Summary: Life is hard. Prayer is our pathway to peace.
This morning, I’m going to begin by openly acknowledging a fact of life. It’s something each one of us knows to be true, something we’ve all learned by personal experience, but which we usually try to avoid admitting publicly. And here it is: life is hard. For everyone. Ever since Adam and Eve took their one-way trip out of Eden, life has been chock full of unpleasant things like disappointment, regret, and heartache; failed dreams and unmet expectations; unfulfilled longings and dashed hopes. As Job put it, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble." (Job 14:1, RSV) And he knew what he was talking about. Some days it seems like we’re walking blindfolded through a minefield, never knowing if our next step will set off an explosion, or send us stumbling into a crater.
The causes of life’s difficulties are legion; they include everything from unexpected illnesses to unfaithful husbands. For example, you can spend your whole life scrimping and saving; ordering pizza instead of going to restaurants, spending summer vacations at the in-laws instead of traveling to the beach, only to see the fruits of all your labors disappear overnight. Like the Enron employees whose 401K’s were invested in now-worthless Enron stock. Or the formerly wealthy customers of the Cleveland stock broker who departed Northeast Ohio with a hundred million dollars unaccounted for. And we see stories in the paper every day about ordinary, everyday tragedies -- someone’s home burned down, a lifetime of memories turned to ashes, the fire department blames bad wiring. An auto accident, someone’s teenage son killed, his friend had been drinking. Bankruptcies. Divorces. Obituaries.
Not to mention the kind of day-in, day-out struggles that never make the paper. A child afflicted with a learning disability, or diabetes, or autism. A teenager who changes overnight from a sweet, obedient son or daughter into a sullen, foul-mouthed adolescent. A stalled career. Critical in-laws. Unfriendly neighbors. Stomach flu. Migraines. Termites. Life is filled with difficulties, from devastating tragedies to minor annoyances. We can try to deny it. We can pretend it doesn’t matter. Or, as many people do, we can spend our time and energy trying desperately to somehow make ourselves safe; as if by being smart enough, or careful enough, or strong enough, or rich enough, we could exempt ourselves from pain, insulate ourselves from suffering. But we can’t. It’s not possible. You can eat nothing but organically-grown vegetables, drink only purified water from the snow of the French Alps, run thirty miles a week, and one day the doctor may still find a lump in your breast. You can read every child-raising manual ever written, practice tough love and consistent discipline, carefully screen your children’s friends, and they can still turn their back on your values and break your heart. You can spend decades building a reputation, only to have it destroyed by one malicious rumor. You may think you’ve found the ideal husband, or wife, and still, several months or years after the wedding, you can find out they’ve got serious problems, things you never imagined having to deal with. Drug abuse. Addiction to pornography. Rage. Alcoholism. And it goes on and on. No matter how hard we try, in the end we have to face the fact that we are not gods, but men. We are not in control; we do not have the power to shield ourselves from sorrow and loss. They are an inescapable part of the human condition. As our teacher and master, Jesus Christ forewarned us, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) The Scottish poet and farmer, Robert Burns, was plowing in his field one day, when he accidentally destroyed a meticulously constructed mouse’s nest. In response, he wrote a poem which contains this familiar line, "The best-laid schemes of mice and men, go oft awry, And leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy." Consider this story concerning one of the kings of ancient Israel, king Ahab:
"So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ’I will enter the battle in disguise, but you wear your royal robes.’ So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. Now the king of Aram had ordered his chariot commanders, ’Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel. . . ’ But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor. The king told the chariot driver, ’Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.’ . . . Then at sunset he died." -- 2 Chronicles 18:28-34