Once upon a time, the story goes, there was a town covered entirely in a thick layer of dense fog for so long that none of the townspeople could remember the last time they saw the sun shine, or felt its warm rays. It was a strange kind of fog too, one that seemed to come alive in the daytime as they went about their business; it twisted and swirled, curling and rising like an angry snake about to strike.
One day a strange old man walked into the town, who was able to diagnose the problem, as well as offer a sure-fire solution. As it turned out the thick, dense fog was caused by the townspeople themselves; their constant grumbling and complaining about their problems, their resentment of their neighbors whose problems appeared so small and insignificant when compared to their own, and just their general discontent and constant bellyaching, had polluted the air and blocked the light and warmth of the sun.
The solution was simple….well, as simple as simple can be in storybooks and fairy tales A clothesline was strung up across the town square, and everyone was to pack up all their troubles and trials in a sack and secure it to the line. Next, all the townspeople would line up for a race some distance from the line and when the old man gave the signal they were to run as fast as they could and grab any sack of trouble they wanted to have.
They could hardly believe their luck! In no time flat the sacks were hung, and the townspeople were lined up on the other side of the square, eager to finally trade in their own troubles for their neighbors’. Each pair of eyes moved rapidly from the old man to the sack they had their eye on as they waited for the signal to go, but as time went on, and the old man seemed in no hurry to start, their eyes lingered longer and longer on their neighbors’ sack of troubles and trials and something strange began to happen.
As each person looked more intently at his neighbor’s troubles, they began to feel sympathy and genuine concern for their neighbor, and to be grateful that they did not have to deal with those particular problems. There was still no signal to start the race and everyone was beginning to regret their grumbling and complaining, as their own sack became more and more appealing, when seen in the light of the sun!
They were hardly aware that as their new sentiments grew the fog was dissipating, so by the time the old man finally gave the signal to go, everyone was running as fast as they could to recover their own sack to troubles and trials in the warmth and light of blue skies and bright sunshine.
I was a little girl living in the Bob Marley version of a tenement yard in a poor neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica when I first read that story in a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica Bookshelf for Boys and Girls. My mom had literally pinched pennies to make the monthly payments for the thirty books that made up the encyclopedia, because she knew that I would never be a reggae singer or track sprinter, so the only way out of poverty she saw for me would be to get a good education.
Back then I found it hard to buy into the plausibility of that story because at seven years-old it seemed to me that the lack of money was the source of most, if not all problems, so given the choice I believed I would have run as fast as I could to grab a sack that had no money problems! Age, wisdom, maturity, and maybe a little too much exposure to reality TV has drastically changed that belief.
Every person on this planet earth has their own personal sack of troubles and trials. Everyone! So much of how well we are doing in life is about how we perceive and manage our own sack of troubles, as well as how we regard and respond to the contents of the sacks other people have to carry.
Winifred Woe-is-me has the victim/martyr mentality of those who continually grumble and complain, oblivious to the plight of those whose problems they deem to be less serious than their own. On the other extreme, Larry Look-at-me is full of the prideful arrogance of the self-righteous who trumpet their ability to carry their burdens and have only disdain for the struggles others have trying to do the same.
To be honest, when I first came to believe in Jesus Christ I was kind of hoping that protection from trouble, some kind of ‘immunity bubble’, would be part of the redemption/salvation package. But why should there be? Believe me, there would be a whole lot more hypocrites and phonies in the church, if you could make your troubles disappear just by saying, “I believe in Jesus!” Instead, Jesus warned His disciples,
“…In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Paul knew that troubles could be put to good use in our lives by the sheer power of God to help us overcome them, and to make it all work for our good.
“…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character hope.” Romans 5:3-4
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” I Corinthians 10:13
“…and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
But the best news about our sack of troubles is shared by David, who knew troubles both as a shepherd boy and as a king, and Job, whose very name is synonymous with troubles and trials. They both affirmed God’s absolute control over what troubles are allowed to come to each of us who believe in Him, and He guarantees our victory over them in time and/or eternity.
“For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” Psalm 66:10-12
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers Him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19
“But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10
Personally, I would rather not have any trouble at all; I wish my character could be refined and my compassion for others increased with a little blue pill, taken with a glass of good port wine. However, since that cannot be, the absolute next best thing is to know beyond a shadow of doubt that every trouble that comes to my life first had to be approved by God, who loves me perfectly, and already has a plan in place to turn my test into my testimony.
So this is me, hope in my heart, eyes fixed on Jesus, bravely shouldering my sack of tailor-made troubles, and still just living the thing.