New Post: Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

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I sit in the early morning dark. It is 4 am and I am awake. I like this time of quiet and solitude. My mind is clear. But also my fear clouds out  my hope.  Fear woke me.

Sometimes when I wake this early I believe God woke me. Presumptuous to believe that God has something for me in this moment. Enough to wake me. Why?

There are many things to fear in this life. As a believer, my hope is in a powerful God who is in control of the universe. As a fearful being I doubt God’s control over my universe.

This has been a season of doubt. So many hardships, confusion over and questioning; the constant why’s of suffering and my lack of control.

Here is the crux. For much of my life I have lived, even as a believer, as if I am in control of my future.

When work falls out underneath you, when money is short, when children suffer, when the depression that plagues me is a battering ram on the soul then, for me, only then do I find in the Scriptures the truth that I am not in control.

Why do some people have to lose so much, and feel inordinate pain, to gain this understanding? That is my story.

The God of Job finally draws out the conclusion. For Job and his nefarious but loyal friends, it isn’t circumstantial at all.  I am God.  You are not.  But the book of Job is inconclusive for me.  He lost everything but his life.  That is a kind of pain you wonder how knowledge of God’s sovereignty helps.  Where’s the comfort?

This is stirring and unresolved inside me.  But I know the questions are authentic ones, banal. Today, I understand this truth. God does not mind me pounding on his chest, screaming, throbbing in pain, and filled with discomfort.  He does not mind the doubt and heartache.  God is okay with my rage. That’s the lesson of the Book of Job, for me, so far.

Melody

I am reading Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Tim Keller and Where Is God When It Hurts?Philip Yancey.

New: When God Seems Silent

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 1.

 I have not lost hope though I have lost the ability to hear God. Whether God is silent, which I doubt, or whether the pain throbs too loudly in my heart’s chamber to hear, I don’t know.

What my family is experiencing is not suffering. Life is hard and this distinction is important to me. There is true suffering going on in the world.  This is not that.

 2.

There are people who I like to call Shiny Happy Christians. I don’t understand them in any way, except to say they must not have not experienced real pain. Not yet. I’m uncomfortable around them, but I don’t blame them. Pain and suffering in this life is random I believe.

The randomness of pain is poignant when you are the one experiencing its sting.

3.

Life is misery, life is joy.

For much of my life I thought: “If I was better child. If I were pure of heart” then my father would be less angry and controlling. And my mother would come alive again. And perhaps I would feel less of the constant melancholy that clouded my days. But my actions, my heart, my prayers, my understanding of the Bible seemed to change nothing in my mother or father and the melancholy hovered, always.

My faith became ritual. I began to doubt God. I never thought, in my teen years, WHY was our family so sad, and angry, and afraid, and dangerous? Rather, I supposed that I must deserve this pain somehow.

Oddly, this ache drew me to God, the “Man of Sorrows,” hoping surely God would take my hand and lead me through the darkest valleys of my melancholy heart.

In college my depression worsened to the point of hardly holding on to learning. My father’s disappointment in me increased. The panic and dread I experienced when I was with him made me constantly sick to my stomach.

He took control of my life, as he had each step of it, including attending college. It was not that I didn’t want to learn but the cloud that had hung over me for most of my life was bleak and heavy.  It made college nearly impossible.

My father had always controlled my outcomes. I wasn’t in control and by the looks of it neither was God. All those year, my Dad didn’t change from the raging and controlling man he was at home. No matter how often I prayed.

 4.

From Tim Keller, I see with total clarity that the Bible, which I have always loved and studied, has suffering as a main theme. I hadn’t seen this though in certain books I have found solace. The Psalms has offered prayers when I had no words.  Ecclesiastes is empathetic.  Job holds truth.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalms. 34:18

 The great truth which I am clinging to today is that even in Job, his sufferings were not punitive.  As Keller wrote the purpose of Job’s suffering is an “enlarged life with God.”

Though God is silent these days, I find it is more important than ever to read the people of God who lead us into greater understanding in our faith, Keller being one.  Beyond that, I sit in silence no matter how uncomfortable.

