suffering; part 2

suffering; part 2

I don’t believe we can endure suffering without resting our hope and faith in eternity with God.

At one time or another, all of us have questioned how a good God who is supposed to love us would allow suffering.

Thing is, we won’t get a satisfying answer. That’s because as advanced as we have become in areas such as technology, science, and medicine, we don’t understand everything.

Yet, we still seem to want and even demand to understand this. Even people who don’t believe in God are really recognizing his existence through rejecting him.

That’s because the Creator of the universe has written eternity on our hearts. In other words, whether you accept it or not, you can’t change it. It’s there.

When we accept suffering as a part of life, we learn to co-exist with it. We don’t accept it to the point of self deprivation or thinking embracing pain makes us more holier or acceptable to God.

Through faith, we trust God with it all, and find comfort in all his promises of being near us when we are in pain.

A child runs to a mother or father or any trusted caretaker for help and comfort. A picture of our Heavenly Father being there for us, too.

We’ve had our own personal experiences of suffering which can make us bitter and miserable if we cannot see beyond our life on earth. And often, when we get angry with God, we are only responding humanly to injustice. We don’t like to see people suffering.

God understand this. He created us to respond with compassion. We know how to help in many ways whether helping a neighbor who is suffering (from illness to the inability to shovel snow) or volunteering/contributing monetarily to a charity.

Yet, we are limited. In our own lives and the lives of others.

Consider this scripture found in the Bible:

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?

Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

Thankfully, most of us are not always thinking about this (I respectfully realize some suffer with fear). This is God’s design, too. We live life each day, our routines, and doing the next thing.

Even people who do not live as freely in some countries will tell you they have happiness. It may not look like yours or mine.

Throughout the centuries, people have looked ahead. I think suffering makes us do this. Like the adage says, “things will look better in the morning”, we are designed to hope in tomorrow. This is from God, too: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I think one of the most inspiring times of suffering in American history is listening to the richness of the spiritual songs sung by plantation slaves of the Old South. Their suffering was immeasurable. Yet, I have read about an immeasurable strength in the midst of their pain.

Then, other times in American history of mothers and babies dying during childbirth, loved ones dying with illnesses and diseases we now have medicine for, young men as young as 16 going off to war and never experiencing a future.

Then, the Holocaust. I recently finished a book based on a true story, The Girl from the Channel Islands, about a Jewish girl trapped on the island of Jersey occupied by the Germans during WWII.

Consider this passage:

No fat reserves, she’d recenlty discovered, meant that sitting for long periods, even with a cushion, was a painful experience. She had spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly from room to empty room, searching for the balance between warming up and burning calories, but last night even climbing the stairs to the attic, had left her panting and dizzy, Her weakness frightened her …

… for seven days, they had between them two ounces of margarine, seven ounces of flour, three ounces of sugar, four ounces of meat … for a few moments they rejoiced as they devoured an acceptable lunch – perhaps a slice of tongue to go with a crust of tasteless Occupation bread.

Lastly, Hebrews 11, found in the Bible, records the heroes of faith. It begins with this:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

People of faith who had amazing victories:

who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.

Yet, at the end of the chapter:

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

Not so victorious, were they? At least not our definition of victorious.

But God commends all of these people:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

I have determined, only this satisifes the questions we have about suffering. We might call our perseverance the human spirit, but even that comes from God.

We don’t have all of the story now. We don’t have a complete explanation now.

But through faith, through trust, we believe.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,

neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

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suffering.

suffering.

There are many views within churches about suffering.

Over the years, I have found it is human nature to gravitate to a particular view found in the scripture and stay there.

Naturally, those who have faced difficult situations and needed a miracle – whether physical healing, a financial breakthrough, or a relationship restored – tend to see what prayer and faith have done for them. This is their message and they, with good intentions, tell others through encouraging, teaching, or preaching.

My church background wasn’t word-of-faith (Kenneth Copeland, et al) but we did see the healing and restoration Jesus displayed and therefore this was presented with confidence.

