It is interesting to reflect back on my childhood, because, while I was always very happy, my life definitely had its challenges. Since I’ve aged and gained maturity I’m now able to dissect all the hardships and specificities of my life and understand how they have shaped me into the 25 year old man I am today.
Why am I so reserved and soft spoken in big groups? Why am I super introverted? Why am I so independent? Why am I driven the way I am? Why am I so focused on the successes of my future? Why am I so drawn to sports and coaching?
For me, the answer to these questions all start with the fact that I grew up to a single mother with zero siblings. My father moved away when I was 6 and I haven’t seen him since. Even though my mother is, in my unbiased* opinion, the perfect model on how a single mother should raise a son, growing up without a father still presented many challenges for me.
*For real, she is the absolute best! It's just a fact.
People have asked me if it was weird growing up without a dad and I always answered, almost nonchalantly, “nope.” To me it was normal. It was all I knew. One typical single parent problem we could never seem to avoid was money. My mom and I never really had a lot of money when I was growing up and I remember at one point she explained our situation to me. “We’re broke. We’re not poor. There’s a difference.”
In addition to my family situation adding challenges, there is the fact that I didn’t become a Christ Follower until I was 22 years old. For 22 years I lived a life void of the Holy Spirt. While those years were filled with (worldly) happiness, as I alluded to in the first sentence of this blog, they were also filled with sin. Lots and lots of sin. The most difficult part all about all of this is I didn’t even know what the heck sin was. Because of my ignorance I had no idea the severity of what I was living with.
I didn’t know that when I started searching the internet for pornography around the age of 12 that it would turn into me having a pornography addiction throughout high school and college. I didn’t know that my constant chase for girls would turn into me struggling to have a season of singleness later on in life. I didn’t know that my drive and passion for success in baseball would turn into me struggling to relinquish control of all the things I care most about. In every aspect of my life today I am dealing with the consequences of the sin that I committed before I was a Christ Follower. And that is what contributes to most of the current challenges I have in my life.
It’s what I’ve done my whole life. It’s what I’m good at.
There are both pros and cons to this. It can be good because my laid back, even keel personality helps me in relationships at times, whether it’s coaching, with friends, or with the ladies. In fact, I’m convinced that someday I will find a wife and that she will have some sort of anxiety issues. God has blessed me with too much patience and too much unflappability. I just know He’s going to find someone that I’m going to balance out in big ways.
It’s also bad because by running from the afflictions in my life I am limiting my ability to grow as a Christ Follower, as a man, as a friend, as a coach, as a husband (eventually), as a father (eventually), etc. Moreover, I am limiting my ability to grow in humility. Humility as a Follower of Jesus means laying down your life and trusting it, ALL of it, in the hands of God. How am I showing humility if I immediately turn away from affliction and focus exclusively on the positives? It shows that deep down I don’t want to have to rely on God to get me through that specific hardship. It shows that I want to remain in control, and for me that means controlling what I focus on. If I focus on only the positive just maaaaybe I can lessen the hurt that I’m experiencing.
The problem is that’s not what Jesus did.
Jesus knew exactly the type of pain and affliction he was destined for, and yet, he did not run from it. He did not ignore it. He invited it.
The night before Jesus was arrested he sat in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to God, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Jesus knew his fate, and he knew it was a painful one, but his attitude towards it was amazing. The author of Hebrews exclaims, “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). I mean dang! Out of all the emotions he could have possibly experienced in that moment where he knew of his forthcoming suffering, he experienced joy. Joy!
“So Austin, we’re basically supposed to reluctantly jump right into pain, hurt, and suffering because that’s what Jesus did and we’re like totally supposed to be like him, right?” – You, at this point in the blog post, probably.
Well first of all, thank you for wording your question so elegantly. Secondly, before we do that we must understand why it’s important to invite affliction into our lives, as opposed to avoiding it. AW Tozer covers this topic beautifully in his book “The Pursuit of God.” (below are several parts from a chapter titled Removing the Veil that I pieced together. May I request that you read it more than once. It’s that good!)
