Want What You’ve Got! (tears)

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I sat in my parked car on the driveway the other day with the cell phone held tight against my ear. On the other end was one of the most dear and gracious women I know, and when her tears began to flow, so did mine. It hurts to let go of our loved ones – to be the one left behind.

Later in the day, as I was loading up the car to make an after-school carpool run, I spotted my next door neighbor in his garage. I haven’t seen him outside for weeks – he’s quite ill and his daughter has moved in to care for him. I stopped to chat and couldn’t help but notice how tired and gaunt his face had become. He told me about the way his condition drains every ounce of energy. He said that most of the time he just wants to rest – to fall asleep and never wake up. His words made me sad and I remembered the tear-stained face of his daughter as she returned from a walk last week. It hurts to watch our loved ones suffer without a way to really ease their pain.

Family drama, broken relationships, fences in dire need of mending, lonely tears of hopelessness which threaten to end a life… From our jail cells to our hospital beds, it hurts to be a part of this desperately broken world.

Are we to want the tears, too? Because I’m pretty sure none of us can really Want What We’ve Got when what we’ve got is so far from the way we want things to be.

Tears betray our true condition. The Psalmist’s words resonate with us in the midst of our trials:

“I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed has been floating forty days and nights on the flood of my tears. My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears. The sockets of my eyes are black holes; nearly blind, I squint and grope.” (Psalm 6:6, 7 MSG)

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is filled with the desperate cries of our forefathers and mothers. No one wants to be lost, hurt, lonely, wounded, left for dead, homeless or abandoned, yet these are the days of our lives. If we believe in a good God and yet suffer calamity along with those who have no faith, why in the world should we Want What We’ve Got if what we’ve got only leads us to rivers of tears?

I have only one answer today, and you’re probably not going to like it. It may not be enough to satisfy your need to understand your suffering. I really wish there was more I could say… but the common denominator among the most tear-filled passages of scripture is that, while squinting and groping, we do the only thing we can do while gasping for air and battling to stay afloat… we cry out to God.

If tears are what you’ve got today, you have something to offer to the God who collects every tear in His bottle (Psalm 56:8) and records every pain in His book. Like it or not, our tears draw us toward God, and this may be the only way through the rainy season you find yourself in.

So scream out loud, shake your fists, cry your tears of anger and confusion! The God who longs for you to look His way is going to be there to meet you when you turn, and He can take whatever you can dish out in your struggle to Want What You’ve Got.

Daily Questions: What kinds of tears are you crying today – tears of disappointment? Anger? Frustration? Betrayal? Loss? If the only good thing about tears is that they position us to connect with the God who loves us, are you willing to reach past the hurt to the Healer? Read through the Psalms for proof that God is close to the brokenhearted (start with Psalm 34 & 42).

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The Rescue (a PINK Tuesday post)

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Image by JamesReaFotos via Flickr

 

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.”   –John Stott

It’s been this way since time began.

 

The fact that you are still reading tells me that nothing has changed… SUFFERING a LOSS raises questions and doubts and fears and anger as it CHALLENGES our ability to cope and adapt and recover.

But the good news today is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You are not alone in your suffering.

You are not alone in your loss.

We don’t need to look beyond our own circle of friends & family to find others who are suffering losses, too. Our stories and their stories inevitably are marked by people, places, experiences and situations where what we once held dear is no longer ours to hold.

Consider the scriptures.

Story after story about people who not only experience the mountaintops, but the depths of grief as well:

Adam & Eve

Because of a choice that they made, they lost their fellowship with God AND their home in the Garden. Later in their story, they lose a son – or, perhaps they lost TWO sons – as the one killed the other in a fit of jealousy.

Joseph

The one with the coat. Lost his family at the hand of brothers who hated him. They sold him into slavery. Told his father he was dead. This same Joseph, trying to live a godly life as a slave, is falsely accused of sexual harassment by his boss’s wife and thrown into prison for years. NONE of these losses, by the way, were a result of Joseph’s choices. He had no say. They just happened TO him.

Job

Lost his children in one horrific accident. Lost his livelihood. Lost his health. All because of things going on around him that he had no control over. It wasn’t his fault.

David

KING David. The one we know as “a man after God’s own heart”. Lost his fellowship with the Lord, for a time, because of a series of bad choices that included sleeping with someone else’s wife and then having her husband murdered. David’s loss didn’t end there. Even though he married the woman he had gotten pregnant, she lost the baby. Lost a child. Another loss.

Elijah

The prophet. The one used by God to call down fire on a soaking wet altar, putting the competition in its place. Even Elijah suffered loss. Loss of hope. Loss of perspective. He suffered from depression. Depression that was undoubtedly linked to the death threats he had received from a very powerful woman. His choice? A chemical imbalance? Does it matter?! A loss nonetheless.

Finally, the Apostle Paul.

Wrote much of the New Testament. Spoke the message of Christ far and wide with boldness and passion. This hero of the faith found himself at the end of life, sitting in a cold prison cell, alone. Lonely. And he suffered from the loss of fellowship he had known – we know this because he wrote it in a letter to his friend, Timothy. We can read it in God’s Word.

What we ALSO read in God’s Word are words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

(He must be really STRONG in ME – weakling that I am.)

And,

“In this world you WILL have trouble, but take heart – I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

Our God makes it clear over and over again in scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18).

He tends to our wounds.

He is our RESCUE.

But just in case words like these sound trite and churchy to you, know that God “keeps track of every toss & turn through the sleepless nights.” Each tear and ache is entered into His book (Ps. 56:8).

