Taylor and Hannah Lindeman were rushing to a hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota on Christmas Day. After her water broke, they were forced to pull over to the side of the highway to wait for an ambulance. Their baby “had other plans,” however, as Hannah later told a reporter.
She gave birth to a daughter in the car’s front passenger seat. A police officer arrived shortly after the birth and tied off the umbilical cord with a shoelace from Hannah’s boot. The couple expects to return home today.
As a father of two, I cannot imagine the stress these parents felt. But their momentary travail led to joy beyond description.
In other news, US retail holiday sales jumped 4.9 percent this year, the largest increase since 2011. Total sales are on track to reach $671 billion. This was bad news for overworked store clerks and online sales staff but good news for retailers and their shareholders.
In coming days, however, consumers will return about $90 billion worth of goods. But even that news is good news for FedEx and UPS, which are trying to get a bigger slice of the pie for deliveries and returns.
“How to think like a medieval monk”
So much of life is perspective. While I certainly believe in absolute truth and objective morality, I also know that the attitude we bring to the events of our lives is enormously significant.
From physicians to pastors, anyone who works with hurting people soon learns that the way they approach their pain can either increase their suffering or infuse it with redemptive purpose. Across four decades of Christian ministry, I have witnessed astounding courage and resilience in the face of overwhelming challenges. But I also know hurting people who have turned from God in anger and despair.
Clearly, difficulties make some people bitter and other people better.
Over the Christmas break, I read a fascinating article by Julia Bourke titled “How to Think Like a Medieval Monk.” She reports that a common practice for monks upon waking was to picture their bodies rising from the grave on Resurrection Day. They would then imagine themselves standing before Christ’s judgment seat, surrounded by all humanity. Such meditations on death and the afterlife were often recommended by Cistercian texts (Cistercians are an order of monks and nuns established in 1098).
Modern psychology demonstrates why such meditations were so effective. Psychologists have developed Terror Management Theory (TMT), which proposes that “humans cope with the terrifying awareness of their own mortality by investing in a ‘cultural worldview.’ This worldview allows us to distance ourselves from our awareness of death, protecting us from existential anxiety.”
For a worldview to shelter us effectively, however, it must provide a pathway to eternal life. In addition, psychologists studying TMT “have repeatedly found that presenting people with a reminder of their own mortality also makes them more defensive of their worldview and, crucially, more committed to abiding by its standards.”
In other words, remembering that we will die one day and face God’s judgment is a very effective way to prepare for such judgment. The more we feel ready to die, the more we can live with hope.
An “eternal weight of glory”
As 2017 draws to a close, we all have disappointments from the year past and fears for the year to come. However, as I have often noted, God redeems all he allows. One way he redeems our past and future challenges is by using them to show us how much we need him. Jesus’ first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” can be translated, “Blessed are those who know how much they need God” (Matthew 5:3).
A practical way to reinforce such dependence is by contemplating divine judgment. If we could be saved by our works, Christmas was unnecessary and Calvary was in vain. The fact that God’s Son had to be born into our fallen race to die for our sins is proof that salvation can be obtained in no way but by divine grace.
When we embrace our status as redeemed sinners, we admit our brokenness while rejoicing in our Father’s transforming love.
I don’t know what disappointed you about 2017 or worries you about 2018. But I do know that the lens through which you view your past and your future is critical. If you allow your challenges to lead you to your Savior, you will be able to testify with Paul:
“We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Will you look to “the things that are unseen” today?