Three Wrong Ways To Respond To Suffering

Job’s comforters are busy these days. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Somewhere in your Facebook feed, on the “interwebs” or on TV, they are working overtime, delivering, with a smile, their consolation laced with condemnation to those in the midst of tragedy.

The story of Job tells us of a man who suffered unimaginable pain and loss. He went from great wealth to the depths of sickness, poverty and despair. Through all this, his three ‘friends’ insisted that his misfortunes were God’s punishment for his sins, something he had done wrong. But Job persisted in his belief that misfortune comes to both the godly and the wicked. He was convinced of the goodness, mystery and wonder of God, even in the midst of his pain.

The dictionary describes a Job’s comforter as someone whounwittingly or maliciously depresses or discourages someone while attempting to be consoling.”

You know, that person who seems to be saying the right thing, the spiritual thing, even the true thing, all while making you, or those they’re meant to comfort, feel worse.

Job Rebuked by His Friends – William Blake (1757–1827)

 

Instead of mending wounds, Job’s comforters poke their fingers deep into those wounds, inflicting pain instead of bringing healing.

We must NOT use times of tragedy to make a theological point.

We should never use someone else’s pain as a battering ram for our beliefs.

  • While it is certainly a fact that a house can be rebuilt, it is too soon to utter those words to someone standing in the rubble.
  • It is true that the sun will rise tomorrow, but for the one caught in a desperate midnight of the soul, that fact brings little comfort.
  • Perhaps time does heal all wounds, but spouting slogans to someone in pain, only serves to delay the healing.
  • Maybe those parents, grieving the loss of a child do have other children remaining but offering such trite comfort only reinforces the fact that we have grossly miscalculated the depth of their loss.
  • God can and does heal, but for the person trapped in a broken body or consumed with chronic pain, these words may sound more cruel than hopeful.

So how should we respond?

Number 1 – don’t ignore the suffering of others. When we are suffering and the world spins around us with no acknowledgment of our pain, the loneliness is soul-crushing. Let the suffering know they are seen.

Number 2 – don’t glorify pain. Yes, God can use our pain for a greater purpose – in our lives and the lives of others. But remember how Jesus responded when he heard his friend Lazarus had died? He simply wept. We should do the same when faced with pain, grief and loss.

Number 3 – don’t weaponize someone’s grief against them. For the love of God, don’t imagine you know whether or not they should be grieving, whether or not their level of grief is appropriate, whether or not they have unconfessed sin in their life. Unless you’re God, or their therapist, it’s not your place to figure that out.

Let’s save our theological debates for the classroom, the discussion group, the one-on-one conversations. They are not welcome, helpful or kind during a time of tragedy.

So, what can we do in response to suffering? It’s so simple, it’s almost ridiculous.

 

Weep with those who weep.

Lament with those who lament.

Scream with those who must scream.

Walk with those who are restless.

Eat with those who need food.

Pray with those who desire comfort.

Touch those who need to connect.

 

Be still with those who are silent.

Offer the simple, powerful gift of your presence and God’s presence in you, to bring healing and hope to a broken and wounded world.

 

 

Hey, I would love to have you join my private Facebook group “Pain-A Conversation.” Beginning September 25, 2017, I will be sharing a daily video conversation on the subject of pain, with my good friend Sanejo Leonard. We would love to have you join the conversation. Click here to join.

Thank you to Kelly M. Kapic for his insightful and compassionate book “Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering

A Valentine’s Day Gift for the Unloved and the Unlovely

Our picture of love is warped.

On the one hand, we have a Hallmark-created, Disney-distorted image of love that bears little or no resemblance to the gritty, daily reality of true, enduring love. It’s an un-obtainable, romantic fantasy.

On the other hand, there is a dramatic counterpoint to these saccharin-sweet sentiments – a dark and distorted view of ‘love’. Pornography and the storylines of many popular books and movies portrays a perverse picture of love as domineering and abusive or submissive and abused. It presents love as unbridled passion, power and lust – a commodity with a price tag.

True love is radically different and so much more. Sure, true love is sometimes expressed through marriage and sex and roses and chocolates. But it’s also beautifully demonstrated in friendship and family, through community and acts of charity and sacrifice. It’s complicated and difficult. It ebbs and flows. True love forgives and believes, hopes and endures, clings to what is good and denies itself retribution.

