I focused on everything that was positive and my choice on what to meditate upon was the thing that brought me to the end of my journey.  Am I saying that we should ignore the losses and negative things in life?  No.  God calls us to trade our ashes for beauty, and it’s our constant challenge to invite God into the losses so that he can redeem them and turn them into beauty.  So I ask you today, what are you looking at on your journey?  The shadows or the light above?  At the same time that the world tries to rob you of your power is the same time that God promises to empower you.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the community of Philippians regarding focus while, most probably (nobody knows with certainty), imprisoned in Rome.  I wonder if he learned how to endure hardship by choosing on what to focus?  Paul told his community friends to do do the following in Philippians 4:8-9(MSG): “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

I went and got a massage on my shoulder and neck the other day after a couple of weeks of intense pain.   I have this problem of waking up to find that I am sleeping with my arms over my head, and the next thing I know my neck and shoulders are tense and pained and out of alignment due to a previous injury I experienced as a child.   Going to the massage therapist would work hard to remove the muscle knots and tension in my neck and shoulders, and I knew that the experience would be painful.  In fact,  I might have intense pain that day, and the day after; however, I was moving toward healing physical pain by forcing myself to go through more pain.  Dealing with pain that creates more pain is an analogy that sums up most of the ongoing physical, emotional, and spiritual pain we struggle with in life.  We either move toward solutions that will be painful in the short term, or we avoid the nagging pain we feel every day.  It’s true that we can choose to live with pain or sometimes we have no choice in the pain that is inflicted upon us. Regardless, we do have a choice with what we do with that pain.  Will I move toward healing solutions for the painful things that continue to drain me or will I allow the nagging pain to continue?  I don’t know about you, but when I am in pain, it drains my happiness in many areas:  I cannot rest well, I can be more cranky with my family, I avoid things that usually please me because I fear pain, and pain makes me physically tired.   We avoid dealing with the painful situation because we know it will be worse in the short term. However, the long terms effects on us are even more severe.  Depression, anger, and powerlessness tend to seep into other areas of our lives, and soon we realize how far we have allowed that painful situation to go.  For many people, the very addictions they deal with were short term pain “medications” they choose to use instead of going through a period of learning new ways to cope with pain.   What is the painful situation you are not moving toward bringing about a solution?  Why are you allowing the pain to continue to drain happiness out of you?  It’s amazing how having a hard conversation with someone can free you from depressive behaviors you had allowed to creep into your life.  It’s amazing how making the hard decision to put up strong boundaries with draining people in your life brings about more freedom.  Every time we move toward pain it is temporarily harder; nonetheless, the long term benefits are huge!  The book of Hebrews says it this way, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)