Embracing Suffering

anchors

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.

hardships

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

Imperfect Perseverance

James 1:2-4 ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’

As I look often into the heart of my Perfect Saviour, I see more and more how Imperfect I really am. This is not with a spirit of condemnation but it releases me to love more and judge less, to surrender the things that hinder my relationship with Jesus more readily and to be present with other Imperfect people where they are at.

James is speaking to Christian Jews in this passage above and he knew through firsthand experience that to get through this life, we needed perseverance. He was speaking to a people scattered among the nations and facing many trials. This text is applicable today as even now I can sit and count many in just my life alone who are in the midst of hard things. Loss of loved ones, addictions, illness, financial strain and the day to day of just pressing through sometimes. James is saying your trial is not the time to rejoice less, your sickness is not the time to pray less, your loss is not the time to love others less but a time to practice the joy, peace and love Jesus died for us to have.

I love that God gives us a choice, ‘Consider’ it pure joy, or think carefully about if before making a decision. We can choose the opposite of joy and there have been times when I have done that. This does not make the process go away or any easier, in fact it is probably more difficult because my attitude stinks. If I have learned anything in this life it is that if we choose the opposite of God’s heart for us, we will get to try and learn that again in another form, another time. He is true to His promise that He will finish what He starts in us until the day of Christ Jesus. Decide right here and now that He is for you! Decide that the fire you may be in will burn off the dross and just leave pure gold in your character. Decide that He loves you! Period! Perseverance actually means steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Decide to look for Jesus in every situation. I love what I read yesterday. Exhale the world. Inhale Jesus. Blow out your circumstances, inhale the life of Jesus. I don’t say any of this lightly, I have been in many situations that seemed like a dark blanket that  I could not get out from under. Keeping my eyes on God was my only lifeline.

Last week I was returning from taking my daughter back to her home a couple of hours away. I ended up in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. As I was driving in the pounding rain that forced me to pull over when my wipers couldn’t keep up, I was praying for all the people in my life that are in the midst of difficult times. God showed me that when we are in the midst of a storm, it sometimes never feels like it is going to let up, the pressure feels almost too much to bear. The thunder rattles us to our soul and the lightning blinds us to the truth, the darkness and heaviness of the clouds weighs in on our perception. But God…sends a vehicle with flashing hazards to light the way and if you look in the distance you can see a break in the darkness of the clouds, even a little blue if you squint hard enough. And you press on toward the light and hope of the storm letting up so you can stop hydroplaning through your life and let God have control of your wheel. As I prayed I kid you not, He set out a rainbow in different parts of the sky to light my trip the rest of the way home and to be reminded of His promises for life.

God knows you and is for you and is patient with your imperfection. Press on and don’t stop looking and squinting and choosing joy and love in your consideration. Look for the ones that have their lights flashing to walk with you toward your rainbow. He doesn’t intend for us to persevere alone. Our confidence is in God who will safely bring us home.

Jude 1:24-25New International Version (NIV)

Doxology

24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Writer with a capital ‘W’

I recently attended a workshop at the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw. The workshop was facilitated by Cassie Stocks who is a Saskatchewan fiction writer and the author of Dance, Gladys, Dance. The workshop was called P.I.P.P., Passion, Intention, Practicality and Perseverance. God has been talking to me lately about the first and last words so my curiosity was ignited.

My son Owen came along so we tied this into one of our summer adventures after his friend cancelled. I said I would only stay for the first half and he was a good sport saying he would hang out in the library (thankfully he loves words and books as much as I do). Unbeknownst to me through our miscommunication he wandered the streets of M.J. for a time, but that is a story for another day.

Probably one of my greatest take aways from this workshop was that Cassie talked about how we think that as writers we all have to be the capital W writer. You know the one that sits down and spews out a best-selling novel in one sitting. Although this may have happened before, Cassie has discovered that is not all the norm. All writers start at the same place and we don’t have to be the capital W ones to make our writing valid or important.

I walked away believing deeply in me for probably the first time that I am a writer!!! Oh I have talked about wanting to be one and taking courses and workshops with that as my heart desire, but never really believing or trusting this is my path. God validated those thoughts in my spirit and I felt another piece of my identity click into place.

During the Perseverance section, (I had convinced Owen to hang in until the end and Cassie had invited him in) she asked, What do I love about writing? Why should I keep writing? We had a few minutes to write our answers and this is how I responded, ” Writing is a practical way of putting my thoughts together. I love the results of sitting down and having ideas come together to form a story. (It is so much easier for me to write something than to speak it on the spot) I love being able to inspire others and to give different perspectives on things. I should keep writing so that God can use my words to affect hearts. I should keep writing because it is an integral part of who I am. I give myself permission to be the writer that God made me to be. I should keep writing to finish what has been started. I can give voice to others’ emotional life through my writing (or so I’ve been told).

Sometimes ‘shoulding’ on ourselves has a negative connotation but I feel in this instance that writing is my tool to tell God’s stories and help others’ to see his heart. I have been blessed with a season to stay at home and pursue this further and I hope not to waste it. This verse came to mind, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters.’ Colossians 3:23 I want to be as fully persuaded as Abraham was of who God is and to be able to share that.  Abraham was told he would be the Father of all nations through a child when he was almost 100 years old. This tells of his response, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:20,21

Lord, help me to be fully persuaded of who you are and this path you have me on.  Help me to humbly remember that it is not about me and  I just need to be obedient to the things that you download to me to share with others!

These are the coles notes for each section of the workshop: (Thank you Cassie Stocks for your wisdom)

Passion – is what drives the need to write. This will keep us going through the long haul. Find ways to keep it going for your project and rekindle it if it is lost.

Intention – clarify the purpose of your work and remember your ideas are worth the work that needs to go into them. Ask, what is your intention for the piece and for the reader.

Practicality – is the craft of writing, the hammer and nails of the fabulous castles we all want to build. It completes the work after imagination gives ideas. List areas of strength and areas to improve and do these.

Perseverance – is what keeps writers going after five rejections in a row. Besides the questions about why I love writing, here we must also ask what stops me from writing and to explore that.

So if you are a writer, what stops you from writing? Why? What can you do to persevere through that? If your passion is not writing, what is it? What stops you from doing that? Take some time and explore these questions with God, you may be surprised at what comes out 🙂