Towards the end of 2017 I began thinking and praying about a word for the year ahead. If you haven’t encountered this before, the idea is that instead of making lots of new year’s resolutions, you choose a single word to focus on throughout the year. I had already tried it with “surrender” in 2016 and “voice” in 2017, and I had found it to be surprisingly effective.
As I thought ahead to 2018, the word that came to mind was “focus.”
I think it was in early December that I settled on this word as my word for the year, and by the time January came around I already knew it was going to be a challenge because since mid-December there was one situation that had been constantly fighting for all my focus.
At a doctor’s visit I was told, after being examined, that I was being referred for further tests. At first I was glad that I was being taken seriously and that things were going to be checked out… until I asked my next question and received her answer:
“How long would you expect it to be before I get an appointment?”
“About two to three weeks… I’m marking it as urgent.”
With that she ushered me from the room before I could ask any more or process what was happening. Whenever I had seen this doctor before, she had always been quick to reassure me that it was “nothing sinister.” This time these words were noticeably absent. Did that mean it was something sinister? What if it was?
It cast a cloud over Christmas despite my best efforts to put it to the back of my mind, but I reassured myself with the thought that the appointment should take place soon after the New Year. It wasn’t long to wait and then, one way or the other, I would know…
…Except it turned out that the information I had been given was incorrect. Every time I enquired I was told something different and the waiting time was extended further. In the end a two to three week “urgent” referral became a seemingly never-ending eleven week wait!
I realised very quickly that I was going to have to choose my focus. An over-active imagination coupled with a deep dislike of uncertainty is a dangerous combination. Left to themselves I knew my thoughts were going to spiral out of control, and the result was going to be bad.
The only way was to take my own advice and try to focus on God. In a guest post which was featured in January, I identified three lessons we could draw from Paul in the book of Philippians as we seek to choose our focus in challenging times:
- Focus on the Gospel.
- Focus on God’s sovereignty.
- Focus on what God is doing.
I actually wrote that post mainly to preach to myself shortly after that first doctor’s appointment and, since then, that is where I have been trying to put my focus.
Have I managed it?
Sometimes, not always.
There have definitely been moments of feeling overwhelmed by circumstances, where fear and frustration have been hard to fight. The uncertainty over the timing of it all has made it hard to plan, and, while life mostly continued as normal, it felt like a lot of things were on hold while I waited to see the way forward.
There have also been moments of peace, of knowing God’s presence even in the midst of the uncertainty and the waiting, there has been support from friends and family, and there has been timely encouragement from two books: Kiss The Wave by Dave Furman (which I wrote about last week) and A Place To Land by Kate Motaung (which I will share about soon.)
The main lesson I have taken from this whole experience is that the focus of my hope must be in Christ alone, rather than in the outcome of the situation. If the result was bad, I needed to know that God was bigger and that he was sovereign. If the result was good, I needed to remember that, while it was something to rejoice in, it was not a secure place to put my hope.
None of us knows what life will hold, and our hope has to be in something greater than our earthly circumstances.
Some verses that I have kept coming back to are these ones from 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)
They are a powerful reminder of where our hope should be and what we should be focusing on- not our troubles, but the eternal things that really matter.
Ten days ago I finally had the long-awaited appointment, and the result was good! It is “nothing sinister” and I am absolutely fine!
Of course it was a great relief and I am glad to have more brain space now to turn my focus to other things. I finally got to use a voucher I had been given for Christmas to attend a cupcake decorating workshop. It was a fun treat after the stress of the last few months and I was pretty pleased with the result!
While I am keen to move on from this now, I also want to hold on to the lessons learned and to remember that, whether circumstances are good or bad, my focus must be on Jesus. That is the only way we will be able to withstand life’s trials.
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27 NLT)