But what about the times when love seems unobtainable? When betrayals and our very humanness seem to banish love from our lives? For those of you who are struggling to give love or to accept love on this Valentine’s Day, may I remind you of the gifts that your Heavenly Father offers.

 

 

To the ugly and the scarred – Through His scars, you are healed – Isaiah 53:5

To the ones who lust and hunger but are never satisfied – He offers the bread of life – John 6:35

To the fatherless – He wants you to know that you’re His precious, beloved child  – Psalm 68:5

To the rejected and discarded – The rejected One has redeemed you – Isaiah 53:3

To the ones who run away and to the ones who long to be found – He is waiting for you, with a robe and a ring – Luke 15:11-22

To the doubters and the seekers – Seek Him. He will be found  – Proverbs 2:1-6 Luke 11:9-10

To the weary and the weak – He will bring you rest – Matthew 11:28

To the grieving and the hopeless – He will carry your sorrow – Isaiah 53:4

To the broken and bruised – He was broken and bruised for you – Isaiah 53:5

To the lost and the wandering – He is relentlessly looking to find you – Matthew 18:12-14

To the whores and the harlots – He waits by the well, with water to quench your thirst – John 4:7-26

To the unloved and the unlovely – the Bridegroom is entranced by your beauty – Song of Solomon 4:1-3

 

Whether you feel cherished or neglected, valued or worthless, I pray that today you would receive God’s gift of love – a love that is boundless in mercy and available to all. It is a love that is true, a love that endures and a love that never fails.

A Prayer For A President

On January 20th the 45th President of the United States was sworn into office.

I don’t like Donald Trump.

I struggle to see an ounce of wisdom or integrity in him. But I have a predicament. He is now the President of the United States. Whether I like him or not, as a citizen of this country and as a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to pray for him out of respect for the office that he now holds and out of obedience to the God that I serve. I confess. This is really hard for me.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Trump’s actions can’t or shouldn’t be criticized. The First Amendment guarantees the rights of citizens in a healthy democracy include: Freedom of the Press, with the liberty to speak openly without fear of government restraint and, Freedom of Speech as demonstrated by a vocal and engaged citizenry with the right to express any opinion without censorship or restraint.

At the same time, the Scriptures urge us to pray for “all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”

Have you ever prayed for someone you don’t like? I don’t mean pray they’ll get hit by a bus or covered in boils, I mean really pray for their soul. I don’t remember the last time I did. Mainly because there aren’t many people that I truly dislike.

So, what to pray for Mr. Trump? This is a challenge and is something I’ve thought about long and hard. I’ve searched the Scriptures and considered my own life. I confess that I am a sinner and that I am often willful, proud, thoughtless, unkind, selfish and stubborn. I am painfully aware of my flaws and my sins. Daily, I confess them and ask God to transform my life and remake me into His image.

 

 

As an act of obedience and discipline in my own spiritual journey, and keeping in mind my own sinful nature, I composed a prayer for our president.  

The prayers I pray for myself are the prayers I will pray for him. The transformation I seek for my own life, is the one I seek for his.

“Father in heaven, I pray that President Trump would be aware that he is a sinner, confess his sins and accept the forgiveness that is available through the death of your son Jesus.

I pray that as he receives your grace and forgiveness, he would extend that same grace and forgiveness to others.

I pray that You would replace his spirit of pride with a spirit of humility.

I pray that he would live a life of generosity, and consider others above himself.

I pray that he would be devoted to caring for the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the sick, the prisoner and the marginalized.

I pray that You would grant him a humble and contrite heart.

I pray that he would exhibit self-control and be compelled to live his life as a man of truth and integrity.

I pray that he would listen more than he speaks.

I pray that he would grant mercy instead of seeking revenge; for Your Word declares that mercy triumphs over judgment.

I pray that he would be an advocate for peace.

I pray that he would be a man of grace and dignity, treating everyone he meets with respect and that he would see them as Your beloved children, created in Your image.

I pray that the fruit of the spirit would be evident in his life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I pray that he would hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Transform him Lord, into a man of integrity and into a leader who is sober-minded, thoughtful, compassionate, wise and good.

With the same measure that he blesses others, may he also be blessed.”

These things I pray for my own life and for the life of my president. Oh that we may “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” Grant it Lord, I pray.

