How Do We Handle Pain and Suffering?

When facing pain and crisis, there's different losses for each of us.

For myself there was the deep pain of betrayal, the absence of friends and loss of control. Therefore I spent a lot of time attempting to right injustices, wanting to be understood and simply just trying to scrap together a life. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not find the answers I desired.

Although I felt that God was very absent, He grieves over the pain that life brings us.

His priorities though differ to ours.

We strive to make life better and to rebuild the comforts that we have lost and view as necessary. We work hard to ascertain that life goes as we plan.

God though desires that we find and love Him more deeply in suffering.

This love will not necessarily right the wrongs but it brings pleasure to life and makes each day more bearable. 

All About Ruth

In the book of Ruth, we see two very different types of women. While they plow forward through extraordinary loss, they portray differing strengths.

Many of us, in crisis, tend to isolate. People either are busy, want us to react in a certain way or after a draining day of work, there's simply no more energy or time to give.

Neither of these women though chose isolation,  a dangerous choice when in trouble.

Ruth also clings to her relationship with Naomi as while Naomi admits bitterness, Ruth knows Naomi better. Ruth does not try to correct this woman whom she loves. Ruth only seems to desire to stay close to her.

But there's another interesting aspect to this story.

In crisis, we can cling to possessions. After all, we spend a lifetime trying to acquire these things as they offer some sense of comfort and security.

For myself, when my security was so shaken with loss of marriage and job, I spent hours going over my possessions, to determine what wealth I could secure.

Yet here is Ruth choosing relationship over things. We do not see her concerned with possessions but concerned with losing a treasured relationship.

We see a lady who leaves the comforts of home and ventures forth into a new land with strangers, because she wished to maintain a relationship.

To me this is great faith amidst crisis.

When God is Absent

An acquaintance asked me recently if my faith was stronger after all I’d been through - divorce, career and status loss, family far away and abandonment. I though do not equate faith with this era of my life.

For me it was simply a struggle for survival. Daily emerging from bed in pain - sorting a plethora of bills, desperately selling things, learning new skills and unable yet to reveal my plight to others.

Huge loss can mean that one feels that God is absent and far away. There may be glimpses of His presence but He is not one to count on. If He can allow such loss then how is He reliable.

At much of this time I related to Naomi in the book of Ruth. Old, used up, scared, alone and abandoned.

My admiration for Naomi though is that she held some hope for a future and it was her sheer determination that drove her forward.

She was shattered, bitter but determined to emerge from her mess.

The lesson is this. Our catastrophe cannot stop God’s plan if we carry a slither of hope. For what I was hoping, I do not know, but I do now know that God does not give up on us despite our hurt and pain.

God is not disgusted or shocked when we are living on a thread of His relationship. He gently draws this thread forward, drawing us into a different season of mystery.

Some see the book of Ruth as a fairytale in which a beautiful young woman moves from loss to happiness. Rather to me it portrays two perspectives of women who face massive trauma and yet God reveals to us, what is truly important.
It is Him that is faithful in our mess at all times.

The Problem with Moving On

One of the toughest comments is that of "move on." It's often spoken in a way that means "get over it" or 'forget it"  and the speaker comes across as the champion of conquering all. 

I've heard it preached from the pulpit and I've heard it spoken privately in leadership situations when a member must leave as they've become an embarrassment to a church.

I've nodded my head in agreement and cheered on a speaker when this term has been used but my conscience cringes.

Some times the message has been great as the words are wrapped in love and mercy. But at other moments, I've wondered. "Move on" honestly can be spoken when the deliverer of these words feels inadequate and afraid. Or perhaps some one's dilemma is demanding too much time. Avoidance is the answer, spoken as 'move on."

There are those people who do move on fast but then there are those, the deep thinkers, who analyse and sift through situations at a different pace, determined to examine things, from every angle. And yes this is annoying to many, but we do not all fit one mold.

Spending the time to work through situations does not necessarily mean that one is being a victim.

God is patient and yes, tolerant. He guided the Israelites through a desert for forty years when it should have taken eleven days.

Yes they moved on and wow was it frustratingly slow, but that's the process of God.

I Do. Do I Really?

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at a small group. It was the first time speaking after several years and I was nervous. Not only to trust that words would come out of my mouth but the topic, "Crises and Divorce!" Yet these friends trusted me and this gave me confidence.

The greatest impact though, was when a young woman confessed her wrong doing in a previous relationship and asked forgiveness by those whom had been hurt by similar sin. I felt a wave of emotion pass around the room. Her courage far outweighed mine. There was no excuse from her but simply the sheer determination to take responsibility for her wrong.

Rarely today do we see the courage to hold to one of God's greatest covenants. Grace is easily found but obedience? 

