Category Archives: integrity

Being a Neighbor to those Deeply Suffering

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Being a Neighbor to the Deeply Suffering

The shock of it all was numbing.  My mind – every ounce of energy I tried to find to think – was flailing to make sense of anything at all.  People were talking at me, but I couldn’t mentally connect one word to the next much less understand what they were saying.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening.  My world was collapsing around me and no one could tell me why.  My chest ached with a pain I had never experienced before, and I struggled to breathe and simultaneously try to hold back the sobs that shook me despite my inner protestations for them and everything else around me to stop!  Just stop!

When deep suffering strikes people are left incapacitated.  Whether the blow is physical, emotional, or something else, it knocks us breathless, so that even gasping for air feels like more than we can bear.  An indescribable, wordless, whirlwind of unanswerable questions and unidentifiable emotions flood over us until we feel, often, that we’d rather die than go on.

Do you know what to do to help someone in that state?  Do you know what to say – or sometimes more importantly, what not say to them?  Do you know how to be bodily with them in a way that is genuinely helpful?  How do you find what you need when someone else’s pain threatens to drown you, too?

These are questions I have asked and been asked many times in recent months.  They come from genuinely concerned people whose deep desire is to do something that will help, but whose experiences don’t come close enough to know what that kind of suffering is like.  “What can I do?” isn’t a question that is only asked of the sufferer – it’s one that helpers ask of themselves as well.

Suffering is something that every believer will experience – we are assured of this in scripture.  (1 Peter 4:12) But suffering is not something we are particularly well prepared for.  We live our lives as if suffering only happens to other people, or, more insidiously, less faithful people.  But that is not what the Bible teaches.  Instead we can bank on suffering if we’re Jesus followers.  And since this is the case, we ought to be prepared both for the suffering and the sufferers.  But it is all too common for those surrounding the sufferer to stand by helplessly asking the person whose world has just been torn apart, “What can I do?”  It’s not only not helpful, it’s insensitive and sometimes cruel to ask them what they need.  But what can we do?

Fortunately, Jesus has offered some very practical instructions to all of us who want to comfort people in their distress.  We can be prepared, at least to some degree, to be genuinely helpful in the face of unimaginable pain.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), Jesus does far more than instruct us on who are neighbors are.  He instructs us on what loving our neighbors looks like, too.  I think if we’re willing to pay attention to the details of the story, we will see some intensely practical concepts for walking with those who are unable to bear the burden of suffering alone.

Know that suffering overwhelms

The first man in the parable was traveling and was attacked by robbers who overwhelmed him.  They stripped him of everything, wounded him severely, and left him for dead.  There are many things that we encounter during the course of our lives that are difficult – really difficult.  They test our strength and stamina, they push us to our limits, and they sometimes make us want to give up.  That is not the kind of suffering we are talking about here.  Sometimes those things are not suffering at all.  Those are hard things, and sometimes we need help, but we use the resources God has given us and we get through.  Deep suffering, however, overwhelms our normal abilities to cope.  Deep suffering renders us helpless – stripped naked of all the resources we had.  You’ve no doubt heard people say things like, “I felt like I got hit by a truck,” or “I felt like I was drowning,” or some other iteration of being swallowed up, buried, or overcome.  All of these kinds of expressions try to articulate the sense of encountering something beyond our ability to cope.  People in these situations don’t just want help, they need it.  They are desperate for it.  Deep suffering overwhelms and renders us helpless.  Those suffering before you don’t just feel like they are drowning – they are.  Physical and emotional pain can render us deaf and blind to everything else going on around us.  Don’t expect much of anything from a traumatized sufferer – they are incapable of directing you.

Respond with compassion

The Priest and the Levite in the parable saw the helpless traveler and did nothing.  We don’t know what they were thinking, but we know from the story that they saw the man, that they made sure they were on the other side of the road – close enough to see, but far enough away to stay uninvolved – and we know they continued on their way.  But the Samaritan saw him and had compassion.  Unless there is something incredibly hard-hearted about a person, it is normal to have compassion on someone who is in distress.  In my experience, and from listening to many other sufferers, many people feel compassion toward a suffering person.  Lots of people say with sincerity, “I’m so sorry.”  It might be easy to take this for granted, but it must be recognized as the necessary first step in being a loving neighbor and actually helping someone who is suffering.  Compassion literally means with suffering (from the Latin, com – with, and pati – suffer).  It is a picture of entering into the suffering of another.  It starts with a stirred heart that is troubled by the pain of another, but real compassion – Christ-like compassion – cannot be satisfied with emotion only.