Thanksgiving – My Story of Seizures and Coming Out of the Dark

“Where am I? What am I doing?”  These were the thoughts that raced through my brain as I sat by the side of the road, gripping the steering wheel in my hands.

Thanksgiving Day, 2001 – I was driving home from my parent’s house, less than five minutes away. We had just enjoyed a day filled with an abundance of food and laughter in the midst of our large and noisy family. Our two youngest children, Sam (3) and Rachel (5) were with me in the back seat of the car. Steve had gone on ahead in a separate car.

As I drove down the hill, I suddenly felt lost. I knew this road well. I had driven it hundreds of times before but, at that moment, the familiar became strange and unfamiliar. A fog began settling in my brain. I looked down at my hands on the steering wheel and had no sense of what I should be doing. My heart trip-hammered wildly as I pulled over to the side of the road and I struggled to get my bearings.

“Why are we stopping?” Rachel asked. “What’s wrong?”

I could hear her voice and my mind formed the answer, but my tongue was tied tight and I couldn’t speak. She repeated the question but again, I couldn’t answer. A numbness and tingling spread across my left cheek, like a foot that has fallen asleep. Eventually, the fog began to lift, my voice returned and I turned to reassure Sam and Rachel that everything was okay but deep down I knew it most certainly was not.

The whole incident lasted mere seconds, maybe a minute or two at the most, but in my mind, time became elastic and those seconds stretched into an eternity.

I didn’t want to continue driving, for fear that the incident would repeat itself, so I sat there, waiting for someone to drive by, hoping they would see me at the side of the hill and come to my aid.  The minutes ticked by and nobody came. Sam and Rachel became anxious.  They could sense that something was wrong and they were afraid.

Cautiously, I pulled away from the curb and drove through the hills. I arrived home without incident and sent the kids to get ready for bed with further reassurances that everything was fine.

I walked down the hall and into our room. As soon as I saw Steve I burst into tears and told him of my strange ordeal.

I vowed that I would not get behind the wheel of a car again until I knew what was wrong.

The next morning Steve brought me to the doctor’s office as soon as it opened.  I told the receptionist I needed to see someone immediately and I was willing to wait all day, if that’s what it took.

When I finally saw the doctor I shared how I was feeling and the specifics of my incident the day before. He asked if I ever spaced out and lost track of time. “No,” I said. “Yes, she does,” Steve interrupted. I looked at him in disbelief and told him he was wrong.

The doctor questioned Steve further. He asked him what my behavior was like when these incidents occurred, how often it happened and for how long. The doctor then proceeded to perform a litany of tests – tapping my knees with a hammer, pressing down on my upturned palms and watching me walk across the room. I had no idea what on earth this weird series of exercises meant but when he was finished, he sat down and pulled his chair close to me.

“Karen, I believe you’re having seizures. You can’t drive anymore until you see a neurologist. I’ll make a referral right away.”

The impact of his words hit me like a punch to the face.

I looked out the window, at the cars driving by, and thought, “This can’t be happening to me. What does this mean? How will I survive without driving?” The rest of his words were a blur. We walked out of his office and I wept the whole way home.

That day, I walked into a dark and scary tunnel. WE walked into a dark and scary tunnel. My license was suspended and for three years I was unable to drive. I underwent constant tests and doctor’s visits – EKGs, EEGs, CAT scans, SPECT scans and more. I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I was experiencing partial complex and absence seizures. The neurons in my brain were misfiring.

Daily, as endless seizures rolled in, I questioned God, my faith and my sanity. My children learned to dial 9-1-1. The doctor prescribed one medication after another, in an effort to stop the seizures. We fumbled through our days and, clinging to God and to each other, somehow survived.

It’s hard to believe, as I write this story, that fifteen years have passed. I have now been seizure free for twelve years!

My faith wavered but ultimately was strengthened. My sanity is still up for debate. Our marriage, by some miracle of God’s grace, survived this and subsequent years as illness, heart attack, injury, chronic pain, depression, drug dependence and more, have plagued our lives.

Next week I will celebrate my 55th birthday and another beautiful Thanksgiving together as a family. We marvel at God’s grace that continues to lead us.