I have found fifteen minutes breathing in and out, and in and out, again.  This supports a quieting of my mind.  Perhaps you like me have thoughts  that clutter up your head and worries push their way in. Allowing yourself just fifteen minutes of quiet is a stunning exercise.

In the in breath ask God to SPEAK.  In the out breath, release your doubts and fears. Let yourself be there.

To me this is prayer.   This is clinging.  This is dependence.  This is hope.

Even when God seems silent.

P.S.

My Psychiatrist and I have cut my antidepressant dose in half. It has taken about a two weeks and I already feel emotions. Although they are not all positive emotions, at least they are feelings. And I can focus enough to read!  I am reading Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. I’ll be writing my way through the personal insights I gain from this book in the next few weeks.

Dancing with the Holy: On Being Broken, Spiritually Mended and Called

Dancing with the Holy

It was holy—it was so intimate, so exquisite and precious, that to put it down in words here for you will diminish it immediately. That is the nature of being Spiritually Mended.

There I was, clinging. I came with a cavernous pain, my need was huge.

I came saying to myself I’m broken into pieces. I’m useless. 

But isn’t that the way we must always come to Him, open?

I’ve been hurting. Life’s been bitter and difficult for a long, long time.  Most recently I thought, I won’t survive this.  But here’s the beauty of what I learned: We are all Broken and the Holy One offers healing.

This weekend was Pulse, a conference for Artists in the Church.  I barely showed up, but there I was breathless and desperate. I sat. I worshiped. I walked amongst other artists and creatives. I sensed the Spirit of God who is always with us, mystically and profoundly, but at times we allow the chaos and rush and performance and pain of life to intervene.  I did.  I had.

I thought this weekend might be intellectually stimulating. In my pride and arrogance, and no small amount of insecurity, I slipped into critique mode where others always come up lacking. Reflexively I began to evaluate and not admit that I was there to receive.

God saw my haughty heart.
God said bring me your broken heart.

And there it was, in tension.

I think I’m too good for this.
I think I’m not good enough.

Both, And. 

Strangely that is the dichotomy of being Spiritual Creatives.

We have to accept our humanity but so many days it is our very humanity that gets in the way of growing spiritually and being able to celebrate – being able to absorb, to revel, to dance and sing with others who are different from us, perhaps even better than us, at least more accomplished and successful and happy.

It is there, in our doubt and weakness, that we must face our brokenness, humbly. And receive from and celebrate others.  And most importantly accept that God has gifted us all in some unique, distinctive way.

I sat, knowing all this and facing that I’ve allowed my broken heart to keep me from Believing, from Creating, from Joy, from Hope. To receive A Holy Call takes brave heart.  We know our brokenness, we’re all too aware of our ugly hearts

God was saying to me—I want to use the way I’ve made you, I want your Story.  It has a purpose.

Say What?

I was imprisoned; the bars surrounding me were of my making.  I had built a cage and painted a bold sign on it: DISQUALIFIED. I believed it too.  I came convinced that my brokenness disqualified me from making anything good, from being useful, from my life holding a Holy Purpose.

Life’s psychotic touch had sucked the breath out of me; it felt as if I might drop dead in a moment from the strain of life’s challenges. I was living a lamentation, I was walking dead with Job, and I was crying and desperate on my knees confessing with David.

I came, fraught and anxious, suspicious, daring God to speak.

But I came.  And that’s really all he asked.  Come to me.  I came, doubting.  Worried that if I surrendered there, admitted my weakness, I was already disqualified to create and I’d get a double crushing from God.  How twisted, fearful, and uncertain I was.

And He called me: Beloved. Chosen. Blessed.  

Like Mary when she learned that she was to be mother of Jesus, as she was being told by the angel that this was her destiny — doubt, disbelief, and dismay all ran through her. And yet she did not question it or seek clarification.  She boldly said, “Yes. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said will be accomplished.”  She believed.

I’m full of doubt, disbelief and dismay. I keep thinking I’m not good enough, I’m too broken. I am certain I of all people am shattered into so many pieces that not even God can glue them, paint them, write them, duct tape them back into something useful,and in that,

I am wrong.

Jesus called to me: Beloved Sister, I love you.