Move toward the sufferer

In the parable, Jesus said the Samaritan went to him.  We might overlook this because it seems so basic, but the Samaritan didn’t stay safely on the other side of the road and yell, “Hey buddy!  Let me know if you need anything, OK?”  He went to him.  He stopped what he was doing, changed his direction, and went to where the man was lying in the aftermath of what had overwhelmed him.  There is no way to make an assessment of need without going to the sufferer.  This means that we will encounter a bloody mess sometimes (both literally and figuratively!).  It means that, depending on how overwhelmed the sufferer is we will likely need to move toward him or her without an invitation, without instructions, without knowing what we are getting ourselves into.  Yes, it’s scary, but this is one of the hard things that will stretch you and increase your capacity to deal with the stuff of human existence.  The sufferer you’re looking at didn’t have the luxury of deciding whether or not to be overwhelmed.  Go.

Skillfully dress the wounds

The Samaritan saw what had overwhelmed the traveler and took action.  The traveler was bleeding.  He was in pain.  He was naked.  He was alone.  Most sufferers are all of these.  Their wounds may not be visible, but they are just as devastatingly raw and exposed.  As a former cardiac nurse, I can tell you that pretty much nothing else matters if your patient is bleeding out.  The hemorrhage has to be stopped or all will be lost.  After that, nothing else can be addressed with a patient if they’re in intractable pain.  Measures need to be taken first to soothe the excruciating.  Healing has to start to happen first, then the patient can begin to engage.  The Samaritan skillfully applied life-saving measures by stopping the bleeding, cleaning out the wounds, and preventing infection from setting in.  We can help suffering people by skillfully taking measures to protect them from further injury while they are incapacitated and defending them while they recover.  Sometimes this will be as simple as shielding sufferers from insensitive comments or questions.  Sometimes we will need to guard the door (or the phone) so that they are not repeatedly overwhelmed.  Sometimes we will need to hold their heads while they cry or vomit out the unbearable thoughts and emotions that have swelled to flood levels decorum can no longer contain.  It’s going to be messy and ugly.  Do whatever needs to be done with sensitivity and care.

Use your resources

The Samaritan put the wounded traveler on his own animal and transported him to a safe place.  We may not need a donkey, but we may need to use our cars and other resources to get the sufferer to where he or she needs to be.  Sometimes they will need to be transported to a hospital and sometimes they will just need to be taken away from their environment for a little while so that they see that there is life outside of their misery.  We may need to drive someone to a safe house, or to a cemetery.  Or we may need to be willing to bring them to our homes where they can sit in quietness and safety from further threats.  We may need to use our time or money or efforts or comfort or ease as we love our suffering neighbor, but we will need to use what we have.  If we’re willing to help sufferers we will be called upon to use our resources.  It will be costly, and inconvenient, but it will be worth it.

Take care

Most Christians are fairly willing to do all of the above.  We are willing to jump into action when called upon, and graciously use our resources when a need pops up.  We make meals, clean bathrooms, drive, and even pay bills.  But here, right here is where we tend to fall down.  We’re busy.  Our schedules are full.  We have things we were planning to do as well as people waiting for us to do them.  We don’t have time to take care of suffering people.  Taking care of someone – tending to their wounds of body and soul – however, is a slow process that takes great quantities of time and patience.  But we are not a patient people.  We want things to be cleaned up quickly and we want the sufferer to be able to tend to his or her own needs without too much delay.  We tend to lose resolve around the two-week mark, but deep suffering often takes months – or years – to traverse.  Not surprisingly, those who look back on their suffering point to the people who were willing to be with them and take care of them over the long haul as the ones who got them through and helped them the most.  The reality is, the sufferer sitting before you in bewildered confusion at all that has crashed down on them doesn’t really expect you to be able to explain the inexplicable – they just want you to be speechless at it with them.  They want to see you in the room, not leaving but staying.  They want to hear your breathing (and occasionally your voice).  They want to feel your hands, your hugs, and even your heavy sighs that mirror their own as you hold them tight as if trying to hold them together while they feel like they’re flying apart.   Be willing to spend time with the suffering and take care of them.

