Embracing Suffering

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Romans 5:3-5 ‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’

Suffering.

We all want to avoid it.

We all try to escape it.

Our flesh rises up to run from it.

The enemy tries to magnify it.

What if we embraced it?

What if we embraced it in others?

I walked yesterday in 70km gusts of wind. It wasn’t a constant gale, there were moments of the heavenly scent of crabapple blossoms assaulting my nostrils, baby ducklings waddling unhindered, stillness and calm, baby bunnies seeking safety.

And then gusts that blew me off-balance, causing me to put my head down and press into it to gain traction, my breath on hold until it passed around and through me. It struck me that life so closely resembles what a wind creates. We go along minding our own business, completely enamoured with all that is around, when WHOOSH our breath is sucked out of us. A death, a sickness, a temptation, a betrayal, a disaster, a disappointment, any kind of perceived set back to the path that was smelling amazing and looking hopeful.

My suffering presently comes in the form of hormones running amok trying to navigate this perimenopausal pathway. The symptoms have been presenting themselves for a few years slowly but surely and for some reason have decided to turn up the heat (sometimes literally) this year. To say that I feel like I’m losing my ever-loving mind is a great understatement some days. I vacillate between ‘normal’ to depression to crying to resistance to weight loss which causes crying to forgetfulness to anger to racing thoughts to crying to pains to sleeplessness, and oh did I mention crying? I have begun to seek help along with crying to God for direction and strength and clarity. I am doing my research,  keeping in mind that the comfort I receive may be to suggest it to many other women in years to come. I sense we do not need to have years of suffering.

Graham Cooke said, “The expectation of God can engulf your circumstances.” I want to walk with God through this, I don’t want my character lacking because I did not embrace this suffering.

There was a time in my life that I was less concerned with my character and more concerned with avoiding the suffering in my life. The more I have embraced that suffering is part of the human condition, the more life is about God and less about me. I think we all have a natural aversion to pain and sorrow. Who really wants to live in this place? How do we ‘glory’ in our suffering? I am learning it is a part of what makes us whole and sometimes a lot of our pain stems from trying to avoid what we think is a non-redeemable whole hot mess.

But God…

As you see in the Romans passage above, it doesn’t stop at the suffering. In ‘Through the Eyes of a Lion’, Levi Lusko says, “Whatever our cross to bear is, is not going to last forever. What God produces in us will.” We live eternally, either with God in heaven or in hell. It is our choice and so it is with our character. We can choose to live in the brokenness that comes and is in us and the world or we choose victory, knowing that what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross is enough. We are free. We can choose to live in the hope of that regardless of any sickness or pain we may endure. David Crowder band says it best, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure.” (Come As You Are)

Why are we so unwilling to face our pain? I think in the deepest part of us we know that we cannot handle it in our own strength. So does God. Are we missing the mark by enduring the suffering that we are given? A dear wise friend who has suffered with depression and anxiety responded this way,” I think it surrounds his Glory. It always comes back to Him. It’s not about us. LordemptymeThat is where we miss the mark. We can go through seasons of being free. But God also uses these ‘thorns in our flesh’ to draw us closer to Him. God knows us better than we know us and so in that he knows what will cause us to run to Him. He is jealous for our attention and I’m speaking out of my own experiences but it’s been in my worst depressions and deepest anxieties that my heart has sought after Jesus the most because I knew He was the only one who could save me.”

I think we have a tendency to judge things that we do not know or understand as we grapple with our unbelief when God has not brought the healing we seek. The truth of a God who allows suffering does not line up with our Sunday School understanding of a God of love. How can this be love?

It is in our own weakness and inability to grasp the depths of His love that we fight instead of embrace.

It is here that we throw out meaningless platitudes to those in the midst of suffering. It is here we are afraid to enter in. Yet, it is here that God invites us. To come without understanding, to sit without words, to hold up arms in prayer and practical love. For ourselves. For others. With Him.

