Rebuilding Broken-Down Walls

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Stewart (not his real name) is tired and grieving the losses and disappointments he has suffered in recent years. He qualified for Social Security benefits and received his first check only last month. It helps a little, but he struggles financially because the churches where he preached never paid him enough to save much money for retirement. 

The congregation for which he preaches was a strong neighborhood church of 150 members when he started serving there fifteen years ago, but industrial/commercial rezoning has caused many people to move to areas of town that are more family-friendly. Their numbers are down to less than forty, and all their members are over the age of 60. There are no teenagers or children. Church leaders have asked him to go part-time and to take a reduction in salary.

He knows the church is dying with little likelihood they can turn things around. He has talked to church leaders about selling the property and perhaps merging with another congregation. Some of them agree, but they do not want to disappoint the older members who helped start the congregation decades ago and are resistant to the idea. 

Sometimes Stewart sits at his office desk gazing into space with an unfocused stare. His faith in the Lord is deep and strong, but that does not keep him from feeling discouraged and on some days just downright depressed. He tries to paint on a happy face, but inside his heart is breaking.

It is critically important that we learn how to deal with life’s disappointments. In his book, Making Things Right, Paul Faulkner writes about Thomas Carlyle who had finished writing a history of the French Revolution. He loaned the manuscript to a friend to proofread. The next day, his friend came with bad news. His friend’s maid thought the stack of papers were scrap and used them to start a fire in the fireplace.

Carlyle had spent two years of his life writing that history, and now it was only a pile of ashes. He raged like a mad man for several days. He was so distraught that he thought he could never again give himself to such a difficult task as writing the history of the French Revolution. 

One day, Carlyle observed a stone mason rebuilding a collapsed wall, patiently and slowly putting one stone upon another, until he had completed rebuilding the wall. Trying desperately to come to terms with his disappointment and grief, Carlyle accepted his tragic loss and started rewriting what had been destroyed in the fire. Diligently, patiently, one day at a time, one page at a time, he rewrote the history until he had finished it. Many scholars believe it is his best work. 

Faulkner observed, “To make things right when they go wrong in your life, you must rebuild by carefully replacing one stone of your life upon another, one day at a time.” 

Some disappointments are more serious than others. The minor ones we blow off quickly. The big disappointments hang around for a while. The greater the disappointment, the greater the sense of loss. The more profound the grief, the harder it is to get past it. 

Each of us handles disappointments differently, so there is no single prescription that works for everyone. However, I would like to recommend a few steps that I believe can help you deal with life’s disappointments. 

First, allow yourself to feel the pain of disappointment. Accept the fact that you’ve experienced a great loss. Denying or burying the pain will only allow it to fester within your spirit. Second, take time to grieve your loss. Feeling and expressing grief will help you process your hurt; God gave you tears for a reason. Third, share your grief with a trusted friend who will simply listen and walk beside you as you process your loss. If you need professional counseling, make an appointment. If you had a medical problem, you’d go see a physician; never be ashamed to seek help with emotional and spiritual challenges. Fourth, pour your heart out to God and ask him to help you get through the pain. Let the Psalms teach you how to do that. Using the Psalms as a model, journal your thoughts for as long as you need to do so. Write out your prayers to God.

Most importantly, remind yourself that in this world of constant change, there are some things that are stable, solid, immovable, and unchanging. There is One who possesses all those characteristics—He is the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Following these steps is like slowly, deliberately rebuilding a collapsed wall by putting one stone upon another. 

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