Enlist others and support them, too

The Samaritan in the parable was on his way somewhere.  He put everything on hold to help the suffering traveler he found.  It was not what he had planned – no one can plan when suffering will strike.  But he was willing to do all that needed to be done to ensure that this man in desperate need was cared for.  We must be willing to do the same.

But no one can put their life on hold forever.  If you’re walking alongside the suffering, you will get to the point where the sufferer’s needs are greater than you can handle on your own.  You will need to do as he did – enlist others and then give them what they need to aid the sufferer.

Jesus said, “And the next day he [the Samaritan] took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’”  There is so much packed into this sentence.  When the Samaritan could stay no longer, he enlisted the innkeeper, gave him what he needed to care for the traveler, and promised to return.  He made sure that the innkeeper knew that both he and the traveler would continue to be supported.  In telling the story this way, Jesus shows that the Samaritan was not only willing to help the wounded traveler, but the innkeeper and anyone else the innkeeper needed to employ as well.  Jesus knew that helpers often need help to be able to help effectively.  Many times deep suffering requires a team of people.  It is profound and overwhelming to the sufferer and to those helping as well.  Following Jesus is a group activity, and this is one of the many reasons why.  Be ready as a church to help the deeply suffering.

Don’t say much

One final note of instruction that is easy to miss unless you’ve spent time on the sufferer’s side of all of this is to not say too much.  The Samaritan didn’t say much.  In fact, he didn’t say anything at all to the suffering man – he only spoke with the innkeeper in the parable.  Sometimes arguing from a position of silence in scripture is a difficult (and potentially dangerous) position to take.  But having been in the position of the traveling victim, I’m standing firmly on this one – don’t say too much to someone in deep suffering.

Words are inadequate to describe the indescribable.  Explanations are ineffective for the inexplicable.  And asking someone who is in agonizing pain to tell you how they feel is a bit ridiculous, really.  Let them talk if they want to.  Ask a question or two so they know they can, but mostly, just be with them and listen to their grief.  Let them cry, or sob.  Let them sigh, or moan.  Let them speak inarticulately or not at all.  When you must speak, use short sentences and small words.  Use gentleness in your tone of voice – even when they rail at their circumstances.  Job 6:26 says, “Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?”  People who are suffering say things they wouldn’t normally say and don’t really mean.  Just let it go, remain calm, and remind them that you’re still there, you’re not afraid of the mess, and you’re not going to abandon them.  The pain of suffering becomes bearable when there is someone to endure it with you.

Conclusion

Beloved church – we must not be surprised when suffering comes, either to us or to those around us.  We must, instead, be prepared for it to happen.  Our own suffering proves whether or not we have faith – when everything is stripped away and we are wounded and exposed we find out quickly what we really believe.  If we are running to God – even in hurt and anger and disbelief – the proof is there.  It might be weak faith, it might be trembling faith, it might be doubting faith that says, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!”  But that is faith that is proven, and that proof is a gift, that we will be thankful for eventually.  But we must also be prepared to care for the suffering in our midst.  We must be willing to put our own things aside – our schedules, our priorities, our expectations – and bend low enough to stoop down to help the wounded soul who has been left decimated by the side of the road, helpless and desperately needy.  That’s actually what Jesus did for each of us.

My path of deep suffering is not over – I am very much in the raging waves and tossing winds of it.  Some minutes are good – most are a black, confusing, thick fog.  I am part of a great church with a kind and loving pastor and we are struggling together to learn how to walk this road with integrity – learning from and teaching one another as we figure it out by trial and error.  It’s hard to be both sufferer and tutor at the same time, but I’m convinced that God is teaching me even this so that I might be used to help others as he builds his kingdom.  Until then, I pray for strength to continue to walk one painful, faithful step at a time.  Learn from those who do this well.  Teach those who don’t.  Walk together with the ones who are suffering deeply.  You will bless them, of course, but you will be blessed too, for you will teach, and you will learn, a great deal about your Savior.

