There was an error in this gadget

Total Pageviews

Monday, February 29, 2016

February 29

An extra day - a breather; a pause.
Crisp air, rushing winds, but deadness still sits on parched and empty branches.
Just enough warmth to warrant hope and a hint of squishyness in the mud -
To promise the dawning of spring.

Lent is a season of austerity - a time away from what is our common lot.  I put off a habit and add one that requires discipline.  I wonder what it is really all about - the ashes, mourning, reflection on spiritual life.  Perhaps the last moments of this winter are a visual, experiential reminder of the deadness of soul, which without Christ's redeeming - and resurrecting - work, would remain our permanent condition.

Winter's deadness seems to say, "Come, and sit a while in this quiet emptiness.  No life is visible in me, yet we know resurrection is at hand.  But, for now, wait in it - feel what the absence of vibrant life is like.  And wait.  Yearn.  Hope - while it is dark and bleak.  Be still in it.  Do not merely rush through this time, with your sight set only on survival.  Welcome this pause.  Let it have its work."

And so I do.  It takes work to be still.  To not jump ahead of where I am.  It takes both presence and presenting.  I must hold myself in this moment - present to it - while also presenting myself to the Spirit of God, as His vessel.  "Come, fill me while I wait," I say, knowing that in the stillness I am not alone, for He is ever with me.

I know this to be true only when my spirit is awake to His presence.  I heard Him in the song on the radio.  A pure, angelic voice singing, "Holy, holy, holy." - words so familiar, but calling me yet again to the adoration of this merciful and mighty God.  In His might I may fear Him too much and falter in my courage to be present to Him.  But in His mercy I am welcomed simply as I come with no demands but that I come, that I be, that I need, that I trust; the only demand is that I see and taste and savour this moment as a gift from His kind and tender hand.

He, Who loves the limping soul - it is He Who walks through the winter stillness and whispers His promise of hope and fulfills His promise of presence: "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Why the double promise?  Are they not one and the same?  No, in fact it is not redundant.  In the promise, "I will not leave you" we are assured His presence will not be lost - He will truly be present with us every step of the way.  But forsaking?  That has everything to do with trust and security.  It encourages us to want His presence - it tells us, "It isn't merely my presence I give, but my welcome."

I have experiences of people not leaving me - there is a joy in that to some degree.  Faithful friends and family who remain - this is a picture of permanence and presence.  But more than once I have had the bitter taste of feeling forsaken - emotionally discarded, abandoned and rejected.  Jesus' second promise here offers me far more comfort than the first.  I have His presence (I need His presence).  But I need even more to trust that His presence is good, kind, merciful and that it brings a promise of welcome.

"There is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good.
There is mercy with the Saviour; There is healing in His blood."  - Frederick Faber

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Missed Blessing

Recently a friend wrote me a lengthy explanation of how God wants us all to experience the victory of joyful living and that for a Christian to experience ongoing struggles of depression or other types of sadness is not what God intends.  It was an interesting read, and she asked for my response.  Since I am not posting her viewpoints here, and have probably overly simplified them above, I am possibly being one-sided and unfair in this response.  However, since I have something to say on the matter, I'll just put it here where I tend to just dump all my ramblings anyways.  I don't intend to respond to her point by point but just sum up some of my thought-process regarding grief, mourning, sorrow, depression, sadness, and general difficulties we face in life that can pull our spirits downward.

Basically, the question came down to one of codifying the morality of sadness - is it wrong for a Christian to be unexplainedly sad?  I tend to not think in these areas of black and white - what's the point, I say?  Because it all comes out in the wash.  If I'm sad - for good reason or not - does God not meet me in it?  Does He wag His proverbial finger in my nose and tell me to hold my chin up, cheer up, don't be so gloomy, and muster some joyful fortitude within me?  Maybe this is how some relate to God - it is not how I relate to Him.  Perhaps He tailors His responses to the needs of His child.  I am not one who would respond well to that approach.  Maybe someone else experiences life that way and it works for them.

I do see the Psalmist telling himself to cheer up.  But those words come from within himself to himself and not from God to him.  In fact, speaking of the Psalms, I can't fathom a theology with no place for sorrow, depression and suffering.  A whole category of Psalms are called lament because they are openly grieving and giving air to the muck of the soul - the stuff that drags one down into a pit that seems never to end.  A whole other category of Psalms are called imprecatory - for one to lash out verbally his anger to God, for all the injustice and wrongness in the world.  The Psalms instruct our soul.  They say, "It is okay to feel this way.  God hears these kinds of prayers, not only the prim and proper ones.  He hears the breaking heart, the hurting soul, the angry cries.  He listens to these - stoops down, even, so we are sure to feel Him near.  He can handle the full range of our very human frame and He welcomes our expression of them."  In other words, "No, it is not wrong to feel depressed."

