Picture it for a second. You’re in a boxing ring, or a street fight. Your opponent is throwing blows. Face, chest, gut punches. You dodge, hang a few yourself, but your opponent is bigger, stronger, faster. He’s got the upper hand and you know it. You try to stay in the fight, but every connection is more painful than the last. The fight ebbs and flows, each of you gaining dominance for a moment, but you can tell you’re losing.
Not many of us will experience this in a street fight; fewer in the boxing ring. But each one of us experiences it in life. Especially in ministry. The boxing ring analogy feels far too tame for that experience. It’s really much more like a street fight, where there’s no referee and no rules of how your opponent can inflict his vengeance, and those of us that have devoted our lives to occupational ministry get that side of the analogy with vivid colors.
Recently, in my own version of the fight, I heard the Lord whisper in my ear, “Absorb, don’t react”.
When we react, we’re trying to deflect. We avoid, protect. It’s like a rubber suit intended to keep everything from sinking in, and experiencing the smallest amount of discomfort possible. It’s all about how I can protect myself.
When we absorb, we’re taking it in. We’re allowing ourselves to feel it. To think deeply. To deal with it. It’s not masochism – far from it. It’s not pain for the sake of pain. It’s all about how we can benefit the world – the people – around us.
It’s more about allowing the Lord to correct, shape, strengthen, prepare your mind, body and spirit for the long haul.
And it causes us, sometimes, to take the brunt of it all, because that’s what the Lord has asked of us. And so we humbly oblige, somehow comforted by the joy on the Lord’s face as we die to ourselves and live for something so much bigger.
When I was pastoring a church, at around the age of 31, I used to say that I expected the 41 year old version of myself to look back on 31 year old Chad and think to myself, “that guy was an idiot”. At least I got that right. But when we live for ourselves, we’re rejecting that bit of truth that acknowledges we aren’t the center of our world; we aren’t our own ultimate authority.
And when we react to what comes our way – talking about the bad stuff that we’d just assume avoid – that’s exactly what we’re doing.
But when we absorb, we’re saying not only with our mouth, but with our actions, that there’s something else going on here. There’s something I need to learn, grow in, overcome – and we can’t do that alone.
Not apart from people, and most definitely not apart from Jesus.
Absorbing is abiding. It’s taking John 15 and making it as real as an object in your hand.
So when life hits you, try to absorb it. Feel it. Acknowledge that it sucks, and it hurts and it’s not what you expected. And in doing that, you might just see something better than what you expected. You might – as slow as the Lord is gracious enough to allow – see him in a clearer, greater way.