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Christmas Letter to My Kids

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Christmas Letter To My Kids

This was a hard, but beautiful Christmas in our family.  Heartache causes us to reflect and to look for beauty that will come out of ashes.  My kids amaze me with their grace and their capacity to love through all of it.  I could not possibly be more thankful for each and every one of them.

The following is a letter I read to them Christmas morning.  I know many people have to look for good through the lens of suffering and this time of year intensifies that.  I hope this will encourage others as well.

Two Strange Passages for Christmas

To My Beloved Children:

I want to read you two passages from the Bible which, at first, might not seem appropriate for Christmas, but I think you’ll understand why I chose them by the time I’m done.

The first is from the book of Genesis – from the story of Joseph.  This is near the end of Joseph’s story – after his brothers had been so wicked and envious of him that they plotted to kill him, sold him into slavery instead, lied to their father and told him Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal, and Joseph had suffered years of slavery, loneliness, unjust imprisonment, and through a myriad of sovereignly appointed events, had risen to enormous power in Egypt.  These years had shaped Joseph and had put him into a position to organize the Egyptians to store up vast amounts of grain during years of plenty because he knew that years of famine were coming.  But Joseph’s family didn’t have such stores.  Their father sent all but one of his sons down to Egypt because they heard there was food there.  The story is a little long, so for brevity, I’ll tell you that it had been many years since Joseph had seen his brothers and when he did, he was both relieved and filled with apprehension.  He remembered all they had done to him.  When he saw them after all those years, he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him.  He decided to test his brothers to see if they had changed.  If you read the whole story, you’ll see that they had changed… some.  Joseph brought his entire family to safety in Egypt where they stayed and flourished, but when their father eventually died, the brothers revealed that they had not ever really reckoned with what they had done.  Here’s what they said:

“It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’  …  Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”  But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Genesis 50: 15-20

Nothing Wasted

The point of the story is this:  God used even the evil that Joseph’s brothers had committed for good.  He used it to accomplish his good purposes.  Through all the hard and painful events of Joseph’s life God made him into a humble, powerful leader.  He used it to save the lives of millions of people by giving Joseph the wisdom and strength he needed to rule well.  And he used the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers to save them too.

Nothing is wasted that God ordains.

The second passage I want to read to you is from Matthew 23.  Jesus was talking to a large crowd of people who had gathered to hear his teaching.  The crowd consisted of people who genuinely wanted to follow him, some people who weren’t sure what they thought, and there was also a group of men called Scribes and Pharisees – religious rulers who were supposed to lead the people in all God’s ways.

But there was a huge problem.  The religious leaders – the ones who had full access to the scriptures and knew all the things God had told his people, were using their positions to fleece the people.  The  truth was so mixed up with lies that it was impossible for the people to know what God really required.  And they had become harsh and cruel.

Jesus said:  you say one thing, but do another.  You’ve played games with peoples’ souls and they follow you to hell – becoming even worse than you!  You’ve made it appear to those you should have been caring for that you were being faithful, but really you were feeding your own greedy desires at their expense!  You’ve neglected and taken advantage of the ones you were supposed to protect and care for!  You do not examine your own hearts but cast judgement on others!

But after he brought all these charges against them he mournfully cried out, saying,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Matthew 23: 37

Freedom to Grieve

So – why did I choose these two passages?

First, these have been a huge comfort to me and I wanted to share that with you.  This is a hard time in our family and it would be silly to try to act as if it were not so.  But I am convinced that God is working – even through all these hard things, and yes, even through the wicked things that have been done against us – for good.

Second, I want you to know that it’s ok to grieve over the way things should have been.  I’ve often asked, “how does one grieve over something one has never had?”  But then I remembered Jesus’ lament.  The Scribes and Pharisees were terrible leaders.  Their indifference to the suffering they caused was wicked and cruel – they should have shepherded, but didn’t.  That caused Jesus to grieve deeply.  We can grieve, too.