Our times of suffering and crises of faith appear like underground tunnels, ominous and dark. We don’t know what’s around the corner or when the tunnel will end.

long dark tunnel

If you are at the entrance of a dark tunnel, looming large and long ahead of you – take a deep breath, grab the Light of God’s Word and hold tightly to God’s hand. (Psalm 119:105)

If you are in the middle of that dark tunnel, with the damp and dark pressing in on all sides – guard a flickering light of hope, reach forward towards daylight and remember that, even when it seems like a lie, God is there with you in the dark. Search for Him. He will be found. (Jeremiah 29:13)

If you are coming to the end of that dark tunnel, with a glow of light ahead – rejoice in the light, thank God for bringing you through and reach back to grab someone’s hand who is still wandering in the dark. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Here’s my hand, dear friend. Grab tight. You are not alone.

The Chains We Show and The Chains You Cannot See

He was handsome, with dark black skin, a proud erect stance and a muscular build. I hadn’t seen him before but I was fairly new so perhaps he was a regular. He moved quickly across the yard and took his place in line. It was Friday morning and I was serving breakfast to our local homeless community.

He was younger than the average man there and taller by several inches. But the thing that made him stand out was what he wore. Draped around his neck was a thick chain.

No, that’s not it. That picture you have in your mind – a thick gold chain, a piece of jewelry – that’s not it. He wore an actual chain.

No. You’re still not picturing it right. It wasn’t like a bike chain or a dog chain, it was more like this.

chain-690088_1920

The chain he wore around his neck was a heavy, steel chain – dark gray like thunderclouds – the kind of chain you would expect to see in a shipyard, tied to a piece of equipment or lifting a crate to the deck of a ship.

It weighed several pounds. It was at least three feet long and each link was two inches – but in spite of it’s weight, the young man stood straight and tall. The burden of it made no impact on his posture.  He had that chain draped around his neck and hanging down his chest as casually as a winter scarf.

As he moved up the line, I felt it and it was clear the other men felt it too. The tension in his body crackled in the air around him, electric like a gathering storm. Inadvertently, the men in front of and behind him moved a few inches, giving him a wide berth.

Finally, he stood before me. I looked up into his handsome face, smiled and greeted him. He stared back at me with blank eyes as dark as a winter night, without a flicker of light or warmth.

He didn’t respond to my greeting but simply took his food and walked away.

I finished serving breakfast, completed my morning tasks at the kitchen and went home, but I couldn’t get this young man out of my mind.

That chain. He was literally wearing his chain. He had surrendered to the burden that life dealt him so completely that he wore it, like a millstone, for the world to see.

How weary he must be, shouldering that every day, I thought. I sat down on the sofa, imagining the weight on my own shoulders, and prayed for peace for his soul.

That’s when it struck me. We all have chains. Some of us show our pain on the outside, sending signals to the world through our faces, our clothing, our scars, a tattoo and even a chain. There’s a scar that runs the length of my husband’s chest – the result of his open heart surgery. It’s a constant reminder to us of his brush with death.

Most of us, however, wear our chains on the inside. Our scars are hidden there where nobody but God can see.

We wear masks to hide the pain. Paste on smiles to disguise our scars. Laugh and nod to one another while hiding the burden of our chains.

I have borne my own chains. The chains of my sin. The burden of my past. The heavy weight of regret and pain. These chains shackled my spirit with fear. I was helpless to remove them on my own. But then this.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Oh, how the tender words of Jesus ministered to my heart, like an ointment to my sin-sick soul. When I fully surrendered my sin and my pain to Jesus, he removed the chains that were binding me and set me free to love fully and accept his forgiveness completely.

I don’t have to bear the burden of my sin. You don’t have to bear the weight of your shame.

Surely He has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows;

Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned, every one, to his own way;

And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

The Day I Heard God’s Voice in the Words of a Stranger

Steve almost died.

By almost, I mean he had a major heart attack and went into cardiogenic shock. His heart stopped beating and he flat-lined. So, technically he did die. But, between God and the skill of a cardiovascular surgeon, he returned to the land of the living.

Three days later, he lay in a hospital bed, on the road to recovery, and I was at a baseball field.

“What on earth am I doing here?” I thought.

