How to Be Miserable

The following mediation is from Dr. Doug Hood\’s upcoming book, Nurture Faith; Five Minute Mediations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Common English Bible)


              The other day I came across a piece written by Earl Nightingale that he titled, How to Be Miserable. He provided remarkable clarity about some of the things I have been wrestling with recently, clarity about self-inflicted misery. Nightingale writes, “The first step to real, professional-type, solid, unremitting misery is to get all wrapped up in yourself and your problems – real or imagined. Become a kind of island, surrounded on every side by yourself. By turning all of your thoughts inward upon yourself, naturally you cannot spend much or any time thinking about others and other things. And so, finally, the outside world – the real world – will disappear into a kind of Hitchcock-type fog.”[i]


              Nightingale continues with a stinging observation that the type of person who chooses misery, who turns inward upon himself or herself doesn’t have much in the wisdom department. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t do it. With the absence of wisdom, they turn inward and discover that there is not much there. There is a kind of vacuum, and they have to embellish perceived, or real, hurts and slights from others or invent things entirely. Negative – and harmful – behavior is then directed outward toward those who have caused them harm. This behavior may simply be for punishment, to cause pain equal to what they are experiencing, or to manipulate others to meet some relational expectation.


              Where Nightingale provides an unpleasant portrait of a miserable person, the apostle Paul provides divine knowledge – or wisdom – for fleeing from misery: love others, particularly when that love is difficult. Paul beautifully expresses the very nature of love by its positive attributes – “love is patient, love is kind.” Paul provides additional wisdom by sharing what love isn’t and doesn’t do – “it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.” What Paul provides is a different portrait from Nightingale, a portrait of a person who actively participates in the unity and well being of relationships with another.


              It is widely embraced that the Christian faith is less to do with right beliefs and more to do with right behavior. A person may have a grasp of the Holy Scriptures that is unparalleled, able to articulate a particular theological position with uncommon clarity and yet remain untouched by God’s transforming power – the transformation that deepens love for God and love for others. Such a faith is a lazy faith because it requires no effort. Love requires effort. Love demands that we struggle against an impulse to turn inward and compile a record of complaints against another. Such love “puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” It is a love that knows no misery.


[i]Earl Nightingale, “How to Be Miserable,” Your Success Starts Here: Purpose and Personal Initiative (Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 104.


A Cry of Desperation


“He lifted me out of the pit of death, out of the mud and filth, and set my feet on solid rock. He steadied my legs.”

Psalm 40:2  (Common English Bible)

Here is a life that many of us understand. Life is characterized as being a “pit of death – a life of mud and filth.” This poignant description betrays that present circumstances did not simply fall upon the one who speaks. “Mud and filth” are not the consequence of disadvantage, not the result of some disaster or illness that comes without personal consent. Rather, this decay of a personal experience of life has been fashioned by intentional choices, one bad choice following another. Perhaps the choices made were hesitant at first, slow and then questioned. But once a descent into careless living began, movement became more swift and confident. Delight in drinking, or gambling, or immoral behavior brought increasing pleasure. 

Then comes the collapse of all self-worth, a reckoning of the internal depravity that begins to reveal itself in physical appearance and behavior. The face can no longer hide the ruin of the interior life. Others clearly see the writing of the unfortunate choices written upon the man or woman. The signs of rot and disorder grow stronger, clearer. Any good or decency that remains continues to diminish until it is nearly smothered as the tyranny of the immoral life assumes command. The individual – both body and soul – once a sweet habitation of all that is good, decent, and holy now entertains what is corrupt and evil. Choices, once deliberate, now are in control. The man or woman is now held hostage in a “pit of death.”

Then comes a cry for help. What once was pleasurable has become agony – what once was pursued has become a master. The cry of desperation is made to Almighty God. Some years ago when my daughter, Rachael, was quite young I overheard her telling other little girls her faith story. With four other sets of eyes mesmerized by the narrative that flowed from her libs I heard, “I was a slave girl in Egypt and Pharaoh was so mean to me. But my God is bigger than Pharaoh and God came one day, beat Pharaoh up, and brought me home.” For a four-year-old girl, this was her understanding of the Exodus story she had heard from her father so many times. The message was clear and certain. She could count on God.


The one who shares this faith story in Psalm 40 knows they can count on God. A cry of desperation is made to Almighty God to come, overwhelm the master that holds them captive in “a pit of death” and to bring them home. The cry may be made at the eleventh hour but God comes. God comes without ridicule, without mockery, or taunts of “I told you so.” God simply comes. From the place of captivity of whatever enslavement, whatever addiction that holds a grip upon the man or woman, the hand of God appears. That hand is stronger. Once more, the enslaved is brought home. His or her feet are set on solid ground, strength is returned to the legs and life is steadied. A nightmare of horrible dreams ends.




