Handling Ups and Downs

Handling Ups and Downs

Perspective on how to thrive when "stuff happens"
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In her book Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life, Barbara Johnson included a cartoon depicting a person with hair flying in all directions and frazzled, sunken eyes. The caption read, "I try to take just one day at a time … but lately several days have attacked me at once."

Another cartoon by Yaakov Kirschen made the observation that "Computers are teaching our young people to function in the exciting world of virtual reality. Unfortunately we still have the job of teaching them to survive in the frightening world of actual reality."

Can you relate? Do we really need those bumper stickers that remind us that "stuff happens"?

Reflect on your life

Take a few moments to think about the events that have transpired in your life. You'll have to agree that it has been a series of "ups" and "downs."

After making that comment to a group of substance-abuse clients who had been incarcerated, I asked each to draw a graph of their life in terms of ups and downs. It was interesting that with a little prompting, all could think of at least a few events they'd have to call ups. It might have been a Little League victory, a marriage, or the birth of a child. But these men's graphs were overwhelmingly dominated by the number of downs, including things like the breakup of a marriage, a serious accident, an arrest, or the death of a loved one.

Once the brief graphs had been constructed, I asked each client to turn the paper 90 degrees and consider looking at it not one dimensionally but three dimensionally. I waved my arm round and round, slowly raising the height ever so slightly with each turn, to depict an upward spiral. I then drew a diagram of a spring on the chalkboard.

We tend to look at life one dimensionally, like that linear graph. We may even characterize the ups and downs as a roller coaster. Yet several passages in the Bible reveal that perhaps the three dimensional spring is a healthier way to look at the events of our lives. It certainly was for these young men.

The passages which first opened my eyes to this concept are in Exodus 12-17. Think of the events recorded there in terms of ups and downs.

  • God demonstrates that he is greater than all the gods of Egypt (12:12—an up)
  • God brings deliverance to the people through the blood sacrifice (12:13—an up)
  • As Pharaoh approaches, they are terrified and cry out to Moses (14:9-12—a down)
  • The Red Sea parts and they are protected as the sea closes again (14:21-30—an up)
  • They travel for three days in the Desert of Shur without finding water (15:22—a down)
  • They find water (15:23—an up)
  • The water is bitter (15:23—a down)
  • Moses gets wisdom from the Lord to make the bitter water sweet (15:25—an up)
  • They find an oasis at Elim with 12 springs of water (15:27—a big up)
  • They run out of food and complain (16:1-3—a down)
  • God provides manna and quail (16:4-36—an up)
  • They find no water at Rephidim and complain (17:1-3—a down)
  • Moses strikes the rock as God told him and water gushes out (17:4-7—an up)
  • The Amalekites ambush the stragglers (17:8—a down)
  • Moses stands on the hill with arms outstretched and it helps (17:9-11a—an up)
  • When Moses lowers his hands the Amalekites start winning (17:11b—a down)
  • Aaron and Hur hold up Moses' hands and the Israelites overcome the foe (17:12-13—an up)

Despite the ups and downs, they were making progress in their spiritual pilgrimage through the wilderness and learning to trust God; the pattern of these ups and downs can be graphed as an ascending spiral or spring.

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