It was January 14, 2006.  The sun was bright and warm – one of those picture perfect Southern California winter days.  It was also Little League sign-ups and that’s why we were there. Our son Sam talked about nothing else for weeks.  This was his first year playing baseball and he couldn’t wait to get started. I stood still and looked up at a brilliant blue sky. The smell of freshly mown grass mingled with the enticing aroma of popcorn. The chatter of voices and the laughter of children filled the air.

baseball glove, green grass

I could have asked my dad to bring him, but I was desperately trying to pretend everything was normal and maintain some semblance of control.  As far as Sam knew, dad didn’t feel well, had a problem with his heart, and was in the hospital for a few days. He and his sister Rachel hadn’t yet been told about Steve’s brush with death, so when Saturday morning rolled around, he was excited and chomping at the bit to go.

As soon as we arrived, doubts and second thoughts bombarded me. I clutched Sam’s registration forms in my hands and stood still, watching everyone rush by as my mind reeled with these thoughts.

What if Steve never recovers?

What if he has another heart attack and dies…while I’m here?

What if I’m left to do this day and all the other days on my own?

All the emotion and worry of the previous three days spilled out of me, right then and there.  My composure and confidence disappeared and I started sobbing.  Sam looked at me with concern in his eyes and tried to reassure me. “It’s all right, mom.”

It wasn’t all right.  I wasn’t all right. Steve wasn’t all right.  I didn’t know if any of us would ever be all right again.

I stood there blubbering and gasping for breath, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  “Do you need help?  Is everything ok?” I turned to see the face of a stranger and shook my head no as a fresh wave of tears spilled out in a flood.  

He stood there quietly, with one hand resting softly on my shoulder and the other hand reaching out to Sam. I struggled to regain my composure. “I have no idea what I’m doing. Steve should be doing this. He would know what to do. He’s not here. He’s in the hospital. He should be here. I shouldn’t be here. I should be at the hospital.”  My words spilled out between gasps for air.

“It’s okay,” he said softly. “I can help. Everything’s going to be fine.”

As he introduced himself to Sam and asked him his age, he gently reached over and took the crumpled registration forms from my hands.  

I breathed deeply and brought my panic under control while he guided us over to the correct field. He took the time to introduce me to the coach and connected Sam with the other boys on his team. Sam ran off with his newfound friends. The stranger turned back to me. “Karen, can I pray with you?”

His words provoked another round of tears and I stammered out the whole story. I told him about Steve’s heart attack – the 911 call – open heart surgery – my worries about our future.  

He nodded his head as he listened. I’m sure he had somewhere else to be, but he made no attempt to leave and just stood there nodding while I blubbered and rambled.

I finally ran out of words.

He took my hands, bowed his head and prayed.  

Right there, in the middle of a baseball field, on a beautiful January day, with kids yelling and the sun shining and my boy happily playing the game he loved, and my dear husband lying in a hospital bed, he prayed for me, a perfect stranger.

He prayed for our family, for Steve, for his healing. A supernatural peace settled over me, as he petitioned God on our behalf.

He finished his prayer, squeezed my hands, smiled and walked away. I knew right then that when I needed it most, God’s hand touched mine, in the skin of a stranger and no matter what the future held, He wouldn’t let go.

The Media Is Selling Fear – Why Do We Keep Buying?

The bedroom door creaked open slowly. I lay in bed, suddenly wide awake yet frozen in place. A whisper-soft footstep made its way across the room and the blood coursed through my head, a drumbeat pounding in my ears. I strained in the dark to see who was there but the black velvet of night obstructed the view. I could sense the presence of another. Fear clawed its way into my mind and wrapped its talons around my fast-beating heart.

Do you like to be scared?

I admit it. I like movies with suspense and some spine-tingling moments. Horror is too much for my taste, but I’m a sucker for nail-biting scenes that make my heart beat like a trip-hammer.

In real life however, fear is not welcome. At least, that’s what I claim. In reality, time and time again, I invite fear in, pull out a chair where it can rest and pour it a cup of tea. I nurture fear’s presence and welcome it like an old and dear friend.

We are sold fear at every turn.

Books, movies and TV shows are geared toward scaring us senseless. Some of you are nodding your head yes with gleeful enthusiasm at the thought of a good fright-fest, while others are shaking your heads with disapproval. You steer clear of anything that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck and have no appetite for fear. Or do you?