But very shortly after Jesus lamented over this, he was taken away, beaten and tortured and hung on a cross to die for them – for us.  He wept over the way things were, and then laid down his life to change that.  He might have wept bitterly, but he did not become bitter.  He loved.  We can do that, too.

That’s why he came.  That’s why we have Christmas.

I love you guys.

Mom

I’m sorry…

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I’m sorry…

Two of the most used, and abused, words in any language.

We’ve all seen it happen:

An offender offers the obligatory “sorry” to their offended – mostly just to get them (or the situation) off their back.

I’ve seen it with children frequently:  We say, “Jenny, tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him.”  But Jenny is not sorry.  She feels justified because Johnny did (fill in the blank), but we insist.  “It was wrong to bite Johnny.  You owe him an apology.  Now tell him you’re sorry.”  Jenny still isn’t sorry and you have other things to do.  “Jenny!  Tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him or you will (fill in the blank with some consequence of not saying “sorry”).”  The word “sorry” becomes Jenny’s ticket out of this mess, and getting out of the mess is worth more than maintaining her stance of justification, so she, begrudgingly, complies.  “Sorry for biting you.”

But everyone present knows it’s a sham.

Children are not the only ones who are guilty of this.  And, since I’ve been thinking on this and being more aware of how frequently it happens, we adults don’t seem to grow up and get much better at hiding our contempt or the ruse.

Who hasn’t heard (or been) a couple in the midst of a disagreement (where there really is something to be sorry about) where the guilty party is finally convinced that they need to admit it and do the right thing but end up much like the Jenny and Johnny above?  “OK, I’m sorry,” but we all know that’s a lie.

Or, worse still, there is a shouted, “I’m sorry!” with an expressed or implied, “now can you just drop it!” attached to the communication.

I’m sure we all have stories we could tell where we’ve witnessed it.  But if we’re honest, we must also confess that we’ve been “that” guy (or girl), too.

I ask, dear reader, because I wonder if real forgiveness can ever be offered is there is never real sorrow over our wrongs?

Jenny didn’t simply bite Johnny.  She injured his body, sure, but she also injured his person as well.  She bullied him.  She devalued him.  She placed her wants, her desires, her will above him – which communicates that he is worthless to her.  She violated his right to suffer no undeserved harm.  She abused him.

Can a muttered “sorry for biting you” ever express what really needs to be expressed to him without her realizing that she has done far more to him than leaving teeth marks?  (And yes, parenting a child’s heart is incredibly hard and takes much more time – but it is critically important.)

The same is true in adult situations.  When we offend or hurt someone, can the two words, “I’m sorry” ever really be enough?  Can that phrase convey heartfelt remorse over the wrong and the collateral damage that ensued without some evidence of sorrow?

I think not.

The original meaning of the word “sorry” is overflowing with a very different tone.  Old dictionaries use the following words to define “sorry”:

“distressed, grieved, full of sorrow”

“pained, wretched, worthless, poor”

These words paint a fuller picture of what “I’m sorry” ought to convey.  They get to the heart of the matter, don’t they?  Rather than a “can we get this over with” mentality, or “I’m sorry if you’re upset about this” attitude, “I’m sorry” should convey, “I am grieved and full of sorrow that I hurt you.  I am pained that my wrongdoing has affected you so profoundly.  I wish with all of my heart that I had not done it, because I love you and don’t ever want to see you hurt – least of all by me.”

But we don’t really recognize that our insults are damaging and costly beyond the seconds of time they take to express them.  We don’t acknowledge that our refusal to consider someone else’s needs is hurtful and reckless far beyond inconvenience.  We don’t want to admit that our threats or control or indifference express so, so much more than thoughtlessness or carelessness might excuse.

Instead, we defend our wretched behavior.  Or we justify it by blaming someone or something else.

Why do we do that?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, “No!  I’m not sorry!”?

At least if we did that we wouldn’t be adding deceit to the list of our transgressions.

Shouldn’t we at least be able to acknowledge that until we really are grieved over what we’ve done to the other person – in all its fullness – that what we are really communicating is that we are valuing ourselves – our reasons- our excuses – our justification – our position – our status – as more important and worth more than the other person?

