At work, the story is told of an employee who got called into the manager’s office. Back in the day, the work area in Engineering was an open floor of drafting tables, so everyone could see what was going on. It was clear that the employee was getting chewed out by his manager – the kind of blast that usually leaves someone beaten down and miserable for the rest of the day, not to mention embarrassed in front of his peers.
Some might have just packed up and gone home for the day. However, the employee eventually left his manager’s office, and the others could see that he had a smile on his face. Perplexed, they asked him, “What’s going on? We saw what happened. Why are you still smiling?” He replied with words of wisdom that I have re-quoted many times: “Managers. They’re like faces on a passing train.”
The truth is, in many careers, one may have a number of managers. I know people who have averaged more than one manager each year – even without changing their own work – as organizational restructuring and leadership development opportunities cycle multiple people through the management role. As a result, managers – both the good ones and bad ones – come and go. We may enjoy the times when we have good managers, but shouldn’t get too distraught with the bad ones, especially in an environment when they aren’t going to be around for very long.
In the same way, most other problems that we face are temporary. I may get frustrated when traffic is slow on the way home from work, but I’ve always made it home eventually. Migraine headaches are miserable to endure, but every one that I’ve experienced eventually succumbed to medicine, or time spent in a quiet, dark room.
One of my favorite verses occurs in the following passage from the book of 2 Corinthians:
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT
This message was written by a guy named Paul, who knew all about real-life problems. If you have a bad manager, illness running rampant in your body, or a sorrow that is likely to remain with you for years, I think that Paul would understand. He didn’t necessarily talk about his own trials a lot, but later on in this same letter, he enumerates some of them to make a point:
Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
Still, Paul was able to step back and look at the big picture. He saw that all of these challenges – all of this pain – was temporary. He understood that no matter how many years God chose to have him remain in this fallen world, an eternity of peace, joy, and fellowship with God would someday make this life – and its troubles – look like just a speck: a distant memory of a time gone by.
We might say that Paul was able to watch all of his trials on earth like riders’ faces on a passing train. In our own lives, we see our own challenges, and maybe even make eye contact for a split second. However, in a relative blink of an eye, they have passed by just as quickly as they appeared, leaving just a memory in our minds to ponder.
Let be be very clear: This reminder isn’t meant to to minimize, trivialize, or patronize any of our problems. Pain, suffering, and oppression are real. I expect that Paul hurt – a lot. We may have to carry some of our burdens throughout most – or even all – of our lives here on earth. And, despite their brevity, our efforts on this earth have eternal significance. This life isn’t for nothing; it is just not the end of the story. Even the rough parts have purpose (see Romans 5:3-5).
The point is not that we should ignore or minimize these things, only that we – after having accepted Jesus’s gift of salvation and choosing to follow Him – have the hope of a life without any tears or pain in the future. This isn’t just a wish or positive thinking, but the logical trust in an outcome promised by a God who has demonstrated 100% faithfulness to His word.
One of the the benefit of age is that it brings perspective. Whether we are able to look back in our own lives, or vicariously through the wisdom of those who have walked this earth longer than us, it is clear that good times and bad times both come and go. May we not only look back to reassure ourselves that we won’t always be in the valley; in addition, let us look forward to an even better destiny, with even greater confidence and expectation.