The results are in, and it looks like I have been re-elected to serve for another term as the mayor of Lonely Town. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And so this past week has fallen under the category of what I like to call "the bleak week," although it usually lasts for more than a week before it starts to subside. But the first week is especially bleak. Everything is different during the bleak week. The sun loses its shine, the air seems colder, food tastes terrible, every song on the country music station is about you, you get mad every time you see a happy couple walking down the street, and all you can do is stare out into space and wonder how and why.
Some people seem to have no problem getting it right on the first try. Some of my best friends got married right out of high school and have never looked back. But some of us, it seems, are destined to repeat the process again and again in a Groundhog day-like pattern until they get it right. I'm in the second group.
I've lost track of how many times I've been down this road, but the cycle always seems to follow the same pattern. Each time you try to correct the mistakes of the past. You get your hopes up, always thinking that this will be the one that you get right. But then there comes that decisive moment when your hopes and dreams come to a screeching halt. Sometimes it's quick, like a band-aid being ripped off. Other times it drags on for months. No matter, the pain is the same. "Guarding my heart" is a phrase that women like to use. Men have no such phrase because we always tend to vastly overestimate our heart's healing ability.
So now that I have located myself on the map and know exactly where I am at this point, I find myself at a fork in the road. Two choices are set before me. To the left is a sign that reads, "Self-pity, next 100 miles." It would feel good to wallow in self-pity for a while and complain silently (or not-so silently) about all the things I deserve and all the things I did right that seemed to backfire. I would feel great temporary satisfaction in going down this road with Gary Allan and Billy Ray Cyrus as my passengers. Indeed, I've already veered into the left lane and begun making my way towards this road, haven't I?
But to the right there is another sign. It contains the words of Jesus in John 21:22 after Peter felt the need to compare himself to John.
"If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me."
Jesus says nothing to encourage self-pity. He gives no validity to whiny complaints for fairness. Instead, he exposes self-pity for what it is, and then breaks its power. The rest of the sign on the right side of the fork could read, "If it is my will that you remain single until I come, what is that to you? You follow me." or, "If godly women aren't particularly looking for guys who work the night shift at a print shop and never went to seminary, what is that to you? You follow me." If I truly believe what I say I believe, then I must embrace the situation that has befallen me, thank him for it, and know that it is good for me.
But the pain is still real. It cannot be denied. It's a sharp reminder that the things we can't see are more real than the things we can. Instinct tells us to do whatever it takes to relieve the pain. But wisdom tells us to let it have its full sanctifying effect. Embrace it. It's a good pain. A necessary pain, sent to remind us that the good things in life are given to us so that we may make it plain that our hope is not in them, and then prove it when they are taken away.