A New Outlook


The following mediation is from Doug Hood\’s upcoming book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2

“Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, 
then you are also an heir through God.”
Galatians 4:7 (Common English Bible)
When Sara Roosevelt was asked if she ever imagined that her son, Franklin Roosevelt, might become president, she replied: “Never, no never! That was the last thing I should ever have imagined for him, or that he should be in public life of any sort.” Both she and her son, she insisted, shared a far simpler ambition – “The highest ideal – to grow to be like his father, straight and honorable, just and kind, an upstanding American.”[i] An only child, and with few playmates his own age, Franklin viewed his attentive and protective father as a companion and friend. Presidential biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin observes that Franklin’s optimistic spirit and general expectation that things would turn out happily is a testament to the self-confidence developed within the atmosphere of love and affection that enveloped him as a child.[ii]

The prevailing wisdom today – and imbedded in many approaches to psychological counseling – is that all of life consists of two elements: first, the facts, and second, our way of looking at them. Few of us escape some disappointment, some physical or mental limitation, or some distressing circumstance. It is a fact of life. We have very little control over these facts. Yet, what is largely within our power is how we look at these facts. We may permit these facts to debilitate us, to ruin our temper, spoil our work, and hurt our relationships with others, or we can become a master over their influence. Any cursory examination of Franklin Roosevelt’s life reveals a good measure of challenges, disappointments, and loss. But Roosevelt remained a master over everyone, convinced that there was a larger purpose for his life and nothing would stop his pursuit of that purpose. A positive home environment and the knowledge that he bore a strong and respected family name directed Roosevelt’s outlook.

The Christian faith is a call to a new outlook – a call to a changed point of view on the facts of life. In this teaching from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, Paul reminds us that we were once slaves and, consequently, of diminished value. And those who perceive to have a diminished value as a person have a dim view of life. But now, in the person of Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves but children of God. If children of God, then an heir. Our name has been connected, as was Roosevelt’s, to a strong and respected name. For Paul, this makes a profound difference in how we are to live. We live as members of a royal household.

The deep divergence that commonly separates those who move positively through life from those who don’t lies in their outlook. Jesus’ word for “repent” meant to “change your mind” or “look at things differently”. When Jesus called those who would become his disciples he didn’t ask them to join a church or subscribe to some creed. He asked them to look at the facts differently. The laws concerning the Sabbath we reconsidered. The place of children was elevated. For those caught in the very act of sin, grace prevailed over punishment. Jesus called for a radical shift in how life would be lived – a shift that now recognized that with God on our side any handicap could be overcome and every challenge met positively. When we get a new way of seeing things it is then that we find a new life.

[i] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership In Turbulent Times (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 50.
[ii] Goodwin, 43.

Love’s Modesty

The following meditation will be published in Dr. Hood’s upcoming book,

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, vol. 2.


\”Love is patient, love is king, it isn\’t jealous, it doesn\’t brag, it isn\’t arrogant.\”

1 Corinthians 13:4 (Common English Bible)
It is reported that Abraham Lincoln once made a speech before a huge audience and was greeted with a loud and long applause. As he was leaving the podium, a man said, “That was a great speech Mr. President; listen to how they enjoyed what you said!” Lincoln, in his usual self-deprecating manner, responded, “I am kept humble by the fact that the crowd would be twice as large if I were to be hanged.”[i] Always modest, never vaulting himself or puffed up, Abraham Lincoln cared little for his own reputation. He did not need to. His love for his country, his desire for useful service characterized by empathy, humility, and respect for opposing opinions made him as large as the monument erected in his honor in Washington, D.C.
“Love,” the apostle Paul writes, doesn’t brag, nor is it arrogant. These two qualities of love are closely related to each other. “Doesn’t brag” refers to outward conduct and behavior; “isn’t arrogant” refers to an inward disposition. Together they characterize someone who is modest, ready to stoop to serve. We think again of Jesus on that dark night that he was betrayed. On their way to the Upper Room the disciples disputed as to who of them was the greatest. Each of them presented arguments for their own claim to the highest honor. The result was that when they arrived to the Upper Room and took their seats, not one of them would stoop to the humble service of foot washing. So Jesus rose from the table, took a towel and a basin, and began to wash the disciple’s feet.
The church in Corinth is experiencing quarrelsome behavior that is dividing the faith community. Various members are elevating themselves, declaring possession of the greater spiritual gifts. The one who has the gift of tongues believed they exercised a gift beyond compare, especially over the more plain and practical gift of prophecy. The same manner of boasting and argument infused the discourse over any number of spiritual gifts. Rather than placing each gift at the disposal of the community, to bless and build, competitiveness became the order of the day. The result of all the boasting was friction and strife. The cure for all that, writes the apostle Paul, is love – a love that has no mark of brag, or swank, or swagger. Genuine love, love that builds the community of faith is modest.
Love never seeks to assert its superiority. The love that Paul desires for the Corinthian Church is one that serves, seeking the welfare of others. That love takes no notice of the worthiness of another. Nor does it seek acknowledgement. Only one concern is present – to serve another in a manner that eases the strain and burden of life. It is a love that is captured by the belief that God continues to be at work in the lives of individuals, reconciling them to God and changing them into something so much more than they presently are. As this demonstration of love takes possession of our souls, what is ugly, and bitter, and broken in our lives is diminished. What increases in our hearts is patience and love that knows no jealously and celebrates the gladness of another.

[i] James G. Cobb, “Real Love, Real People…What an Idea!” in Preaching 1 Corinthians 13, ed. Susan K. Hedahl & Richard P. Carlson, (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2001), 108.