You see suffering produces things. In the verse from Romans above, particularly perseverance, character and hope. James assures us to ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

One definition of perseverance is ‘a continuance of a state of grace to the end’. To me this means keeping our eyes on Jesus and walking in the grace he affords us freely, to continue to look toward Him and it is in this that our character is deepened. It is here we are given the strength to stand and have a testimony of God’s grace, goodness and glory. It is in this place hope is born. And Hope does not put us to shame!

So, we will all suffer in our lifetimes. How we respond to it is either key to our growth or our detriment. We have opportunity to choose and choose again. A godly response or a fleshly one.  ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ Romans 12:12

How we help other people walk through suffering contributes to the character God is building. When you think you have nothing left to give, God sends someone who needs a smile, a hug, an ear, a helping hand. It is in this season when I am afflicted that many have come needing all of these things and more and so I pray for the ability to walk through it all in a continuing state of grace in order that His glory be shown.

‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.’ Isaiah 40:28,29.

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How are you turning to God in your suffering and weakness?

Love’s Price

Saved‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’

Isaiah 53:3-6

In the last week, my husband and I have hosted and said goodbye to 10 people we love, we laughed with our children and cried when they left, we had fun with family and watched great hockey, we celebrated a life lost to those we love, we came together humbly with others to acknowledge Christ’s death on the cross for us, we rejoiced with others in the resurrection of Jesus and we grieved over the loss of a baby we had prayed for. These are just the major events. My heart is full and sad and my body is exhausted. I’m afraid that is the price of love. I’m delighted though about having people to love.

I love how Ann Voskamp said it in The Broken Way – ‘The art of living is believing there is enough love in you, that you are loved enough by Him, to be made into love to give.’

Loving is a sacrifice, it is a verb, an action word made to give away. God gave us the biggest give-away in Jesus. His life was ransomed and ours was redeemed. By His wounds, We are healed. As it says in Hebrews, we are the joy set before Him. It was His joy to live and die such a sacrificial love for us.

Yet He has been and is still rejected. God has been revealing to me lately how I have been filtering some experiences through rejection. Charles R Solomon said that rejection is the absence of meaningful love. I believe it is our deep-seated need to be accepted, valuable, worthy. As humans we miss the mark of filling those basic needs in others. When we seek to fill those needs in ways other than through God, our expectations and theirs could take us out. As Eric Johnson says, ‘Expectations are how you think it should go, Expectancy is a Posture.’

A rejection filter distorts the truth of who we are, it cracks the lens and darkens the reality of God in us. It magnifies the lies we have believed and opens our hearts to assault. Ironically it is also in these parts of pain that our flesh can die and as we know in Jesus, with death comes a resurrection.

As always our identity in Him comes in renewing the mind or as Lysa Terkeurst so aptly says in Uninvited. “People can’t fix from the outside a perspective that needs to be rewired on the inside. Only the Lord can do that.”

So as I wound around this rejection path, I couldn’t stop thinking of the words in Isaiah. He was despised and rejected by men and even so, He laid down His life for me on that cross and took up the hate and rejection so that I don’t have to. It is finished! Yet each time I pick it up, I am refusing to accept what He has already done.

Every time I don’t walk in the love He freely gives…

Every time I choose to be bitter instead of forgiving…

Every time I don’t repent when convicted of something…

Every time I judge someone and live from pride…

Every time I let rejection from people steal my joy…

Every time I let my feelings drive my behaviour instead of truth…

The truth is God accepts us, that covers over all kinds of rejection. The truth is that God is Love and Love covers a multitude of sins. The truth is the price of Love that Jesus paid is great and beyond our full comprehension. The truth is it is enough. There was a price for Love and it is paid in full. Love calls us to relationship and it is all God wants from us. Love sometimes makes us vulnerable to the rejection of others. Love is messy. Love is beautiful. Jesus redeems messy love making it beautiful. Love engages our heart and emotions. I’m afraid it is the price of love.