In my personal suffering of trying to make ends meet financially, loss of a business, loss of relationships, and more, I often sat wondering at those in my church who stood and testified of what God did for them. I suffered more when I wondered why I was left out of these wonderful answers to prayer. But it didn’t stop with me. I wondered about many others, too.

When we stand up in church and say God healed me, or God spared my loved one from death, the next question is: what about me? Doesn’t God care?

These aren’t only church goers who think this. More importantly, these are people we want to reach with the gospel. People who don’t go to church.

Is our message to them that through faith, every sickness will be healed? Every one we love will be protected? Spared from death? We know this isn’t true so why aren’t we addressing this honestly?

A biblical principal that worked for us can make us inadequate in helping people who are suffering. We think it’s a simple solution to stand on the word of God and have that ever important quality of faith.

Yes, the Bible says much about the importance of faith. But it also says much about suffering.

Problem is, those who have had good outcomes with their faith preach it, as if it is all that is needed. It is an injustice to people to not address the other side of things. Whether it is a small church or a big name preacher on television, people are being misled.

I get it. The Jesus movement of the 70’s ushered in a fresh, vibrant faith in a personal God who is not sitting on a throne somewhere watching the world go by. The Bible came alive, no longer rote prayers or passages that didn’t touch our hearts and minds. Worship took a new expression and one could feel the presence of God. Church wasn’t just for Sundays or Easter. Faith became a life style; a real connection with God.

Denominational churches were felt to be lacking and non-denominational churches sprung up in living rooms across the country. Of course, the denominational churches, if they preached Jesus Christ and him crucified, were our brothers and sisters, too, and not to be dismissed. Yet, I wonder, if in our desire for “God doing a new thing” which is always exciting, some threw the baby out with the bath water; forgot the richness of those hymns and the value of liturgy and ceremony.

Fortunately, there are churches that have learned to combine both. That is because the Church is an ongoing masterpiece referred to as the Bride of Christ. Over the centuries, with each church age, we walk in more light as our eyes are opened to wonderous truths from the scripture.

Yet, there are certainly some, and perhaps there will always be, remnants of pushing faith and exluding suffering, as if it is something God never allows. Hearing that Jesus took our infirmities on the cross and by his stripes we are healed is one scripture often quoted in prayer.

This is a truth. Thing is, I think far too many are left without an explanation when they or their loved one was not healed. There is silence. Then they continue on with their sword of the spirit and the shield of faith because God wants us to be victorious.

Have we thought about how God wants us to be victorious in our pain and suffering? When we didn’t have a good outcome?

The fact that we trust him, find comfort in him, and are able to endure is victorious.

If we are not telling both, we are setting people up for disappointment, disallusionment, and more suffering.

Up next: suffering part 2.

be of good cheer.

be of good cheer.

The hay is swaying in the breeze through the old porch windows centered between peeling paint.

The ceiling fan hums, an occasional bird sings, the dog sighs.

Sweet paprika and thyme begins to permeate from the oven while the carrots, turnip, onion, and parsnips are waiting.

Tears well up in my eyes now and then.

There’s this. And then there’s that.

All the thoughts of what is not just, what is not right, and just plain why – tumble around in my head.

They’ve been there for quite some time.

I guess today, it was time for them to come forward.

An over used scripture (if there is such a thing) will not do.

A chin up! or this too shall pass, will not suffice.

Only God will do.

But wait. Isn’t scripture God? Isn’t faith and patience and perseverance God?

Maybe we’ve confused one for the other.

When you’ve walked through the darkest place on earth, and do not come out with shouts of praise and hallelujahs, people are strangely silent.

But they don’t know what to say she said.

And the words poured caustically into my bleeding heart.

I thought God spoke through his people. I thought we would do greater things than Jesus.

No one knows what to say?

Instead, they move along at an intentional pace.

To the early Christian, trusting God meant more than a teary-eyed testimony about the time I came to trust the Lord. It meant believing that even if obedience to God entailed great suffering, God was trustworthy to bring a person through it.

No time to sit and be silent and know.

No time to ask, what did you see in that valley? Was God there? What did he say?

But no one asked.

God tells you secrets. And I will tell you what to share and not to share.

But no one listened.

