When I’m a Mess

Originally posted on Facebook May 18, 2010. Edited May 18, 2016.

When life hits hard, that sucker punch in the gut;when pain attacks me; when friends turn on me; when the job goes to someone else for reasons no one can put into words; when the losses are overwhelming; when you hear me cry out in pain and you think, man is she a mess, you are tempted to give me platitudes. You are tempted to feed me truths, and at those times, those truths, which I already know, already acknowledge, already believe, have chosen to believe, stop. Those phrases, “God is in control”, “God has something better in mind”, “You just have to trust” and all the other things that you want to tell me hit me like more punches in the gut. They take the wind out of me. Yes, you wound me with truth.

What I hear is that you will not acknowledge the pain and difficulty I am facing, that you somehow think that the pains of life should not be experienced. What I feel is that I am expected to live in some kind of ethereal state of joy that dismisses all problems as meaningless. I feel the pressure to be fake and phony, to pretend that bad things aren’t bad, that painful things don’t hurt, and instead of “counting it” all joy, that is determining it to be joy, or a joy because of a conscious effort of mind and will that acknowledges the result, I am supposed to actually be experiencing joy at the moment of the greatest pains and disappointments.

I have known some people who experienced supernatural joy and happiness at the moments of great pain—the loss of a daughter and of a son. Those times are, I believe, a special gift of God, allowing them to see a window into heaven, or a special measure of grace and comfort poured out on them in their most difficult hours. Do we see this as regular occurrences in life? I don’t believe we do. Nothing in scripture indicates to me that we should expect some supernatural experience at our times of hurt and pain, that we should be miraculously spared the very real human experience of the pain and disappointments of those times. Our Savior was not spared that.

Are there times when God steps in, when the curtain between earth and heaven opens? Scripture shows us times when it does, but these are the unusual occurrences. Our faith is not based on being spared the experience of suffering, of disappointments and of pain, but on the evidence of things not seen. Our hope is not based on the lack of experience of suffering. Our hope is based on knowing who holds us in the suffering, in the pain, in the disappointment. Our hope is in the one who suffered for us and who understands our pain and sorrow. He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. We do not walk in this world with teflon coated hearts, shedding all the emotions of this life without any real impact upon us. We experience grief. We experience pain. We have sorrows. We have fears and disappointments, losses and wounds of all kinds. God meets us in those. He teaches us, He matures us, He completes us, He joins us in our suffering and we partake of His suffering. He works things out in us in those things, in these times of pain. What he rarely does is to MAKE THOSE THINGS NOT HURT.

When you respond to me in my own disappointments and in my own hurts and sorrows with easy words, I feel a loneliness that is hard for me to describe. I feel a gulf between you and me that tells me that you do not understand me, that you expect me to either pretend, or to somehow be in a state that is more spiritual and godly than I am, and in that way I am not measuring up.

I’m sure I have said thoughtless things to others that do not acknowledge their pain. I regret that. I don’t remember all the stupid thoughtless things I have said, so I cannot apologize for them individually, but I will if you would but bring it to my attention. I do not want to make others experience this odd loneliness that enters my spirit when such comments are made.

I have given myself permission to be real. I have given myself permission to be a bit of a mess. I see no paradox in acknowledging God’s goodness, in believing he is working everything together for my good, and acknowledging that the process is painful, is difficult and that sometimes it just makes absolutely no sense to me. I do not understand that light is both a particle and a wave, but I do understand that God is good and things hurt, that I can trust him and not like what he is doing, what he is allowing. These are not mutually exclusive things as I see them.

For the record, this thing of not getting this job is not a big deal to me. I did have about five or ten minutes of shock and of doubting myself, of wondering “what’s wrong with me?” That passed. It isn’t earth shattering. Am I sad? Yes, a bit. Do I feel rejected? Sure. Who wouldn’t? I am also glad that I don’t have a seventy-five minute or more commute morning and night. That isn’t the point of writing this.

When I think of how Jesus walked this earth, he does not seem to have hung out with the pretentious crowd. He spent his time with those who acknowledged their sin, who admitted their flaws, who, when they wanted to see him, they did not hide their enthusiasm (think Zacchaeus or the woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair). The apostle Paul acknowledged discouragement. Trust and faith and discouragement are not mutually exclusive. Trust and faith do seem to preclude pretense.

I do not think I am better than the one who sends me platitudes, but when I’m a mess, I refuse to pretend that I’m not a mess. When I’m a mess, I will still trust, still believe, still hope. If you understand that about me, about the work that God has done in me, you can feel free to simply acknowledge my pain and disappointment. When I need a reminder that God is faithful and true, you can rest assured I will ask for it. When life is tough, I have been known to call up a friend to say, “Tell me that God is faithful and true.” Their acknowledgment shores up my faith, gives me strength and encourages me.

