A Survival Kit for Personal Hell

personal hell
It’s early—at least for a vacation day. I’m in a forest, standing on a trail cushioned with pine needles. No sounds of civilization intrude here. There is no swoosh of traffic, no planes, no sirens. The morning woodland itself is silent. Tree trunks creak, moved by the gentle winds caressing them. A gauntlet of towering pines crowd either side of my path. Bathed as they are in purple and shafts of early sunlight, it all feels so epic. This could be a film shot from The Lord of the Rings…If it weren’t for me and my silly cargo shorts and sandals.

I pull a sweat-softened copy of the New Testament out of my pocket and find 1 Peter 1:2, where it says I am elect, chosen. It feels passing strange that the creative genius responsible for this forest panorama chose me. That’s a claim I always find hard to wrap my mind around. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have a history of being chosen for things. I remember junior high school when the team captains would choose sides for flag football. At first there would be thirty of us, then twenty, then fifteen. The numbers melted away as the captains chose the players they wanted. Then it was down to eight…seven…six…five…and finally, just me and some pathetic kid who picked his nose and wore coke bottles for glasses. Between the two of us, the other kid would be chosen. That meant my team inherited me by default. The Team Captain would swear under his breath, looking down at the ground as though the universe had cursed him. In ancient Sparta boys like me would have been thrown over a cliff. Ah, the trials of adolescence. I’m clearly not used to being selected as part of a star lineup.

I have no better experience being picked by accident, either. Some people do. They seem to win raffles and lotteries on a semi-regular basis. I’m beginning to wonder what would happen if I filled the drawing bowl with entries that only had my name on them. Would the Master of Ceremonies manage to fish one of them out? I doubt it so strongly I won’t enter drawings anymore. Although…there was that time at a church cake walk when the music stopped and I ended up sitting in the winning chair. I won a pineapple upside-down cake. But since I sneaked in without paying the entrance fee, I got disqualified. My sister turned me in. That sums up my history of being chosen.

But now I’m told by no less than the New Testament that God has picked me.


I take another look at those sentinel trees, the sloping green earth, a gigantic pastel blue sky. Then I think about me. I have even less to bring to this team than I did the one back in junior high school. I’m guessing—no, hoping—that you’ve felt this same surreal kind of wonder. A mind has chosen you according to criteria that doesn’t include speed or intelligence, charm, or beauty. It’s a wisdom that couldn’t care less about wealth or achievement or prestige. God wanted you, irrespective of what causes others to want or reject you.

Peter’s writing does a good job of inspiring me out in these southern Ohio woods. Yet he never intended his epistle for Christians on vacation. He penned it as part of a survival kit. The believers who first read it were in the grip of discomfort. Pain of some sort had moved them to feel deserted and unwanted. This particular verse was supposed to be an ID of sorts, reminding them who they were. And it is meant for all of us whenever personal hell strikes. We study it so we won’t get so punch drunk we throw away our true selves and assume lesser identities. It’s so we won’t succumb to the suggestion that our faith is naïve. Or any other nonsense:  that we are actually just alone in a purposeless universe, that what we’re going through counts for nothing, that God Himself is disinterested.

 The truth is, you’ve been chosen. That knowledge is an essential part of the package meant to save your life. It’s a funny reversal, really—a survival kit that works better at home than out in the woods.

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