It’s a perfect word. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “gobsmacked” describes the state of being overwhelmed with wonder, surprise, or shock. It illustrates that powerful moment when a person gasps and covers their mouth with their hand. The expression took root in 1950s British slang, and by the time I was in college, this adjective had spread into social use in the United States. I loved tossing it into friendly conversations. Allow me to provide you some food for thought by bringing this great word back.
The hardest days are a punch in the gut. A close friend betrays our trust. We are blindsided by a termination notice at work. We receive a medical diagnosis that destroys our plans for the future. Our spouse tells us they found someone else. We lose the baby for which we prayed. Our grown child suddenly turns her back on everything we have taught her. Total change that happens totally fast is totally wrong; our souls know this, and our bodies react. We are speechless, devastated, gobsmacked.
Most days aren’t like that. Typically, we struggle with issues on a much smaller scale and over longer periods of time. Parents succumb to the fatigue of nurturing tiny tyrants all week long. A woman struggles with trying to help a friend who makes the same mistake again and again. An employee has to collaborate kindly with “sandpaper people” who rub him the wrong way all day, every day. A single woman spends another evening trying to fill the time with something other than loneliness. A homeowner has to discuss an issue with his nagging neighbor once more. Even if there is not a major struggle in our lives, in any moment the least thing can upset us, such as that person who keeps cutting us off in traffic, or that family member who still can’t figure out how to hit the clothes hamper with his dirty socks. In the terrible days and the tedious ones, we need to know three things if we are to find any scrap of joy at all.
First, the truth of the Bible does not alter itself to our unique situation. Sometimes, we need to face the fact that if our human way of looking at our problems and our natural method of solving our problems really worked, God would have included them in the Bible. We need to be reminded that Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Are you willing to admit that your way is the wrong way?
Second, most of the time our reaction to situations only intensifies the problem. Ask yourself if a cycle of worry or a habit of lashing out at others has ever made a bad situation better. Be honest; it made things worse. I’m reminded of the Cherokee legend in which a grandfather teaches his grandson a life lesson. “My son, the battle is between two wolves that live inside us all. One is evil. The other is good.” The grandson thinks about it for a while and asks, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.” This truth is not new. It is what God has been trying to tell us all along. In Galatians 6:7-8 it says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Am I willing to recognize that if I keep doing what I’ve always done, I’m going to get what I’ve always gotten?
Third, God wants to renew our mind, to change our natural way of thinking. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Forcing the facts of circumstances and feelings of the moment to take a back seat to faith in God requires two things working in tandem: my effort to absorb Bible truth and the help of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way to think straight. As the Holy Spirit compels us, we find ourselves able to choose to read and to contemplate what the Bible says, even when we don’t have the least desire to do so. Over time, our overwhelming feelings and scattered thoughts gradually align with what God says is true, and our reactions begin to change. We are freed from thought patterns and sinful reactions that had ruled us before. “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:32). Am I willing to admit that I cannot free my own mind?
Since the summer of 2013, I have made a concentrated effort to ingest and act upon these three concepts. I have been encouraged by some progress, but I know that I still have a long way to go. I have found that what I like to call “joy-in-spite-of” begins to happen. It is two-sided. God gets great glory from praise that I give him out of the cathedral of my pain, and the Giver gives me what I really need: more of himself. When I feel rejected or alone, Jesus offers me a home in his love (John 15:9). When death claims his people, Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, keeps my circle unbroken (John 11:17). When I lack, the Bible reminds me that our miracle-working God values the widow’s small change (Mark 12:41-43), feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Mark 6:30-44), and causes pitchers of oil to pour more than they hold (I Kings 17:8-16).
I challenge you to begin juggling these concepts yourself. You will find, as I have been finding, that when our mind is being renewed by God, we can choose to sing as the tears run down our cheeks, to serve others while we are still struggling with our own inadequacies, and to speak gracious words when our hearts are broken. What a blessing that God included this promise in Romans 5:5: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” In the middle of all the different levels of pain, the Savior of our ruined souls and the Salvager of our wrecked dreams calls to us. Let us run to him, plead with him, learn from him, worship him, and be gobsmacked by his astonishing love.