When I hear the term, 'walking in victory' I do a double take.  I mean, what is that supposed to mean, or look like?  I see people living very jolly, successful, happy-go-lucky, spiritually fulfilled lives.  And I see others, equally as spiritually fulfilled, living painful, difficult, trying, desperate, hurting lives.  The concept of victory=overt happiness does not equate in my book.

In answering any spiritual question, I like to always try the Big Three when it comes to an answer.  The Big Three are known as 'Sunday-school answers,' and they are: Jesus, God and the Bible.  So, let's start with Jesus.

*******************************

Jesus wept (John 11:35).  Jesus was known as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief - one whom men hid their faces from in His deepest suffering.  Yes, He was suffering on our account, bearing the sin of the whole world - but that is exactly my point.  He suffered with us, for us, and like us.  He endured it all for the joy set before Him - and taught us to do likewise.  We endure pain in this life because we know it has a purpose and not being omniscient, we don't always see or know what that purpose is.

Jesus also said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."  I pondered this long and hard.  Jesus blesses those whose hearts are weak, sad and mourning.  He promises them blessing.  I asked myself, "What if I don't tend to mourn much?  What if my spirit is never sad?"  And my answer to that was, "Then perhaps I miss out on this blessing."  I don't think Jesus was telling us to turn our joyful selves into gloomy selves so we can receive His blessing.  But He was clearly stating, "In my Kingdom, there is room, and even blessing, for those who grieve."  He gives this talk during the Sermon on the Mount - His defining Manifesto, so to speak.  If I shut pain out of my life, give it no room, do not acknowledge it, do not see it, tend to it, lay my soul bare before the King of Kings, I lose out on the blessing of the mourner.


******************************************

Now, what does the Bible say about facing soul-turmoil?
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is found in Ecclesiastes where it says, "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth."  The Bible confirms that reflecting on our mortality and being among mourners is of value.  There is wisdom in this.  Of course there are many, many other verses - like, "When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I." And, "The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads."


********************************************


And thirdly, how does God demonstrate His heart to the wounded, hurting, weakened, depressed, mourning?  With Elijah in the desert, He provides for his physical needs, then leads him to a place where he can get rest and fellowship with a faithful widow who looks after him.  With Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, He administers hope.  With Paul He provides companionship in a travel-mate named Titus.  With Hagar, He said, "I see you." God does not speak to any of these servants of His with rebuke, but with compassion and care, provides the very thing that is needed to support and sustain them.

Some of these were suffering specifically as God's servants, and others suffered just because life sucked frankly.  David suffered because meanies were out to get him.  Hagar suffered abuse at the hands of her master.  Joseph suffered in prison and as a slave because his brothers had been unjust towards him.  Naomi renamed herself Mara, or 'Bitter' to reflect the lot she had in life.

My point?  Sometimes suffering comes to us because we are being faithful to God in His work, but often suffering just happens as a part of life and because there is something deeply broken about the world we live in.  God knows, sees, cares and reaches out to us in it all - and He blesses those who mourn.


***************************************

The same day I received this challenge to respond to the whole concept of 'victorious Christians don't live depressed' I also received a letter in the mail from a family who has suffered.  Each member has been touched by a sickness brought on by environmental toxins that has hampered their journey in this life.  The cost emotionally, physically, socially and in all aspects of life is enormous.  Yes, they have joy in it, but they also are honest about the struggle.  I would not dare to try to tell them what it might mean for them to have joy in their suffering, though they courageously demonstrate this anytime I am with them.

That same evening we read the Bible as a family and the passage that came next was Lamentations 3.  I believe God brought these three interactions to me in the same day: a challenge about Christian suffering, an example of Christians suffering and an example in the Bible of what that might look like.  So, to close, I give you portions of Lamentations 3 to reflect upon - may it bless you as it did me:

I am the one who has seen the afflictions that come from the rod of the Lord's anger.
He has led me into darkness, shutting out all light...
He has made my skin and flesh grow old.  He has broken my bones...He has surrounded me with anguish and distress.  He has buried me in a dark place...
And though I cry and shout, He has shut out my prayers.
He has blocked my way with a high stone wall; He has made my road crooked.
He has hidden like a bear or a lion, waiting to attack me.  He has dragged me off the path and torn me in pieces, leaving me helpless and devastated...
He shot His arrows deep into my heart...
He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink...
Peace has been stripped away...
I cry out,..."Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!" 
The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.
Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!"
The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord...
Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord's demands.
Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last...
For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.
Though He brings grief, He also shows compassion because of the greatness of His unfailing love.  For He does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow...
My tears flow endlessly; they will not stop until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees. My heart is breaking...
But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit.  You heard me when I cried, "Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!"  Yes, You came when I called; You told me,
"Do not fear."