Marriage is difficult. It's design is to make us more Christlike  but daily this means sacrifice and putting another's needs before our own when we just want to sit back and do our own thing.

Look at the difference between a man and a woman. Most men want to conquer the world and yet a woman craves love and security. These traits do not naturally go together. 

Then there are personality differences that initially attract each to the other but then become unacceptable. "If she just would stop talking", or ''I did think he was the strong silent type but...." And so, we busily set to work, trying to mold the other into something more to our liking.

Add to this, the difference in family backgrounds. Did anyone ever inform us that when we marry, that we also inherit another family? I thought that one was enough!

We all have the dream that this special other will magically fill the gaps in our life and therefore life will be easier. Yet when we commit to marriage it brings complication, hard work and change, maybe even pain and betrayal.

But isn't that part of the journey of knowing God?

What is astounding, is that God entrusted to me, another human being, to love and care for. One with whom I could share my deepest hopes and vulnerabilities.

He gifted him to me, and vice versa, through the good and bad, so that I could know my God more intimately.

 

 

The Tension of God's Will

I'm loving this extra hour of rest this morning before I drag out of bed and get ready for church. Extra time to sit, play with the dogs and read and write. And I must admit, eating three donuts brought to me by my husband.

Part of my study this morning has been to study God and His will.

We wonder why God seems to do nothing about certain problems and so we question His power and care for us. We believe that if a problem, for example a marriage, a person or financial difficulty would disappear, then life would be better.  This form of thinking though shows shortsightedness and even arrogance. That we believe our plan to be  best.

Honestly we often don't agree with how God does the job and that He should work according to our wants and desires.

Sometimes we even lower our standards to find freedom if God does not perform within our time frame. For example, thoughts such as "I deserve to be happy" lead us often to do things that are contrary to God's plan. 

Patience is difficult. Living in the tension of unresolved issues is hard.

God's ultimate quest though is to make us holy and close to Him and no amount of shifting or short cuts on our behalf will alter this or bring us the result that we believe that we deserve.

Self Protection or Love

Every one of us lives with a level of discomfort.

Others may look really together but even 'the together ones" carry a form of mess within.

Discomfort heightens when we're put on the spot, anger emerges when a spouse displeases us, conversation shifts when a topic surfaces our ignorance and we search for opportunities to enhance our reputations.

We seek places of comfort rather than challenge and as believers we explore ways to improve our spirituality - serving and helping, reading and praying, selling our talents to others to prove our worth.

But still the nagging feeling of discomfort continues. There's more to us than merely loving God and others.

We were not designed to live in this world. Before sin, vulnerability with God and each other was natural. But sin ushered in shame and avoidance and a fear of rejection, even if it meant hurting those that we love. Therefore while we crave closeness, we create distance with others.

To present a front, or self protect may feel safe but it limits the depth of a relationship.

Finding those whom are willing to hear our struggles and anxiety is vital.

Being one whom is willing  to allow another to have issues is vital.

Even more, being one whom can hear but not offer the quick fix is more precious than gold.

 

 

Love is a Challenge

Is love described as a feeling in the Bible?

I ask this question because more often than not, people opt out of intimate relationships because of reasons such as "I don't like you any more", "our marriage was a mistake" or "I deserve to be happy". 

Few people understand what love is, particularly when it pertains to marriage. Most think of it in terms of romance, desire and pleasant feelings. When the term, "I love you" is spoken, it mostly means "I love me and I want you. Therefore I want to keep you because you make me happy."

If we think about this, it's a selfish way of living.

The love potion that often accompanies new romantic relationships does not last but should mature into a deep and trusting relationship. A relationship where one can trust the other with their deepest fears and desires. There is a level of vulnerability in which hope and hurt are shared and worked through.

Probably the greatest example of love is God giving His only Son due to His deep love for mankind, a love so filled with sacrifice for the sake of others.

This love is not a feeling, but an act of the will. And so should we, determine to keep this great act going.

To Be

As an elementary student, every year my greatest dread was the sports carnival. Running races for flat-footed me were horrific as no matter how hard I tried, last place was mine unless a girl, whose name I'll never forget and wont mention, would rescue me from this torture. Slower than me, she'd guarantee me second last place rather than last.

Beyond this though were other dilemmas. To be acceptable meant that I had to win. Mediocre was not okay but significance meant to be best or near best. I felt good if I was succeeding and accepted.

We often carry these thoughts into the church world. To be noticed and successful, I must be a pastor or worship leader, I must be on the stage or hold a grand title. We often too only show our positive front to leaders. Oh the shock if they saw our flaws and we were then rejected.