Fear creeps into our lives in other, less obvious ways. Social media and mainstream news exploit every real and imagined terror and hook us in, like fish on the line, profiting from our fears.

man in hooded coat looking over his shoulder in fear

I just scrolled through my Facebook feed and in a few minutes I found a list of things we are told to fear – dementia, guns, hurricanes, robbers, dangerous drivers, rising crime rates, failure, trans people, men, sexual assault, clowns, children being injured, war, terrorists, Islam, Sharia law, Hillary Clinton, more clowns, identity theft, the election, political correctness, climate change, more hurricanes

This election cycle has ramped up the fear like never before.

The candidates and the media are peddling it like an ice cream truck peddles Good Humor bars. They ring the bell all day long while we chase story after story, panting and hungry for more.

We’ve been told that not only do we have much to dread, we are foolish or naive if we don’t. Politics are built upon this. They present us with what we should fear, so they alone can provide a solution. Fear, they would lead us to believe, is informative.

In fact, the very opposite is true.

Fear certainly serves a purpose. It’s they way our mind and body signal imminent danger, preparing us for an immediate and real threat. But over the course of time, a steady diet of fear is debilitating.

This article from Psychology Today describes how our bodies respond to fear.

“As soon as you feel fear, the amygdala (a small almond-shaped organ in the center of your brain) sends signals to your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which then has a wide range of effects. The ANS kicks in, and suddenly, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing gets quicker, and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. The blood flows away from the heart and out towards the extremities, preparing the arms and legs for action.

…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on, so thinking about the next best move in a crisis can be a hard thing to do. Some people even experience feelings of time slowing down, tunnel vision, or feeling like what is happening is not real. These dissociative symptoms can make it hard to stay grounded and logical in a dangerous situation. Essentially, the body’s response to fear or stress can be stressful in itself.”

Did you get that? Let me repeat it, in case you missed it the first time. “…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on…”

Yeah, that steady diet of fear, that constant stream of bad news, that endless worry about…everything, it clouds our judgment and hampers logical thought.

I know, I know. There are real threats in this world. But look back at that list I posted earlier. Unless you are currently living in Florida, in the path of a deadly hurricane, most of the threats listed above are not an immediate danger to you and those that you love or else they are things beyond your control. Do some of them require our thoughtful attention and action? Yes. Do they warrant our fear. Probably not.

Maybe you still object. You are clinging to that fear like Linus with his blankie. You are comfortable living in that place. You feel a sense of righteous indignation at the thought of letting it go. So, what does the Bible say about fear? 

Fear of man is a dangerous trap, but to trust in God means safety.” (Proverbs 29:25 TLB)

The Bible does not promise us a life free of pain and tragedy but God promises to be with us in the middle of it all. I love the way Isaiah states it. This is a beautiful promise for those in the path of a hurricane.

“Do not be afraid, because I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I’ll be with you; and through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.

When you walk through fire you won’t be scorched, and the flame won’t set you ablaze.” Is. 43:1-2 ISV

Do we believe the Word of God or do we trust FOX News and The Huffington Post?

God wants us to be sober and mindful – NOT ruled by our fears. When the dust settles, when the hurricanes pass, when the election is over, what example will we leave, as people of faith, to the world around us?

“And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.”” Rom 8:15 TLB

If we are hiding from our own shadows and quaking in the corner at every real and imagined terror, we are unable to administer aid to the wounded and bleeding lying there in the middle of the room.

Let’s refuse the package we are being sold, the one tainted by fear. Instead, let us keep our minds clear and our judgment sound, standing solid on the foundation of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

   so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,

   so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me,

   when my enemies and foes attack me,

   they will stumble and fall. 

Though a mighty army surrounds me,

   my heart will not be afraid.

Even if I am attacked,

   I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—

   the thing I seek most—

is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

   delighting in the Lord’s perfections

   and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come;

   he will hide me in his sanctuary.

   He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high

   above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,

   singing and praising the Lord with music.

Psalms 27:1-6 NLT

 

Life With Pain – What I Found

Here’s what I found. Pain is a gift.

It took years to believe this and there are times I still choke on the words, but deep down, I know it’s true. Pain seems like the kind of gift no sane person would desire, but it is a gift nonetheless.

Several weeks ago I wrote a heartfelt and painful post – Life With Pain – What I Lost. It is a lamentation – mourning the things I lost through years of pain. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and take a look, because it’s where this story begins.