Some friends know me well enough to be able to encourage me with platitudes. Or rather, I know them well enough, know their loving and encouraging hearts enough to know that they totally get that I’m not falling away from the faith, merely experiencing a tough time. It is a fine line to walk with others. It can be hard to know when you can say certain things without pouring salt in a wound and without making people feel more alone than before. For all of us, we might want to be careful. When in doubt, chose the course of acknowledging the feelings of the other prior to expressing the truths that are dancing on your tongue. For me, I have to be careful not to dismiss other’s feelings in a lot of ways. I recently discovered that the thing many of us do when someone mentions that they (pick one) have cancer, once had a sixth finger on one hand, once suffered from leprosy, or had a facial transplant, is to immediately go into a “oh, my cousin Lenny had (name the condition)”, that thing is considered offensive and annoying. I’m gonna do my best not to do that any more.

If I hear of your pain, your struggle, your trial and respond with platitudes, or merely tell you my own story of experience with that, or the experience of someone else I know in a way that causes you to feel less understood, less valued, less heard, please stop me and let me know. I do not want to be insensitive. And when I’m a mess, I will do my best to forgive and to understand if you say the condescending or dismissive thing to me. You probably don’t mean it that way.

The River Called Sacrifice

There is a river called Sacrifice,
and my Savior bids me jump in.
But the current is swift and the waters are dark,
I look back at the place where I’ve been.
I can return to the meadow called Safety and Peace,
but He calls me on, “Jump in.”
“The river’s awash in the blood I shed
as a sacrifice for sin.”

I’ll just dip a toe in, I think to myself,
and see if the water is warm.
I’ll test the flow to see if it’s safe.
But I can’t find a gently steeped shore.
The choices are two, stay put or jump in.
There’s no choice for half-out and half-in.
So I must now decide to stay or to jump
in the river called Sacrifice.

God has sometimes parted the river,
but many are swept off their feet.
It is not a safe, lazy river.
but turbulent, wild and deep.
Stephen was stoned in the river,
Victorious when they thought he was beat.
O, many have died in the river;
Is this somewhere that I want to be?

I look at the current so swift and so dark,
and the end I do not know.
But I leap from the bank at the love on His face
and find peace in the midst of the flow.
I’m surprised when I land to find shallows,
and it gently tugs at my feet,
but as I keep going I know that each step
could carry me down to the deep.

When I jump in there is no going back,
the bank behind me too steep.
But there is a joy in the river,
that mingles with sorrows so deep.
The pain is so strong in the current,
but He whispers, “Be still,” and “Have Peace.”
And my heart is calmed in the midst of the flood
that may soon sweep me off my feet.

I see in the river the martyrs
the saints who have gone on before.
From the prophets of old to disciples bold
they cheer from the far distant shore.
There are faces among them I know not,
but I know now for whom they died.
And they show no regret for the lives that they gave
in the river of Sacrifice.

The river shows me many faces.
It shows scorn and ridicule, too.
It shows gunshots, stabbings, beheadings,
and beds filled with sickness and woe.
It shows me the face of rejection,
the bankruptcies, scandal and strife.
It shows me the wrong accusations;
it’s all in the Sacrifice.

I find Him in the midst of the river,
in a way that I never have known.
I see his love and compassion
and I see wounds–scars for me he bore.
Such mercy, and tenderness found there;
such grace and forgiveness untold.
His love has a depth with no start and no end
in the river called Sacrifice.

Should the current grow strong and o’erwhelm me,
don’t cry and plead from the shore,
don’t pray for my safety, or for my release,
for I’m here in the river by choice.
For my Jesus is in the river
and I share in his sufferings here.
But where he suffered abandoned, alone
I have him with me, e’er so near.

So if you are standing in safety
by the pastures of pleasure and rest,
and you hear his voice calling “Come join me.”
oh, come in, for the water is blessed.
Of pain I can promise you plenty,
of purpose I promise you more.
But the sweetest gift here in the river
is Jesus, the one I adore.

Oh, there is a river that flows here.
It’s name is called Sacrifice.
And it flows with the blood of my Savior;
the one who for me has died.
He bids me join Him in the river
and makes me no promise of life.
But he gives His comfort, and joy and peace,
in the river called Sacrifice.

(revised 6/3/15)

Some Days My Heart Hurts

You know those days? The days when the hurt of others weighs on you and your heart and squeezes your chest tight, and tears swell behind your eyes, and you wonder at the laughter of others. One friend received a cancer diagnoses. One friend is struggling for life in the hospital. Someone you love is dealing with what looks like dementia and paranoia, and the pain in your own body is threatening to overwhelm you. When your concern for others is more than you can bear. A family member has a terrible looking wound that doesn’t seem to be healing, while recovering from major surgery oh so slowly, and the bills are coming in for an injury…and, and, and…

And Christians are beheaded for their faith, others taken captive, still others have not been heard from as the months and years tick on, and so many are refugees running from violence and war, and your heart threatens to leap from your chest to escape the burdens of these hurts, these wounds.

