Tag Archives: anxiety

Lay it down…

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suffering

 

When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his own brothers, I’m sure there was some clawing and scraping at the sides of it to try to get out… but there was no escape.

 

When he was sold to the traders on their way to Egypt, I’m sure there was some begging and pleading and serious efforts to wrest himself from the chains… but no one’s heart stirred to relent, and he was hauled away.

 

And when he was unjustly thrown into prison, I’m guessing there were some pleas and cries for justice… but bars and locks only mocked his appeals.

 

When Job learned that all of his possessions and ten children were gone in a succession of calamities that would make anyone’s heart faint – his did.

 

The raw reality of human suffering is not meant to be sugar coated with platitudes and “sticker-verses” that make the speaker feel better but not the sufferer.  But it is meant for something.

 

Suffering is agonizing.  It is life-stealing.  Suffering is loss of the most intimate kind and produces groans too deep to understand.

 

But it is also good.

 

We may suffer evil, but the suffering itself is good.

 

We may fight and claw at it.  We may plead with God for it to stop.  We may cry and rail against the injustice inherent in much of it.  And almost always, our hearts grow faint under the weight of it.  But in the end, those of us who are called by King Jesus, must greet it as the good gift it is intended to be – that it actually must be – because of the One who has placed it in our lives.

 

The struggle is real, and it is part of the process we all need to go through to learn what we need to learn from the suffering.  But eventually, if we are to gain anything at all from pain and sorrow and loss, the struggle against it needs to stop.  We must all – every one of us – come to the place where we can hold that burden of struggling against the trial, look at it with full-frontal, honest scrutiny and lay it down.

 

If we believe what we say we believe – that for those who love God all things work together for  good for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28) – then this, too – this suffering, was meant for our good. If we believe that 1 Cor 4:17 is true – that our sufferings are producing an eternal glory that far outweighs them all – then we can begin to see that God is giving us something better than we would have even imagined to ask for.  If we believe what Eph 3 says – that this is the very way that we are strengthened to be able to comprehend the love of God – then we can see this as a gift from our Father who says, “I want you to know me this deeply, and widely, and broadly, and for this long.”  And that none of these things can separate you from that love (Rom 8:35).

 

If all of these things are true – really, actually, undeniably true – then we can begin to loosen our grips on the hair roots that promise to lift us out of the pit but never deliver, and the shackles that delight to keep our minds and bodies enslaved, the prison walls that mock our broken hearts, and even the soul-rending cries that long for good to be restored… and cling instead to these promises of God for our deliverance.

 

We can lay down the struggle against it all.  We must.  Or we miss the good that is inherent in it and we miss the good that only comes from believing and trusting Him through it.

 

This isn’t a decision that someone else gets to make for you, beloved sufferer. No one can tell you when it is time to cast your burden aside.  The only words that can help you are the ones that help you get to the end of your struggle – not avoid it.   You and I, each in our time, must struggle through the suffering.  We may feel alone, but our Savior, who is able to sympathize with our grief because he has borne the same, has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He is patient, though and will wait for you to lay down the burden of struggling against his good gift on your own.

We are not wrong to rail against the evil in this world.  We are not silly to want love to prevail. We are not idealistic fools to long for peace and joy and goodness to be reality. God agrees.  But God’s path for us to see and know and live those things is not the path that we would choose.  There are no shortcuts for mercy.  There are no detours that bring peace.  

If we are to experience the full measure of God’s ultimate gift for us – Himself – we must do things his way.  We must accept that he knows what we do not and that his hard path is better than going the wrong way, no matter how tempting it may be.  

We learn how strong God is through the struggle, but we learn how good he is when we lay it down.

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The design of chaos

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confusion

When we lived in England I witnessed a scene of purposeful chaos.

It took place in a convenience store and was unsettling to say the least.

We had stopped to fill up on petrol and grab some beverages before heading out for a day of soaking up and reveling in the local history.

My husband was filling the tank and I went in to buy some drinks and pay for our gas when suddenly a large group of loud and very excited people pulled up between the store and the pumps in 3 or 4 tall vans – all with no windows.

Guessing, I’d say there were 30-40 men and women who poured out of the vehicles, into the store, all speaking a language I couldn’t understand.  They pushed and shoved each other, and those of us in the store. There were about 8 of them who stood at the counter shouting at the clerk  – it seemed like it was over candy bars.  The rest bullied their way through every aisle, shouting and demanding that people get out of the way while the shouting continued at the counter.  And then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they took off.  It was as if a switch was flipped and in unison they rushed out of the doors, into the vans, and sped out of the parking lot.