If you can’t speak to your own, how will you speak to the world?

wild iris

In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

we live in the shadows.

we live in the shadows.

Everything difficult indicates something more than our theory of life yet embraces.

-George MadDonald

For a very long time, I’ve tried to understand suffering.

I know I am not alone. God is questioned all the time.

The problem is, we cannot reconcile “God is good” or “God loves us” with the pain and suffering of humanity. So we either reject God entirely or we maintain a belief in him but steer clear of getting too close.

In trying to reconcile a good God and human suffering, I finally came to this conclusion: I believe God is who he says he is and even though there are some things I do not understand, there is a lot I do understand. Since I believe in God, then it will suffice that he knows more than I do.

That doesn’t mean we don’t feel a whole gamut of emotions when we are suffering.

It means we can stop the endless questioning, leaving us unsettled.

If I know one thing about God, it is that he doesn’t want us to feel unsettled. He is with us when we are suffering, giving us comfort and peace in ways we may not be readily aware of.

How often have you really thought about God, the creator of the universe and all things within, having a vantage point far surpassing our way of thinking?

It’s kind of like thinking about all of us on earth, being suspended in darkness. I don’t think we have words in our human language to describe the magnificent and staggering view God has over all creation, big and small.

We don’t have the language for understanding the why of suffering, either. We just know how it feels.

God sees the beginning and he sees the end.

We do not.

We know that for every action there is a positive and equal reaction.

One day, there will be a redemption of all things. This means a glorious and magnificent judgement on all the pain and suffering throughout mankind. God will make things new and right.

But for now, we live in the shadow of what we do not clearly see; what we do not understand.

Will you be okay with that?

shad

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let the rest go.

let the rest go.

When facing tragedies as a Christian, I have discovered it is really important to embrace the core beliefs of the scripture and let “the rest” go.

The core beliefs are the scriptures that have been understood for centuries. They have been the buoyancy which has carried the nearly drowning soul since the beginning of time. And with some simple research, we can find the men and women who have rested in God’s provision to sustain them through the suffering of loss, failure, and heartache.

“The rest” can mean something different to a lot of people because there are many views within Christianity – interpretations of scripture, emphasis on certain topics, etc.

Despite the differences, Jesus Christ and him crucified is not in dispute and that is a good thing. And since losing Christopher, I have found myself time and time again, returning to the Apostle Paul’s words:

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

That’s because “the rest” was and has been meaningless, noisy, and distracting to my shocked and confused mind.

If you don’t really know what I mean, you are likely to know if you find yourself standing at the threshold of some real suffering. Jesus is the only one who can calm the storm. There was nothing in me to “speak to the wind and the waves”.

Yes, me, of little faith.

Tragedies have a way of reducing us to running on low power and we only need some basics to keep functioning.

One way of thinking in Christian circles is the emphasis on faith and/or positive thinking/speaking.  Both fit nicely in the American culture of don’t give up, you’ve got this, keep on keeping on – all positive, good advice.

Combine this with the scripture and you might begin to think you’re invincible from tragedies. Maybe this is why so many of us go on so long with questions, causing us further pain.

Maybe if you’re reading this, the mountain moved for you.

But what about the mountain that did not move for someone else?

I remember praying Psalm 91 for years, paying particular attention to the part that says, … no evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your dwelling.

I really believed my diligent, committed, watchman-on-the-wall type prayers put protection around us and our property. After all, the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous accomplishes much, right?

In time, I realized (since I know God is the one who shows us) the protection around us was how God protected us through the tragedy of losing a son and a brother.

This isn’t a cop-out. I am fully aware of how we can justify anything to make us feel better. But if you are tempted to think you didn’t have enough faith, you didn’t pray enough, you must have sinned, well, those are Job’s comforters’ words (and we all know how that went).

God showed me a lot during those days and he still does. Because He is all I had.

He is all you have, too.

We cannot keep analyzing what we have believed all our lives, even if it’s through what we learned through a church sermon, class, or conference.

We have to dig deeper when we’re alone in our grief. Because well meaning people think they understand or know the answer.  They don’t.

Only God does.