“There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgement. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering in some measure like that through which our Savior passed when He suffered under Pontius Pilate.
To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.
We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust.
The cross is rough, and it is deadly, but it is effective. After the resurrection there is glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for the joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual, spiritual experience the presence of the living God.”
Jesus invited the affliction because he was aware of the coming glory that the resurrection would provide. Knowing this why would I choose to avoid my affliction when I know that Jesus is suffering it alongside me? Why run away when I know what I’m running from is the chance to experience the same type of glory and joy that Jesus experienced through the resurrection?
Paul describes this hope in his letter to the church of Rome. “Heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:16-17). I love how simply he puts it.
- We suffer with him.
- We are glorified with him.
Ok, so, what does inviting affliction look like?
That’s a dang good question! I’ll be honest I still don’t know exactly. It’s something I’m currently in the midst of discovering, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway. I’ll be really curious to look back on this post years from now and see if I actually had any of it figured out haha.
I think first you must seek out the source of the pain. You must dig deep and attempt to understand how all of your hardships, all of your afflictions, and all of your sin has shaped you into who you are today. It’s been very interesting for me to identify how my experiences have molded me. It makes sense that I’m introverted and independent. Growing up in a home with just a mother meant I spent a lot of time playing by myself. It also meant I had to figure things out on my own, thus creating a super independent Austin Womack. Also, I think I’m so driven and focused because for my whole life I witnessed how hard my mom worked to provide for me. I saw how much she sacrificed to make my life better.
One of my biggest sin struggles is I often lack the ability to give up control. I’ll talk more about that in the next couple paragraphs but I think this pride-filled sin is contributed from the fact that I am so independent, so driven, and because I didn’t become a Christ Follower until the age of 22. For 22 years I did it all own my own, so to speak. In high school and college I reached many, many personal goals and had numerous noteworthy achievements. When I accepted Jesus on November 23, 2013 my mindset immediately needed to change. Instead of putting forth effort and drive for success to glorify myself, I now needed to switch my effort to glorify God. Instead of trying to do it on my own, which I had a lot of (worldly) success at, I needed to switch and let God take complete control. This is something I still struggle with on a daily basis.
Second, I think you must grieve. This is that part that’s tough because it means acknowledging that your life isn’t perfect. It's tough for everybody, but I think it's especially tough for the fellas. We want to be strong, bold, and masculine. To many guys grieving might seem like a sign of weakness. I’ve come to learn that it’s quite the opposite of that. By accepting the grief that comes with affliction you are rendering control of the situation. For me it means I have to kill my pride enough to admit that I have indeed faced challenges in life, that life hasn’t always worked out the way I wanted it to, and that that’s ok.
Everything doesn’t always have to go how exactly how I want it to. The fact that it doesn’t just shows how little I truly am in control, even when it feels like I am. Grieving requires us to rely on the promises that God has laid out for us. It makes us crave Him by forcing us to put all of our hope in Him. Accepting hardship does not make you soft, weak, or less of a man. In reality it makes you stronger because it builds your trust in God.
Lastly, you must rejoice. Inviting affliction into your life will seem hard and messy, and well, that’s because it is. BUT. There is so much to gain from it because it is humility in its purest form. The form exemplified to us through Jesus’ death on the cross. Inviting affliction requires us to rely on the promises that God has laid out for us. It makes us crave Him by forcing us to put all of our hope in Him. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” (Romans 5:3-4).
Like I said, these steps are something I’m actively trying to take in my life. Truthfully, I was hoping to knock these steps out as quickly as possible and move on, but unsurprisingly, that’s not how God works in these situations. He will continue to challenge me to suffer with Him, to trust Him, and to rejoice with Him.
He will do the same with you.
All you need to do is send the invitation.