We often speak of deeper things via email so that we can linger long over ideas, drawing them more fully into ourselves before we respond.
I feel that after so many years of following Jesus that I should have made more progress, that I should be more like Him, think more like Him, speak more like Him. Yet I still struggle every moment to obey, to control my temper, to love others.
Me too, Dad. Me too.
My heart feels heavy when I look at any given week and how much I have failed my husband, my daughters, my God.
I want so desperately to be like Jesus, to have love be my first response in any situation, to be grateful for everything that comes my way.
Yet day after day I lose my temper, I choose my own desires over the needs of those around me,
I forget to walk with God.
Have I made any progress at all? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.
Will I trust what He says more than what my physical eyes can see? Will I trust the Word even when contrary evidence seems to mount up higher?
…. it is certain that the Christian does grow in grace. And though his conflict may be as severe in the last day of his life as in the first moment of conversion, yet he does advance in grace — and all his imperfections and his conflicts within cannot prove that he has not made progress. ~ Charles Spurgeon
As in so much of this walk with God, will I choose to trust His promises or my own imperfect judgement?
May we all push aside the guilt that we pour down on our own heads and say with the 17th century monk, Brother Lawrence,
When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
May we all trust God that much and give ourselves no further uneasiness about it.
That there can be ugliness in this life is not questioned by anyone. No one would argue with the idea that we all go through times of darkness, times of weeping, times of where in the world, where in all of this hurting world are You, God?
If the question then is not will I suffer, then the question must be what will I choose when I suffer.
When I hurt, will I believe that God works for the best in everything or will I wonder whether God is working at all? When I ache, will I believe that God is most present when I am at the end of myself or will I wonder whether God is really in anything at all? When I don’t know how long I can hold on, will I believe in God when I cannot see Him through the dark or will I wonder if the darkness is all that there is?
What do we do when we are sinking, when we are drowning, when we are at the end of ourselves and are pleading for relief?
Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn. He begged God three times for release. The first two times? Heaven was silent. The third time? God said no.
Jesus asked if there was any other way but the Cross. God’s answer? No.
Why do we think it should be different for us? Why do we think that we should be exempt?
If God is most present and works most powerfully when we are at the end of our own limits, then shouldn’t we want to lean into our suffering rather than try to escape it?
Paul chose to boast of his weakness, to be content with his hardship. He chose to immerse himself in his thorn in order to gain more of Christ.
We don’t have a choice about whether we will hurt.
Our choice is in how we will respond.
Will we spend our time begging for respite? Will we beg God to take it away and then curse Him when He does not?
Or will we receive our suffering as a gift? A gift with a purpose, even though we may never know the purpose. A gift with a promise, a promise of grace and God’s presence.
When God says no, when God says My grace is sufficient for you, instead of arguing with Him about it, instead of fighting Him with all of your strength, ask Him to help you get to the place where you can receive your adversity as a gift from a loving Father.
A gift that brings you more of His grace. A gift that brings you more of Him.
I have learned to kiss the waves that dash me against the Rock of Ages. ~ Charles Spurgeon
She was being silly with her bowl and granola scattered all over the kitchen floor.
I took pride in not scattering my temper but in speaking in calm, low tones as I made her clean it up.
Not ten minutes later, my pride evaporated as I yelled in frustration over having to explain twelve divided by four yet again to her very distracted mind…
Even though I knew she had suffered a sleepless night and who can concentrate on very little sleep when you’re a supposedly mature grown-up, much less a tiny little six year old person?
I often become so frustrated with myself and my inability to love the way that I want to love. I yell and I fume, I am self-centered and harsh. I have good moments, when I am able to obey that greatest of commands, but my failings come fast and close between.
I have been on this journey of following Jesus for decades and can be hard on myself for not having improved faster. I vacillate between trying to love more fully by sheer force of will and trying to submit and let Jesus heal my heart, yet I always am impatient and I wish for Him to heal me more quickly.
Maybe, though, my progress (or lack thereof) is not the point.
David was a success story in the annals of Bible heroes. He is known as a man after God’s own heart, and God’s own Son is not ashamed to be known as the Son of David. You can’t be more successful than that.
Yet when we look at his life, we do not see perfection or even a nearing of perfection as his life moves forward. Far from it, we see instead murder and adultery, we see a warrior with an unimaginable body count to his credit, we see lying and coveting and keeping multiple wives and mistresses. In one particularly shameful moment, we see him taking back his wife Michal from her new husband Paltiel for purely political reasons and completely disregarding the pitiful Paltiel as he follows Michal, “weeping as he walked behind her”.
The story of David is not a story of what God wants us to be but a story of God working with the raw material of our lives as he finds us. ~ Eugene H. Peterson in The Jesus Way
How can a man like this be called a man after God’s heart?
The answer can only be found inside his own heart and God is gracious enough to share that with us in the Psalms.
The answer we find in the Psalms is not that he was perfect or even that he neared perfection. The answer is that he was forgiven and that he trusted that forgiveness.
The answer to my own sin and imperfections is not to try harder or to find the right training that eliminates my sin. The answer is my own confession and the forgiveness that can only come from God. No excuses, denials or justifications.
I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. ~ Psalms 32.5
Resolves and promises to “not do it again” wear thin. True confession, however, rings true and brings deliverance in God’s love.
Being honest about my inability to rid my heart of sin and throwing myself wholeheartedly on His compassion and ability to cleanse me is what makes me whole and perfect in His sight, not becoming actually perfect…because that, I’m afraid, will never happen on this side of resurrection.
My lack of perfection is frustrating, but only to me.
