Cecil Murphey helps readers accept, adapt and flourish when the trials of life throw them off track.
Life is like cleaning the house—no matter how hard you work to clean up the mess, tomorrow the clutter and disorder will reappear, and it will just need cleaning again. In Making Sense When Life Doesn’t: The Secrets of Thriving in Tough Times (Summerside Press) best-selling author Cecil Murphey writes that while life’s messiness is unavoidable, it’s how a person chooses to respond to the mess that matters.
Murphey explains that while you don’t get to choose your crisis, the crises will happen. Companies downsize, relationships end, trauma hits, and illness comes, but there are three ways in which we can respond: decide to live with the mess and comfort yourself with the memories of the past, move on with life and resent the change, or tell yourself that this can be the best time of life and try something new.
Q: You open Making Sense When Life Doesn’t with the concept that life is like cleaning the house. Explain what you mean by that.
We get the house cleaned and it looks quite nice. It doesn’t stay that way. The tendency is to go back to our careless or hurried lifestyle and the same habits. Before long, the house is messy again.
That’s how life works. We fret and struggle to clean up our current mess, assuming that once we accomplish that feat, it won’t happen again. But it will. Unless we make changes, we’ll go back to the same lifestyle.
Q: What are the three or four ways we can respond to crisis?
We always have choices even if we think we don’t.
1.We can do the throwing-our-hands-in-the air bit that says we give up.
2.We can complain about the way things used to be. Like the children of Israel in the wilderness, we tend to forget the negatives of the past and our world seemed much better than it is in the present. We cry out, “This is the worst time of my life.” That attitude makes us immobile and often a little bitter. “It’s not supposed to be this way,” is the way we start our conversations.
3.We can move forward—grudgingly. We change because we’ve been forced to do so, but we resent the situation and often the people involved.
4.We can see this as an adventure, a new way of life. We can tell ourselves, “This can be the best time of my life. I can try things I wanted to do but never did. I can learn new things and enjoy life even more.”
Q: It has been said that the only constant in life is change. Why is that such an important truth that we need to face?
We tend to think that if we can just push beyond this present, pervasive situation, life will be “normal” once again. Life doesn’t work that way. Living means moving from one problem to the next.
If we accept that we’ll always face opposition and grow in the process, we aren’t overwhelmed when the next eruption of life takes place.
We learn to say, “This is how life works.”
Q: A few years ago, you lost your son-in-law in a fire that destroyed your home and all your possessions. At that time you told a friend, “I was preparing for this.” How could have been preparing for what happened that morning?
I didn’t mean that I expected death and a fire, and he understood my words. I meant I had experienced many hardships, rejections, pain, and disappointment. Each time I faced them and moved through those times, I was ready for the next one.
Those words came spontaneously. As broken up as I was, I knew I could handle the loss.
When I was in my early twenties and difficulties came, I wondered how I would make it through most of them. But after having overcome enough chaos and obstacles, I know I’m ready to face the next ordeal.
Q: You say you’re not a person who likes to give advice, especially when people are hurting. Why not?
I suppose I like to give advice, but I avoid it. When people hurt or are going through difficult places, they don’t need my advice. They need my support.
Through my own experiences, I realized people quickly gave me advice, quoted Bible verses, reminded me that God was with me, or told me how good life would be afterward. Their words didn’t help; I already knew that. I also realized their words often came from their own discomfort and not from great wisdom.
What I needed—and what I want to offer others—is my concern. I don’t have to give them answers.
Even if they ask questions, what they really need is for someone to show they care. I want to be with them while they figure out their own answers.
Q: Is it really okay for people to get angry or feel sorry for themselves when something bad happens? Is there a time limit for that kind of negative emotion?
Is it okay? It had better be because that’s a natural reaction when life falls apart. That means we’re aware of the seriousness of our situation. Not only is it all right, but it’s important. Those feelings help us assess where we are. After that, we can begin to solve our issues.
