The Cure for the Chronic Life: Overcoming the Hopelessness That Holds You Backby Shane Stanford, Deanna Favre
Deanna Favre, a breast cancer survivor and wife of NFL legend Brett Favre, and Shane Stanford, an HIV-positive minister, have both lived such a life. Chronic hopelessness was part of their everyday lives as it is for many people. But
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A life of unanswered questions, broken relationships, and poor decisions disrupts a relationship with God and creates crisis.
Deanna Favre, a breast cancer survivor and wife of NFL legend Brett Favre, and Shane Stanford, an HIV-positive minister, have both lived such a life. Chronic hopelessness was part of their everyday lives as it is for many people. But Deanna and Shane discovered the transforming grace and strength of a God who provides answers for questions and possibilities for uncertainties.
The Cure for the Chronic Life is a guide for the journey out of hopelessness. In its pages, discover the power of redeeming love and the hope of living in Christ.
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The Cure for the Chronic Life
Overcoming the Hopelessness That Holds You Back
By Deanna Favre, Shane Stanford
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
The SEVEN WORRIES OF LIVING IN CRISIS
Too much of our world understands crisis firsthand. Recent earthquakes in places like Haiti and Chile remind us of the fragile nature of life. In fact, there are "earthquakes" happening every hour of every day for families and individuals through the consequences of poor marriages, abusive childhoods, poor decision patterns—you name it. The debris is strewn from one end of the journey to the other. And when we are dealing with life on these terms, we find ourselves living in the trenches of warfare or in the ruts of complacency. Either way, we are unable to become what God has placed so deeply inside each of us.
But we must survive and so, in response, we learn to live chronically in crisis. And these patterns give birth to worries that permeate every corner of our lives. Soon, we become less about becoming all that God has in store, and instead we spend most of our time enduring what the world has thrown our way. Unfortunately, this sort of life is the most difficult and painful to continue and confront. On the one hand, it is not terminal. It is not the end. Life doesn't transition itself. But on the other hand, it isn't real life either. When we are living in chronic crisis, we are never quite breathing in the fullness of life, but instead holding our breaths, afraid of what might come around the corner. It is chronic, neverending, all-consuming, but not fatal. Instead, we get the displeasure of living through our illness, for it is powerful enough to drain us of our hope, but not powerful enough to kill us—at least not all at once.
Too often, or as human nature is expected to do, we focus on these worries of life and remain hostage to the whims of this world. And all the while, our souls are craving something more, something different. We cradown by the meaningless goals and broken relationships. We are and wonder. We are built for such, to run and to praise—not to be tied
Most chronic patterns do not start overnight. We do not wake up one morning with a brand-new chronic illness. No, the symptoms develop over time and become debilitating. The result is a life lived at 50 percent power or possibility.
We have a friend who has fought a chronic illness for nearly twenty-five years. We watched this vibrant person in her late thirties teach kindergarten, volunteer at her church, and take care of her family as well as several others. One day her right arm began to ache, until finally, two years later, she found herself in a wheelchair unable to move her legs or arms without significant assistance. The doctors told our friend that she was lucky: the virus had attacked only her limbs and not her torso, thus her major organs were OK. But she would be in a wheelchair the rest of her life. Our friend said she felt "like half of a person—and not the useful half at that." Now, that is not to say that people who use wheelchairs are less than whole persons. We have lots of friends who live very active, amazing lives in wheelchairs and with other non-traditional circumstances. No, the issue for our friend is that she felt like "half of a person" because of what her illness did to her each day. She had imagined that her life would be so different than the circumstances she faced now. In fact, she once said that "living in a wheelchair is not the issue; it is living with the ache that I wish I could get rid of."
Our friend, like millions of other people who deal with long-term and short-term bouts of chronic illness, has made the most of her situation. She is a hero to both of us. But having to face each day with a debilitating chronic illness is not the life we wanted for her. It is not the life her husband or children or family members wanted for her. It is not the life her art teacher and her guitar instructor wanted for her. And it is not the life she wanted either. As she likes to say, she has been "left in the middle of a hurricane and asked to carry on life as normal."
But nothing will be normal again for our friend. So, what has she done? She has learned how to live in her chronically ill body, to maneuver with the help of a wheelchair, and to rely on the love, care, and support of great family and friends. But she has also come to grips with the reality that she will never shoot a basketball again. She cannot hug her sons or cradle a baby. There is so much she does because she refuses to live out of fear and loss, but there is so much she does not do because her body doesn't respond.
The same is true for our chronic spiritual lives as well. One piece of our "spiritual aircraft" falls off at a time, until the fuselage is in serious trouble. We may still be in the air, but our potential for flight has become seriously limited. We are weighted by the consequences of this life and by the worries that do not give up their place. We must pluck them from our consciousness, our relationships, and our attitudes and move forward to become whole again, and to become what God has in store.
God is offering a new start, a new opportunity to begin again. He is not satisfied with us just getting by. What you have been experiencing in living the chronic life is just not normal to him.