You might ask me why I care about this enough to lay it out here.

I have two reasons:  The first is that more and more I see around me a thousand, maybe ten thousand ways we avoid the “little” conflicts in our lives to our peril.  We ignore the things that we don’t want to deal with for a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to this:  we don’t think the other people in lives are worth rolling up our sleeves and getting messy over.  In this area, we don’t want to spend the time or the energy it takes to try to work things out with someone who has offended us, or whom we’ve offended, so we “let it go.”

But it doesn’t go away – it builds.  It gets added to the next time and the next until we erupt and don’t even know where to begin to try to make things right.  Relationships are destroyed over the building up of a thousand unresolved opportunities to say, “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry for hurting you.”

But the second, and infinitely more important reason is this:

Can forgiveness ever be ours if we do not sorrow over our sins?  Can we possibly expect that an All-Knowing God is fooled by our “sorry if I upset you” words when we all know full well there is no real sorrowful remorse?  Can repentance ever be genuine if there is not also sorrow?

Psalm 51: 16-17 says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice (or an obligatory “sorry”),

or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering (or an, “I’m sorry if this upsets you”).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (parenthetical statements added)

 

Learn what being sorry means, friends.  Teach your children to understand it as soon as they are able.  And for the sake of the Gospel in your own life and in the lives of those around you, be quick to see the profound and magnificent work that can be wrought through a heart that has learned what it is to be “pained, wretched, distressed, grieved, and full of sorrow.”  All of heaven rejoices over one such as this.

Going to hell is worse than going to jail…

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That probably seems obvious to most of the people reading this blog.  Most of my friends would readily agree to this being truth.

But do we believe it?

Do we live in a way that we make decisions based on that being true?

Sometimes I’m guilty of saying I believe something to be true, but not living and making decisions like I believe it to be true.

I’ll give you an example.

Years ago, when I was expecting baby #2, we had moved away from “home” to a place where I knew exactly two people – my husband and baby #1.

I was young and embarassingly immature.  I was exceedingly lonely.  And I was sick as a dog with said baby.  I don’t mean a little queasy in the mornings, but couldn’t eat or drink anything, losing weight, needing to be in the hospital multiple times sick as a dog.  It was a dark time for me.

Why did God take me away from all the people who loved me and would have helped me?  Why did we have to move to such a gloomy place (Cleveland, OH – no lie – check out their yearly cloud cover!)?  Why did I have to be so stinking sick when other people “glowed” with pregnancy?  In short, I was whining a lot and demanding of God, “Why do I have to suffer???”

Previous to this I know I would have given complete and confident verbal assent to the truth that all Christians will have to suffer at some time or another.  I know this because I had already done it.

I knew 1 Peter 2 – where Peter tells us, “For to this (suffering well) you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps.”

Intellectually I knew the implications of Matthew 16:24 where Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

And I could have quoted John 15:20 where Jesus said, “Remember what I told you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also…”  and John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble…”

But in both cases I would have focused on the ends of those verses – “If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also.  If they have obeyed my teaching they will obey yours also.”  And, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

Glossing over the hard parts doesn’t make the hard parts, well, not hard.

As I lay in my bed, wasting away under the call to bring a new life into the world I did not celebrate this high calling – I railed against it.  I raised my ridiculously small fist at the Almighty God of the Universe and demanded to know, “WHY!?!”

That’s just one example of how I didn’t want to suffer any real pain or inconvenience – unfortunately, there have been many.

In all those times what I really needed was to understand the truths that these passages and others like them are really saying.

Here’s what I’ve learned that Jesus is really saying to me… and to all those he is calling to follow Him:

“Laurie – life is going to be hard if you are going to be my disciple.  You are going to experience all kinds of hardships simply because you belong to me.  They may be a little hard, or they may be exceedingly hard – to the point of pain or torture or death.  But don’t be afraid.  In fact, be bold!  For nothing will happen to you that isn’t from my hand and no one can take you from me or my care – I have overcome everything that stands between you and me.  Trust me in all things.  Following me will be worth infinitely more than you can imagine.”

