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Have you ever meticulously planned and worked toward a great vacation only to have something happen that shatters your dream trip? If so, you know the discouragement that can bring.
Have you ever had a shattered vacation that was saved by a Bible verse?
I have, and it put me on the path toward a wise principle that continues to impact my life in many positive ways.
After my wife went through a season of cancer treatment several years ago, we stepped out and planned what was for us the trip of a lifetime. We had never taken a really huge trip. All of our prior trips had been pretty much your standard family style vacations.
But this time, we dipped into our bucket list and planned a cruise to Alaska. It was truly a dream come true for us both. It is hard to even try to describe our anticipation.
And all went extremely well in the planning phase and the outgoing travel. Neither of us had ever been on a cruise ship before and the first night on board was a grand adventure.
Then on Monday morning, we awakened at our first port and embarked on our first excursion. The sights we saw that morning were breathtaking to say the least. I do not believe that we will ever experience more beautiful scenery in this lifetime.
But as we were returning to the ship after that excursion, we heard the awful sounds of a caravan of sirens blaring through that small Alaska town. We had no idea what was going on. A couple hours later, we would learn the tragic news:
Eight fellow cruisers from our ship had been killed in a sightseeing plane excursion in the same area we had just visited.
Eight people enjoying the beauty that we had just enjoyed never made it back to the ship. Their vacation of a lifetime tragically ended their lives.
That was probably the most heartbreaking moment we had ever experienced that did not involve a loved one or someone we knew. Our heart ached for those lost and their families. In an instant, the joy of our dream vacation was gone.
Even now I feel guilty talking about my grief, discouragement, and disappointment in that moment when those families had suffered such tragedy. I mean, it seems self-centered. Surely I was a horrible person to be thinking about what had happened to my vacation when those precious people had lost their lives. How selfish could I possibly be?
But honesty requires me to admit those feelings. I must confess that I even felt a little angry at God for allowing this to happen on our first day. Everything had now gone wrong. Even though we couldn’t just leave the ship and go home, there seemed to be no way we could enjoy the rest of the trip.
It just seemed terribly wrong to go about having a good time when others were experiencing such loss and pain. Compassion seemed to leave no room for our enjoyment. It would simply be wrong to enjoy the remainder of the trip given the circumstances.
At least, that was the temptation.
That next morning, I shared on Facebook that the cruise line had determined the cruise would continue, and since there was nothing we could do to change the circumstances, we would move forward as best we could.
Shortly, a very good friend of ours that God has often used to speak truth into our lives replied to my post:
“Enjoy yourselves. This is your appointed time to celebrate life and all that God has done for you. The whole Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes might be of encouragement to you if you are having trouble giving yourselves permission to enjoy in the midst of someone else’s tragedy,”
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
She also included a link to that particular chapter, so I began to read and ask God to emphasize what He wanted me to know in that moment. These are the lines I highlighted:
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. (v.1)
A time to be born and a time to die (v.3)
A time to cry and a time to laugh,
A time to grieve and a time to dance.” (v. 4)
In that moment, God clearly showed me that this was our APPOINTED time to enjoy our trip and that we should embrace that appointment. There was nothing that we could do to change what had happened. And though we still prayed fervently for the families of those lost and never forgot the lost lives, we gave ourselves permission to enjoy our “appointed and anointed” time of joy.
That experience had a lasting and profound impact on me. For the first time, I began to really understand that indeed we go through many seasons in this life, and it is our job to embrace even the painful ones as being a part of God’s plan.
Just as importantly, we should not miss out on the joyful moments by lingering too long in those seasons of loss and sorrow. It is entirely possible for us to miss the seasons of joy that God intended for us by staying mired in the season of sorrow that He intended for us to move through.
“For everything there is a season—”
Since that day, when those verses first came to life for me, I have returned to them often. I have found encouragement and direction in all of the seasons that life has thrown at me.
Out of this chapter of Ecclesiastes 3, I have personally embraced eight of the truths found there and eight corresponding reactions. I now try to live a lifestyle of acceptance of all the seasons of life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is my hope that one of these might be of help to you:
1. There is a time to be born, a time to live, and a time to die- ACCEPT EACH
2. There is a time to plant and a time to harvest- ENJOY EACH
3. There is a time to cry and a time to laugh – EXPECT BOTH
4. There is a time to grieve and a time to dance- DON’T LET ONE ROB YOU OF THE OTHER
5. There is a time to embrace and a time to turn away- WISDOM IS KNOWING WHICH TO DO AND WHEN
6. There is a time to strive and a time to rest- EMBRACE BOTH
7. There is a time to speak up and a time not to speak- KNOW WHICH TIME IS WHICH
8. There is a time to fight and a time to let things go- DO BOTH GRACIOUSLY
Whatever season of life that we find ourselves in, God is available for us that very moment. He wants to join in the seasons of joy and share in the seasons of sorrow.
But God does not force his way in. The choice is up to us.
I hope you will invite God into your season whatever it may be!