The tragedy in Colorado is on all of our hearts today. The word I have heard used most often to describe it is “senseless,” meaning that it was without purpose. Tragedy always strikes us this way, whether it is the death of a loved one, betrayal, or the pain of disease; all of this goes against our innate sense of what is right and good.
Yet in the midst of the darkness, suffering can be filled with meaning. Since being given my own dose of deep suffering a year and a half ago, my awareness of stories of suffering has been heightened. I have heard over and over again the stories of loss—a child stillborn, a diagnosis of cancer, spousal unfaithfulness, abuse, the persecution and imprisonment of Christians; yet I am amazed how in each instance, God provides overwhelming comfort. Don’t misunderstand me, the pain is not taken away. There are still the agonizing nights of lying on the floor in tears, wondering if morning will ever come. But in those nights, God draws near, administering peace. There are still the days when each breath is a choice to persevere, when every song brings tears, when the ache in your heart is like a suffocating lead weight. But in each of those moments, Jesus is there. And He knows. He knows each pain, each sorrow, every tear. Only the God who suffered more than any of us ever will could know that.He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. ~Isaiah 53:3-5
Rereading my journal the other day, I found myself in awe of the journey which God has brought me on in the last 18 months. Was the suffering easy? No. Would I want to endure it again? No. But would I avoid it if I could go back and do it again? No, because through it I know my Savior better. I feel more alive today than ever before: my heart brims over with joy, peace and hope. I believed in Jesus before, and I had some sense of His person, but today I know so much more intimately His love, His grace and His glory. And that came through my suffering.
Evil is just that, evil, and it was not a part of the perfect world God created. But our God, the suffering Savior God, in ways beyond our comprehension, takes even evils beyond imagination and metamorphoses His good out of them.Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. ~2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Take heart, then, no matter what befalls. Our good God is in control, and He is making all things right. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~Jesus
It has been one of those weeks. Even as I write these words, I am frantically grasping to recall the “eloquence” I composed where most great ideas come to me—in the shower. Naturally, they have all fled my grasp by the time I emerge. (I really ought to let Tex install that white board he threatened to put up in there.)
My first failure of the week was a few days ago, when my heart and mind were overflowing with Longing—that Lewisian Longing described in “The Weight of Glory:” “. . . this desire for our own far-off country. . . We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.” I sat down and tried to put into words what I was feeling, and all I could get out were a few stilted stutterings that completely missed the essence of what I wanted to say.
Then yesterday I got very excited because I discovered that a local pastor in our denomination has created a publishing imprint. Stars erupted in my eyes like fireworks as I heard that magical word Published! ring in my ears. Yet as I read about it, my mind began to fill with doubts: What makes you think you are gifted enough to write? Just look at Leeana and Heather—they are so much more talented than you. Are you really sophisticated enough to write something worthy to be published? And doubt piled upon doubt until I was buried alive under them all.
And then I tread back down the worn, familiar path from childhood, the one spent sitting alone at every recess, taking refuge in writing poetry. (Yes, you read that right. And I wondered why I didn’t have many friends.) I start to fret about interacting with people and fearing that I will unknowingly do or say something inept that will make people dislike me. Sometimes it seems like I wear my social awkwardness like a burka that hides me from those I want to know. I immobilize myself in the chains of comparison: surely she finds so-and-so more interesting than me.
Then comes the full weight of all my perceived inaequacies bearing down on me. How every day feels like a battle to beat back the chaos that threatens to overwhelm. How some days I forget to check the kids’ schoolwork. How I fail to finish the books I begin to read, and how am I supposed to record that on Goodreads? It’s not finished, but I don’t want to put it back in To Read; I really ought to make an Unfinished Shelf and flaunt my failures to the world.
Yet then I recognize that to wallow in this is sin. For if I am inadequate, Who made me that way? And who am I to say that He created me poorly? And I see, as Paul reminds, that this is not about me, but about Him. I must go beyond thinking solely about myself and become transparent, like a window, so that who people see is not me, but Him.
I think about a friend who is likely the wisest, most compassionate, most grace-filled woman I know, and I wonder that she calls me friend. I think of how she radiates the love of Christ, and how she told me that God uses both our failures and our strengths to make us who He wants us to be. I remember how she gives voice to her fears and weaknesses, and I know I am not alone. In fact, I must be in very good company. We are all a little more or less inadequate, and maybe some of us are more aware of it than others, but there is Deeper Truth we need to know beyond that.
To my friends who call me often with a sigh, I love you. I love you because your candor encourages me that I am not alone in this. Know that you are not alone in this either, and you are beautiful—all that seems to you to be your failure is not. You are a wonderful mom and a gracious friend and a beautiful daughter of the King. And know that this is my echoing sigh in return, affirming you, and knowing that our sighing is an outpouring of our Longing for that which is Perfect, which one day we shall know face to Face.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. ~Psalm 91:1
Much of my journey has been a learning to stop anxiously striving to do what God requires, and rather to rest in being who God wants me to be. I love this passage that a friend recently quoted on her blog:
“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” Colossians 1:11-12, The Message
That has been me—that gritting-your-teeth Christian, tired, tense, anxious, and miserable. But where do I find that “glory-strength” that “spills over into joy?” Sign me up, please!
The prophet Isaiah says, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. The will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).I heard that when an eagle is soaring on a wind current, it takes him no more energy than if he was sitting on his nest. Could it really be that easy?
I feel like my whole life I have been trying to battle God in order to convince Him to take care of me or give me what I think I need or even to help me to become what He wants me to be or to do what He wants me to do, when instead He is holding out to me the best gifts He can give me, saying, “Go ahead! Take it! Trust! Ask! I want to give this to you! I made it especially for you! I love you!” (Matthew 7:7-11).
Why do I cry out to Him, feeling incapable and insignificant, when He has given up His very own, only Son in order to restore a relationship with me? (John 3:16). When He sends His Holy Spirit to abide within me (John 14:26), how can I think that I am inadequate to accomplish the wonderful things He has planned for me? (Ephesians 2:10). Of course I am perfectly inadequate: that’s why He gives His Spirit to help me! Over and over in Scripture He reminds and reassures that He supplies what we are lacking. To Moses He says, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:11-12).
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord. . . Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:7-10).
Clearly, I am meant to see that nothing I do is to be of my own strength, but only by His grace working through me. So the oxymoron is that I rest and He works through me. My pastor stated it this way: “We are to rest in the reality that Christ is sufficient.” That just hits the nail on the head. Ultimately, all of my striving and worrying is no less than saying that I think I must take control, because I don’t trust God to have it under control; I don’t have faith that He can and will supply all that I need.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us that those who know Jesus find that strength and joy come in following and trusting, resting under the yoke of His commands.
“Those who follow Jesus’ commandment entirely, who let Jesus’ yoke rest on them without resistance, will find the burden they must bear to be light. In the gentle pressure of this yoke they will receive the strength to walk the right path without becoming weary.…Where will the call to discipleship lead those who follow it? What decisions and painful separations will it entail? We must take this question to him who alone knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.”