FAITH5 - Sharing Highs and Lows
Wednesdays in Lent we are exploring thefaith practice called FAITH5 – a nightly routine in which families gather to SHARE highs and lows, READ scripture, TALK about how scripture informs their lives, PRAY for one another, and BLESS each other.
"Sharing Highs and Lows" –
a Lenten message by Jesse Keljo
When Pastor Aaron let me know that I would be speaking about the sharing of highs and lows, my thoughts immediately went to my daughter’s current favorite movie: Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out. It is the story of an eleven year old girl named Riley who has moved with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco with the twist being that we experience most of this story through her personified emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust (my daughter’s favorite). In particular, it focuses on the key (and often overlooked) role that Sadness plays in our lives. None of the emotions appreciate Sadness. They just want Riley to be happy, which is understandable but ultimately destructive. In the end, they must work together for Riley to be a well-adjusted person.
Sharing highs and lows together between parents and children is tremendously important. Children need to see that their parents go through ups and downs, and children need to practice looking for and articulating the good and bad things in their lives as well as a safe place to do it. However, the benefits are not relegated to children; adults need practice sharing our highs and lows too.
Our culture likes to pretend that we should always be happy. At the beginning of Inside Out, Riley’s Core Memories (the ones that make Riley unique and create her personality) are all happy ones as are many of her other memories.
The problem with this is life is a series of highs and lows of varying severity. Much of the time, we experience anthill highs and golf divot lows, but then come the occasional Everest highs and the Marianas Trench lows. How can we handle (or even enjoy) our highs well with no context for what lows can be and their place in our lives? More importantly, how can we possibly handle the inevitable tragedies that will come when deny their existence?
We often don’t help each other by immediately throwing a positive spin on life’s disappointments and difficulties. When my uncle, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, died suddenly and unexpectedly, I remember someone saying, “well, at least he doesn’t have to hear the voices anymore.” I will never forget how much that upset my mom and that she wanted to say to that person that he would much rather be alive, voices and all. My uncle loved his family and music and smiled and laughed a lot. I am sure he suffered too. And maybe there are situations where death is a blessing. However, we need to be careful here because one could start to think: you are either happy or maybe you’re just better off dead.
Life can resemble an earthquake where massive highs and lows can come on suddenly. Recognizing and sharing our day-to-day highs and lows (the anthills and golf divots) help us face the cataclysmic events that come up: by showing us the role God plays in all of this. Picture God’s Grace like a sine curve that carries us through our highs and lows. It lifts us up to our highs, and never lets us drown in our lows while still giving us the holy opportunity to grieve, to weep, to mourn. God is the axis, the constant thread, between the highs and lows – a thread we need to hold onto in our highs so we remember to rejoice with God and remember and praise the One who lifted us up, otherwise we run the risk of thinking we did it ourselves and grow self-satisfied. And it is a thread we need to hold onto in our lows so that we remember that God weeps and grieves beside us and has not and will never forsake us. Sharing highs and lows lets us tap into this river of grace flowing through our lives. Sharing highs and lows allows us to experience the cosmic poise of true Joy that is a culmination of all of the highs and lows we have experienced and processed so far.
Last summer I read Timothy Keller’s book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. I didn’t want to read it, but I felt I had avoided thinking about pain and suffering much at all in my life and didn’t want to avoid it any longer. In this book, he shares a number of true stories of suffering and God’s presence through it, and one story in particular stood out to me.
A woman, a medical professional, finds out that her mother is dying so she goes to be with her in her last days. Her mother is suffering mightily, but the only words that leave her lips are God’s Word, Bible verses and passages she knew so well and believed in so deeply in her heart that they were all she could think of in her deepest suffering and pain. The woman thinks to herself, “I want this kind of faith. A faith where, when the worst is happening, my first words are God’s Word.”
Then there is the biblical story of Joseph. He was shielded from lows in his life and was being utterly spoiled and ruined by his father. Joseph was on his way to being an overly proud young man. His brothers sold him into slavery. Then his master throws him in jail after being accused of a crime he didn't commit. God is with Joseph through all this as a Constant, helping him through these trying times. Years and years pass. Then Joseph is entrusted with everything in Egypt, and, with God’s help, is able to save his family and keep God’s People from being wiped from the face of the earth. After the highs of the first part of his life followed by years of terrible lows, Joseph has the context he needs to see that God meant all the bad that happened to him for good. Again, Joseph had to experience lows over many years to be able to get any kind of context for them, and it may be the same for us. We need to hold that thread.
And then let’s return to the film Inside Out. In Inside Out, after trying to be happy for her parents’ sake after moving, Riley finally breaks down in tears and confesses how sad she is about leaving Minnesota and how much she misses it. Her parents get down with her and tell her what they miss about Minnesota and that they are not mad about how Riley feels about moving. Sadness helped Riley have this emotional breakthrough, and, after the parents wrap Riley in their arms for a hug, Sadness brings Joy over and a melded Joy/Sadness Core memory is created.
Sharing our highs and lows helps us create these melded experiences that, again, help us cultivate true Joy, a deep, cosmic kind of poise that is informed by joy and sadness coming together at the same time. We are often Riley, trying to be happy in all circumstances when God is like Riley’s parents, who will never be angry with us for bringing our sorrows to Him and who holds our very hearts and souls in His arms whether we are surrounded by loved ones or alone.
Sharing highs and lows is just the start. It’s step one. We need to bring in God’s Word for context, step two. We need to talk and process all of this, step three. We need to pray and bring it all before God and grow that relationship, step four. We need to bless each other and God as we go through life together, step five. But, to paraphrase Zig Ziglar, those who never take step one, will never take step two. I encourage you to take that first step or maybe even that leap if you are feeling skeptical.
Gather your family or trusted friends or coworkers together and each take a turn sharing the high and the low for the day. Be present and listen to one another, no interruptions and no judging. God is there through it all, and He is ready for you to find Him and hold on tight.