I’ve continued to need to learn, in fuller and fuller measure, what this really means in the daily things of life.

Will I step in to difficult situations knowing full well that they will be painful, because God is calling me to them?  Will I stop and help that person?  Will I go into that neighborhood?  Will I go into that country?  Will I go back, again, to engage that difficult person?  Will I risk comfort and safety and reputation to tell others what Jesus wants them to know?

And perhaps harder still, will I take my children into those situations because they need to learn how to do those same things?  Will I support my children going into “dangerous” situations without me because they believe God is calling them there?

This is where the rubber meets the road.  These are the daily, ordinary kinds of things we all face but want to run away from.  This is where our decisions reflect what we really believe.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then my answers to those questions will need to based on that truth.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, I will value his direction for my life more than I will value my personal space, or comforts, or safety, or reputation.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then like the believers in North Africa, or China, or the MIddle East, I would be willing to go to jail or be beaten or even put to death in order to tell my friends and neighbors about Jesus… because them going to hell is worse than me going to jail.

Letters and night-lights

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It’s not often that someone openly, boldly, unashamedly asks me to lie – to commit fraud.  Normally the temptations to sin are subtle, sly, subconscious even.  But not this one.

We are selling a house.  We have people renting it currently.  They’ve been very accommodating to realtors showing the property at all times of the day.  We’ve told them the truth through the whole process for two reasons:  it’s what we’d want, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Imagine our surprise, in this economy, when we received an offer for a little more than our asking price!  Woo-hoo!

But there’s a catch.  In order for the buyer to get a mortgage, we’d have to ask our renters to write a letter stating that they’d move out in 60 days.

Our response was simple.  “What?”

“It’s just a letter – it doesn’t mean anything.  Just ask them to write the letter so the mortgage company will give the buyer a mortgage.  We’ll all know that the renters can stay there until the end of their lease.”

Shocked just feels like an understatement.

So many things came to mind as these words penetrated my understanding.

“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies,” Ps 34:13

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thoughts to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” Pr 14:8

“How then could I do this wicked thing and sin against God?” Gen 9:9(b)

“So whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”  1 Cor 10:31

The answer was easy but not because we argued from a position of strength (in human terms, anyway).  The buyer was dangling a greater than full-price offer before us – all we had to do was ask our tenants to write a little letter that no one had any intention of holding them to.

It was easy to give them an answer because we knew that this had nothing to do with a letter, but had everything to do with understanding that God cared more about our hearts and actions than the buyer or his real estate agent did.

We heard a sermon on Matthew 5 yesterday.  In particular, we heard preached that salt that isn’t salty is useless – pointless.  You don’t season the salt for it to be useful – you throw it out.  The only purpose of light is to illuminate – no one needs a “flash dark”.  You don’t turn on a light to cover it up – that’s just stupid.

God has called us to be salt and light – His salt and His light.  We exist as salt and light.  It’s not that sometimes we’re salty and sometimes we illuminate.  It has become our defining characteristics – we are salt and light.

Verse 16 says, “so then, let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.”

We often think of the big things when applying scripture to our lives.  Missionaries.  Martyrs.  Evangelists.  They know how to do these things so that people can look at their lives and know that God was directing their paths.  They lead multitudes to the Lord, they remain faithful through persecution, they never waiver.  All that may be true, but even they deal with the ordinary things in life.

Even they have to file taxes honestly, pay for things the cashier undercharged for, apologize to children, and leave the office supplies at work.

It was easy to say no to this offer, because we knew that no amount of money was worth dishonoring God.  It wasn’t just a letter – it was God’s reputation on the line.  God may not provide another full-price offer, but we’re confident He can work things out without asking us to lie.  But this episode has caused me to think about the many opportunities we have in the course of normal, everyday, ordinary life that even our little lives can season and shine.

Walking from moment to moment with integrity matters, even if you’ll never be a missionary or martyr or evangelist.  Sprinkling the salt and lighting the way in the smallest and seemingly most mundane parts of our days glorifies God – even if the only ones who see it are our kids or coworkers.

Like our pastor said yesterday, even a night-light in the middle of the night makes a profound difference to the one who’s path has been illuminated.