SHANE: At the start of his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says that "It is not about (us)." I agree totally. But I believe the message is even more substantial. If it "is not about us," that means it can be about someone else: God. And this reality sends an even more important message as we hit the ground and drive the trenches. As we meander through the world thinking that we have it under control, we learn, usually in the most fragile of moments, that not only is it not about us, but we also learn that we are not enough for the task or journey on which we have embarked. This is a frightening, staggering realization. The story or point of its not being about us is sad; this realization of our ineffectiveness and lack of sufficiency while the bullets are flying, while the world caves and the piece shatters in our hands, is downright petrifying.
So, as the apostle Paul would say, "What shall we say about such things?" Sure, the answer is, "If God is for us, who can ever be against us?" (Romans 8:31). But God expects our participation on this one, too. We must confront the worries that have mildewed their way into our lives and leave us partially connected but always suspicious; rationally agreeable but always wary. These worries bloom from the ditches and cover the path rather quickly in our lives. By the time we look up, we can't see the stones that mark the path any longer, and we feel that we are wandering aimlessly in a field. Friend, listen to us ... under that "field" is the path. We just have to claim it, clean it off, and start walking in the right direction again.
Scripture discusses the broken spirit of a chronic life in seven worries that develop from chronically living in crisis. In each of these seven worries, one can see both the expression of a consistently chronic nature that precipitates our way into these patterns and the difficulty in finally relinquishing them. And these seven worries also speak to a unique blunder or brokenness in our souls that is practical and feels all too real. For instance, we can say that one of our worries develops from the accumulation of mental, emotional, and relational garbage, but it is when we begin to name the garbage, putting faces to what has cultivated the pain and bitterness, that things get very real, very fast. And it is not easy. These worries are consuming and devastating for us. Think of it as though we are swimmers weighted with stones that are not large enough to sink us to the bottom, but heavy enough to keep our heads constantly below the surface.
Quite simply, we remember that we are not enough. But we also can't let these worries linger, and we can't let them continue pushing the point of our inadequacy back to us. That kind of life is death—death for our hopes, dreams, and relationships. Don't misunderstand us; this life is not easy to confront. But once we do, the process will seem more real and natural than anything we have experienced. Remember, we have been built to crave life. We were born to praise, born to live close to God. And so we must fight to strip away the worries one at a time, no matter how difficult the task may appear or feel.
God wants these seven worries gone, removed from our scope. Period. He wants to take them from us and to offer us something better. Jesus called it "the better way." Peter called it "hope." Paul called it "faith." Regardless, God calls it ours, and he begs us to let go and receive this gift.
So, what about these worries? Let's take a look at "The Seven Worries of Living in Crisis" and what grows from such a path.
WORRY NUMBER 1
SHANE: In my ministry, I have met several young men and women who, over the course of their lives, have reduced themselves or allowed themselves to be reduced to objects or possessions. When I was in seminary, I belonged to a ministry that responded to the needs of prostitutes in our city (both men and women) by assisting with things like food and services for health screenings. I must admit, though, that at first I was reluctant. Having grown up in an ordered, Southern Baptist family, I was raised to believe that good Christian people didn't associate with such folks.
But the more my ministry crossed their lives, the more I discovered these were exactly the kind of people with whom God had called us to associate. Not because we were good and they were bad, or because we could "save them" with our message and service, but because the path of their lives was much like ours, it just looked different to the world. Their sickness and sadness were really no different than those of the alcoholic housewife in my congregation who would rather medicate herself with martinis than face the doubts and decisions of the day or the father of four who used extramarital relationships as a way of masking his deep-seated insecurities.
These prostitutes sold their bodies because they couldn't find anyone to love them for free. The housewife and the father of four sold their souls for the same reason, just in a different market.
One of the prostitutes to whom my wife and I ministered over the years once told us, when we picked her up from jail, that she hated her life but she didn't know how to get out of it. We shared with her about how she could live better, healthier, and wiser. But what struck us most was when she mentioned what she really missed most about life. She said she had lots of "acquaintances" in her business, but very few meaningful relationships. With all that she had been through, the sex, the countless clients, the life of such degradation and despair, what she missed most was having a real friend who cared about her—not her body or what she could do for them, but her.
The human experience requires healthy relationships. And in the absence of healthy ones, we will develop and cultivate unhealthy ones. It is that simple. It is how we are wired. What our prostitute friend was saying is that the real broken place in her was the part that connected to people through friendships, not fees. The more mistakes she made, the more she shut off the real part of her life from other people. She had to do that in order to survive, she thought. But it also proved detrimental to real relationships in her life. The chronic life she led kept her from reaching out to others, until all she had was a set of meaningless encounters that said one thing on the surface and absolutely nothing on the inside.
She was created for relationships—beautiful, whole, meaningful relationships. But when life turns in on us, sometimes we will grab hold of whatever relationship we can and then hope that this one might mean something.
One of the worries of the chronic life is a series of meaningless relationships. This is not normal. God has something better in store.
