Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
In 2013, 41,149 people committed suicide. This makes suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide are estimated at over ten times this number. Men account for 80% of these deaths, and the highest rates in recent years have been tracked for men in the 50 to 65 age bracket.
There is a point in your life when despair sets in, when you realize that your dreams may never come true. For men, much of our identity revolves around accomplishment. The older we get, the more we realize that opportunities to reach our goals are running out. We fail at living up to the expectations we set for ourselves, the same expectations that the world sets for a successful man. We are told that the measure of a man is his ability to provide for himself and his family. We cannot control the circumstances of life or most of our limitations as human beings. We are set up for failure from the outset.
Real life begins to take a toll in your 50s. Pushing through the loss of a job, a marriage, a home, a child—it's much easier when you're younger. There is always room to hope; time is on your side. As you grow older, you realize that your chances are largely behind you. Our past failures seem to control our thoughts; we live in the regret of missed opportunities and lost love. We are not the people we hoped to be. We cannot change the past.
In his play Long Day's Journey Into Night, Eugene O'Neil writes about the inevitability of life's disappointments.
“None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.”
I have reached points where I had no hope. I stood at one such point not long ago and realized I had thrown away opportunities for love and happiness at a time in my life filled with so many possibilities. I made poor choices, and in the end, lost almost everything that had become important to me. I had traded joy for something temporary. I've never thought about suicide, but I'd lost a sense of value for myself. There are other ways we can hurt ourselves when we think so little of the life that remains.
Then I received an unexpected message from someone I'd known a long time ago. We hadn't communicated much over the years. I read it over and over.
I am so proud of you. It takes a great deal of courage to embark on a journey of self discovery. . . . God has always blessed you and challenged you at a higher level than the rest. No one achieves greatness without hardship. The worst has passed and you are still standing with God on your side. Well done, Mike.
They weren't just her words to me, they were God's, at a moment I was desperate to hear them. I saw where I had taken a wrong turn, and where O'Neill had gone wrong also. The circumstances of life are outside our control, and to the degree that we find our value in them, we are sure to lose heart. But our life is not about circumstances, it is about something inside us. Nothing can change the work God does in the hearts of men and women who serve him. Though outwardly we waste away, as Paul says, we are renewed deep in the core of who we are by a God who loves us more than anything, if we will only go his way and find our value in him. The path that Jesus took led to suffering and loss, but also the greatest fulfillment imaginable. We are called to follow him through the same hardships, and then onward to the same destiny.
Nothing can change the glory that awaits those who put their trust in him. Paul himself was beaten and persecuted, but he found his value in his Lord and Savior. It was because of that trust, and the all-surpassing power of God through him, that he was able to find joy and purpose in the middle of the worst situations of life. He goes so far as to call these “light and momentary troubles.” It is true, in light of eternity. The disappointments of this life will mean nothing on that day when we stand with Jesus. We must fix our eyes on that day, not on troubles that are temporary.
Satan seeks to rob us of our hope. It is easy to give in to it, to accept that we are failures by some worldly standard. I have bought into it myself. If you are struggling, invest yourself in what cannot fail. Your value lies there. The measure of a man is found in a heart dedicated entirely to the Lord. Nothing in life can take that away.