Navigating the Lows

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Authored by T.M.

I’m a book lover. I love to read. Give me something with words, and I can happily eat ink off of pages for hours. A consequence of this is that I often pick up on whether or not a storyline will sell.

Plots along the lines of “Matilda is happy, beautiful, successful, and will live happily-ever-after-forever-and-ever,” don’t seem to make the most captivating stories or become bestsellers. Even picture books for little children need to involve some kind of tension—an obstacle that the child needs to work through in order to achieve his or her happy ending. Whether it’s a little boy handling his first day of school, or a little girl learning to share her toys, the story is not captivating if it starts off perfect. If it’s perfect already, what’s the point of the story? Whereas books that go something like, “Man is falsely accused of a crime he did not commit, is imprisoned for countless years before he finally escapes with the intention of confronting his accusers and clearing his name … etc., etc.” Those are the stories that interest us. We want to know what happens next. We want to find out if things turn out right. We begin to want things for the characters because of the difficulties and lows in their life.

But in real life, not too many people care for the lows in their own lives. We wish we could skip them, or we could put life on fast forward to get to the good parts, the happily-ever-afters, and the scenes where one gets to ride off into the sunset with a handsome prince, or stand over a slain Goliath with sword thrust high in the sky as an orchestra plays in the background. But it’s the highs and the lows that the hero or heroine went through before that ending scene that gives meaning to, say, a movie. If that were not the case, movies would be ten minutes in length instead of an hour and thirty minutes.

While directors and authors might write a heart-wrenching scene purely for effect, I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t experienced a taste of the lows. Lows come in all shapes and sizes. It could be depression over a situation in one’s life that doesn’t seem to have hope of getting better, or impatience toward situations or people that are not meeting one’s expectations, or perhaps tragedy has struck—and times when we once enjoyed life seem to be either a distant memory or a foggy future hope.

King David stated in Psalm 139:161 that “All the days ordained for me were written in [God’s] book before one of them came to be.” And seeing that it’s a rare person who hasn’t gone through a low, there must be something within the lows that God has ordained to be good for our spirits, and that will bring increased value to the ending scene of our lives. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years before he went on to lead South Africa during a crucial time in that nation’s history. I’m betting those 27 years were some of the lowest times in his life.

But during those 27 years in prison, he never gave up hope for his country and his cause. He learned, he studied, and then when his moment arrived, he was ready. Those 27 years in prison mattered; they made him into an unforgettable person. I suspect that the Nelson Mandela who went into prison wasn’t the same Mandela who was freed two and a half decades later. Most likely, the time spent behind bars counted toward his becoming the person he needed to be in order to lead his country.

I think that’s why the lows in life are important; they get us thinking about what more we want in life. Also important, they cause us to consider what more God wants for and from us. They have the potential to bring insight, direction, wisdom, and valuable lessons our way if we are open to it.

Take David slaying Goliath. The end scene of that story is memorable, but the part that we might not remember as clearly was how initially David was left behind to tend sheep while his older brothers went off to fight. As David sees his brothers pack their things in order to join the Israelite army, he turns to ask his father if he can join them in battle. His father tells David that he is too young to fight, and that David must tend the family’s flock. David feels frustrated and possibly even angry—doesn’t his father know that he had single-handedly thwarted lions and bears that had tried to attack the sheep?

I think it’s during this time, as David watches his brothers leave for the frontlines, and as he passes time watching his father’s sheep, that David recognizes within himself a desire to fight. So when he’s asked to take food to his brothers, and when the opportunity presents itself, he grabs ahold of it, because he sees the potential fulfillment of this passion that God has placed in his heart. The long and short of it is that the “lows” in life teach things that the “highs” don’t. They reveal character and how much one wants something more than the highs ever could.

My brother and his wife and I had been in the process of looking for the right house to move into, and while a few prospects arose that seemed ideal, none of them worked out as we had hoped. Waiting for the right house was wearing grooves in my patience. I know this sounds puny of me, but I love creature comforts, so having to live out of a suitcase for two months and camping out in other people’s houses while house-hunting was tough. But as another opportunity fell through, I realized that with each house we saw and evaluated, we had a better understanding of what we were looking for in a house, neighborhood, and location. The hunting and waiting process was worth something—when the right house came along, we were better able to recognize it.

While I may never come to enjoy a “low” in life, I think that by finding meaning in the lows, I’m coming to terms with the fact that they’re often the walkway that God uses to bring me to a different point in life.

The following Psalm is a comfort to me during such times: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me [up] out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”2

See, life continues beyond the lows, but as you go through them, God can give you a new song to sing.

1 New International Version
2 Psalm 40:1–3 NIV

Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright © 2011 by The Family International.

Article originally appeared on Just1Thing (
Published: April 29, 2011
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