It’s one of those days. It’s a day when I recognize my complete inadequacy to handle anything, when it is all I can do to crawl from my bed and whisper “Lord, have mercy!” And the words of that prayer are both insufficient and utterly sufficient. For where am I to go where His mercy is not sufficient? Do I need to explain what I want to happen? Do I need to tell him that I am asking for strength for the cancer patient, for the hospitalized friend and the family who loves him so, for the paranoid, the demented, for the recovery, for the bills, for the pain? I am going to the God who Knows All, Sees All, Hears All, and whose love is unending. I don’t have to educate Him as to what to do, as I used to think when I was younger.

I have not the strength for the day. Lord, have mercy. I have not the wisdom to know how to handle some family issues. Lord, have mercy. Someone has wounded me. Lord, have mercy. There are new martyrs. Lord, have mercy. There are those captured. Lord, have mercy. There are bills beyond my ability to pay. Lord, have mercy. There is pain beyond my endurance. Lord, have mercy. There is illness. Lord, have mercy.

Oh, Lord, have mercy. Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, All-loving God, have mercy.

Nevertheless…

In everything give thanks.

 

In this, Lord?  In this give thanks?

 

I don’t know how to give thanks for this pain.

 

Bitter tears pour down my cheeks into the bathwater. 

 

Please take this away.

 

In that moment I forget that He, too, knows what it is to have pain,

 

He, too, knows what it is to ask to have it removed—

 

But He said, “Nevertheless.”

 

Nevertheless.

 

“Not my will, but Thine.”

 

Today, as my body longs for a wheelchair, or my bed,

 

but finds me here at work instead,

 

Not my will…

 

but Thine.

Neverthless

(First published on: mountainhomecompanion.com/blogspot.com Dec. 4, 2009)

So many hurting people and a faith tradition that I don’t believe answers sufficiently the trials and troubles we face in this life. How is it that our expectations became so distant from the truth of scripture? I have had people tell me that God will step in, that he will heal, that he will change the circumstance, that he will lift us out of trouble. I have puzzled over that for years.

The Bible that I read says that Stephen was stoned, that sometimes a prophet was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, one was sawn in pieces. Most of the apostles were martyred, many of the first century Christians as well–Nero was known for using Christians as torches. Every one that I can think of who was mightily used of God led lives of suffering. Not everyone mentioned in Scripture, but the mighty ones.

How does this mesh with our belief that God is in the business of making our lives okay? Even when our theology disagrees with this belief, our internals are set (at least here in America) for rescue, earthly reward, etc. We buy into the beliefs that all we have to do is work hard, live cleanly, go to church, watch our tongues and try to clean up the behavior of society and our lives will go well. Our careers will flourish, our bank accounts increase and our later years will be easy.

We struggle when people have problems. We struggle when their children go astray, and we find all the reasons why, usually things that blame the parents and make us feel better because, since we are doing everything right, our children will not fall into the same things. We struggle when someone suffers from cancer, or when a friend becomes a young widow and we comfort with the lamest offerings we have–God means it for the best, and God has better things for you, or just look at what God will teach you! We don’t suffer with them, we recoil from their trouble. It messes with our safety. If we acknowledge that these things aren’t the result of their individual failings, or that they aren’t some wonderful path they are on, then we acknowledge that we may have to suffer as well.

We turn from the family who is underemployed when they have to turn to social services for help. Well, they shouldn’t have to go to social services for help. They should be taken care of by the church! The early church did just that. “And there were no needy persons among them.” Read Acts 4.

The thing is, we were promised suffering. We were promised the difficult path. The Joel Osteen’s of the world want you to believe that there is something wrong in that. They deny what scripture teaches and their words make me want to puke! Seriously. They are a vile distortion of scripture.

We are promised suffering. We are promised trials. Not, ohmygosh, I couldn’t find a decent parking space at the mall today kind of trials, but real soul-wrenching, faith-stretching difficulties.

Some of us will have God step in and rearrange the circumstances. He provides some with miraculous healings, some with that tremendous job at just the right time. He provides those Lifetime Movie moments for some. But sometimes (and for me it seems more often than not) he does not intervene. God allows the bad thing. He allows the failures, the loss, the discouragement, the cruelty of others. He allows the loss of possession, the failure of the family or the church, the financial devastation, the job loss, the humiliation of government or charitable assistance. He allows the loss of a precious daughter, that special friend, the husband and provider. He allows a man to walk out on his wife for another woman or for a man. He allows a mother to walk out on her children. He allows parents to abuse their children and children to torment their parents. So very often he does not step in. What then?

