Turning 46, Pain, and Eternal Perspective

I recently celebrated my 46th birthday and underwent emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. What can I say, it’s been a busy two weeks! Prior to my surgery, I had planned to write a reflective post looking back at the past twenty years. But then life happened in the form of excruciating pain, surgery, and a week of post-operation care afterwards. So, the following reflects the decade I’m in the middle of, the context of the past two weeks, and the biggest difference I see in my heart at 46; eternal perspective.

When I was 26 I wanted to eat the world. Fresh out of university, I was eager to claim and own my place in the world through a shiny job title and the perks and accolades that I expected would accompany said title. I wanted desperately to be somebody, and my plan was to make that happen through my job.

When I was 36 I was eating the world, avid to chew more, feeling that my enough was out there, yet to be discovered. I’d changed jobs often. I needed to be permanently in conquering mode. It was exciting and somehow unfulfilling at the same time. By the time I was 42, the world - that is my world- the one I had relentlessly pursued, was eating me alive and spitting me out in pieces. You can read more about it here and here.

The severe burnout that took place in my early 40s was God’s saving grace. Waking up to the life you always wanted and looking for ways to quit it, will sober you up quickly. God radically changed my perspective from one filled with hunger and urgency for control and definition here and now, to one with eternity as the destination and intention while I am living this one life I’ve been given.  

God’s purpose never fails, He will have His glory. And it is a gift to us that He does. Seeking our own is detrimental to the very fabric of our spiritual DNA. We were created, we have a maker. We were made to know Him and be with Him. When we seek to captain our own ship and look for our own glory we are usurping the very purpose for which we were created. At best it will consume us enough to confront us. At worst, we will get what we want, and alienate ourselves from the One Who can give us purpose.

So, eternal perspective. What is it? What do I mean by it? I’ll start with what it isn’t. It does not mean having clarity in all things always, or a guarantee of a long-term plan in place. It does not mean a life free of complications, pain, or conflict. It does not promise the ability to outline the right steps with the assurance of a desired outcome.

Rather, it is having a vision that covers more than what I see and want here and now. It is a filter that helps navigate what we don’t know, can’t handle, or fear. Instead of eliminating those things – which is what we’ve been taught should be our life’s goal, eternal perspective equips us to live through it. For me, it has meant living with hope that goes beyond tomorrow or the next thing I wish to achieve. Is the reminder that God is still God, He is still good, and His purposes prevail, even when circumstances seem to point otherwise or aren’t what I want. It is the lifeline that assures him getting the glory will also result in my good. It is the reshaping of my heart that now wants Him to be glorified through my circumstances, rather than me getting my way.

For me, it means to set my eyes on what is eternally important, that I may discern all things in light of that. It helps to put everything in the right place, including and especially myself.  Pressing needs here and now, like rent money, or food, or a health issue, are human needs that point to my limitations. We need food to survive, shelter over our heads, and the means to provide for both. We need help when our bodies malfunction or fail. We need. Eternal perspective sheds light on who I am not. I am not God. I am not self-sufficient or all powerful. As much as post-modern thought, my college education, and corporate career would beg to differ.  

While I was at the ER waiting for the doctors to decipher what was the source of the blinding pain I was experiencing I thought of friends who have experienced hospital visits under much more severe circumstances. Eventually, I thought of Jesus on the cross. The Romans perfected a torture device designed with a slow and very painful death as the end goal. I saw the room full of trained medical staff, several of which were working hard to try and understand what was wrong with my body. My pain, 14 on the scale 1-10, was treated, and in the comfort of a medical facility with a bed, and generous painkillers.

His pain was inflicted while simultaneously depriving him of his dignity by removing his clothes, spitting on him, beating him, making him carry his execution device on a raw back after receiving forty lashes, and then hammering nails through his wrists and feet. A sentence reserved for the worst crimes at that time. Endured by an innocent man. All because His Father willed it, for our sake. This perspective is one I didn’t have twenty years prior.

Eternal perspective humbles me as it reassures me, that I am not in charge of everything. And that which I am charged to do, I face with the understanding that I have access to the One who holds all things in His hands. Pierced hands, for my sake. Eternal perspective is knowing this is not the whole story and having deep joy and expectation for the rest to come. Eternal perspective is knowing I serve a crucified resurrected saviour. And that I too must die to myself, my will, my plans, my preference, in order to be made new with Him.

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