There’s a Hebrew custom – the jar of tears – have you heard of it? At funerals, a tiny jar is passed around and each mourner puts a teardrop into it. The jar of tears represents the hearts that are suffering the loss of the person who has died.

I believe that God not only keeps track of the tears we shed, but that His big heart breaks for us in our suffering. And there is nothing that we are feeling or have felt that He, through Jesus, hasn’t felt before.

God is ready to do something big for you today! He’s coming alongside you in your suffering, your grief, your loss…

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God uses our experiences to prepare and uniquely position us to come alongside others who are suffering, too. The heading over this section in the Message Bible is “THE RESCUE”.

He rescues us, and then He gives us the opportunity to extend that rescue to others.

I see a rescue in your future, my friend.

Maybe it’s yours to be HAD.

Maybe it’s in your power to GIVE.

Either way, we had better get busy. There is SAVING to be done (praise the Lord)!

 

OUCH! The Necessity of Discomfort (a PINK Tuesday post)

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Image by sarawestermark via Flickr

Discomfort comes in many forms, in varied shapes and sizes. Whether circumstantial, relational, physical, financial or spiritual, the thing we all know about discomfort is THAT IT COMES.

Our natural tendency is to recoil when pain and discomfort hit close to home. We FIGHT it! We DENY it! We COMPLAIN ABOUT it! We RUN FROM it! We try our hardest to protect our children from it. We put on our Christian ‘happy face to try to camouflage it. And we wonder what we did in order to ’cause’ it.

But we’re looking at it ALL WRONG.

Surely you’ve read in the Bible about the lepers. These poor, suffering people were outcasts of society because of their disease, which served to deform their bodies and make others very, VERY uncomfortable. Leprosy is still a problem today in parts of our world, and leper colonies still exist. But leprosy itself is often misunderstood.

We tend to think of leprosy as deforming sores on the body – an uncontrollable ‘rash’ of sorts that is extremely contagious. Leprosy is actually marked, though, by a lack of pain sensation – nerve endings that don’t work properly and are unable to send pain signals to the brain. The result of this condition is that people with leprosy don’t feel pain. Much of the damage done to the limbs of those with this disease is a result of this inability to feel pain. When they injure themselves, it doesn’t hurt. They can’t feel infection. They don’t know when to stop scratching. There is no pain trigger to let them know that something is wrong.

For the leper, physical discomfort and PAIN would be a GIFT.

Discomfort is just as necessary for you and me.

It forces us to SEEK COMFORT.

When we’re feeling comfortable, we tend to assume that we’ve got everything we need. Everything is taken care of. We’ve got it all ‘together’ – right? Our immediate need for God is diminished by the faulty assumption that we can handle whatever comes next (because we’re smart enough, rich enough and connected enough).

God knows this about us. One role of discomfort is that it forces us to look for comfort and, ultimately, for God. Our pain draws us closer to the one true source of comfort, but in the process it makes a seeker out of us. And if there’s one promise for those in discomfort that God wants to keep, it’s the one that says,

“Seek and ye shall find.”  Matthew 7:7

It reminds us that all is NOT RIGHT in the world.

We like our illusions, don’t we? Especially the ones we create to keep us feeling safe in a world that is constantly threatening to spin us out of control. More often than not, when pain is absent in our lives, we perpetuate the lie that all is well when in reality, all may seem well with US, but all is NOT WELL with the world around us. People are suffering. People are dying. People are lonely. People are being victimized. People are being ignored. These things are NOT ALL RIGHT, and the God who made those who are suffering is not served by our immature, knee-jerk tendency to live life in the Christian bubble, blinders on to what’s happening all around us in the ‘real’ world.

Our discomfort, then, is a reminder that there is work to do in the Kingdom of God.

The world around us would be thrilled to see us ‘settle’ for an illusion of personal comfort, especially if that lie would keep us from operating in the power of God’s Spirit on this earth. God, on the other hand, is issuing an invitation to you and to me to be an active, living representation of His Kingdom in this world. And His invitation is sealed by the discomfort that we feel. Our pain serves to motivate us to see the world around us as it really is – wounded, needy, hungry, imprisoned – and to join God in His ongoing mission to DO SOMETHING about it.

It STRETCHES us.

When we’re comfortable, we don’t see a need for change. In fact, we FIGHT CHANGE if it threatens to ruffle the feathers of the cozy nest we’ve made! Pain and discomfort require that we stretch our knowledge, understanding, boundaries and limits. It pushes us into new territory and necessitates new ways of thinking as we are stretched to fit the new realities that our pain and discomfort have revealed.

Sometimes God uses this stretching to re-shape us, creating a better fit between our personal life and ministry and the world in need around us.

Sometimes God stretches us for the purpose of expanding our capacity for things like love and grace, making us more able to hold all that He is pouring into our lives for the benefit of others.

Either way, God’s stretching is His way of making the footprints of our lives more like those of His Son.

The necessity of discomfort is a fact of life for the one who wishes to walk the narrow road with Christ. Pay attention to your pain, my friends! Each pinch and poke can cause you to seek the Healer, who has promised to be found when you seek Him with all your heart. Wiggle and writhe willingly as you break open the seal to the holy invitation you’ve received. Answer the call to join in the ongoing work to redeem His creation outside your front door. Persevere through the stretching of your life as you are shaped and grown to meet the needs of the walking wounded in your midst.

And in your discomfort, may you find that these faithful words of Christ are true:

“Staying with it – that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved.”   Matthew 24:13 (The Message)