Life as leftovers?

All of us have scars and hurts: perhaps a physical disability, a mental limitation, a sexual violation, a major relational loss—or a combination of these and more. And even as Christians the damage may have stolen our hope and left us in a debris field of disappointment.

Yet people respond differently to disappointments. Some are crushed and continue to live as victims. Some muddle ahead but they feel like they’ve landed among the leftovers. But some see the debris field as offering raw material for a new life.

Let’s chase the latter—the rebuilding model.

Even here alternatives exist. One, for instance, is the Pollyanna approach. It calls for wishing-our-hurts-away with artificial smiles, hugs, and clichés that don’t really work in the long run. The outward pretense barely covers the pain; and real resolve never arrives.

Another option—and perhaps the most common—is to medicate our pain with short-term pleasures. God made us as affective beings—as responders. This means our emotional hurts can be buffered for a time by new emotional stirs. As we respond to new stimulants we’re briefly distracted from our deeper disappointments.

But this sort of relief is both deceptive and addictive. Deceptive because it relies on denial; and addictive because the new experiences only offer diminishing returns—more is always needed. Self-medication can be as ordinary as a devotion to comfort foods; or to a world of music; or to careless entertainments; or to busy but empty relationships—or to a combination of these and more.

Still another option is the highly regarded but fundamentally broken therapeutic option—the self-help model. It’s a close cousin to self-medication. I’m not thinking here of the interventions of professional counselors—who know how to help out in a time of crisis or who can help us navigate a chronic condition. Instead I’m thinking of those who promise relief through self-improvement schemes. The problem is their focus: it’s always on self—and that’s where our pain is still waiting for us.

Promoters of this approach may be lively television figures, writers, and even preachers who promise relief through a set of steps-to-success. Yet with the focus still on self—where our problems first started in the Garden of Eden—we miss the alternative call from the Bible.

Which brings us to a proper rebuilding approach. We need to hear Christ’s call to “take up your cross and follow me” and Paul’s call to be “crucified with Christ.” The starting point is not in a focus on self. Instead we realize that sin is rooted in self-love—2 Timothy 3:1-5 can help us here—and a new focus is needed.

So the biblical answer feels upside-down to what our common sense tells us. We’re invited to look to Christ’s death as a pathway to successful life.

Jesus, we discover, came into the world not to patch up our pain but to replace a failed model of life. Adam had once been happily dependent on God: a responsive child. But temptation came and Adam responded to an alternative option: he declared independence. He turned away from God by trying to become like God. And that’s where the pain began.

The effort to be like God was—and still is—utterly unrealistic. Adam was fully dependent on God for his every breath both before and after the fall. But his pretense of success—as he continued to “live” in the realm away from God’s life—was actually a living death. And God refuses to support Adam’s independent life. So any hope that God wants to supply him, or any among us who follow him, with success is folly.

Salvation, then, is our step back into a life of complete dependence. There, in our humility, we begin to hear the Spirit and the Scriptures urging us to trust God. He, alone, offers peace that passes understanding. He, through Christ’s death to sin, invites us into Christ’s resurrection life.

So the resolution to our having been victimized, hurt, scarred, and frightened, is to come to the God who heals and restores. He does the work in us. And he shows us that where sin once dominated us, grace is much greater. And in the comfort of the cross we begin to have more than enough comfort—enough, in fact, to begin to share our comfort with others.

So the solution to our struggles is in Christ—in Jesus who loves us—and not in self-improvement programs or in self-medications.

And, finally, in Christ’s care there are no leftovers. Instead we learn that we are his treasured companions. And growing participants in the glory he shares with his Father.



  1. Gretchen

    Thanks, Ron, for this beautiful post. The analogy I’ve used with the women to whom I minister—and have found true of God’s healing love in my own heart—is that of a glass full of dirty water. The dirty water represents our pain, loss, insecurities, failures, etc. As God’s love is poured into our hearts, it’s like someone pouring from an endless pitcher of clean water into that glass of dirty water. As the clean water pours in, the dirty water overflows the brim and continues to do so until all that’s left is a glass of clean water. Oh, yes, there are times when some dirt is dropped back in, but as the Lord continues to pour out His love, He continues to bring the restoration our hearts so need. And, as we see His absolutely pure, steadfast, and boundless love for us, those experiences of life which have left us bruised seem ever more dim.

    The thing that continues to amaze me is that there is no striving in that—no self help methods, no working at overcoming—just sitting under the drenching flow of His love. And if that sounds like the Pollyanna approach, it’s not. It’s not pretending like there was never any damage, or that the damage was minor. It’s recognizing that the damage is so total that we are helpless in ourselves to do ANYTHING about it. Only God’s love poured into our hearts can bring true healing. And how can we then not respond in love to Him?

    Thanks again. This was so encouraging.

  2. R N Frost

    Thanks, Gretchen, for speaking about real life experiences yet with your eyes fully on Christ. It all starts with our confidence that he cares for us, doesn’t it – that we’re never abandoned or discarded. And we join him in hating sin yet without adopting Adam’s answer in the process.

  3. Judy

    The idea that you conveyed, Ron, in this article is quite powerful. How true that scars and disappointments could define us if it was not for Christ’s love. These verses have become poignant to me lately:
    2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – For the love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all. Therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sakes died and rose again.

    Isn’t it sad when we don’t realize that “the resolution … is to come to the God who heals and restores” giving us new life. Because of His death and resurrection we have an unselfish life with His love flowing though our hearts. He truly is the great physician.

    Thank you for your insightful post,

  4. R N Frost

    Thanks for your response, Judy. Your mention of identity is key. In faith our identity is no longer in the world of relative independence – Adam’s life – but now in our life of devotion to the one who transforms us into comforters with the comfort he gives us at the cross: as ‘those in Christ’ i.e. as Christians.

  5. Mark

    We both posted on the same day. And there is a lot of resonance in what we are writing about. Thanks, Ron, for bringing it back to the cross and humble dependence. As I have heard you say several times, “we don’t really want God to be God because we want to be god.” And only humble surrender will put an end to that kind of pride. I love this post, Ron!

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