The Circle’s End

by Andy Wood on March 29, 2011

in Insight, Life Currency, Tense Truths

Phillip’s down, and he thinks he’s out.

Life hasn’t been kind to the 33-year-old; in fact, life has been brutally unfair.  In just one calendar year, Phillip left his friends due to a job transfer, lost the job that transferred him due to downsizing, suffered an excruciating ankle break in a pick-up basketball game, and separated from his wife of seven years, though they are working on things.

Phillip tries to be hopeful when everything around him feels fatal.  But he can’t mask the confusion.  How can a year that started with such promise and confidence leave him feeling so lost and broken?  How can a life driven with such expectancy just a few months ago feel so aimless now?

But what Phillip can’t see because he’s in too deep is how close he is to the Circle’s End.

Karen can’t believe her eyes, but there’s no mistaking that little “plus” sign.  After months and months of futility, what she has dreamed of all her life is finally happening.  She’s going to have a baby.   That’s a much better explanation for that morning nausea than “stomach flu.”

The enchantment she and her husband are feeling is surely a precursor of things to come.  The family they both have dreamed of.  The joy and delights of holding that little one for the first time.  The expectancy that life has made a turn for the better, and there is nowhere to go but forward.

And she’s right… to a point.  But just as tides ebb and flow, Karen will eventually reach the Circle’s End.

However you would classify your circumstances, one thing is certain – they’re anything but still. Sometimes you have the feeling that you’re rising with the tides, and at other times you’re unmistakably sinking.  Or put in other language, sometimes it feels as though life is moving with you, and at other times it’s moving against you.

Our every-day conversations reflect that.  Ever notice that without fail, when you mention that cold or those flu-like symptoms, somebody eventually says, “Yeah, it’s been going around.”  How recently have you heard somebody talk about the economy and use a word like “downturn” or “recovery?”

The Bible is also filled with that kind of imagery.  Paul told the Philippians that he knew both how to be abased and how to abound.  He was talking about his finances.  He knew about the Circle’s End.  So did Solomon.  In Ecclesiastes, he gave us that poetic reminder that everything has its time and season – times of birth and death, sewing and tearing, and the like.

Here in the Dash

As much as we want life to be linear, about the only linear thing in your life is that ruthless timeline.  Here in the dash – that line between your birthday and the day of your death, you’re living in a parade of circles and cycles.  And as my friend David Miller pointed out recently, the only way to know what’s around the corner is to go there.

But here’s what “going there” enough times produces:

  • Enough perspective to realize that ups and downs don’t define a person, but how they respond to those ups and downs does.
  • Experience enough to recognize that the truest words in the Bible, after “In the beginning God” and “God is love” are, “It came to pass…”
  • A loose enough grip on prosperity (however you define it) to recognize that you probably shouldn’t set your heart on it.
  • Humor enough to recognize that some of your funniest moments take place during the saddest, and vice versa (hey, it’s the Circle’s End we’re dealing with after all).
  • Appreciation for changing seasons.
  • Gratitude for the people in our lives; however temporarily they may be there, they always leave footprints – some in sand, others in stone.
  • Reverence for the presence of God – the only unchanging part of the cycles we live in.

Wherever you are today…

…you’re somewhere at the Circle’s End.  And that tells me some things about you.  It tells me that there are curves ahead, leading to unseen events.  It tells me that even if you wanted to, you couldn’t freeze this moment forever – but you can and probably will experience other moments like it.  It tells me that if you’ve lived any length of time, you have probably seen something like this before, and will again… but maybe next time you’ll be a little wiser for the experience.

Most of all, it tells me that where you are on your circles and cycles matters little; what matters most is where your heart is.  And I have learned that there are three things you can do to keep your heart in the right place:

Hanging On

…we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:2-5).

Never underestimate the value of perseverance.  But perseverance is more than crawling in a mental fetal position and passively waiting for the storm to pass.  Look at the words Paul uses as companions to perseverance.  Words like: “exult in our tribulations,” “hope,” “love of God,” and “poured out.”  Here was a man who went to war with his own complacency and fear, passionately listening for the voice of God in the midst of his tribulation.

Reaching Out

When you’re on the dark side of the circle, sometimes it’s tempting to pull in – to isolate, or go in your cave.  Disappointments, invasion of painful memories, and relentless life-storms can reinforce the feeling that you are completely alone.

If ever there is a time to reach out, it’s then.

I find it interesting that when Paul is talking about tribulations and proven character, he ends the conversation talking about the love of God being poured out within his heart.  That doesn’t sound like a guy who had hunkered down until the storm passed.  Even in his severe circumstances, he found a way to reach out in love to others.  So can you.

Shining Forth

Some days you may feel like the broken ship.  But to someone else, you’re the only beacon of hope they have.  “Hope does not disappoint,” Paul says.  It sends a light out, reminding us and those in our universe that despite the deceitfulness of the darkness, some things – and some people – are worth believing in and holding onto.

There are lots of ways to do this, starting with the way you pray for others.  Remind them, too, of the things you see in them that they can’t see in themselves.  Point them to higher ground – that is, to the faithfulness of God as their sure foundation.  Help someone reframe their past or find the capacity to forgive.  And when you can, offer them the perspective that comes from saying, “I’ve been there before, and lived to tell about it.”

 

The Circle’s End is a reminder, both relentless and faithful, that the end of the story has yet to be told.  About you.  About me.  But one thing is sure.  In the arms of a Father who has poured out His love into your heart, when you reach your ultimate Circle’s End, it’ll be worth the trip.

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