Pain may continue, but He anchors me in hope

So lately I have been wondering where this abundant life is that Jesus came to offer us. We were not promised it would be easy in this lifetime, but we were promised we wouldn’t go it alone, and I believe we were also given the opportunity to live the abundant life in this lifetime and on this side of Eden as well as in eternity. So where is it? The past couple months I’ve found myself feeling the weight of the world and unable to see much but darkness in my surroundings. It feels more like I’m just trying to survive in this world, to get through one day at a time, even robotically, one step at a time. Just to survive this life. Trying to survive the Fall is much different than living the abundant life, though, isn’t it?

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone ask, “Where is God in this?” ….. I’d be rich by now. And I’m sure you all have heard that and even asked it yourself. I’ve asked it myself. I still ask it myself, all the time. Through this recent dark tunnel, I have found myself driving home from work at night, turning off the contemporary Christian music coming from my car radio, to instead scream into the silence while tears run down my face, “God!! Where are you?! What is your plan here?!” Many in this world struggle with the idea of there being a loving, all-powerful God, while there is so much suffering and pain. It’s easy to think, “well, if God really loved us, why does He let this happen to us..?”

Gina Roes says in her book The Art of Breathing, that “sometimes an IRS letter feels bigger than the years of sermons teaching us to trust God in all times. A negative diagnosis spins us back to our most primal fears. And what to do about a horrible past? How do we reconcile childhood stuff into God’s Story? Was God even there?” These thoughts plague all of us, as human sinners. They plague me all the time. Sometimes when the bills pile up so high you don’t even know where to start, or someone you thought was one of your best friends speaks words of such hatred at you that you have to wonder if Satan himself has possessed her, in a world where people can call themselves Christians, and go to church and small group, and go feed the homeless, but behind closed doors spread rumors and lies, and make fun of others, and pass judgment… where is He? Why is He allowing this to happen? When you think you meet a great man who feels like a gift from God himself, who is perfect for you and unlike anyone you’ve ever met, and then he turns around and destroys your heart without a second thought… Why? In the midst of miscarriage, divorce, sickness, pain, addictions, bullying and harassment, laughter at the expense of another person…

Maybe the problem isn’t God and His “absence” but instead it’s our lack of understanding, and our ignorance. Maybe we don’t grasp how deep the Fall of mankind really goes. Maybe without understanding that we can’t see how utterly and completely His grace covers us and how good He really is. Maybe we don’t see how much we’ve actually been saved from and what the reality of the difference between a before and after life with God is. Maybe only by opening our eyes to that, we can fully experience the salvation Jesus purchased for us, and the abundant life.

God lets these things happen in our lives, yes. But that does not minimize His love for us. In a book that I can’t remember the name of or who wrote it right now, it said something along the lines of.. if you want to live in a world where love is real then you have to give people the option to choose. Gina Roes says, “Love requires freedom. Without a sense of separateness, there can be no oneness. God gave us the ability to be separate from Him so that we could fully and freely choose to be one with Him.” That ability was supposed to bring us closer to God, but by Adam and Eve’s choices, it actually drove us farther apart. “..our God-given desires and needs became cursed burdens that left us lusting for more without the ability to be fulfilled. ..Our legitimate needs can only be met in illegitimate ways. Without God, the entire design is thwarted. …The ‘lust of the flesh’ when ignored, will lead to isolation and addictions. When the ‘lust of the eyes’ is unsatisfied, we will experience the drive for entitlement or, in fear, lean toward passivity. And when we fall pretty to the ‘boastful pride of life’ we forget how to surrender our lives to God’s Story as we try to star in our own.

Gina gives these 5 unhealthy ways we cope with our worldliness, our being cut off from God: Isolation, Addictions, Entitlement, Passivity, and Independence.

Living the abundant life requires authenticity and the ability to be fully present with God and others. This means being fully present in our joy and in our pain. The abundant life is experienced when we offer our freedom to God’s service…freely. Addictions bind us. Addictions force us to ask their permission to serve anything else. To have the abundant life we must resist the temptation to fall into the lust of the eyes that demand we should have all we see. We must not allow entitlement to take root in our hearts as we seek to embrace the freedom and grace that God so richly pours out on us who believe. We must be doers of God’s word, not simply hearers only. If we simply know with our minds what is healthy and right, but do nothing to act on it, we will miss the abundant life that Jesus keeps offering. We need Him in every moment of every breath we take on this planet. Imagine a diver taking one large breath of air and declaring that he has had enough. We need a constant flow of God’s presence to get us through. He is the air we breathe. When we look to our own resources to manage our lives we are declining His invitation. We are living in very competent, very ‘put together’ sin.  (Gina Roes, The Art of Breathing)

