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The Trouble With Trouble

Yesterday, walking through my neighborhood, I felt as if I carried a heavy sack of trouble with me --- the unrest in the Middle East, a earthquake-tsunami-irradiated Japan, a hospitalized friend --- trouble that dogged my every step.  "Well, we're living in the last days, you know," says a Christian acquaintance, and I want to say (but do not say, since he may have meant to reassure me) that telling me that is like telling me "Well, we're  living, you know," since my view is that we've been in the last days since Christ came the first time.  Trouble has been here, is here, and will be here until Christ returns.  And yet, walking that morning, dwelling on the headlines, it's easy to lose perspective.  When I consider the tragic loss of life in Japan, the stoic and fatalistic mindset I read in the faces I see, the megalomania of the Libyan dictator, or the frailness of my friend, emotion can put me in a well of darkness out of which it is difficult to see.  And in that well, shadows and bogeymen abound.  That's the trouble with trouble: it always get worse down there in the well.

At such times, there are  two ways I lose perspective. First, at that moment I lose hope.  I forget that great, unexpected good so often comes from calamity.  The Bible is full of such stories.  Take Joseph, thrown into a well and sold into slavery, rising to a position as Pharaoh's Chief of Staff.  God always has a way of taking the unlikely and elevating them, of rescuing us form a world gone wrong.  Then there is the great promise of providence, that "God works all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose."  You can't read the Bible without stumbling all over such stories, such promises.  By God's grace, by remembering, I need to reclaim that high ground.

The other way of losing perspective is a chronological fixation that leads me to regard my time oe circumstances as somehow more troublesome or difficult than other times, that our time is somehow more unique than all other times.  No one is picking the day and hour of his coming, you know, but (wink, wink) just look at what going on in the Middle East and how about that earthquake and, well, we're living in the last days you know.  Well, of course we are.  At such times, I need the Wall Street Journal.  You heard me: the Wall Street Journal.

What I appreciate about some of the seasoned stock market and business investors who often write in the Journal is the principled approach to investing that they have which keeps them blessedly free of emotion-driven decisions.  When the market drops, they don't sell off. They look for opportunities.  They revisit and remind themselves of their principles, forged in a less volatile time, and they remember.  What do they remember?  They remember other such swings in the market, other crises, and they have the rich historical perspective to even act contrary to emotion, to buy, for example, when everyone may be selling.  Their perspective demonstrates a reasonable faith in the market, a belief in good companies and their stock which overrides the volatility of the time, and ultimately it demonstrates hope, hope informed by history that time will heal, will restore and even, sometimes, surpass what has been lost.  They are reasonable optimists in a time (all times, really) when most make decisions based on fear. Something intuitively tells them, "Fear not."

And that's the voice I hear today: "Fear not."  To His quaking disciples, Jesus said "Do not let your hearts be troubled," and He says it to us.  He's really asking that we focus on Him, the First Principle, the one who does not change.  When the times are volatile, when the earth moves under our feet, when a tsunami of water or cares overwhelms us, we act on the same truth we've always known.  The truth that was truth in a good time is truth in a troubled time.  We too can walk on water if we keep our eyes on Him.

I wish I could say that when I returned home from the walk the troubled mind I began with was gone.  It wasn't.  And yet I felt like I had been given a glimpse of the landscape behind and ahead, one that gave me hope.