When God Ruins Your “Perfect Life”

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

There are three books that are to blame for ruining my life.

By ruin, I mean my old life is gone. I’ve completely changed how I live and do things, and there is no going back.

Read at your own risk.

It might ruin everything for you like it did for me.

The paradigm shift was gradual but real.

I used to think that crafting your own dreams was important.

Now I think that my own dreams should take a backseat to helping the poor survive. 

I used to think that family should come first.

Now I think that my family is global.

I used to think that raising your kids and providing for your family was important.

Now I think that it isn’t enough to just love my nuclear family.

I used to think that minding your own business and taking care of your own needs was okay. 

Now I think it’s not enough that my needs are met if my neighbor is still living in need. 

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers with it. (1 Cor. 12:26)

Who really lives like that? Isn’t that impossible? Isn’t that exhausting? 

Jesus’ teaching on family is really interesting. On the one hand, he was saying things like honor your mother and father, and I think one of the real witnesses in the work that we do is having healthy families. But on the other hand, Jesus had some really harsh things to say about family, such as if you don’t hate your own family and son or mother and father, you’re not ready to be a disciple. So I think there are times when our biological family becomes a detriment, like when it becomes an idol. We justify comforts and luxuries that we could never justify for ourselves all in the name of family…. “It was for the kids.” But we have to extend beyond biological family….

I think that when Jesus says “hate your family,” he’s not saying that we should stop loving our family. Jesus loved his mama, and when he was dying on the cross he said to his disciple, “John, you take care of her. This is now your mom.” He just had a different definition of it.

So, I think that the same love you’ve got for your own baby you should have for the children in Iraq, in Palestine, in North Philly, in Mississippi. That’s where we really have to have that sense of being “born again,” not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. That changes the way we think of things. Our “our” is no longer like “our nation”; we have a different “our.”

Shane Claiborne, Follow Me to Freedom

I’ve had a small taste of this love when traveling to Guatemala and Haiti.

I’ve had a small taste of this love when visiting refugees in my own city.

In addition, I’ve had a small taste of the burdens these folks carry. 

I’ve had nights I couldn’t sleep because I was nervous about a job coming through for a refugee friend.

I’ve had days I’m exhausted from going on job interviews, paying bills, and juggling childcare with my refugee friends…and this is me – a White, English-speaking American with a working car and valid drivers license.

It’s frustrating how you need a certain opportunities in order to get opportunities.

You need an address, phone number, and internet access to apply for jobs. You need a way to get to interviews. You need to be able to understand and communicate with the interviewer. You need a car or metro pass before your first paycheck ever arrives. You need a bank account to pay your bills or pay hefty fees at a cash-checking service.

I can only imagine navigating these processes alone on a bus or on foot, with a language barrier to boot. (I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy. I’m just saying it’s a struggle and I get frustrated.)

But I know no matter how tired I am at the end of the day it’s actually a blessing to share in the suffering of my friends.

This is a blessing and an honor. Not everyone gets the privilege of entering in with refugees and sharing in their hardships.

There is a level of love and trust that must be established before one can even take on these burdens.

This is a blessing.

Carry one another’s burdens.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

I can take on your burdens because God is taking on my burdens. 

MLK said “unearned suffering is redemptive.” To me that means “I haven’t had the problem but I’ll do and suffer with you.” When my brother hurts or is hungry, I’ll go without food too.

John M Perkins, Follow Me to Freedom

I’ve got to admit, sometimes I long for the days when I could just focus on my own family and my own problems without giving it a second thought. 

I had no comprehension that there was more to life than that…unless maybe you felt called to full-time ministry.

And there were seasons when I simply had nothing leftover to give. Taking care of myself and my family was all I could handle when I had newborns.

I was not in a good place.

Of course there is grace for that. But God can also use us in our weaknesses.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

I still feel inadequate and unqualified to help people.

But God has called me higher and now there’s no going back.

With my family, it started with visiting the city more…yes, the “bad parts” / “the other side of the tracks” / “the ghetto.”

We eventually moved out of our cozy home in the suburbs to be closer to the “bad part of town.”

Closer to where we saw God moving.

We realized that while God is everywhere, it’s easier to see him in the pain and brokenness.

God “shows up” where there is a need for him.

Sometimes we don’t see him in the “good neighborhoods” because we’ve all but pushed him out.

We’ve insulated our lives and insured our possessions. We’ve done everything we can to remove our need for him.

Our need to trust.

But we rely on God in our brokenness.

We cling to him when we’re barely hanging on.

We trust in him when it’s the only way the bills will get paid.

My eyes have been opened to the struggles of refugees in my own city.

I’ve traveled to other cultures and seen hungry kids whose faces I can never forget.

I’ve met widows and orphans both abroad and at home.

I’ve rubbed shoulders with “the least of these.” (Matt. 25:40)

My old life has been ruined.

My old dreams have been shattered.

And guess what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know perfectly well that it’s possible to be consumed in my own family, my own struggles, my own selfishness, and still be miserable.

I’ve battled depression and anxiety and feelings of worthlessness, even as I sit in my four-bedroom home with food in my fridge, money in the bank, and a car in my driveway.

I know that some of the richest people in the world are the most unhappy.

I know that you can be successful by the world’s standards and still feel empty and alone.

The truth is, we don’t truly live unless we’re willing to die to ourselves.

I don’t believe any amount of self-preservation can keep us from avoiding pain.

Might as well lean into the pain and hit the ground running rather than waste energy trying to avoid it.

Might as well suffer alongside those who are suffering with the hope of ever so slightly lessening their burdens.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Is there a place for self-care sometimes? Yes, I think so.

Even Jesus escaped the crowds sometimes to be alone and pray. (See Matt. 14:23)

But why is it so difficult to enter into suffering with those around us?

Why do I waste so much energy trying to protect myself from pain rather than let that pain change me? 

Is is possible that by trying to avoid pain I have missed opportunities, missed friendships, and missed blessings?

Like I said, I’m not there yet. It’s a journey. But I’ve been changed and there’s no going back.

My goal is no longer to live life for myself. My goal is not even to live for my immediate family only.

I’m going to pour into the lives of others even if it leaves me depleted and empty some days.

I’m going to trust God to fill me with his goodness and restore my depleted soul. (Psalm 23:3)

Maybe my cup overflows because I’m not afraid to let it spill. (Psalm 23:5)

As Ann Voskamp says in The Broken Way “You don’t experience true living unless you experience true giving.”

There is hope.

When God ruins your “perfect” life, he replaces it with something much better – peace, purpose, vision, and fulfillment. 

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Psalm 23

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2 Comments

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  1. I couldn’t agree more, having read all three books myself. It has changed the way I look at everything (and I will also admit that in the beginning it gave me somewhat of a mid life crisis–suddenly my “goals” for the future were different). Another book that had a impact on me is “Enough: Finding More by Living with Less” by Will Jr. Davis.

    I’m always filled with joy when I see you’ve written a new post–thank you for sharing! 🙂

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