That wasn’t an easy post to write but it came from such a raw place that the words poured out of me. This post has proven to be even harder to write. I struggled with these words for weeks. I wrote and rewrote this post but I’m still unable to express how profoundly pain changed me for the good.

If pain is anything at all, it’s complex. I don’t want to sound trite or give you the impression that the things I found came quickly or easily. They did not. So here is my humble attempt – a celebration of the lessons I learned and the beauty I found in pain.

I found trust.

As a mother, my deepest desire was to keep my children safe, provide for their needs, and let them know they were loved. Seizures and pain robbed me of that ability for years and many precious childhood moments are lost to me. But recently, as we began unpacking the pain of those years together, we looked back as a family and recalled an endless catalog of ordinary days, hilarious mishaps, sweet family times and more. Every photograph and memory is a treasure to be mined over and over again.

Sometimes, in our desire to protect our children from all pain and discomfort, we don’t allow them to experience growth essential to character development. I see now that the trials and difficulties we survived as a family drew us closer to each other and challenged my kids to discover God for themselves.

My children can’t live their faith on the coattails of their parents or grandparents. In order for it to be real, their faith must be their own. I need to trust God enough with my children to allow them to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”.

God is developing their faith and their character. I trust Him with that.

I found the Source of strength.

Before the years of pain and illness, I looked strong. A young, healthy, type-A woman, I was organized, disciplined and appeared to be in control of my life. But much of my confidence was bluff and bravado, masking a deep uncertainty about my place in life and my relationship with God.

Pain strips everything down to the core. It removes all the skin and fat and leaves the bare bones of the matter.

In the stripping away, my bravado was removed. My confidence was shaken. I questioned everything I was taught. Everything I believed. But when I hit rock bottom, I found a foundation. I found a sweeter, truer, deeper faith than anything I knew before, and I found that I can’t do it on my strength alone.

I can’t manufacture a feeling of wholeness out of emptiness. I can’t coax ‘good feelings’ out of depression but I can tap into God’s power, knowing that it is in surrender to His perfect will that I find the strength to carry on, in spite of the pain.

 

"The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved pain as an act of total solidarity with all of the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.” Richard Rohr

I found a connection with Christ’s suffering.

The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved pain as an act of total solidarity with all of the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.” Richard Rohr

There aren’t words to describe how Christ’s suffering somehow makes sense of my own. But it’s true. It does. I can’t explain this. It’s a holy mystery.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Is. 53:4)

I found a purpose for the pain.

Pain serves a purpose. It is essential for growth. It clarifies what’s important and leaves us either crushed or strengthened. There was a time I thought it crushed me – a time when I saw no purpose to the pain, no mercy in God’s will and no end in sight. But today I see the work that God is doing in my life and I am thankful for it.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18 NKJV

I found a community of the wounded.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well. “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above the master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer.”  (The Cost of Discipleship)

This is one of the sweetest things I found. Pain opened my eyes to the suffering of others and initiated me into a special tribe – the tribe of the walking wounded.

It has given me a deep empathy for others and brought connection and community with those who, like me, are walking through their pain, struggling with their faith and trying to make sense of it all.

I could go on and tell you about the peace I found, about the clarity I now have and perhaps, another time, I will. I’m still unwrapping the gifts that I received through the darkest times of my life.

Pain may be the gift I never wanted but it is one of the dearest I’ve ever received.

Compare One Another’s Burdens

I’ve recently noticed I have a tendency to compare.

A while back I was talking with my daughter when I realized I passed along that tendency. We were comparing our lives to others. It wasn’t a comparison of our looks or clothes. We weren’t talking about how we wished we had awesome vacations like other people.  Nothing fun like that.  We were comparing burdens.  You read that right.  We weren’t bearing one another’s burdens, we were comparing them.

It sounded something like this.  “I heard so-and-so complain the other day about an ingrown toenail. She said ‘this is the WORST PAIN EVER! I can’t walk another step.’ What does she even know about pain?  She should try dislocating her shoulder and tearing a rotator cuff or living with someone in chronic pain.  Has she had a baby without an epidural or watched her husband have a heart attack?  She has no idea what real pain is!”

Okay, so the conversation wasn’t verbatim and most of those things were probably said by me, not my daughter, but you get the gist of it, right?