Dumbstruck, those of us who had been in the store stood in open-mouthed shock at what had just occurred.  The silence was interrupted when my husband, who had no idea of what had taken place inside, came in to see what was taking me so long.  I said, “Did you SEE THAT?!?”  Because the vans had blocked any line of vision into the store, he hadn’t seen much of anything except that the vans were there, and then they were gone.

I was rattled, but I couldn’t even really explain why.  In probably what was less than 10 minutes a whirlwind had just occurred in our midst but none of us could think of a single word to describe what had actually transpired.  It was just a bunch of people in a convenience store.  So what if they were loud and rude?  Nothing really happened, right?

Wrong.

We found out later that the convenience store had actually been robbed – not at the cashier, but from the shelves.

The chaos that ensued in those moments was designed to distract us from what was actually happening all over the store.  It was confusing.  It was unsettling.  It was scary!  And it was meant to be so.

The thing that struck me was how successful the chaos was in keeping all of us from seeing what was really going on.  We were in the midst of the crime scene and we didn’t recognize that a crime was taking place!

I’m telling you this story because I think that the evil one is using the same tactic right now, fairly successfully against God’s people.  Things are chaotic right now, and it’s so easy to focus on the chaos and miss what is actually taking place in front of us.

The issues are important – racial tensions, immigration laws, economic policies – I get it.  They affect real human beings and I’m not trying to diminish the significance of the impact of what people in power do.

But let us remember that, for those of us who follow Jesus, we serve the King of Kings who holds the nations (and their leaders) in his hands and who does with them as he pleases.  Let us remember, that he is redeeming for himself a people – from every tribe and tongue and nation – to enjoy his fellowship forever.

I am finding that the anxiety that the chaos is designed to produce is effectively turned into peace and joy by lifting my gaze to the One who holds the whole world in his hands.

NONE OF THIS is out of his control or outside of his will for us.  EVERY EVENT AND CIRCUMSTANCE we are experiencing is both for our good and for his glory.  ALL OF THIS – is for good purposes.

Do not let the chaos of these days distract you from what is really happening!

As we each seek to be good citizens of the lands of our birth, let us more fervently, more ardently, more rigorously seek to be good citizens of the Kingdom in which our true citizenship lies forevermore.

Let us refrain from adding to the din.  Let us not allow the chaos of these days distract us from the purposes God has called us to.  Let’s not be sidelined from following hard after him and telling others what great things the Lord has done for us.  Do not let the turmoil of kingdoms that will be blown away as dust is from the scales, trouble you in the slightest, but keep your hearts and minds stayed on the solid Rock – Christ Jesus.

Remember to Whom you have been called.  Remember to Whom you belong.  Remember the promises of true and lasting peace and justice which have been given to us by the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe.

Remember and don’t forget, for we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Satan may love to stir up chaos that is designed to distract, confuse, and even frighten us, but remember, God delights in taking chaos and making order out of it.

What if…?

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Yesterday I was challenged with a “What if…?” question.

“What if” questions require imagination.  They require us to ponder the possibilities, explore the potentials, and mentally fly to places unknown.  What if questions are usually an invitation to hope and dream about positive, wonderful things.  I encourage my kids to ask “what if?” all the time.  I want them to learn to imagine and dream the biggest of hopes and possibilities.  It’s a good exercise.

But I have to admit that when the question was first being posed to me, I wasn’t feeling particularly imaginative…or positive…or wonderful.

This particular “what if” scenario wasn’t about imagining the possibilities of great inventions or missions opportunities or travel destinations.  It wasn’t about letting my mind take me away to possible twists and turns on my life journey or even hopes or dreams.

No.  This “what if” question was about pain.

“What if,” my friend asked me, “this current pain that is so hard is actually meant to be life-giving rather than the death you think it is?”  I knew where he was going, but I was not particularly jumping up and down about going down that imaginary road with him.

I was thinking, “But the pain is… well, I don’t mean to sound dense, but… it’s painful.  And I want it to stop – yesterday. I don’t want to open myself up to the possibilities of it – I want to close myself off so it stops hurting so much.”

I knew that probably wasn’t the wisest thing to say out loud.  Even as it was rolling around in my mind, I could hear the stories of Joseph and Job and Paul objecting to my objections.

Still, I wanted to say, “But…”

I didn’t.

I listened.  Wanting desperately to object to the idea that the pain had to continue, and wanting to object vehemently to the notion that it might be for my good.

“Why does pain have to be such a harsh task master?”

Why, oh why can’t we learn the hard things through easier means?”

These were the questions I wanted to raise like a child wailing at the top of her lungs while the Physician was trying to administer a life-saving remedy.