As believers, we may accept Christ but we hang onto our past baggage and endeavor to find acceptance and success through external measures rather than in Christ.

The real God is so different from this, being the God, "I am" rather than the god "I do."

No races, competition or comparison are in Him, only the desire for a relationship with each of us. Nor does He disappear if we fail or show negative emotions.

He created us as we are, to find acceptance and rest in Him.

External things such as high achievement and performance, are such an enticement for satisfaction because they are directly in front of us. And yet Solomon often admits, that they are empty and hollow endeavors.

Contentment that is long term,  is an inner quality found in God. Better yet it is free.

 

The Hand and Will of God - Questions and Answers

We've heard the statement, "Even when our world is falling apart, God is still working in all areas."

Easily said but not easily lived. And very hard to hear when life is in turmoil.

The hand and will of God though is often not pleasant. It is not the stuff of our dreams.

It may even mean that we have to stagger through a storm alone, accused and ashamed. 

God's will is rarely a life of success and no adversity. Consider Isaiah 53:10 in regards to Jesus.

We also cannot deny the pain of Joseph's life. At 17, he was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery and separated from family for twenty years. And yet would we say that he was out of God's will? And that God had removed Himself from Joseph's life?

God will accomplish His purpose and His will despite the messiness of life.

It actually takes trials and pain to make us useful to God. In fact it's doubtful that anyone is truly useful to God without very deep pain.

Alignment and the Bible

The Bible could be compared to a navigation system.

To simply look at a map for a potential road trip doesn't take us anywhere. To own a Bible does not make one a Christian nor does it do anything in one's life.

Nor is the Bible, God. It is however written about the lives and experiences of many people who truly knew God.

Therefore to get anywhere, we should align our lives with the instructions of the Bible. Similar to following the navigation's directions, if we do, we arrive at the desired location.

To obey, sometimes, is going to go against the deepest of our heart's desires and will make no sense at all. Some times we'll see those we love, reject us for our adherence to these principles. Some times it will mean ridicule and we'll want to give up.

If some Scriptures make no sense, this is an opportunity to just trust God. That at some point, understanding will come. 

This is the nature of Christian growth.

How Do I Fit In?

In the early twentieth century, Abraham Maslow developed a chart that categorized people's needs. His work is worth examination, especially considering family.

We can be part of a great family and yet still feel little value, unknown or insignificant. 

Often we emphasize the needs for food, shelter, safety, education and hobbies. Busily, we reorganize schedules to maintain all of these things. But to finish at this level, denies greater needs and therefore we cruise through life wondering purpose and worth.

Each of us has a huge need to belong and to be valued.

These desires are fulfilled by giving time, listening without preparing for an answer, and providing encouragement.

Practice affection or rather than focusing on being the center of attention, watch for opportunities to include others.

Watch for those things that bring a smile to another's face.

Listen and validate other's thoughts and engage in another's interests. 

Build up those, whether spouse or child, whether an unlovable teenager or an angry spouse. 

To criticize isolates, but encouragement strengthens connection and that sense of belonging.

 

Being Blessed

There is no guaranteed way through which we can receive God's blessings. There are principles that guide us through life but there is no such thing as a cause and effect pattern that will guarantee blessing.

We can work hard at raising great children or building a great marriage. We can work diligently at a business or making lasting friendships. Ultimately though, we do not have that much control over the outcome and may not achieve our desired result.

Christian leaders can work hard and serve God faithfully. Some enjoy God's blessing by building a substantial ministry but others do not.

Some parents parent faithfully and produce fantastic children but other parents whom have been just as faithful, do not.

Ultimately if we live with a cause and effect mindset regarding the blessing of God, life becomes a roller coaster and disappointing.

If children, marriage, business or friendships succeed, we are happy. If one fails, though, we experience contempt not just for self but for others.

If we live with a cause and effect mentality, or as one whom expects blessing for good works, life and God are disappointing. We live, preoccupied with using God as a source of reward, rather than aiming at a relationship with Him.

Beyond the splendor that life has to offer, focusing on the thought that God Himself is the ultimate blessing is fulfilling. He is the constant relationship that lifts us despite trials and loves and accepts us in spite of success or failure.

Anger as a Life Line.

Often we do not know how to handle anger, particularly when it is expressed by another.

We therefore offer solutions that bring no relief to the person. Honestly, we are uncomfortable with the other's rage.

Anger does not have to be logical or valid but tends to surface once a person is feeling  able to survive a crisis. In crisis, one often feels amazed that she survived the loss.

Anger is a necessary stage of healing and as permission is given to express this emotion, one is able to process true hurts.

Anger has no limits. Underneath anger is pain. But anger can be strength and provides temporary structure in loss.