There’s a hierarchy of pain.  At the bottom of the scale is an ingrown toenail (sucks to be you) or an itchy scalp – unless that itchy scalp is caused by head lice, then you move up the pain scale rapidly!

At the top level of that hierarchy is unrelenting chronic pain, permanent disability or the death of a child. Serious stuff.

You better know where you are in that hierarchy or you will get NO sympathy from me. Yeah, you heard me right, lady in the grocery store who is enraged over the quality of the kale this week.  You are somewhere at the bottom of the hierarchy and need to just zip it!

Appearances can be deceiving though, can’t they?

There are some people who definitely need to put on their big girl panties and stop their whining but how can we know who that is, exactly?  Where’s our x-ray vision that gives us a peek into their hearts or their lives?

I’ve endured days and weeks of unrelenting pain and heartache and have managed just fine only to have a splinter send me into a spiral.

Pain and burdens are like snow on the roof of a house.  

One by one, the flakes fall down, lighter than a feather. They pile up on the roof and become heavy but the roof is strong and holds up fine.  Then there’s that one, final teeny-tiny snowflake that slowly drifts down, down, down…

Black and white

As soon as that snowflake hits the roof, everything caves in.  

It isn’t that the single snowflake is heavy, it’s the accumulation of millions of snowflakes that causes the collapse.

I have no idea what you deal with in your life.  You may think, by reading through some of my blog posts that you have me figured out, but really, you don’t.  I pick and choose what I will share.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.  Most of the bad I keep to myself.  There are things that nobody knows.  Things I only share with my Heavenly Father.

I would imagine it’s the same for you. You share a tiny portion of your life and keep the rest private.

We shouldn’t think, for one moment, that we have a clue why that man is standing on the street corner begging for food, or why that couple’s teenage kids are such hooligans, or why that mother in the grocery store can’t make her kid shut up, or why the house on the corner has paint peeling and weeds growing on their lawn or why that young girl throws herself at every man she sees. Only God knows our past. Only he can see what’s in our hearts.

I love these words in Galatians,

“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.” (Gal 6:2 MSG)

How beautiful is this?  

Restore. Avoid criticism. Stoop down. Share burdens. 

The bottom line is this. Comparison is rarely, if ever, a good thing. It presumes we know more than we do, pits us against each other and ultimately, is a thief of joy. I for one, need to do way less comparing and a whole lot more burden bearing. How about you?

low-beams with quote

(Photo by Jay Mantri)

Life With Pain – Grief and Lament

Earlier this week I wrote a post about my life with pain – a lamentation for what I lost. Today, I planned on posting a follow-up with “What I Found”. But I can’t go there yet.

The response to my lament was overwhelming. So many of you, like me, have an unmet need to grieve. We have been raised in a culture that doesn’t know how to lament. I would argue that, in the church, we have treated grief and pain as evidence of a lack of faith or, even worse, evidence of sin. What a lie.

Lament isn’t pretty.

It brings to mind wailing widows clothed in black and blotchy, red eyes and runny noses. It brings to mind a man, bloodied and beaten, hanging on a cross.

The image of the suffering Christ on the cross was always associated with the Catholic church, in my mind. Growing up in the Evangelical community, we were encouraged not to focus on the bleeding Christ but on the empty cross, the risen Christ, the empty tomb.

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We miss something when we jump past Christ’s suffering to resurrection day.

We miss the true depth of Christ’s humanity. We miss the fact that he knew pain like us. He was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. He cried, bled, suffered and mourned, just like us.

There is sweet comfort in the crucified Christ, in the fellowship of his sufferings, in knowing he “keeps track of all our sorrows. He collects all our tears in a bottle. He has recorded each one in his book.” (Psalm 56:8)

So, let’s stay in this place of lament a little longer, pause in this sweet holy space where we acknowledge our pain and our fears and present them to the One who bore them all.

Today, my dear friend, I grieve with you.

I grieve for your pain and suffering. I lament for your loss, for what death has taken from you. I weep for the marriage that has ended, for the betrayal of trust, for the child who has wandered away, for the dream that remains unfulfilled.

If this speaks to your heart, please take time to name and acknowledge your lament and present it to your heavenly Father. He can handle your anger, your questions and your pain. Be still. Feel His presence. Tell Him your story.

And, when you feel overcome with doubt and fear, stubbornly cling to what remains of your faith. You will find Him there.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Psalm22:1-5