On a shelf in my office stands a first-place trophy for bowling. Draped over it is a last-place crying towel. I keep them together to remind me of life’s ups and downs. One day you’re on top and the next you may be at the bottom.
Paul understood this well. In Philippians 4:11-12 he said: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” As you can read in his letters, he experienced many ups and downs, more than most of us ever have or will.
When Paul said he knew what it meant to be in need, he wasn’t kidding. While I’m sure he didn’t enjoy the times of need, he learned from them and kept going. He learned, and so can we, to be thankful for the times we’re flying high (in all things give thanks) but not surprised when things turn sour (think it not strange when fiery trials come). And like Paul, we can learn to be content in every situation.
That is so easy to say, yet so hard to do. But if Paul could do it, can’t we? We have the same Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us through the deep valleys. We have the joy of the Lord as our strength. We have the hope of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. And we have Jesus, who understands everything we’re going through.
Jesus experienced his share of life’s ups and downs, too. As we read in John 1:1, he enjoyed the glory of the Godhead from eternity. But Philippians 2 explains that he didn’t hold on to it, but humbled himself to come to us as a baby, born in humble circumstances. He learned to walk and to talk and to work, building with his dad. He then became a rabbi, a big accomplishment in his society. He was followed by crowds and sought after by the sick and hurting. For a normal human, such things might be cause for celebration. I’m sure Jesus took them in stride. Among his high points must have been the incredible intimacy he enjoyed with his Father.
He also had lows: betrayal, trial, crucifixion and death. A big high followed—the resurrection.
I used to think Jesus understands us simply because he was human. But I think there’s more to it. We often don’t understand everything behind a trial or even a mountaintop experience. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, really did understand. We can rest assured that even though he wasn’t a woman, didn’t have to go through old age or debilitating disease, or any of the other experiences we sometimes wonder if he can relate to, he understands.
We will have our ups and downs. We’ll have trials and we’ll have high moments. We’ll continue to earn first-place trophies and crying towels. Neither should surprise or devastate us. Remember Paul, content in every situation. Remember Jesus, who understands more than we can comprehend. Enjoy the highs and don’t worry about the lows. Make the best of them, as one team on my bowling league jokes, and make a quilt out of all those crying towels!
Tammy Tkach, 2011