Seriously, what then?

If you are a reasonably serious student of scripture I think these things should not surprise us. We should not be surprised by trials of various description. We were promised them. We were promised that the testing of our faith would produce endurance. We were promised the endurance would complete the work. We are promised that we will suffer many things for Christ’s sake.

That’s not what we want. Heck, it’s not what I want. So often I look at others and see God rescue them when he is not rescuing me and I wonder, “why?” It’s not a mildly curious question, it is a gut-wrenching, depth-of-my-soul question.

I used to beat myself up for those questions, and for asking God to deliver me out of my trials when it appeared he wanted me to walk through them. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane asked to be rescued from his upcoming suffering. He asked over and over in a torment that we are told made him sweat as it were drops of blood. That’s some serious torment. That’s some serious praying. We are told that after hours of this praying–alone, because his friends couldn’t be bothered to stay awake while he is suffering so–he says, ‘nevertheless, not my will but yours.’

And that’s the key. I do not understand suffering. I can’t explain it. I still prefer the miraculous saves. I know God could have stepped in and healed 18-year-old Alyssa even at the moment of her death. He did not. Why? I don’t know. But I know my faith is tested through it.

My faith is not tested when God steps in and does the miraculous Lifetime Movie Moment save. It’s joyous and I celebrate his goodness with everyone else, but God is good when he doesn’t step in, just as he is when he does. God’s love is no less when he elects to allow our suffering than when he elects to lift us out of it.

I need to remember this. My faith is useless unless it can deal with the bad things. It is useless to me and useless to others.

When Uncle Robb was dying of pancreatic cancer, he had been suffering for a long time, but really doing much better than I expected. I visited him one day in one of those moments where I just knew I was supposed to go right then. Things were falling apart. It was a cold snap and the window guys were there replacing the old, drafty windows. He seemed rattled. We were standing in his kitchen. The power snapped off in half of his house (I still don’t understand this one) and it was the half with the furnace. At that moment, he crumpled. I don’t know how I saw it, because his outward posture didn’t change, but I saw it anyway. He said, “I’ve lost hope.” I knew what he meant, and for a change I had the right words.

I reached out and wrapped my arms around him, after all, I knew he was dying from the moment I heard his diagnosis. Don’t ask me how, but I felt that this time God wasn’t stepping in. And there were signs along the way that told me to prepare for his death. Anyway, with my arms around him, I smiled and said, “You haven’t lost hope. You’ve only lost hope for healing in this world. You still have every hope for healing in the next.” Robb died fairly peacefully. He was in hospice around two weeks, and in that time was cheerful and sweet and unfailingly appreciative of everything people did to care for him. He was precious.

I miss him and may never stop missing him. I cannot explain his suffering away. I will not try to. I accept that this was an awful thing. Horrible. Terrible. Many things in life are. I have two friends my age and younger who are suffering from cancer. My neighbor back home is just finishing up her final round of chemo from this bout of cancer (it’s her second.) Alyssa went home to be with the Lord a short time ago, and God has allowed us to lose our house. I cannot explain these things. I cannot explain away or put a happy face on the suffering that my friends are going through.

What I cling to and come back to is that God says he loves us. He says he is good. If I believe anything it is that he is who he says he is and that my understanding of that does not change it. If I need evidence, the cross should be all the evidence I need, but I am weak and sometimes (okay, usually) require more. God being God, there is no shortage of evidence of his might, his power, his glory and his love.

When I get messed up is when I expect God to step in and stop people from doing terrible things to each other. I get messed up when I assume that we are supposed to live a financially successful, disease-free and trouble-free life, or that because God can do something means that he is required to do it–for me.

Let me never try to encourage someone by telling them that God will rescue them. From experience I know that God can and sometimes does rescue us. From experience I also know that sometimes he does not. May I never tell someone that they just need to believe, as if their faith is the issue, not God’s will. When I give false promises, when I tell people that, I am stealing the faith and hope that is real. I deny the truth of scripture.

I hear such nonsense and I want to spit. Ptuey! I was once told that our car breaking down was not “the abundant life that God promised” and that if I had faith it would not happen. “Don’t you believe God loves you?” the prayer line lady asked. I thought of Stephen at that moment. I mean gimme a break. Was Stephen stoned because of a lack of faith? Was it because God did not love him enough? Was Jesus crucified because he wasn’t grasping hold of the abundant life? Or is that faith sad and weak and useless for the reality of life?

Your life and my life will have trials. God may miraculously carry you out of yours. Excellent! God may not. Praise him anyway. He is worthy of praise, not just because of what he does for us day by day, but because of who he is! God may part the Red Sea, or dry the river Jordan, or he may hold us in the midst of the flood. He may rescue us or walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He may heal or he may not. Nevertheless, not my will, but his. It was good enough for Jesus.