And the digging deeper is not weeks or months of researching. It’s actually pretty simple:

No matter how you feel, settle it now that all things are in God’s hands and you will trust Him no matter what. Then watch what happens.

If you resist, you block his help. Not because He doesn’t want to help because He is with us always. But He is watching and waiting.

Ever try and help a toddler who doesn’t want your help? Kinda like that.

All throughout history and even now, humankind suffers. It’s a fact of life that all Christians have to come to terms with or you will be bitter the rest of your life. Bitter, because you will always be searching for the answer to fit your paradigm; the way you think or the way you’ve been taught.

But the Bible tells us God’s ways are not our ways and he does not think the way we do.

Sometimes, I think our suffering does not find the relief God offers because we are trying to get out of it. That’s normal. Who likes pain? No one.

Particularly in America where we have so much when you think about it. We’ve grown accustomed to getting what we want or getting our way. We expect it. We even demand it.

This doesn’t mean we should embrace suffering as if it makes us more worthy or holy. There is more to the story of our lives and there is a good ending to be played out in eternity. God gives us this hope. Every Christian knows this.

It is not hope the way we think about it – “I hope this or that happens”.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines hope like this:

:  to cherish a desire with anticipation :  to want something to happen or be true hopefor a promotion; hoping for the best; hope so.

Here is their archaic definition:

: TRUST

Interesting how the passage of time changes meaning. Has the scripture’s meaning changed, too? Causing too many to question for too long?

We hope because we trust. We trust God is who he says he is and he will do what he says he will do.

Anything less is temporary and disappoints.

Isn’t it time to set aside the questions that go around and around in your thoughts? This is not what God wants for you. He wants you to know there is rest for your tired soul.

finger-womans-gingham

~~~

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preserve my life.

preserve my life.

Christians are familiar with this scripture:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

I’m not sure if they are with the next part:

I have suffered much; preserve my life, LORD, according to your word. (Psalm 119: 107)

Verse 105 is easy. It is the declaration of every Christian who believes in the scripture to be the inerrant word of God. It is used as the point of reference for the application of morality. It is used when a Christian is navigating through difficult situations.

But then there is the next part: I have suffered much; preserve my life, Lord.

There used to be (and still is in some church cultures) an emphasis on faith, to the point of almost denying there is such a thing as suffering for the Christian. It kept one buoyant…above the fray…optimistic, positive, and fighting with the sword of the spirit (the scripture).

This is not a bad thing. It’s only bad when you are caught off guard.

Sometimes, we think suffering happens to other people.

There were times when Christians would speak of God’s goodness of an answered prayer while I was sitting there, suffering, because my prayer was not answered.

Then I learned to speak of God’s goodness when I was suffering. When I did, I found myself feeling stronger, finding peace, and even joy. When we accept, we are trusting God.

Joy and sorrow were together at the cross.

How is it we acknowledge there is suffering in the world, but then are surprised when it comes to us?

We are offended with God. We are angry. We are hurt. We are rejected because God didn’t hear our prayer. He didn’t see how hard we worked. How faithful we were. How much we did what God asked because we loved him with all our heart, soul, and strength.

Two things:

  • As smart as we are, as capable as we are, as productive and innovative as humanity is, we do not understand everything. Think about the things science and medicine cannot explain. So how can we possibly think there is an explanation for our personal pain and suffering?
  • Life is eternal. There will be a day when we will understand. All things are hidden with God. There is comfort when you believe that. And it’s not hard to believe it. Because when you have truly hit rock bottom and there is no place to look but up, God is there.

God preserves us during times of suffering. He does it even when we do not know it.

But when you know it, it is all the more wonderful.

sidewalk flower

 

the truth shall set you free.

the truth shall set you free.

Since losing Christopher, there have been small markers along the way which have helped me to live with such deep sorrow and loss.

If you’re a mother, you know what I mean. A piece of my heart is missing. I know it. I feel it.

I know God sees it, too.

Eleven years later, he still whispers truths to me that open my eyes to greater understanding.

The truth shall set you free.

It doesn’t put the missing piece back in my heart, but it helps my mind.

There are things that do not occur to us. We just don’t know everything.

Here is an excerpt from a book I am reading, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. It was a truth God showed me some years ago and reading it only solidified it in my mind.

(I did not begin reading all kinds of books on grieving and suffering after Chris’ death. I took the position of letting God “lead” me. Reading would have been a kind of mission for me and it would have only complicated my already overwhelmed mind.)

” … … the meaning of life in our Western society is individual freedom. There is no higher good than the right and freedom to decide for yourself what you think is good. But if the meaning of life is individual freedom and happiness, then suffering is of no possible “use”. In this worldview, the only thing to do with suffering is to avoid it at all costs, or, if it unavoidable, manage and minimize the emotions of pain and discomfort as much as possible.” 

Isn’t it true? We try to manage or minimize the emotions of pain and discomfort as much as possible. Mostly because of other people who expect us to be who we were.

Heck, even we want to be who we were until we figure out we can’t do it.

And if we aren’t doing it to ourselves, others are doing it for us. Even the distance so many feel from friends and family is a form of managing or minimizing the discomfort.

Why?

In the Western world especially, but not exclusively, (because of the great strides of progress and readily available solutions throughout all the world), we fail miserably at understanding grief.

Because it takes time.

There are no quick fixes.

And that good ol’ American spirit just doesn’t jive with suffering.

God wired us to handle suffering.

And he promised to walk through it with us.

Let truth set you free.

 

sad

 

