In early 1999, at seventeen, I made one of the more momentous decisions in a year that was full of various decisions. In addition to deciding which colleges to apply to and which one to attend (I ended up choosing the University of Southern California, but I almost chose Vanderbilt and came close to going to Nashville instead of Los Angeles), my classmates and I chose which song would be the theme song of our senior prom. Among the choices, which included Prince’s 1999, was the song that was eventually chosen, the only romantic track among the bunch, a song by Dru Hill called “These Are The Times.” The song itself was a top 40 hit , and it is a song that I would probably still enjoy listening to, although I have not heard it on the radio for over a decade. Being in a somewhat reflective mood, I have pondered the fact that the song itself deals with the issue of communication, and looking to enjoy these times because they will not last forever. Indeed, time so easily escapes from us, as it is one of the most priceless and also the most elusive resources that we possess.
In the early days of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote a little pamphlet titled “The Crisis” that contained one memorable line that has been remembered through the ages. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he said, seeking to encourage the people of the United States not to be mere summer patriots but to endure the sometimes cruel winters of our lives, so that the ambitious aims we seek might be accomplished through persistence and perseverance. His call for resolute determination was ultimately heeded, and even if the essay he wrote has not been remembered, it served its purposes all the same. In all his life, Thomas Paine did one noble deed, and that was putting his gift of rhetoric in defense of the liberty of the American people. The rest of his life was not a good one—he spent far too much of his life writing works like The Age Of Reason, where he condemned Christian belief, and his support of the bloodiness of the French Revolution was one that wiser men (even those as unwise as Thomas Jefferson) came to deeply regret. Yet for all of his sins, and they were many, he is remembered for at least one good thing that he did, for using his passionate pen to speak truths about liberty and to support it with a strong backbone, and let us not begrudge a man a moment of well-earned glory, even if our verdict on his life as a whole is not necessarily a positive one.
When one has the same sort of issue over and over again, one ought to reflect about one’s own role in the difficulties one faces. Although there might be clear cases where there are responsibilities shared by others, we have little control over what others do, and so we ought to focus our efforts on those things that we can control, namely our own behavior. When different people in different places lead to the same sorts of outcomes, we ought to reflect on exactly what it is about us that leads to the same situations occurring over and over again. Even in cases, as was the case with Job, where his continual difficulties led his friends to think that he must have been some kind of terrible evildoer because only really bad people have that kind of disasters, the suffering that Job faced was about him. It was not his fault, and to find fault with Job for self-righteousness or a lack of faith, as is sometimes done, really misses the point of that difficult book. Even so, it was his responsibility to deal with, and Job dealt with it well, even if others (like David) found specific aspects of Job’s passionate self-defense somewhat problematic . Be that as it may, when we see the same things happen over and over again, we have to figure out as best as we can what we can do about it. Is this a test that God has allowed to refine character? Is there a weakness or a vulnerability that must simply be shored up, as many times as it takes to do the trick? Whatever the case may be, the fact that continual attention is being brought to a certain area of life suggests that we must reflect upon what we can gain from such experiences so that they do not have to happen again and again and again.
Two years ago, at this precise time of year, I was forced rather dramatically (and traumatically) to change my residence and my plans for the Feast of Tabernacles between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, going from plans to speak in Thailand to being a vagabond in the Pacific Northwest. The experience shook me to the core, exposing me to some of the darkest hours of a difficult life . Last year, my Feast of Tabernacles was harmed by a similar kind of stress about the same general kind of issue, something which caused a huge amount of personal stress to me, and no doubt to others as well . Now, it is another year, and at this precise time of year, the same sorts of pressures, in a similar situation, again have caused great anxiety and stress. And again, I am not sure what to do to make things better. Once again, changed plans for the Feast have led to a great deal of personal stress and the reality that now a third feast in a row will be impacted in the same very small but very frustrating part of my life. It is by no means a new area of stress, but to have it be so stressful so often is very worrisome. Clearly, if I was going about life in an optimal way, this sort of thing would not keep happening, but the larger question of what can be done to arrest such matters without even worse catastrophe remains elusive.
As I have commented on before , the Jews believe (on what grounds is uncertain) that the days between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement are days when God declares judgment on someone’s life for the next year, deciding what kind of times someone will experience until the next fall festival season. In my own conversations with some of my more serious-minded friends, similar thoughts have come to mind, as we have mutually reflected on the sort of times we can expect for the near future. Clearly, to have three straight Feasts go the way that they have suggests that the reasons for this particular season of drama remain, and therefore the trouble will remain until whatever is supposed to be learned or done (or not done) is completed, whatever it is. At such times as these, I raise my hands in prayer to God, wondering, “Oh Lord, will this last forever?” No doubt there are others who are just as desirous as I am that these times should be over, and yet they remain despite our fervent desire . The will of God prevails, even if the course of that will is not particularly enjoyable. In the meantime, we must find such joy as we can in the little moments that show that God’s favor has not been removed, even if it remains unclear just how the darkness will be swallowed in light, or how this night will end in glorious day. As I mused recently, and as I continue to remind myself, perhaps someday it will be sweet to remember even these things  that we are experiencing now, from a happier time and place than we now reside in the course of our lives. These are the times that try men’s souls indeed, but perhaps ours may be refined by the experience.
 See, for example: