“Do I matter?”

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“Do I matter?

Have you ever been repeatedly irritated by something someone says?  You know – a quirky phrase misused, or a chronically mispronounced word?  The kind of thing that tempts you to want to correct, even though it’s not really worth embarrassing someone over?

That’s what the phrase “you matter” is for me.

It’s a sort of mantra these days, a slogan, or (if I’m generous) perhaps people intend it to be a conversation starter.  An acquaintance of mine says to me, “you matter” on a regular basis.  And to be perfectly honest, it’s just plain irritating.

I know what she’s trying to communicate – that my life has significance and meaning in the world.  But that is not what she is saying – at least not to me.

I know very little about her – we’re not friends.  There’s no mutuality to the relationship.  I spend time with her on a regular basis because of circumstances, but the level of intimacy required to know whether or not I matter is not there and for her to keep saying it is, well, irksome.  Maybe I’m just being a pedantic jerk – I don’t know – but every time she says it now I want to ask her, “tell me – to whom?”

OK, I get it.  In the great, grand scheme of things, everyone “matters.”  As Christians we believe humans are made in the image of God, and therefore we have inherent dignity and worth.  Human life has significance.  Most reasonable people agree with this even if they wouldn’t put it in these terms – it’s generally accepted that we shouldn’t be indiscriminately killed or consumed as food.  There is a quality about being human that is different from being an animal or a plant.

Apparently, some would argue that taking up space in the world as a human, then, is the essence of “mattering.”

I would not be among them.  Instead, I would argue that “mattering” only makes sense in the context of a relationship.  The significance and importance ascribed to one person must be valued by another.  In other words, the sentence is incomplete if we stop at, “you matter.”  We need to complete it by saying, “you matter to me.”  “Mattering” has to be in relationship to someone else or it’s nonsense.

To matter at all means that you are connected to another human.  Being human carries inherent dignity and worth, but you can have dignity and worth and be utterly alone.  If you matter to someone, it means that they have regarded your dignity and worth as something worth attending.  You are seen – your personality, your strengths, your character, your perspectives and thoughts, your hopes and dreams, and even your fears – as worth investing in, worth knowing.  Your presence will have been noticed – and valued – by another soul.

 

To matter to someone is to be held in a place of priority – to be “special” to someone in some way.  To matter to someone is to be regarded as worth investing time, resources, effort, and care into.  To matter to someone means your well-being is important to them and your flourishing is something they are willing to work toward.  In its simplest terms, to matter to someone means that you are cared about, and cared for.  It may not always rise to the level of love and affection, but it always rises above “the crowd.”

We respond warmly to it and derive a sense of our own significance and worth from it.  To matter to someone is to be significant and important to them.

That is what it means to matter. Mattering is always in the context of a relationship.  It’s absurd to think of it any other way.

So, why does all this talk about mattering matter to me?  Because as a survivor of abuse, I have often wondered – do I matter to anyone?  Is anyone interested in who I am – not just in what they can get from me but for what makes me a person, an individual, me?  It’s a question every survivor asks, so hopefully this public wrestling with words proves at least somewhat valuable to others.

Abuse strikes at the very core of a person’s identity.  It is inter-personal betrayal in the most foundational level of relationships.  Treachery that comes wrapped in the guise of what should be loving, safe relationships but are instead abusive, destroys a victim’s concept of having any meaning or significance in the world at all.  It makes sense that being exploited by the people you should matter to twists and distorts the idea of mattering at all.  Survivors not only struggle to understand the people and circumstances that surround them, but they struggle to understand their own selves, as well.  When those closest to you don’t serve to protect your being, when even your own skin can’t protect the core of who you are, what can?  Children growing up in loving, healthy environments never wonder if they matter to anyone – they know they do and inhale it with the air they breathe.  But this is not so for those who have been damaged and shamed by abuse.

Diane Langberg, PhD often speaks of how we need to learn about the abstract through the concrete.  She talks about how Jesus used ordinary things that even peasants would be familiar with – like water, bread, and wine – to teach us who he is and what he is like.  We all needed Jesus to be a man – the concreteness of God “in the flesh” – to really be able to understand his heart.  I think the same is true with the concept of “mattering” to anyone.

How can an individual understand that he or she matters to an invisible God if they’ve never known what it is like to matter to another human being?  How can they understand that “being used by God” is not the same as being used by those who abused them?  How can a person possibly understand what it means to have significance and meaning outside of a human relationship, if they’ve never known it inside one?

You see, mattering to someone is how we can come to understand that we matter to God.  We need the more tangible experience of mattering to someone “in the flesh” in order to understand that we even could matter to God.  The question, “Do I matter?” can only be answered in the context of a relationship, and the conclusion, “yes, I matter,” can only be arrived at through the experience of a relationship where we are appreciated, valued, and treasured simply because of who we are.

Sometimes people ask, “How can I help you?  What can I do for you?”  when they learn about my struggle.  It’s a hard question to answer because I don’t know if they mean really do something or if they don’t know what else to say.  But If you really want to help a survivor of abuse, let them matter to you.  See them, know them, love them for who they are.  Let their flourishing be important enough to you to pursue.  Don’t look at the abuse only but appreciate their strengths and their character.  Learn of their creativity or depths of compassion.  Care about what is important to them and what they’re hoping for.  See past the damage and the work they need to do to become whole again, and delight in the complex, multi-faceted human being they were created to be.  Let them really matter to you so that they can taste and see the goodness and care of the One to whom they matter the most.  Answer their question, “Do I matter?” with, “Yes!  You matter a great deal to me,” for I have a sneaking suspicion that coming to believe that we might matter to someone is the gateway for believing that we might be loved.  And that, beloved church, is what survivors need to know the most.

 

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Somewhere Tonight

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Somewhere Tonight

Somewhere tonight there is a child whose reality will become her nightmares.

Her tender, neglected frame will have forced upon it hauntings that will never leave.

She is learning how tickles can turn to torment and

Breathless laughter to wide-eyed confusion and pain.

 

Somewhere tonight probing fingers and greedy mouths will penetrate her soul

Words and other things of shame and degradation will sear deeply into her forming self

Twisting, distorting her unlived life into invisible disability.

She will limp forevermore from wrestling with Evil personified as trusted foe.

 

Somewhere tonight her still-forming mind is doing the sensible –

Escaping the inescapable – trading wholeness for humanity, soundness for survival.

Somewhere tonight division, though protective, becomes her greatest vulnerability,

And the leaving in her mind a soothing, but self-imposed prison.

 

Somewhere tonight this child-turned-victim will fall asleep uncomforted.

She will wake, and no one will believe the permanent damage being done.

So she will conclude that she is vile, filthy, unseen, unknown, alone –

Accepting lies from those who should be truth-tellers.

 

It is for her I press on, this nameless, precious child.

It is for the knowing of her, seeing of her, and hearing of her silent cries.

It is for her I speak until she can whisper her own story

To her I speak from my own:

 

Though you will search, little one, a life-time from now

For meaning and explanation, none will come, save one –

Evil persists, endures until the end – and you, dear, cherished, beloved child

You will be asked to bring Light into that deep, black pit you know so well

– to rescue, redeem, and lift up another, because Mercy and Love endure forever.

When even the “good guys” don’t get it…

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What do you do when even the “good guys” don’t get it?

Not long ago I had one of the most perplexing conversations I’ve ever had.

While I was waiting to speak with someone else after the morning worship service a man – a leader – came up to me and started a conversation.  He is one of the good guys.  Kind.  Compassionate.  Caring.  His wife is beloved.  His children are happy and stable.  He genuinely works hard – and gladly – for the welfare of the flock.

And that is why this conversation was so perplexing.

He leaned over to me, and in an effort to be lighthearted and engaging, he said, “Did you notice that it was the women who were the ones who commented on what the angels were wearing?”

I blinked in disbelief in what I had just heard.  I couldn’t help but simply stare at him with an open-mouthed lack of response.

He was referencing the sermon text, Luke 23:32-24:53, which covers Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, and the events that followed.  The text mentions that when the women who went to Jesus’ tomb with spices for his dead body, “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”

He continued, “Isn’t that just like women?  I can be talking to my wife about something and she can’t remember any of it, but then she’ll say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s the night I was wearing my skirt with the frills on it and the big flowers,’ and then she remembers.”

I didn’t recall it being recorded that the women mentioned this in the text – surely it came out at some point, but the Bible doesn’t draw any attention to the women talking about clothing.  I finally said, “I don’t think the angels’ clothing was really all that important to anyone at the time.”

And then I couldn’t help myself.  Since he was still standing there, willing to continue in conversation, I said, “Actually, what I did notice from that part of the story was that Jesus’ resurrection was revealed to those women first, that their immediate response was to share that glorious news with his disciples, and that the men didn’t believe them.  And it occurred to me that men not believing women, simply because they are women, regardless of the veracity of what they are saying, is still a problem.”

Now it was his turn to blink with an open-mouthed lack of response.

I went on, “_________, with all due respect, and I mean that sincerely, what you just said is offensive.  We have a serious problem with men thinking that women are dimwits who don’t care about serious, theological truths and issues that genuinely matter.  This thinking is such a distortion in the church that it  makes this a place that is ripe for abuses of power and authority to take place.  At the heart of this is an attitude of superiority and a devaluing of women.  While we give verbal ascent to both sexes being equally made in the image of God, we don’t really live it out as we should.  It’s not a joke.”

To say that he was surprised by my response is an understatement, but to his credit, he was willing to continue to engage.  But the way the conversation went after this has sent me spinning for months.  He said, “OK, tell me this.  Don’t you think that the whole #MeToo stuff is going a bit far?  Don’t you think that there’s a lot of claiming of victimhood when it’s not really true?  I mean, guys are afraid to flirt now – what’s so bad about a little harmless flirting?  Everyone is so worried that they’re going to be accused of sexual harassment that they can’t even ask a woman out on a date.  And what can a man possibly say in his own defense?  Don’t get me wrong, I agree that sexual harassment is wrong, and we shouldn’t tolerate it, but I have to ask, in light of all that is coming out with the #MeToo stuff, what about the men?”

The truth is, I wanted to yell at him – rail at him.  I was honestly flabbergasted at what he had just said.  “What about the men?!  Are you kidding me??”  THE MEN?  I’m sorry – did you just say that OUT LOUD?

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to not want to embarrass either of us, and the inkling that he was genuinely asking me a sincere question.  An annoying question, an ignorant question to be sure, but a sincere one, nonetheless.  And so, I answered him as best I could.  I tried to give him a little education on the scope of the problem.  I gave him a few statistics – and told him that every study done shows that the problems of abuses of power are equally as bad in the church as they are in society in general.  I explained to him that #MeToo encompasses every kind of sexual misconduct from unwelcomed sexual advances (including some of the “harmless flirting” he mentioned) to gang rape and sex trafficking and every unimaginable thing in-between.  And I tried to explain to him that even in our congregation – this group of God’s people that we both love dearly – it has been exceedingly difficult to have anyone understand the nature and impact of being a lamentable member of the #MeToo “stuff”.

His response to all of that made me sad.  Really, really sad.  He said, “I know, I know, but what about the men?”  I had tried to address many of the reasons that sexual misconduct should be taken seriously, but I hadn’t answered his biggest concern – that he might be falsely accused.  I tried one more time.  “___________, false accusations are wrong.  Period.  There is never, ever, an acceptable reason to accuse someone of wrong-doing when it isn’t true.  You will never hear me defend that.  But the reality is that the incidence of that is very, very low.  Yes, we need to be on-guard that men are not also victimized by false allegations.  But please, please don’t get hung up there.  The problem of sexual misconduct is incredibly vast.  Many have been victimized by it and many continue to be. It causes life-long suffering in many cases.  It stems from a fundamental view of women as less than – less entrusted by God spiritually, less intelligent, less wise, less worthy of respect simply because they are women.  It comes from attitudes of entitlement – why should women have to endure ‘harmless flirting’ if it’s not wanted?  What do you say to your daughters when men view them as nothing more than merchandise for their own greedy pleasure rather than human beings with dignity, worthy to be respected?  Please – you have got to look at this differently.  You have to see how un-Christlike this is!  You have to see the opportunity for men to stand up and be the ones correcting other men from viewing women this way – in the work place and in the church.

He said, “Oh, I definitely see where this kind of thing is a problem in the workplace.  But I don’t agree that we have that much of a problem in the church.  We value women here as co-heirs with Christ – equal but different….  Hey listen, gotta run.  It’s been great chatting with you.  Enjoy the rest of your day.”

And that was that.  I have no reason to believe that any of what I said (or anyone else for that matter) has resonated with this man.  There has been no acknowledgement of this, no follow-up of any kind.  And so I am left saddened by the ineffectiveness of my words and the depth of misunderstanding revealed in his.

The saddest part of this for me was that he is one of the “good guys.”  A man who loves his family, is well-regarded in the church and community.  He cares about people – he really does.  He just doesn’t value us all the same way.

This is the level of ignorance we are dealing with – all of us.  Things like male privilege, white privilege, national superiority, and every other kind of thinking that creates an “us” and a “them” are so ingrained in us that it will take a huge amount of effort to fundamentally change the thinking that is involved around these inherent wrongs.  It is profound.  It is not universal, but it is pervasive, and those who are blind to their own ignorance are the hardest to reach with the truth of it, however kind or caring they might otherwise be.

I have puzzled over this conversation many times since it happened.  It has served as a reminder that many of my brothers (and sisters) have a long way to go in understanding so many basic things.  But so do I, for it has also served as a reminder that Jesus has been incredibly patient with me.  He has had to speak slowly and clearly to me because I am frequently too dense to understand what he is saying.  He has had to repeat things many times because I am prone to forget what he just taught me.  And he has had to lovingly rebuke me when my stubbornness (or laziness or arrogance) has interfered with progress on the path of righteousness.  I want to be like him – loving enough to slow down and be clearer, loving enough to be patient and kind in the face of sluggishness, and loving enough to be unalteringly committed to truth and righteousness even when it is unwelcome.

This is what we do when even the “good guys” don’t get it.  This is what we’re called to.

To Be Blessed

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IMG_2452Sometimes… you just have to share the encouragement in your life…

Last night my 2 youngest kids (ages 18 and 20) came into my home office around 1030pm. I was writing and they were totally interrupting, but I learned a long time ago to lay everything aside when your young-adult kids want to talk.

They were just chatty, silly even. They just wanted to be with me, which I love. They’ve both struggled a LOT this year, so this sweet, normal slice of life was good to see. My son (the 20 year old – who was about 7 in the photo above) was playing his guitar, asking me to listen to some new things he was working on. This is a particular gift to him, because this has always been a particular irritant to the abuser in his life – he hated when my son would just mess around on the piano or guitar, especially if it interrupted his tv watching…

I taught my son the first few things he needed to learn on the guitar, but he has far surpassed my abilities. He knows, however, that I love to listen and learn from his ‘working stuff out’. So he will often say, “hey, Mom – listen to this…” and play some bit that he’s finally mastered. Last night, he showed me a complex fingering and strumming combination he figured out. It was a sweet moment.  I said, “look at the amazing skill God has worked into your hands!”

Then I looked down at my own – tired, wrinkly, worn. I let the regret that had been building during a rough day slip out and said, “I used to have nice hands, but like so much else they’ve just been used up.” My son stopped playing and, in all seriousness said, “Mom – your hands are beautiful. I LOVE your hands!”

Then he got up, came over to where I was at my desk, took both of my hands in his and with a rare glimpse into the tenderness of his young-man heart, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Mom – these hands have taught me so much. They’ve taught me all the good things I know. These are the most beautiful hands I’ll ever know. They’re not used up – they’re just showing how much you’ve loved us and given to all of us. They’re beautiful Mom, don’t ever think otherwise.”

It was tender and sweet and so encouraging. It was a moment to savor and store up in the treasure of good memories we are trying to build together. It was especially beautiful because it was spontaneous and so heart-felt.

All three of us reveled – and shared – in the sincere encouragement that was given.  That’s a wonderful thing about encouragement, isn’t it?  It’s contagious.

His heart-felt blessing to his Mama opened the door, too, for the conversation to shift to both of them sharing deep hurts they are working through, but also deep thoughts they are wrestling with God over. It was profoundly moving to sit there with these two young souls whose suffering is shaping them, too. This journey is being used by God to shape my kids’ stories, too. I was blessed by what my kids shared with me last night, and as I reflected on what they’d said, I realized that they will be able to bless others in due time with what they are learning and becoming because of all of this. It can be brutal to watch your kids struggle. But moments like these show that much can be happening beneath the surface.

These hands have worked hard to bless my family – and I don’t regret a moment of that. My son rose up last night to tell me how I have blessed him through that loving service, but in doing so, he blessed more than he will know for a long, long time. I suspect, however, that in genuinely blessing me, he went away blessed as well. That’s how blessings go, isn’t it?  They multiply.

