Life Shaping Experiences
Have you caught wind of the Tiny House movement? I've seen several episodes on HGTV of shows about tiny houses. People build homes for themselves that are often only about 300 square feet, packing things in efficiently and sparingly. Some are built on travel trailer frames and can be moved about. It's an interesting counter philosophy to the typical dream home many of us either have or would love to have.
Why? Why live in a tiny house? Why do without spaciousness and elbow room? Many people intentionally go the tiny house route to build a home for $20,000 instead of $200,000 so they skip the large mortgage payment in order to travel and make memories. Life shaping experiences are higher priority than a dream home. Take the mortgage money and travel to Europe. Ski in the Alps. Visit the seven wonders of the world for yourself.
Truth is, the experiences of our lives contribute to shaping who we are. Growing up during the Great Depression shaped my parents and grandparents to be very frugal. They recycled before recycling was a term. My mom would take the trays that food came on from the grocery, wash them, and use them for picnic plates. I don't think she ever threw away a twisty tie from a bread wrapper.
The totality of my experiences have helped to shape my life and my ministry. Some experiences have been highly impactful in themselves. Shirley and I experiencing fertility issues led to heartache, tears, medical treatments, and ultimately to our adopting newborn twins. There have been many times when we have been able to commiserate with and comfort young couples experiencing barrenness when they long to have children.
Other experiences seemed less dramatic, but have surely shaped me nonetheless. I grew up in a loving home with both my parents and all four of my grandparents alive into my adulthood. My father worked in a union factory and while we did not live extravagantly, I also did not grow up in poverty. My parents were nominal Lutherans, so I had some church experience in my childhood, but little religious training at home.
If my parents had divorced when I was a child, or one of them had died, or if dad were disabled and we were poor, or if my parents were either antagonistic toward Christian faith or flaming pentecostals, any of these changes in my childhood experiences would have provided a different background for my life's development.
In 2 Corinthians 1, verses 3-4, the Apostle Paul says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (NIV)
I believe there is ample evidence in Scripture that God does not cause everything that happens to happen. Some things happen because we are fallen creatures who sin and bring the consequences into our own lives or the lives of others. My father smoked for about 50 years. God did not cause him to smoke, and God did not give him lung cancer. But lung cancer came, and caused his death.
What we do with our experiences - how we respond to them - also shapes who we are and how we live. Hard experiences in life can make us bitter or make us better. The difference is mostly how we respond to them. I knew a man whose wife died, and he raged at God for "taking her" from him. As far as I know, he never found peace and has lived the rest of his life angry at God and at everything else. I have known many others whose spouse died, and after experiencing the stages of grief, including anger, walked hand-in-hand with God through the grief and into a happy, healthy life.
As I walk with Jesus Christ in faith, I have come to understand something deep about Paul's words. God comforts us so we can in turn comfort others with the same comfort we have received. What God allows, God redeems. God can use every experience, good or bad, to shape us to be more like Jesus and to minister to others.
I believe Rick Warren was onto something with his book, The Purpose Driven Life (reprinted as What On Earth Am I Here For?). The Holy Spirit gives Spiritual Gifts for use in ministry, and activates them to allow us to serve others. God redeems and uses our Heart's passions to connect with others with similar passions, opening the door for sharing the love of Jesus with them. We are born with Abilities that can be used to love and serve others. Our God-given Personality makes us well suited for some area of service. And God redeems our Experiences, as we trust Him in them, to release in us compassion for those going through the same thing that opens the door to encourage them in Christ. We truly are SHAPEd for Significance!
A good prayer for today might well be, "Father, I want you to have all of me. I thank you for the way you have shaped my life. I am not an accident. I am not damaged goods. I am a human being who has given my life to you. I love you, and I want to please you by loving and encouraging others. Please use my unique SHAPE in all the ways you see fit to make Jesus known to others. Please use me to comfort others with the same comfort I have received from you. I ask it in Jesus' name."