WORRY NUMBER 2
THE ACCUMULATION OF MENTAL, RELATIONAL, AND EMOTIONAL GARBAGE
SHANE: Not far from where my family used to live was a large landfill. The community had dealt with this section of town for years. Not only was it unsuitable for building, many considered the chemicals and waste harmful to the health of those who lived in the area, especially the children at the housing project nearby. Eventually the city responded and discovered that the years of accumulation of garbage, rubbish, and other thrown-away materials not only had made the grounds unstable but also had seriously impacted the environment. The community was forced to dig up the garbage, clean out the landfill, and re-soil the area with lime in order to kill any harmful toxins. But even after the land had been "cleaned and restored," still, no one would purchase the property or agree to build. The point is that garbage has as much a mental impact on our community as a physical one.
I have watched friends who have spent years accumulating mental, emotional, and relational garbage in the corners of their lives. They never intended for their lives to be so full of dangerous toxins and effects. But at the end of the day, they are full of rotten, unsafe materials, promises, relationships, patterns, and attitudes that have made their lives almost unbearable.
What can be done? The only option is to clean out the garbage and "re-soil" the landscape so that it can grow healthy again. The problem is that, as with the property in the community where we used to live, a stigma erupts from those around who question whether this life, this area, can be made whole or useable one more time. Many question whether anyone with that kind of garbage can find real redemption after so much baggage. It is a complex dilemma. And to think, it is simply the result of garbage gathering unchecked in our lives. But the repercussions are not simple, and they have long-ranging effects.
The effect of so much garbage is a life filled with almost paralyzing hopelessness. We may not claim it or say it out loud, but at this point, we feel it. It is a life marred with waste, filth, and the prospect or feeling that nothing can be done to clean up the mess. Or at least, that is what the Adversary wants us to believe; quite simply, if he can so manipulate our internal conversations, we remain captive to our illness, living in the garbage.
But God changes that.
I have a friend who lived with garbage piling up for most of his marriage. He made a series of choices that one day led to his wife of twenty-four years walking out the door and taking their teenage children with her. It was a tragic day, and this family will never be the same again. But this was not a surprise to him. You could smell the garbage in his life from miles away. He knew that one day his wife just would not be able to take it any longer. But as so often happens, "one day" came sooner than he had believed.
For each of us, rectifying the chronic life is about, first, cleaning the garbage from the corners of our existence. It is not easy, and it is certainly not a wanted job. After all, who likes to roam through garbage? But even one piece carries the bacteria of an old life, old wound, or old, broken views and attitudes. It all must be gone. That worry cannot be allowed to remain.
And thus, that's worry number two in the chronic life—the accumulation of mental, emotional, and relational garbage. Again, this is not normal. God has something better in store.
WORRY NUMBER 3
Unfortunately, as with so many unhealthy patterns, one trouble lands on another making the scene almost unbearable. With a load of meaningless relationships and stacks of mounting garbage, our lives surrender to misguided priorities. At first, we still see the edges of right and wrong. But over time, it is easier to settle with order than to stand up for change or a new direction.
SHANE: I once met a young attorney from a neighboring town who showed up at my office literally looking as though he was about to die. He was pale and nervous. He was sweating profusely, and at first I thought he was having a heart attack. He might as well have been. The truth he shared with me was even more serious.
While representing a young woman who had been arrested both for drug use and for prostitution, this attorney had begun an inappropriate relationship with the woman. Unbeknownst to him, the woman was part of a scheme against the young lawyer, and she had taped their encounters on several occasions. When she revealed the tapes to the young lawyer and divulged the identities of the men who had set her up in the scheme, he knew that he was being targeted for his work on another case, a case in which these other men had a direct connection. They had found an easy prey.
The young lawyer had for many years been headed down a difficult and dangerous path. He and his wife had done well for themselves, and he had made more money in the last five years than he had thought possible. But he also made enemies—people who had long memories and also the means to take advantage of his transgressions. Their answer was a sting operation that would, one way or another, silence the young attorney forever.
I prayed with the young lawyer, who had family friends who had been attending our church for only a short time. His family attended a large church in their own town and were prominent members of the community. He didn't feel as though he could go to his own pastor, and so, after confiding in one of his friends, the friend suggested that he visit me. We had a long and sad conversation. He knew that his life was about to change and that he had little recourse other than to face the circumstances. But for some reason, as I looked into his eyes, I feared he would choose another road.
Excerpted from The Cure for the Chronic Life by Deanna Favre, Shane Stanford. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Shane Stanford (MA, Duke University; Doctorate, Asbury Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of a 5,000+ member church in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Stanford is the author of numerous books, including The Seven Next Words of Christ, The Cure for the Chronic Life, and The Eight Blessings: Rediscovering the Beatitudes. His memoir, A Positive Life, details his life as an HIV+ and HepC+ hemophiliac, husband, father, and pastor. He is the co-host of the Covenant Bible Study program, now used in over one thousand churches. Dr. Stanford married Dr. Pokey Stanford, and they have three daughters.
Deanna Favre is an activist and the New York Times best-selling author of Don't Bet Against Me! She is also the wife of NFL legend Brett Favre. A breast cancer survivor, she is the president/CEO of the Favre 4 Hope Foundation, which supports disadvantaged and disabled children and under-insured or uninsured breast cancer patients.
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