“In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)
As I reflect on this Thanksgiving holiday, I can’t avoid thinking about many of the difficult things I’ve endured in the last 12 months.
Five months ago, I lost a part-time job in church ministry, a job in which I learned a lot, grew a lot, made a lot of great relationships, and felt a such a keen sense of calling and belonging that it became a core part of my identity.
Less than a week ago, I lost another part-time job in public speaking, a job in which I learned a lot, grew a lot, made a lot of great relationships, and felt such a keen sense of calling and belonging that it became a core part of my identity.
In both cases, I was immediately aware of some of the logistical benefits of freeing that time up to pursue other things, but that knowledge did nothing to blunt the sting of loss.
Losing those jobs hurt, and hurt bad.
Times like these, I have a hard time giving thanks.
Until, that is, I remember that many of the things I’m currently thankful for now — areas of success or blessing or peaceful satisfaction … these things have all been intimately intertwined with events and seasons of crushing pain and humbling defeat.
Struggles embattled give way to humility embraced, which leads to victory empowered.
Because this is beginning to sound a bit too much like a motivational poster, let me give you an example.
While I was on staff at my last church, I developed a technique to leading worship music that helped to compensate for a lack of a consistent band. It involved creating and replaying accompaniment tracks in the form of patterns, which helped me with all of my multitasking (leading vocals, leading the band, directing the singers, et cetera). I got pretty good at it, and when I realized that there were no existing resources to help others do the same thing, I decided to start one.
This was a pivotal decision for me, because it represented a strategic convergence of so many of my interests. Beginning this work, I felt as though I’d finally identified my calling from God. I was excited, motivated, and full of vision.
The irony of the situation, however, was that despite the fact that the genesis of my idea flowed out of my passion for multicultural corporate worship music, the logistical and emotional demands of my church job were such that I was unable to make much headway on my idea. So being asked to resign was, while difficult and painful, quite beneficial to the long-term success of my entrepreneurial ministry venture. It was, in many ways, the best-case scenario — despite the fact that it felt like my world was coming to an end.
Struggles embattled, humility embraced, victory empowered.
This is a lesson that all successful people have to embrace at some point, whether it’s Conan O’Brien getting kicked off The Tonight Show, or Afro-Blue being booted off The Sing Off.
And believe me, I was among the legion of fans shocked and offended by that last outcome,‘ explanation did little to assuage my anger. That Conan thing was sad and ridiculous, but this Afro-Blue thing feels like a travesty.
Yet, as I look back on that whole Tonight Show brouhaha, I can tell that Conan has become better for it. Conan himself was able to articulate this painful-yet-positive dynamic when he said the following:
There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.… it’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.
My man Coco said these words last June during his commencement speech at Dartmouth College, an ironic note since Afro-Blue was eliminated from The Sing-Off in favor of The Dartmouth Aires, the Ivy League show choir from Hanover. And I have no doubt that the men and women of Afro-Blue, the pride of Howard University and DC’s finest, will continue to exhibit the poise, heart and talent that propelled them to their fourth-place showing on the megahit NBC a cappella singing competition.
I’m hopeful, of course, and not just for the obvious reason that all of the singers in Afro-Blue still have a tremendous future in music ahead of them (especially lead vocalist Danielle Withers).
I’m hopeful because, in the grand scheme of things, God can and does use all things to take his children and mold them into the people that He wants and calls them to be. And the extent to which we become more like Him is the extent to which we submit to His will, which sometimes requires profound heartbreak.
So in the meantime, I will have to resign myself to replaying Afro-Blue’s cover of “Put Your Records On” over and over, because … wow, that is my jam right now.
And for this, as for so many other things in life, good and bad, I will do what Paul charged the church in Thessalonica to do.
I will give thanks.