Words Matter

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Words Matter

“Why do you write?” someone recently asked me.  I confess I was a little taken aback by the question.  My initial thought was to respond, “Why not write?!” but thankfully I held my tongue.  Instead I began to ponder the question, which came from someone who struggles with words.  It was earnest and sincere and borne out of much frustration, so I wanted to consider him, and his questions, carefully.

Why should we wrestle with words which feel sometimes as if they are a hungry lion wanting to eat us instead of submit to our will?  Why wade through the torrential downpours of tornadic thoughts to create order out of paragraphs, sentences, words?  Why pick through the rubble of thousands of choices that don’t quite fit in order to find the gem that works perfectly?

Because words matter.  Words connect us as we link them together in strands of meaning and these strands, these fragile, tenuous strands are some of the main things that hold all of our relationships together.  Words are beauty and pain shared.  Words are the expression of human experience that generates “with-ness.”  Words are how we declare to the world around us who we really are and what is important to us, and how we learn that about others.  Through words we disclose the essence of what it means to be human to one another.  And that is a beautiful thing.

Words are the bridge to hearts and minds

Have you ever considered that words are the only way to precisely get a thought or idea from your own mind into another’s?  They are the bridge we build to gain access to the hearts and minds of others, and that because of this, we can be with one another in a supremely unique way.  It’s true.  We’re doing it now – you and I.  It happens so often – it is so utterly common and ordinary – that we easily forget how glorious it is.  As I write, I’m thinking about you, dear reader.  I’m wondering how you’ll receive these thoughts being refined into words which flow from my mind to yours.  I’m considering how to articulate and express things for your benefit and I’m wondering if I’m being clear enough – precise enough – to have you cross over into my world and see things from my perspective.  I may not know you – I may never meet you.  But the simple logic of you reading this means you and I must each exist and therefore we are experiencing a “with” one another that is only achieved through words.

It’s amazing!  Language is a gift bestowed uniquely to humanity.  Oh, I know, the dogs in my neighborhood can all start barking at one time if a fox or a thief wanders through and the bees in my beehives “told” each other where the best nectar was.  But no animal can express a thought or idea to another.  They can warn, they can alert, some argue they can do a bit more, but none of them considers beauty and discusses it.  None of them laments tragedy or injustice.  None of them can debate about the truth of a matter or the seriousness of it – they can’t even chat about the hum-drum of their days!  No, only humans can do that, and humans can only do that through words.

Words hold power

It is no surprise, therefore, that words have incredible and distinct power and influence.  In the biggest “with us” humanity has ever known, God himself became The Word, and The Word used words to communicate truth to us.  He spoke creation into existence using the unimaginable power of his words.  He gave instruction through words to reveal more of himself and his desired relationship with his people.  But in becoming Word, God gave us his fullest expression of himself.  God’s Word, articulated in human form demonstrated the very essence of who he is so we could begin to comprehend his heart, his character, his will, and his love.  He communicated himself to us by being The Word with us.

Words are important to God.  Words are what God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.  He could have just wired everyone’s mind to already know him – like the instincts that animals possess to build nests or swim up the coast of California each year.  But he didn’t.  He used words and he calls us to do the same.  This is why language is stunning and beautiful and staggering all at the same time.  This is why we write and speak.  It is not solely to communicate information – it is in order to be with another soul and communicate the most important things in all the world!  Words create the opportunity to connect the core of who we are to the core of another in a way that absolutely nothing else can.  We can know a lot about another person – what they look like, where they live, what they do, etc.  But we can’t really know another person without words.

Caring for souls matters

Once in a while I wonder if my words really have any impact.  Does what I observe or think about the world around me help anyone?  Impact anyone?  Change anyone?  Does what I write do any good?  But often after those thoughts arise someone says something like, “Hey, thanks for what you wrote.  I shared it with my friends at Bible study because I found it so helpful,” or “I sent your piece to my Dad and he told me later it changed his life.”  I don’t know those people, but wow!  I have been able to be with them in a way that only words can provide, in the same way that I can be with you even now.  What a huge and humbling privilege to be invited into hearts and minds to consider important thoughts together!