I don’t want pain.  I certainly don’t want pain that has to last and last.

But I know better.

I know that the painful lessons are the most thorough ones.  I know that the tutelage of pain has the most lasting impact.  And I know, more than anything, that the painful times bear the sweetest, truest, deepest, richest spiritual fruit in my life.

Do I want to embrace this pain as the faithful teacher I know it to be?  Not really – do you like hugging porcupines?  But I’ll hug him again and again if I have faith that there will be an even greater reward than I can ask for or imagine on the other side of pulling out the quills.

I’ve been asked to trust that the pain will achieve its purpose because it has come through the hands of my loving Heavenly Father.  And I’m being asked to consider the possibility that hopeful anticipation for the blessed reward on the other side of it all will make me wonder what I was so afraid of.  Big requests, really, but honest ones.

Opening one’s self, voluntarily – willingly ­– to the lessons of pain feels like giving one’s self over to the tyranny of a tormentor… Unless we know our Teacher well.

Trusting in human beings is risky business.  But trusting in the One who loves me enough to lay down His life for me isn’t risky at all.  Keeping my eyes – and heart and thoughts and hopes and dreams – stayed on Jesus will bring me safely to the other side of all of this.  Even if it goes on and on He will sustain me and comfort me and be enough for me.  I know this to be true.

So onward pain.  Do your work. Have your way with me and mold me into a woman who radiates the tested beauty that only the heat of a refiner’s fire can produce.  Keep me captive until I have learned the God-exalting lessons you have prepared for me.  And do not leave until this work is accomplished.

And Lord, for what it’s worth… I do believe all of this.  I know that you work all things together for my good, because I am yours.  I know that you have plans for me for a future and a hope.  I know that my help comes from you and you are my defender and ever-present helper in times of need.  Lord, I do believe all that  – but please, help my unbelief.

I met Darth Vader in a bar…

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I know – you’re shocked that I might like Star Wars.  I don’t go to conventions or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking.  But the stories are fun.

I know – you’re shocked that I was in a bar.  Don’t be.  I wasn’t there to get drunk.

But in 1982 I really did meet Darth Vader in a bar.

Here’s what happened:

When I was tiny – I mean a really little kid – my father stormed out of the house and never returned.  My memories of that night are vivid, but they are, after all, from a 4-year-old’s perspective.  I was little, so he was really, really big.

He was scary, too.  He was broad and strong and dark and loud – he sounded ominous.  In addition to his threatening image, he had come to represent everything evil in this world.  He was, for me, Darth Vader.

While the years went by, my thoughts of him were consistent in this perspective.  I was, more than anything, afraid of this hulking figure and malevolent nature that made me tremble.  There was nothing about my childhood experiences that made me change my mind.

But in 1982, I got engaged to be married, and somehow he heard about it.  He sent me a message that he wanted to meet with me and get reacquainted.  Though I had feared him all those years, I had also longed to know him.  So I agreed to go to meet him (with my older brother for protection).

I was all grown up then – no need to be afraid.  But I was.  I was terrified!

With all the maturity I could muster, I made myself look as adult as possible (I did not want him to see me as that scared little girl anymore!)  My brother and I walked in to the appointed, public, meeting place.

And that’s when I met Darth Vader…  He was sitting at the bar.  Waiting for me.

In an instant, I took in the scene before me.  His cape was tattered and faded.  His helmet was battered and dented from many miles of bad road.  He wore thick glasses and he had let himself go terribly.  No longer strong and formidable – he was overweight and flabby – and had teeth missing.  He certainly wasn’t as tall as I had remembered.

And I could tell immediately that he was even more nervous to meet me than I was to meet him.

So why would I put something like this on my blog?

Because God came down in that moment standing at the bar and taught me something I have never forgotten.  That meeting that day changed everything for me.  I had allowed fear and dread to rule in my heart.  It had shaped not just my thinking about my father, but about all fathers – most men even.  My fear paralyzed me from doing the things I’d wanted to do – from being the person I knew God wanted me to be.  I feared Darth Vader more than I feared God, but He was about to show me how ridiculous that was.

Sitting there on that bar stool was a man.  My father.  No longer Darth Vader.  Simply a human man.  In fact, a man I now pitied and had compassion for.   I had no reason to fear him.  I had no reason to be intimidated by his image or my memories.  He had lost everything and I had been blessed with so much.

God gave that meeting to me, there in the bar, as a sweet gift.  It was as if he was telling me personally, in such a profound way, that I had nothing to fear.  God was with me – what could man (including Darth Vader Dad) do to me?