I thought all my pain had made me self-centered in a gross distasteful way, “curved inward on myself” as Tim Keller calls it, “creating a dissatisfaction, irritability, an envy and brooding, a resentment toward others” whose lives aren’t as painful and difficult as mine.

I resented those whose spiritual walk seemed dreamy, whose day-to-day was so much less complex than mine.  Who seem to create so easily, have less troubles, and live full of joy – I disliked them all!

But I heard Him. He called to me, the Holy One breathed in me an awareness this weekend.

  • Broken doesn’t disqualify. 
  • Honesty and transparency are not shameful when you are living on the way to healing. When there is Grace.
  • God’s work is Restoration; he’s in the work of renewing us.
  • We are made in the image of God for a purpose, to live, to worship, to create beautiful art!

But, all for His Glory not our own.

“Whoever wants to save her life shall lose it, but whoever loses her life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

This is what I see now. We’re all wounded. Some of us admit it.  

In disclosing my story, there is a cost and risk.  Living and creating on the precipice of risk and possibility, that’s petrifying.

But it can also make you gentle and empathetic. It will help you SEE others differently; both their pain and their glorious gifts and you’ll want to dance with them! I don’t naturally dance, literally or euphemistically, so this is a holy uncomfortable realization.

God made me with an inclination to be vulnerable and with a melancholy that aches within me. Many days I resist admitting how much the pain sits on me heavy, thinking it makes me look weak, less than holy, and not good enough to be a spiritual leader.

I’m learning: Confessing our anxious humanity, fraught with our need, perhaps even accepting our brokenness, this living on the edge is accepting the way God put me together.  Have you accepted the way God put you together?

And this is accepting a Holy Call.

She named me—Story Teller.  She didn’t know me or my story but she said it’s important to tell our stories.  To the audience of many, she said our Stories Matter.  As we learn to tell our Stories of Suffering, they become an Offering.  As we set aside fear, we can accept the gifts God has given us.  He didn’t make a mistake.  And this opens a Doorway to a different life.

This song says it all.

Joyful, joyful we adore thee.

God of Glory Lord of Love.

Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,

Hail the as the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin, sin and sadness

Drive the dark of doubt away, Drive it away

Giver of immortal gladness

Fill us Fill us with the light of day Light of day!

As Artists we live on the Edge of the Precipice and we have a Choice.  We live between the worlds of What I Am and What is Possible with God.

Because of the Hope we have in Christ, we can lay our inadequacies and fear, our sin, our broken duct taped hearts, whatever it is, we can lay it all down at Jesus feet.

We can accept that we are broken.
We must accept that we are healed, we are useful, our life has a Holy Purpose.

Both. And.

And then, we must listen to Him, with our intelligence and fierce expectation, with our minds and hearts.  This discipline of listening (John 10:3-4) is as important as our confession.

Creatives are you listening? 

How is God shaping your soul?  How did he make you, both the strong and the weak parts?  He wants both. What is he saying to you in your broken places and how is he mending you? That’s your story.  That’s your Purpose and Holy Calling. It is through our Stories that God will renew the world, in the coming together of Us and Him.

The visions are intoxicating and limitless, filling the world with the Light of his Gladness. Frederick Buechner’s challenge is to find “the voice of our own Gladness.”  That’s where we find our Call.

I woke up today, still Broken.  I’ll face this day with my Fears hanging heavy, like most days.  The difference is, today I’m refreshed and relieved to start again.  Mercifully, I’ve found some Gladness.  I’m filled with a little bit of light; the rays are shining through the shuttered places in my heart.  In sharing this I hope, just for a moment that you see it too, as you dance with the Holy that you’ll find your gladness too.

My Gospel

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Certain

that I don’t deserve this gift that you gave me.
Though I haven’t e a r n e d  a n y t h i n g.

Knowing

that I am broken.  This heart inside of me is corrupt.

Aware

that my flesh is stronger than my will.

Flawed

I live with a certainty that I will choose the things that dishonor you.

You came to die.
You came to love.

You alone are God.  And I am your beloved child.

Of course

it is no longer about me.  I must ask

How can I die?
Who must I love?

January 17, 2011


“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” — Tim Keller, The Reason For God