I think the hard times in our life are all part of a bigger story. They are not random. Maybe it’s in the pain that we finally start to look up. Maybe it’s necessary for us to be broken down, in order to be rebuilt stronger than before. Maybe loss is the only way He can get us to open our eyes and see what really matters, what is really important, what pieces of Him we are missing. Maybe suffering is required if we’re to discover a desire for God strong enough to help us decline the world’s invitation to an immediately good time, to resist the devil’s suggestion that all goodness may not reside within God, and to see through the false reasoning of the flesh. Only pain exposes our commitment to happiness for what it is, an arrogance that displaces God from His rightful place. Only in brokenness over our refusal to abandon ourselves to God for His glory will we discover our desire to do exactly that.

In Larry Crabb’s book Shattered Dreams, he gives 3 lessons of true faith:

  1. The journey to God will always, at some point, take us through darkness where life makes no sense. Life isn’t easy; it’s hard, sometimes very hard.
  2. The felt absence of God is a gift to gratefully receive. During those seasons of darkness He is doing His deepest work in us.
  3. Feeling good is not the goal. When we feel bad, we have the opportunity to do battle against the enemy within that keeps us from entering the Presence of God with no greater passion than to glorify Him.

Sometimes personal pain leaves us feeling utterly alone. It is almost unbearable for someone to come along and invite us to dream higher dreams, instead we just want them to come be with us in our pain and offer their silent presence and company, letting us know that our pain is justified and so too is our loss of hope. An invitation to dream higher dreams is as cruel as talking to a pilgrim lost in a burning desert about water that does not exist. I feel like being in this position earlier this week may have been one of the last straws on the camel’s back to lead to me losing someone who I thought was a friend. I just needed someone to come sit with me in my pain, without judging me or telling me how ridiculous I was being, or how unreasonable my hurt is, or naming all the reasons why I shouldn’t have been feeling that way. Pain can be so tough that the best you can do is just hold on. Nights can be darker than you feared. Your soul can feel so alone, so filled with anguish, so untouched by love, that the most honest thing you can do is just cry.

Where I went wrong here is to dare believe God actually failed me, that He gave me the short end of the stick. I wallowed in the depths of my being where everything revolved around me. What Jesus was going wasn’t good enough, or fast enough. But eventually I remembered, as we all do, that I can only be heard when I admit that I have no right to any good experience, but still come to Jesus humbly longing for it. Involuntarily, I cover my head with my hands. I cower in the corner before a holy God after yelling at Him and making my demands and turning to my sinful ways of coping. I expect lightning to strike because I sure as heck deserved it, but instead I look up and see Jesus. The lightning has just struck Him.

In this moment is when we realize that our deepest need, our deepest desire, is NOT relief from current troubles. Our deepest desire is for a kind of life only mercy makes possible, a life only grace provides. It is for life from God, with God, and for God. And we have it. We have it since the day we accepted Jesus into our hearts and asked Him to forgive our sins. But it takes pain to put us more deeply in touch with what we already have. The pain carries us into depths of our hearts that are still ugly, but the Spirit took us deeper, into the very core of our being, where Christ lives, where we are alive.

Now we pray, not because we’re told to, but because we want to, in the middle of a dark night that has revealed the Son within us.

Jesus,

I want to be the kind of woman who can watch every dream go down in flames and still yearn to be intimately involved in kingdom living, intimately involved with my Father the King, and still be willing to take another risk just because it delights Him for me to do so.  As Kari Jobe sings, “The more I seek You, the more I find You. The more I find You, the more I know You. I want to sit at Your feet, drink from the cup in Your hands, lay back against You and breathe, feel Your heart beat. This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand, I melt at Your felt, it’s overwhelming.”

My Lord and Savior, I ask that you align my will with Your own, and that Your will be done in my life. I ask to be Your hands and feet, and a vessel of Your Spirit and Love. Where You go I’ll go, where You lead I’ll follow. The center of Your will is the most peaceful place in existence and it is where I choose to forever reside. I will make mistakes, and I will come across foreign paths to stumble down, but I am gratefully assured that You will always be right there, offering me Your hand, leading me back home.

Your daughter,

Jana xo

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