~~~

 

derailed.

derailed.

derail: 1. To run or cause to run off the rails. 2. To come or bring to a sudden halt

My Christian faith taught me to believe.

It taught me God heard my prayers.

It taught me God would give me the desires of my heart.

It taught me influence and dominion in every area of my life.

It taught me God is good, he wants to bless me, has plans for me, to give me a future and a hope. We can back track and say it didn’t mean an absence of trials, but you and I both know it meant insulation from trouble and rising above it.

It didn’t teach me I would suffer. No, Jesus did that on the cross.

I learned the hard way.

I know there are faiths which embrace suffering. That somehow it made you more acceptable to God when you suffered.

My faith did not teach me that but it resisted suffering for that very reason.

You are more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ!

You can be a conqueror while you are suffering.

If we’re close to God in our hearts (not our activities), we’ll be okay. Because God and you worked together, building faith and trust in him.

Even when it hurts.

Have you been derailed? I almost was. But I had spent years being committed to my faith and when suffering came, I was already anchored.

I hung on for dear life. I remembered what the disciples had said to Jesus when he asked, “Will you leave me, too?”

 Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Yes, my faith taught me there is no where else to go. I can’t explain it. I can’t understand it.

I only know when I sincerely turned to God long ago, it allowed him access to me. He mysteriously deposited inside of me something that could never be taken from me. When suffering came, it sustained me, even though my soul was being battered.

Let the questions come. Let the anger find its place. Feel the pain.

But eventually, it will be time to settle it once and for all. And only God can help you settle it.

Otherwise, you will be derailed. The epitome of suffering. Complete and utter devastation. Crash and burn. Life coming to a complete halt.

Don’t derail.

It’s worse than the suffering.

train

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mothers.

mothers.

letter MNo one knows the burden of a mother’s heart … except another mother.

You smile when you’re heart is heavy. Why? Because you don’t want your child – whether young or old – to know you’re hurting. We just can’t seem to venture beyond protection mode. It’s just the way it is.

I can’t comprehend (really, I can’t) how a mother can live her life without God being her strength. Because just as the joys run deep, so do the sorrows. And with some things, no one can hold her up but God.

Maybe your child has a chronic or terminal illness. Maybe your teenager is involved with drugs and/or drinking. Maybe your adult child is having marital problems or going through a painful divorce. Maybe your child died.

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann / Foter / CC BY
Photo credit: Lars Plougmann / Foter / CC BY

There is suffering in the world.  Yet, many carry sorrow with strength and dignity.

Are you a mother who is hurting? Look in God’s direction. He has helped me. He will not turn away from you.

He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble.

-The Bible

suffering.

suffering.

” When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for      happiness but feel formed through suffering.”

Please take the time to read this New York Times article, What Suffering Does by David Brooks.

It will be well worth your time.

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