It all melted away in an instant.  Bars aren’t well-lit, but at that moment, I knew I was washed in the light of truth.  God wasn’t telling me to “buck up”.  He wasn’t telling me to find the strength somewhere deep down inside myself to face my fears head-on and be stronger than they are.

The lesson was simple:  “Know me.  Trust ME.  I got this.  You do not have to worry about it at all.”

I’ve mentally referred to that moment many times.  God was so kind to show me how BIG he is and how small my fears are.  It’s not that I don’t still have fears – of course I do.  But like David facing Goliath – I have learned to not focus on the giants before me.  I focus on the mighty God who is infinitely bigger than any giant I may face.

Even Darth Vader.

My hope is that you will learn to do the same.  There is great joy in realizing we risk nothing to follow God’s plan for us, and there is unmeasurable sorrow if we don’t.  My prayer for you is joy.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:8-9

Why won’t she jump?

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Some summers ago I had a sweet little bitty girl with a cute, ruffle-y pink bathing suit on with big polka dots, and a princess crown on her head.  I recall with clarity a specific hot summer day when she absolutely and categorically refused to get into the swimming pool with us.  She wanted to, but she could not overcome her fear.  She came close a lot of times.  We tried to coax her into the water by holding her securely.  We tried to hold her hands to help her navigate the steps at her own speed.  We tried to make a game out of jumping in – but nothing, and I mean nothing, could convince that child that this was a good idea.  She spent the day around the pool, but never made it in.

We wondered out loud, “Why won’t she jump?”  We were standing right there – holding her securely – but all we were ever met with was screaming protests.  Who wants to make a child have fun so much that they have to let them scream themselves into believing you?  We didn’t.  So we let her play by the side of the pool – in the shallow, unsatisfying, barely there puddles, while the rest of us enjoyed the depth of the goodness of the wonderfully cool and refreshing water on an oppressively hot summer day.

I know, I know – there were a million “reasons” she didn’t want to get in – unfamiliarity, temperature, sounds, splashes – but they all boiled down to one thing: fear.  She was worried about what was to come if she let herself be drawn in, and there was nothing that we could do or say  that could convince her that she would be OK.

Despite the fact that we had never once neglected her, or failed to keep her safe and sound, she doubted us so much that she could not believe that we would keep her safe in the water.  She was keeping herself safe out of it.

That’s quite a statement from a two-year old.

But don’t we do the same thing every time we worry?

Don’t we resolutely deny the goodness of a loving Father every time we skirt around issues or circumstances in order to avoid what we think He’s calling us to do?  Jump in, God?  What are you, NUTS??

I don’t typically have the guts to address God in quite those terms, but I am, in effect, saying exactly that every time I worry.

“God, you’ve got to be crazy to expect me to go through that!”

“Lord, this is ridiculous!  Only an idiot would go down that road!”

“Look, God, you’ve got this all wrong.  Sensible people just don’t do this sort of thing.”

Luke 12:22ff is where we are in our sermon series at Bethel.  (You can listen to this week’s sermon here – it was piercing.)  Jesus lovingly shows his disciples the folly of worry – how it accomplishes nothing, yet reveals much.

It made me ask myself, “Just what, exactly, do I hope to accomplish when I worry?”

When I go down those imaginary roads of, “what if…?”  I have comforted myself by thinking that I’m trying to figure something out.  I’m usually trying to mentally put some missing piece of the puzzle of my circumstances into place in order to know what’s coming.  I think, “if this (which I’ve had to make up), then that (which I also have to make up), then x, y, and z must surely follow” (which…) You get the picture.  I’ve had to fabricate an entire scenario…. and I feel better with that???  Really?  Rather than trust in a sovereign God, I feel better believing my own lies?

Somehow the foolish part of this seems to be a little clearer to me when I put it in these terms.

Our pastor made a statement that has successfully wedged its way through my protective coating of having things under control:  “What you seek after reveals what you value, and what you worry about reveals what you fear losing.”

Too many times I seek after the wrong things and it is revealed by what I worry about.  Safety, security, ease, comfort … I know I’m not alone, but that is no excuse.

I can picture the scene – Jesus talking to his disciples and telling them stories that reveal their deepest struggles.  It had to be piercing for them, just as it was for me, to see just how foolish their worries have been.  But he loved them, as he does us, and you can hear how he tenderly scoops them up in his arms as it were:  “Do not be afraid little flock”!  “For your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom”!  It’s as if he’s saying, “Trust me!  This is totally under control!”

Next time, instead of worrying about the multitude of things that rob you of joy and reveal your lack of faith in the loving care of Christ the King, jump in and see what wonderful goodness is here for you to enjoy!