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Transforming Stones

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“My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:20-27

If there was a way as a parent I could keep these words ever before my children, I would. This is just a few lines of wisdom amid the thousands that God’s word gives us to live well and make good decisions. Solomon is specifically speaking words to young people in these first few chapters, although the principles are beneficial to all believers. I have tried to guide my children in God’s ways and shown His love for them the best I knew how yet they have still been given the gift that we all have in this world. Free will.

Free will when not guided by godly principles can lead to difficult circumstances and hard consequences. Yet God is compassionate and slow to anger and desires that all will come to Him. In His economy, there is always a point in the pain or He can take what the enemy intended for evil and bring good out of it. I believe a subtle lie that the enemy tells is that if we do right things that will bring a right result. So, for example as a parent, I can guide them in all the right directions, leading from experience and what God’s word says but they still have the ability in their free will to choose outside of that. Stuff happens. Decisions are made based on wants or needs or wounds or lack or fleshly desires and those do not go unanswered. The ‘right result’ as we may see being fit, did not occur from right things.

As people we have a false sense of having more control over others and situations than we actually do. It plays into our fear and so we grab on even harder. This is not to say that we give up trying to be a moral compass and pray like crazy that Holy Spirit will guide our children or others into right behaviour. It does mean that we need to give the reins over to Him and trust that the struggle that comes from these situations will strengthen our faith and help us to release control.

I am reading “Idol Lies” (Facing the Truth about our Deepest Desires) by Dee Brestin. Let’s just say it is a timely kick in the butt. It is bringing even more revelation to how often, easily and in what ways I turn to other things before God. It gives me more grace for the free will ability we operate in. And a greater understanding of the grace of God when we constantly are turning from Him and breaking His heart even more. His heart breaks because He knows the idols we run to are blocking our intimacy with Him.

I used to parent so differently when my daughters’ were younger. Until they were 11 and 9, I did not know Jesus. I parented those younger years under the illusion that I was the end of it all, that I had to control them for the ‘right’ behaviour’. Be good, look good, act good, my wisdom was all there was and it was warped because it was based out of my own insecurities and sense of unworthiness. I thought the way my children behaved had a direct correlation to my character. I performed for love out of my lack of identity and so inadvertently, I taught them to do the same. (Insert broken heart here)

But Jesus came. He forgave me my sins, He gave me eternal life and I love Him. He redeemed me and showed me a new life, new hope, new desires for my children.  There are many ways my life and others around me have been impacted for what He has done in my heart.  But there are parts of my heart that I kept hidden away, areas where my trust had been broken and so I held them as a shield but it actually created areas of stone  that God could not transform. One I am realizing through Dee’s book is my idol of control. I missed the memo that God just wanted me to be faithful and the results were up to Him. Yikes.

I began this post with a proverb and I love how Dee clarified the purpose of a proverb. “The book of Proverbs, like every book in the biblical canon, is divinely inspired, but we must understand its genre. A proverb is a maxim (statement expressing a general truth or role of conduct) that we should follow because it leads us to the wisest path. But it is a probability, not a promise.” She says one of the most misunderstood verses is Proverbs 22:6 ‘Train a child up in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ This may be true and is the wise direction to head toward but it is not a promise.

I write this to say that nothing is too hard for God. I am saying despite the stones in our hearts and the way we have been taught and trained is not the end of the story. He does not just want to give us salvation and eternal life but soul transformation and abundant life here and now. We are not a lost cause. Hope Lives! God is in control, not me, not you. We will experience frustration, guilt and discouragement if we try to be. Trusting God will bring peace, freedom and encouragement. The solution does not lie in ‘doing more’ but in having a better understanding of the gospel and Christ’s love for us. In this understanding we will be far more willing to turn from our idols and run to Him.

My heart these days is best described in Lauren Daigle’s song ‘Once and For All’ when it says, “Oh let this be where I die, My lord with thee crucified. Be lifted high as my kingdoms fall. Once and for all, once and for all.”

To my children and grandchildren, beautiful and broken and pretty darn amazing, God is not finished with us yet. The best is yet to come.