I sit in the early morning, looking out the window at the wind making shimmery the leaves of our cottonwood, and remember Kristina. It is the third anniversary of her death, and it sometimes still feels as though we are stumbling through the dark. So much hurt and fear back then, so much hurt and fear all around us now. In this world, it will always be so. There are glimpses of light that keep us going, slight breaths of a hope that keeps our eyes searching the gloom for that bright and beautiful future that is promised, but it is easy to get distracted by the ugliness all around. I am drawn back to a post I wrote soon after Kristina’s death.
In the middle of this pain common to all of us who live in this world, as we sit surrounded by those who love us, it is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in clichés that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie. Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ. Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us. To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
When God seems not to place much importance on whether we are free from pain or suffering, it is difficult not to live in a state of paralysis. It seems a formidable task both to acknowledge the depth of pain we feel and also to acknowledge the depth of God’s love for us.
We see this pain in the world around us. We see it all throughout the Bible. Abel. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. Uriah the prophet…murdered for prophesying while Jeremiah was allowed to live. John the Baptist…Jesus’ cousin. All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.
Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard. I might never know the reason.
God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here.” ~ Ann Voskamp
What can we do when everything inside of us wants to turn tail and run from the painful possibility of God’s loving best? Can we truly trust in the heart of God?
We often learn best through story. One story that helps to show us what to do is written in C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair. Two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia. They completely botch the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to a silver chair. The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”. The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, who says:
“Once and for all, I adjure you to set me free. By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –”
“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt. “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum. “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously. “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.
It was a dreadful question. What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about? On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them? Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.
“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill. “I think we do know,” said Puddleglum. “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.
“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
That doesn’t let us off following the sign.
We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out all right. We try so hard to grasp at that security, to bring it into existence, but it simply is not there. Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.
After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said, “If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed? It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done. He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’”
And so we find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why. It does not matter whence came the hard thing or even that it may be painfully hard. If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.
It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s. God is able to handle our questions, our fears. Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, then we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…
Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me. We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears. Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can. I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can. God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing. It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed. If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action. Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me. One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see. Sometimes there is hope. That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?
Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church. He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home. His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant. He has not yet found a suitable donor. Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December. The cancer returned. Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline. He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town. He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night. In Houston. In the summertime. He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are. Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life. Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work. Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much. We can’t take away the cancer. We can’t take away the fear. We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though. We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances. They are not big spenders. They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks. And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog. I may never do it again. But I know these people. I have served with them. And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives. Will you join me in helping them? You can give online at GiveForward. (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/4th4/mark-cornell-benefit-fund)
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain. This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either. He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth. He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.
The older I get, the more gray shades I see in our world. An expansion of colors, a deepening of my perceptions, these nuances that make my life richer are a bit astonishing.
It was much easier when the lenses I wear saw only black and white.
Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view. Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown. Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
The more I meet people who were raised differently than I was raised and the more I read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more I begin to catch a glimpse of how much my view of God, of the Bible, of the world around me is colored by my own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding. There are many issues of our faith that I have been rethinking and restudying lately, asking God once again to teach me His way.
Issues like the role of women in the church and in the family, homosexuality, how science and the Bible fit together, what the inerrancy of the Scriptures really means. On some of these issues I am changing. On others I remain. Yet on all of these issues and more, as I read and study I realize something that is even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy. We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words. Rather than those who disagree with me being the enemy, being the one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being the one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like I am.
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps I am the one who is wrong.
Grace. It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely. I spend so much time wanting to get it right, sometimes from good motivation and sometimes from pride, that I quit looking at the person with whom I differ. I see black and I see white, and the sharp edges of truth keep me from seeing the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before me.
It is easier to look at the black and white of an issue, because to see the gray of a person is to see Jesus. And seeing Jesus is always hard. Looking at the face of Jesus has a way of changing you deep down where it hurts.
There is a reason why Jesus said that the most important thing is to love. Loving God and loving people is more important than getting it all right. He didn’t say it was the easiest thing. Most things with Jesus aren’t.
Loving others has a way of hijacking the straight lines of your life and carrying you off to the unknown. Loving Jesus has a way of blurring your sharp edges and softening the contours of your heart.
As we spoke, this strong, ever-seeking brother of mine said that he still had questions, doubts, things that he doesn’t like about how things happened.
So do I. Don’t we all?
Underneath all of those questions and doubts, underneath his dislike of the pain and suffering, there is peace.
The peace of knowing that there are answers. The peace that someday he will be reconciled to those years of heartache. The peace of knowing for certain that God is good and God is love and God is working toward the best for all of us.
As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water
The peace of knowing what God is about.
I got to be there as he chose once again to give himself over to the love and care of God, his Father.
I watched hard as he went down under the water
I wept unashamedly as he rose again, his fists raised high in triumph, his face shining with water and tears.
Those of you who have grieved with us over these past few years, will you also celebrate with us?
My brother has come Home.
This is my revelation
Christ Jesus crucified
Salvation through repentance
At the cross on which He died
Now hear my absolution
Forgiveness for my sin
And I sink beneath the waters
That Christ was buried in
I will rise, I will rise
As Christ was raised to life
Now in Him, now in Him
I stand a new creation
Baptized in blood and fire
No fear of condemnation
By faith I’m justified
I will rise, I will rise
As Christ was raised to life
Now in Him, now in Him
God continually offers Himself to us. He offers us His heart.
God continues to offer what we don’t seem to want. He risks Himself and often receives hurt from us in return. He continues to make Himself vulnerable, holding out His heart to us while we simply thrust it back into His face.
While we were still sinners. When we were God’s enemies.
That was when He offered up His heart in the form of His Son.
And that is why we continue to offer our own hearts, to make ourselves vulnerable so that we can form the sort of community that demonstrates to the piece of world around us the immense and vulnerable way that God loves. art credit: painting of Christ Crucified by Velazquez