Is there a time limit? We’re all different. Some of us can hit the bottom and bounce up quickly. Others move slowly.
After the death of our son-in-law, it took our daughter three years before I felt she had decided to live again. (They had known each other since they were fourteen years old.)
Q: In one chapter, you say that only the strong can forgive. Isn’t that contrary to what society leads us to believe?
It’s not natural or easy for most of us to admit our mistakes. But once we face our own shortcomings, we can accept others when they fail or don’t live up to their highest standards.
We need a certain level of self-acceptance before we can forgive others. We don’t have to wait for others to change, we can change and that means we can forgive.
Once I realized that God loves me, forgives me, and accepts me as I am—that took years for me to grasp inwardly—I understood the concept of grace. I know how it feels to be forgiven. I realized that Jesus Christ saw my motives and not just my actions. He knew my weaknesses and my blind spots. Because I know those things about myself and the overwhelming love of God, I can pass that grace or forgiveness on to others.
Too often I hear people say things like, “I don’t forgive. I get even.” Such an attitude weighs on our souls, and prevents our living in contentment.
Q: Like most writers, you’ve experienced your share of rejection. How have you learned to deal with rejection in life?
I detest rejections. For the first 50 rejections I received in my writing (and there have since been hundreds), I felt it was a personal attack. It wasn’t; it was a business decision by a publisher.
I learned to remind myself, “They are not rejecting me, they are rejecting my product.”
Another thing is that by receiving “non-acceptances” (as I chose to call them), I grew stronger. Instead of considering non-acceptances as intrusions, I was finally able to say, “This is how life works.”
Q: Explain what you mean by “letting go is vital to grabbing hold.”
Too many want to feel safe, so they grasp what they have. They want life to be the way it was (at least the good part) and they constantly look backward. If they’re going to go forward, they have to release their past and say, “That’s the way it was then. I’m now moving ahead.”
When we do that, we’re ready to grab hold and move forward. We can’t appreciate what we have now if we constantly compare it to the way it used to be, especially if we’ve been forced to leave the old.
Q: We often hear about the importance of having accountability partners, how does accountability fit in with the overall theme of this book?
We are on our own in life, even though God is with us. We pray. We make choices and feel we’re doing the right thing. We all have blind spots and we need the insight of individuals we can trust.
True accountability partners push us to face reality, admit our imperfections, and to reframe or rethink our decisions.
Accountability is a vital part of making sense out of life. We need the perspectives and objectivity of those who care about us. An accountability partner enables me to open myself to my inner thoughts and express them—without fear of censure.
The Bible speaks of the sinfulness of every human, and we often need others to help us see that what we want to do may be self-centered and destructive.
Q: One thing you had trouble understanding at first was the idea that we need the people who make our lives more difficult. Most of us likely have the same problem. Why do we need our enemies?
Our enemies force us to examine ourselves. They tell us things our good friends won’t. Even if they exaggerate or are mistaken, we still need to ponder their accusations.
They push us to look at what I call the unexamined parts of our lives.
Q: You also address topics such as jealousy, anger, pain, and regrets. Is there anything specific on one these subjects that you would like to leave our listeners with today?
Those emotions are normal and we need to admit to ourselves that we feel them. We’re human. Disappointments come to all of us.
I enjoy my life because I’ve faced an enormous number of roadblocks, negative feelings and attitudes, and I’ve worked through them. I call myself an overcomer.
The true victors in life are only those who have faced their hardships and kept going.
Life isn’t fair; life isn’t easy. However, the inner contentment and joy we achieve when we overcome jealousy, anger, and other negative feelings enable us to enjoy life, friends, and God even more.
Cec provided two scholarships to enable two writers to attend the first WordSowers Christian Writers Conference in Omaha, NE. Thank you, Cec. For more information about Cecil Murphey and his books, visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey is available for interviews to promote the release of Making Sense When Life Doesn’t. To request a review copy, schedule an interview or for more information, please contact Audra Jennings, firstname.lastname@example.org.