Words matter because people matter.  It matters how we treat one another and how we speak, dialog, and entreat one another.  Caring for eternal souls matters. Wrestling through the work of stringing words together matters because when someone declares through their words, “I am here!” our thoughtful response declares, “yes, you are – and you matter.”  Jesus declared, “I am” when he was here, and the best human response is, “YES! You are! And that matters more than anything else in the world!”  Words are the way we help other souls do that.

I am praying that you are lifted to think higher thoughts about God and life and love and loss through my words.  I know that I am challenged and inspired through yours.

 

Attention-Getting Love

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Attention-Getting Love

I had three little grandsons here recently while their mother, aunties, and I worked on a project.  Their presence not only brought delight, but a flood of memories.  Noisy, active children don’t fill my days anymore, and it’s admittedly easier to see the kinds of things I’m about to share now than it was when mine were young, but it occurred to me that caring for little ones is a beautiful picture of the love that Jesus showed to us.  While it might seem tedious and utterly insignificant to tie little shoe laces, encourage use of the potty again, or distract a tired toddler, the literal bending low and lifting up of vulnerable, needy human beings is exactly what Jesus did for us and what he calls us to do for one another – and he says it will get attention.  “By this will all people know that you are my disciples:  if you love one another.” John 13:35

As I watched my daughters serve me while they were also keeping tiny boys safe and happy I marveled at how they transitioned not only from one task to the next, but also between high-pitched cries for attention, help, or refereeing.  I smiled as I watched them handle all of it with grace and patient love.  I was drawn in and warmed by how they treated these three young souls.  It was attention-getting love.

I couldn’t help but connect some dots that have been swirling around my own head lately regarding the astounding way that Jesus showed us the unnatural kind of love we are to show one another.  I’ve benefited from hearing Diane Langberg say again and again that the Almighty Ruler of the Universe is the author and owner of all power and authority, yet he used it, not to control or manipulate mankind into subservient conformity to his will (which is what we typically think of as power – the ability to pressure, control, or force another to do one’s bidding).  Rather, Jesus used his power to rescue us from a sin-filled cesspool of our own making and then issued a gentle invitation to, “Come, follow me.”   She’s given me much to think about.

There are many examples in our culture of immoral, unethical, and unloving use of power and authority – governmental agencies that use their position not to protect and defend, but to bully and intimidate.  Bosses in the workplace who steal credit for ideas and productivity rather than holding up their employees for honor or recognition.  Religious leaders who use the sheep to feed unholy desires for praise or lust rather than protect them from ravenous wolves.  Husbands who bully and intimidate their wives to build kingdoms for themselves rather than cherishing and protecting them.  But Jesus calls us to do it differently.  He calls us to what he demonstrated to us by bending low and lifting up.

Because of this, passages like Ephesians 5 have begun to look different to me, too.  I have almost always heard this passage taught with a focus on headship and submission.  It has, at times, even focused on the instruction to submit to those in authority even when they are terrible because this honors God.

But this focus is unhelpful for two reasons.  The first is that it leaves too many doors open for abuses of power to be tolerated when they should not be.  For example, while there may be times we need to stick it out in difficult circumstances, “Wives submit to your own husbands in all things,” does not call a wife to submit to oppressive control or abuse.  But this verse is often used by abusers to keep their wives in groveling submission to them.  It is incredibly difficult to de-tangle the truth of what Scripture teaches from the distortions wielded by abusers – pastors need to be clearer on this.  Without the counter-balancing instruction of when it’s right to stand against sin, submission to power and authority in all circumstances becomes the understood teaching and many suffer needlessly because of it.

The second (and more important) reason this kind of approach is unhelpful is that it misses the main point of the passage.  The book of Ephesians is about unity in the body of Christ.  In the previous chapters Paul explains how unity and love for one another is even possible through Christ and then in chapter 5 he tells us how.  He starts off by saying, “submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, because you love and revere Jesus, you will honor him by loving one another as he did.  Here’s how…

Wives, do everything you can to serve your husbands in order to help them thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

Husbands, lay aside all your selfishness and do everything you can to love your wives in order to help them thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

Children, your parents have been given to you to help you thrive and flourish – honor them and it will go well for you.  Parents – especially fathers – make sure you don’t do anything that exasperates them in that process – your focus is their good.