If we ask someone to move past their anger too fast, all we do is alienate them. We fail to recognize their loss and pain.

Anger can be seen as a life line. It is a rope to which one can cling and climb until clarity is again found.

The Voice

Last week, I had the tremendous privilege of sitting with one whom had accomplished much in life. She has not sought success and yet has achieved it through much hardship. Her thoughts follow.

Some times we are confident and we have no trouble in finding our voice.

Then there's times when we question our life and feel a failure. It's hard to find our voice and it's difficult to find an arena in which we can be heard.

Some think that there's something dreadfully wrong at the expression of bitterness and hatred. Yet these emotions pass through people's hearts and minds every day.

To not accept one's emotions of pain minimizes their situation. We make them into a culprit only deepening the loss.

Perhaps  we fail to realize the enormity of the situation or perhaps their dilemma is inconvenient to us.    

To give room for one to express themselves, some times repeatedly, helps a person to process pain and again find security in their surroundings.

To not listen invalidates. To not listen, speaks of no interest and no time.

To give people a voice means we care and value others.

The Pioneer

I thought my pioneering days were over but God had other plans.

Out of the blue, one can find himself starting again. It may not be in one area of life but many.

Amidst the pioneering, there is excitement but hardship. There can be unresolved 'stuff" from the past but to determine to focus forward, is vital.

The fulfillment of God's dreams do not happen easily. But then again I've always thought of hope and faith as more than words. They are action.

Pioneering means that one pushes through the negative emotions, silence, criticism, lack of support and resources, no matter the moment.

The occasional cheerleader becomes the pioneer's best friend.

Man cannot rest his dream to pioneer on any of the above, as much as one seeks approval. As Catherine Marshall wrote, "Hope must be in the future tense. Faith, to be faith, must be in the present tense."

Believe in Me

One of my greatest discoveries recently is understanding that my source of affirmation has shifted.

Our desire to be valued is great and one of the ways in which this is maintained is through affirmation.

Our need for affirmation is greater when we feel that we have failed.

We can though make the mistake of trying to get affirmation from a source that is not appropriate. That source may not have the capacity, the capability, the time or understanding. 

Rather than attempting to repeatedly draw affirmation from that from which there is no result, we should look around and realize that God's provision will come from elsewhere.

New seasons bring new meaning and new people into our lives. We cannot change the season or other people. We should not depend upon our own understanding but know that our troubles are all a part of God's master plan.

Sympathy and Empathy.

Some times these two words are confused in meaning. Yet they are very different.

Empathy strengthens connection but sympathy can move us to disconnection.

Empathy means that we can see the perspective of another person. It recognizes that the other person sees their perspective as truth. An empathetic person doesn't just recognize the emotions of another but acknowledges and feels with them.

Empathy recognizes that someone is in a dark place and does not just tell someone that "life will improve". The empathetic are willing to visit that dark place with the someone.

Empathy assures the someone that they are not alone.

Sympathy, on the other hand, will acknowledge a difficult situation but remains removed from the someone. Sympathy may encourage the some one to reach out but fails to realize their true state.

Sympathy does not connect with one in pain because we do not wish to feel that pain. Rather sympathy minimises the problem, making it less than what it is.

If we examine our conversation, many of us do this a lot. We do not want to become enmeshed in another's pain. 

Empathy is prepared to acknowledge that perhaps we don't have an answer but that we are willing to listen and be a part of this journey.

Connection, a part of empathy aids in healing. Response, which is the prime ingredient of sympathy, does little.

Learning to Laugh

 

A friend and I love to compare notes on the crazy things that we have done in the midst of crisis.

Some bills have gone unpaid and yet I was sure that I had paid them.

One mortgage was paid three times in a month. Did I really do that?

There's appointments that i double booked or forgot to attend.

There's books and movies read and seen of which I have no recollection.

Restaurant tips that were given that were totally inadequate or double the price of a meal.

In the midst of this is perseverance. 

We can rejoice in the midst of hardship.

"Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope."

What Do I Need?

In times of want and need we tend to focus on that particular desire. It becomes our primary focus and occupies our thoughts.

For myself, I found myself reestablishing myself as a single woman, selling and moving homes and finding a new career.

Do I leave my home church or stay? Do I move back to Australia or to a location close to my children?

Such concerns are a normal part of life but the stress of these things can find us pushing God to the periphery.

At such times we can neglect to seek God for help and become obsessed with our dilemma.

What do we do?

I believe that we start with repentance. Do what we usually do when we've neglected some one that we love.

After repentance, let the conversation with God flow.

The more we focus on God, the more access to His unfailing love.

His never ending love is empowering and fuels us as does nothing else.