When Faith Feels More Like Defeat Than Victory
Exciting news today in the Sauls home: TODAY, June 14, is the day that my sixth book, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen, gets introduced into the world!
Below is an excerpt from the book. If it connects with you in a meaningful way, please share it with a friend or two? Thank you! – Scott
Recently, I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s.
After ten years of cognitive decline, time ran out in what affected families call “the long goodbye.” I didn’t shed any tears when she died—not because I didn’t love her, but because a decade of incremental, ascending grief was already behind me. By the time Mom died, I was out of tears and prepared to release her into heaven’s care. I can’t think of anything positive to say about Alzheimer’s. I won’t even try. It is a cruel, demoralizing, life-sucking disease.
To help me process this and some other losses, I enlisted the services of a counselor. In my sessions with him, some uncomfortable things about my life—and about me—have been uncovered. In the uncovering, the counselor recommended that I add a trauma specialist to my treatment. As it turns out, I am less whole than the optics on my life suggest. I have good health, a loving wife, two beautiful daughters and a terrific son in law, a church that loves us, some excellent friends, and fulfilling work. But behind the curtain of this wonderful looking life of mine, there also exists a small, sometimes scared, self-doubting man whose story includes the aforementioned hard realities. I am a mess, a busted-up sinner who is dreadfully “cracked about the head, and sadly needs mending.”
Every person you meet is fighting a hard, hidden battle.
The past two years have felt like too much. Like a pile on.
Sometimes I wonder, why all of this? Why all at once?
Do you ever feel this way?
I am an American who has been shaped to expect comfort. Because of this, I am vulnerable to cynicism, moroseness, and self-pity when my outside and inside worlds betray expectations. The cultural air I breathe has trained me to think that life should be more carefree, predictable, and in control than it is. Having been among the world’s privileged minority for most of my life, luxuries like good health, decision-making power over what and how much I eat, higher education, physical safety, social networks, clean water, and access to things I need and want, have felt more like entitlements than luxuries.
I have never buried my own child or experienced irrecoverable theft. I have never suffered violence because of my faith, hunger, poverty, sustained unemployment, or a terrorist attack. I have never been trafficked or kidnapped. I have never spent a night out in the cold or in prison. I am a white, wealthy, American man. As such, I have been conditioned to expect that life—my life—will run smoothly.
I have also spent many years ignoring some betrayals and injuries from my past, which my counselor is helping me process at age fifty-four. It’s never too late to ask for help. The combination of expecting ease on one hand and denying my own trauma on another has left me lagging in my ability to live fully in a fallen world. But there is hope for change. As an elder led our church in prayer one Sunday during the pandemic, “Lord, this has been a year filled with disruption, isolation, confusion, illness, and death. We ask for relief, but not without the revival of our hearts.” Since that time, this same elder lost a son to leukemia and then he lost his father. He still prays the same kind of prayers, and ended a recent text exchange with the words, “We live in hope.”
There are heart-reviving lessons that preach loudest through pain. As C.S. Lewis said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures … but shouts to us in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” One such lesson is that the world, as it is, is not our final Home. No matter how hard we try to make it so, this present world refuses to be our paradise. We cannot make heaven happen for ourselves because heaven can only be given and received. When we accept and receive this truth, the revival of our hearts is made more possible.
Being awakened by God’s pain-megaphone redirects our focus to essential things worth preserving and nurturing: relationship with family and friends, rhythms and practices leading to health, humble service toward our work, our churches, and our neighbors, and above all, anchoring our roots in the character, promises, and future of God.
Mercy reveals itself through regret, hurt, and fear.
I am not alone in realizing this.
Many of the world’s greatest souls became their best selves not in spite of, but because of, their own distress. Cowper wrote hopeful hymns and Van Gogh brushed epic paintings while contemplating suicide. Spurgeon preached some of his best sermons while depressed. Lincoln, Churchill, and King battled melancholy. Beethoven went deaf. C.S. Lewis buried his wife after a short, cancer-ridden marriage. Frankl, Wiesel, and Ten Boom survived the Holocaust. Ann Voskamp lost family members and Joni Eareckson Tada her ability to walk in tragic accidents. Christine Caine suffered abuse and Tim Keller got incurable cancer. John Perkins endured jail, beatings, and death threats from white supremacists.
As grief expert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously noted,
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Beautiful people. The ones we admire. The ones who change the world for good. The ones we like and want to be like. These people do not “just happen.”
This axiom, that beautiful people do not just happen, also invites our attention in Scripture. Job lost ten children, his wife’s affection, his livelihood, and his reputation in a single day. Moses stuttered. Jacob limped. Sarah was infertile. Tamar and Bathsheba were assaulted. David was betrayed by his son. Hosea’s wife fell into prostitution, as did Rahab. Ruth was widowed in her youth. Mordecai was belittled and bullied. Jeremiah battled depression, as did Elijah. Gideon doubted God, as did Thomas. Mary and Joseph sought asylum from a reign of terror. Mary and Martha buried their brother. John Mark was rejected by Paul. Peter hated himself.
And Jesus wept.
As we read the Bible, it is important to see that so many of the books—both Old Testament and New—were authored by someone who was enslaved, seeking asylum, in prison, facing persecution, or under another form of distress.
Beautiful people do not just happen. And…?
Sometimes the deepest, truest faith feels more like defeat than it does victory.
This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from Scott’s newest and most personal book which releases THIS TUESDAY, JUNE 14, called Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen: How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans.
Beautiful People is especially dedicated to all who sin, suffer, or feel afraid—as well as to all the wounded healers: pastors and ministry leaders, therapists and mental health advocates, addiction counselors and sponsors, spiritual directors, healthcare and social workers, caregivers, teachers and mentors, embattled parents, and friends who keep showing up.
Scott’s latest book, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen,
releases June 14, 2022.
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 Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Death: The Final Stage of Growth (New York: Scribner, 2009), Kindle edition.