Workers, work hard and sincerely do everything you can in order to help your bosses thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

Bosses, help your workers thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

None of this is about claiming power or authority in these common roles.  Jesus turns our ideas of power and authority on their heads!  Paul is telling us, “despite any power or authority you might have, don’t act like the world – act like Jesus!  Instead of using your power and authority to oppress, use it to serve, protect, and build up.”  The point of Ephesians 5 is this:  all of you, no matter your role (or what you think it might entitle you to) – use it to serve as Jesus served, love as Jesus loved, honor as Jesus honored, lift up as Jesus lifted up.

As I watched my daughters serve my grandsons in this way it got my attention, drew me in, and caused me to praise God.  This is how Jesus loves us.  When we serve, love, honor, and lift up the vulnerable, weak, and helpless around us – especially those over whom we have power or authority –  we are loving the way that Jesus loves.  And that beloved church, gets the attention of a world that is starving for attention-giving love.

Truth’s Pain

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Truth’s Pain

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I wrote this to try to express the inexpressible, which is, of course, impossible.  One of the hardest struggles after significant trauma is coming to terms with the truth of it all.  I’m not done.  Interpersonal trauma is so permeated with lies that seeing truth takes supernatural power.  It is good to know the truth.  But it is painful.  Very, very painful.   Words become frustratingly difficult to find and use to describe what the process is like – people want to know why the struggle is so, so hard.

With genuine concern and no malice intended, people ask questions that sting:  “Why is this taking so long?”  “Aren’t you feeling like you’re back to your old self yet?” “Can’t you just __________?”

They want to understand, so I continue to try to explain, but even when I think I’ve found some words that might serve well, they reveal themselves to be pitifully insufficient.  Poetry, at least, adds imagery to the words.  People have responded with greater understanding to analogy, simile, and metaphor.  I started writing poetry for them.

But an unexpected (and happy) consequence of disciplining myself to choose and conform to a structure, format, or meter has been the settling of turbulent thoughts in my own mind.  This wrangling of words and emotions serves to corral them, if you will, into manageable bits that are easier to digest and wrestle with.  Jeremiah did this in Lamentations.  Out of the brutal chaos of horrific butchery and terror, Jeremiah poured out his heart to God in measured, metered, beautifully raw words.

I found that following Jeremiah’s lead has helped begin the process of navigating my own churning thoughts and emotions.  Using Lamentations as a model has begun to guide me through the tangled brier of questions and pain.  It doesn’t take the pain away – nothing could.  But it’s one more tool to use as I seek to learn to manage it and carry it with me.

The order of poetry in the midst of chaos is a gift.  The discipline of choosing words and forming thoughts into meaningful expression in the presence of the unspeakable is a gift.  The comfort of wrestling with one’s own assaulting thoughts and winning truth, though painful, is a gift.

So I offer this as a gift.  For those of you who are suffering – may it help you begin to choose words of your own.  For those of you walking with the suffering – may it help you sit in the ashes with greater understanding and patience.  And for those of you who have asked me, “why is this so hard?” – may it help you hear my heart.  Read it slowly.  Take it in.  Sit with the words and let them teach you.

 

Truth’s Pain

I asked for truth,

Detangled lies so I could see,

But vision overwhelms.

 

Truth shocking dawns

With crack of whip and razor sharp,

Upon my bloodied mind.

 

Sobs threaten, but

Refuse to come; fear mournful sounds,

Lest someone hear and know.

 

Betrayals seen

Through desperate eyes, truth layers on,

One more, one more, one more.

 

Fast, crashing blows

On opened eyes, relenting not.

Where is the promised hope?

 

Predestined wait

Like lifeless child yet unborn –

A dreaded, bitter birth.

 

I trusted one

Who ravaged, One who stood nearby.

Both left me bruised, broken.

 

Believing both,

Desired faith gained numbing pain.

Both leave me full of questions.

 

The Truth?  The Truth?

Wrapped in plastic cling filmed memories?

“What,” I ask, “has mattered?”

 

What do I do

With truths breaking life to pieces?

What truths to carry forth.

 

The lessons learned?

What service be for captives trapped?

Useful, always useful?

 

I want to flee

Fly far away, unseen, obscure.

To heal, and mend, be free.

 

Truth shocking dawns

These razored shards tear soul and wits.

Ceaseless in its mission.

 

 

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash