Speaking of Pain…

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

Although I have read the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 countless times, after my most recent reading, two words have stayed with me: Jesus wept.

I’m not sure why this tiny sentence has remained in my thoughts. Perhaps it is the paradox that such a simple subject and verb construction would express so profound a concept as the sorrow of the Almighty. Or maybe at a time when certain family situations have touched a great well of sorrow and heartache within me, I find it comforting to know that He, too experienced emotional pain.

Why did He weep? Many have conjectured that possibly He wept because of the suffering of His friends, or maybe He wept that such a thing as death had entered into His creation at all, or because He knew that, in calling Lazarus back from death, He was calling his friend away from paradise and back into the drudgery and pain of life in a sin-scarred world.

I imagine that if our own reasons for weeping are complex, the tears of the Creator are shed for reasons that would confound our finite intellect. Still, it is safe to say that one reason Jesus wept is certain: He wept because He was in pain.

So it was that this smallest of Bible verses still lingered in my mind when I happened onto Facebook and saw a post by an old friend. He had posted a question that struck me as both ironic in light of this Scripture and terribly sad: “Why does God hate me?”

Ah, the incongruity! This God, the Creator of all who endowed His creation with the ability to either choose or reject Him; the King of kings and Lord of lords who willingly shelved His glory and donned the feebleness of mankind, Who chose to endure physical and emotional torment on our behalf; Who chose, even, to endure spiritual torment that one day on the cross… these actions do not describe hatred or even indifference.

If anything God can sympathize with us because He knows what it is like to feel distress and suffering. He knows what it is like to weep. He has embraced pain.

Can you imagine the depth and breadth of anguish experienced by the Infinite God? The cost of those tears is measured in currency far too precious to express. Allow me to share with you (and dare I hope that my old friend will read these words?) the poignant passage by G. K. Chesterton:

But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt… He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

Because He wept, we can know that He understood emotional pain. We can only imagine how his anguish is amplified beyond reckoning by His own infinite capacity to suffer. Because He chose to endure not only physical torture but the pain of rejection, of loss, of betrayal – in short, the pain of humanity – we know that in Him we can boldly approach the Throne of Grace to find mercy and grace to help in time of need.

And it is there, when we finally fall at the feet of the Most High in a posture of abject humility, confessing our need of Him in ultimate surrender and in trembling reverence, lifting our own tear-filled eyes to behold the King of glory, we will find something shocking. Rather than a countenance filled with the fury we know we deserve, we see instead His grief: a Father weeping both for the hurt that His child has endured and for the pain of rejection, but also a Father weeping for joy at the prodigal child returned.

Oh, how I hope and pray that so many hurting souls will come to the God who wept and find forgiveness, compassion, and a joy that never ends!

And Now For Something Completely Different

This is not going to be one of my normal posts and I’d like to start it with a confession:

I am not a terribly good patient. In fact, I may even be notoriously careless about such things as pain levels and general health.

To give you a snapshot of precisely how oblivious I can be, let me relate a conversation I had with my chiropractor (who specializes more in sports medicine PT than a traditional chiropractor):

Me, as I’m sitting on the table: “Oh, hey, do you remember when I came in with a swollen foot?” (He nods his assent) “Well, it still swells off and on when I walk.”

Him: “How long ago was that now?”

Me: “I don’t know. Probably two or three weeks or so.”

Him, checking my chart before rolling his eyes and looking over at me: “Or maybe 5 months…”

Me, somewhat sheepishly: “Or maybe 5 months… anyway, it still hurts…”

Of course, I also could have recounted several instances in which my poor, beleaguered husband had to try to guess at how bad I was feeling – like the time I had viral meningitis but didn’t think to go to the doctor until he carted me to the ER somewhere around the 60th hour of me being unable to hold down even a teaspoon of fluid…

Whatever. Suffice to say that I’m not the best at communicating my own pain levels, possibly because physical pain has been a part of my life for so long that I have grown accustomed to thrusting it aside and ignoring it until it becomes so noisy that I cannot.

So it didn’t really come as a surprise when, a little over a week ago, I woke one morning with some pretty intense back and neck pain. I remember telling my husband that I had to lay down again, although I did not manage to articulate why on the spot.

Now back and neck pain are not unusual for me and I had, in fact, had some degree of discomfort for several weeks. However, this pain had a quality that was entirely new. I remained intensely uncomfortable through the rest of the week.

Then one afternoon when I was talking with a friend and mentioned the pain. She pointed to my wrist and suggested I take off  the fitness tracker my husband had given me over a year ago in hopes of finding out if poor sleep contributed to my overall fatigue.

As it turns out, she had experienced similar back pain and had even had tests run but had no resolution of the pain until she removed her own fitness tracking device. Her mom had a comparable experience. Sure enough, within a few hours of removing the device, my pain had begun to subside to a more familiar intensity.

It made me wonder about the days when I was waking up with numb hands and chalked it up to possibly carpal tunnel. And it may well be coincidence; a fact I have not discounted.

Certainly I have had a history of chronic pain and some known medical issues in my thoracic and lumbar spine. However, I cannot help but wonder if there are others who have experienced something like this and if so, what might be the cause?

It still makes no sense to me, but I thought I’d ask. Has anyone else had weird or worsening symptoms appear after wearing a fitness tracking device?

Meanwhile, even the more typical types of pain which I am still dealing with serve only to make me look forward even more to this glorious future day:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:3-4

Even in pain, “normal” or otherwise, I will still praise Him!

 

 

TBT – Midnight Musings

Hi, all! Due to a great deal of change and a busy summer, I’m finding it difficult to carve out time for blogging – either reading or writing. In light of my incredibly messy house and a small renovation project, I thought I’d just snatch enough time to borrow from my old blog today.

Here goes:

It is nearly midnight–a time I have only recently seen when a thunderstorm or nightmare wakes one of the children–and I am wide awake. Many thoughts have been careening through my head in the last few hours, and I am only just beginning to sort through them. Where do I begin? I suppose it would be best to begin with love. It was love that began me, after all.

When I speak so of love, I am not speaking of the rather clunky attempts humanity makes of the thing, nor do I mean to make a crude joke of the eros that was, nonetheless, certainly a fact of my beginning. I am speaking of Love as a Person.

It is written that God is Love, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. So you see, Love began me long before my earthly parents met or were even born. My Father had already set in motion a staggering number of events that would eventually lead to the birth of the child that was me. Astonishingly, this is no less true for anyone, whether or not they believe.

In this same multitude of events, my Father had also arranged for the death of that child, just as He arranged for the death of His Son. Jesus died selflessly, bearing my sins. I died shamefully only when I began to understand the weight of what He had given for silly, selfish, petty me.

Today (or to be particular, yesterday as of two minutes ago), as I celebrated His resurrection with my blood family and my church family, I thought of Paul as he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

True, my body is not dead, but a person is more than their meat. The part that is me, the eternal part intended for fellowship with God but stuck in rebellion, is crucified–hanged by the sheer perfection of Love and my own unworthiness of it–and it is dying the slow death of crucifixion as each year reveals yet another area of separation from God and yet a deeper wonder of the merciful Savior who stands ready to receive me into life–real Life–once the sanctifying death is complete.

This Savior is the One without Whom I would have no chance whatsoever of seeing my way free of the absolute bondage of sin; without Whom I would not even see the chains.

Oh, and all this is just a mote–just a speck that I am struggling to put into words! This is the second time I have been flooded with a love that was far too exquisite to be human, far too immense to be my own. Along with that pulsing, cascading, aching sharpness is the certainty that it is also but the merest breath of True Love. So much love, so much life, so much mystery rushes through my mind. . .

How I love each of my brothers and sisters in Christ… not only as brothers and sisters, but as members of the same Body. . .

How I love the gifts and strengths of each and long to see them finally unbound from that which is crucified . . .

How I am torn by the weaknesses of each–my own included–and weep at the frailty of flesh removed from glory by sin. . .

How I am at once exhilarated and frightened by the depth of this Love that is both an unquenchable fire and a rushing torrent of water. . .

How I am captivated by the wonder of it all, wanting at once to be consumed by it and yet still clinging to the old self out of simple fear of the unknown. . .

How even now as I sit typing, groping for words, I know that this Story is too expansive to be contained by mere words. I can only communicate in terms of my experience with taste, touch, smell, sight, emotion. . . I am captive of my senses, and yet I have the distinct impression that even sensuality is only “dirty” because of the corruptive twisting of sin.

In contemplation of self or in love of others, it is often impossible to separate the sinner from the sin. My God, blessed be His name! does not share that problem, and in Him all things are plain, pure, undefiled, and Real.

A child understands such simple and complete love without the complications or nuances added by a decaying mind, for we are born into decay, and the corruption grows as our bodies grow, infecting us more and more completely.

It is only by opening ourselves to Love, by allowing the crucifixion of that which is perishable, that we can be raised one day imperishable. It is another seeming paradox. But what is paradox but a thing to show the fragility of human understanding? One breath of truth and it all comes tumbling gloriously down.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Satiety

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…

…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalms 16:8-9, 11

Not many days ago, I was talking with someone about a Bible study group, and in the course of conversation, it was lightheartedly suggested that one member would probably be happier with a beer and a movie. Immediately, I was struck by two thoughts.

First, I have been guilty of the same in my past and only by the grace of God as He has walked with me through many dark valleys of pain have I come to enjoy His presence more and more.

And secondly, how tragic. Sincerely tragic.

On one hand, we have a fermented beverage and a couple of hours’ worth of watching adults play-pretend in front of a camera. On the other hand, we are offered the very Word and Presence of the Most High God, Creator of all things including fermented beverages, adults, and the ability to make cameras. The path of life. Fullness of joy. Pleasures forevermore.

Perhaps because I have been reading in John’s gospel, I was reminded of the sixth chapter in which the Lord miraculously multiplies a few loaves and a couple of fish to feed a horde of people. The very next day, they chase Him down only to ask Him, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (John 6:30).

On that long-ago day, a multitude of people were offered the Bread of Life and preferred to see a miraculous sign that possibly included breakfast (or so they seem to imply). Discouraged when the Lord did not perform according to their expectations, many turned away (John 6:66).

Too often, we also prefer the gifts to the Giver of all good gifts. Too often, we choose the cheap trinkets and baubles of this world to the spiritual wealth and the immense and uncountable riches of grace found in the presence of God.

Oh, Church! How desperately we need to realign our desires! For as long as we would be more content with mere entertainments instead of indulging ourselves in God and in His law, the world will never see the power of the Gospel at work in us. If our lives and choices do not reflect that our God is, in Himself, truly delightful, how can we expect anyone else to believe it?

…for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
Psalms 119:47-48

Adonai who sanctifies us, we borrow from David’s own prayers today as we ask that You will turn open our eyes so that we may behold wondrous things out of Your Law and turn our eyes from worthless things. Incline our hearts to Your testimonies and not to selfish pursuits. Forgive us, and deliver us from our own propensity to selfishness! Search us and know our hearts; try us and know our thoughts. If there is any offensive way in us, help us to let it go and lead us in the way everlasting! 

 

Adulteress

…And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:11b

A few days ago, I dreamed of the passage about the woman caught in adultery from John 8 and have spent many days reading and pondering the story. As I’ve read and re-read, I have also delved into commentaries out of curiosity over what others say, and in doing so found that many scholars do not believe John actually wrote the verses found in John 7:53-8:11, but that the words are nonetheless considered to recount an actual event that was perhaps added in later.

However, the scope of this article has nothing to do with whether or not this passage is a valid writing of John but rather a reflection on what it was God was saying to me, personally. And this morning, I finally got it.

In order to best share it with you, I need to point out another passage in Scripture, namely Matthew 18:23-35. To summarize, this is the parable Jesus told about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed the king a debt so tremendous that it was impossible for him to pay back.

Upon receiving the news that he, his family, and all he owned were to be sold in order to make payment on the debt, the servant begged for mercy. Moved by compassion, the king not only granted mercy but pardoned the servant’s debt.

The forgiven servant proceeded to encounter a fellow servant who owed him a small debt. When this man asked for lenience, the servant, apparently forgetting the mercy that had been extended to him, actually began to choke his fellow servant, throwing the poor man into prison.

Word of the event reached the king who summoned the man whom he had pardoned, taking him to task for being merciless to his fellow when he, himself, had received abundant mercy. My Lord closes the tale by stating:

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:35

Oh, there were other Scriptures the Lord called to mind as I have mulled over the dream and the passage found in John 8. However, as Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, “Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

There are many valid and wonderful insights that can be derived from both passages. Both have a great deal of easily applicable information on the treatment of others, on mercy, on grace, on forgiveness… indeed, on a host of Godly learning.

But…

All of this is nothing more than intellectual exercise until each of us understands what my God has been revealing to me.

I am the servant forgiven an unpayable debt. I am the woman caught in adultery.

We all are, for there is not a man or woman alive today who is entirely innocent of spiritual adultery; of pursuing self-indulgence or money or fame or innumerable other gods rather than remaining faithful to the One who Created us after His own image and breathed His life into us.

It is here, trembling in fear before the Righteous Judge as the murderous crowd drop their stones and slowly trickle away one by one until I stand alone before Him – it is here that I truly feel awed by His unlikely act of forgiveness. Here is where I feel the crushing weight of my debt and my inability to repay it.

And here is where I marvel at His words, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

Now that I have tasted the overwhelming and entirely undeserved freedom of my pardon, how could I not also forgive those who have committed such little offenses toward me?

And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:34-35

Father God, today I pray that we would each feel the incredible relief of forgiveness, realizing that our own unpayable debt and spiritual adultery are so much larger than the petty offenses we stack up against our brothers and sisters. Help us to grasp the weight of joy in Your forgiveness in such a way that we are eager to leave our lives of sin and walk in freedom, forgiving others as You have forgiven us.

 

 

 

Splinter

For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
(Acts 9:16)

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
(2 Corinthians 12:7)

During my struggle with migraine, I have been blessed by the prayers of many fellow sojourners for healing. Some of them, very well-meaning and wonderful people, have told me emphatically that it is not God’s will that we suffer with such maladies, but that He would have us be free from them in order that our ministry might be effective.

Respectfully and without a trace of acrimony, I very heartily disagree.

You see, more than once when I have prayed to see the end of migraine, God has brought 2 Corinthians 12 to mind, particularly verses 7-10. In this passage, as in the book of Job, God has repeatedly reminded me that sometimes His work in the midst of affliction is what brings Him glory.

And in truth, He does not need me to be particularly efficient or even functional to accomplish His work. To the contrary, my weakness and inability provide a background that prominently displays His glory.

While I have to admit that I would love to be entirely free of migraine and all its myriad accoutrements, I also know that the ability to praise God despite them honors Him for who He is and not merely for what He does.

Do I believe that God is able to remove pain from my life? Yes, absolutely; I have no doubt that He can.

However, I also know that He knows what He is doing, and what He is doing often necessitates putting me in situations that I would avoid if given the chance. In the same way, if someone told me that eating a certain fruit every day would give me the body of a 25-year-old Olympic gymnast, well… Suffice to say that I would buy them by the truckload.

But I tend to learn best from hands-on experience.

Though I may understand the principal of a thing – how it works or how it is done – I never fully grasp it until I have experienced it myself. Just so, experiencing pain helps me to better understand how intensely my Lord suffered for me. Having a weakness of my own gives me a more complete understanding of how little God actually needs me to accomplish His will.

Perhaps this is why Paul wrote that his “thorn” was to keep him from becoming conceited. Personally, I am embarrassingly susceptible to swollen pride if I were allowed any credit for what God has done through me. As it is, I can only marvel because I am keenly aware of what is done by Him despite my weakness.

Pain, though unpleasant, is an excellent tutor.

In the original Greek, the word translated as “thorn” in the ESV is only used this once in the text of the New Covenant. According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, it could be translated as “a sharp stake or splinter.”

The idea of a splinter resonates well with my experience of chronic migraine; specifically, the maddening type of invisible splinter inflicted by a thistle or nettle. You can’t see it, but you certainly know it’s there. (Perhaps this is on my mind because of a recent gloveless and rather silly attempt to rid my garden of an infestation of these wicked little plants…)

But the thistle is not without purpose. With its habit of propagating in neglected areas, it Goldfinch004can draw attention to fields or fencerows in need of a little TLC. And though its needles are most unpleasant, its flowers do provide nectar for a wide variety of bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds, and its seeds are a favorite of many species of birds, including the stunning goldfinch.

Even so, my own pain is not purposeless. I fully believe God can and will heal me if it best serves His plan. However, I also know that He will not until He is finished pruning away my pride, my self-reliance, even my lack of faith and providing hope for others in the meantime.

 

I am not advocating that we never pray for healing for self or others, only that we do not allow it destroy our faith if His answer is, “No.”

Instead, while you pray for healing, also ask God to reveal any areas of your heart that may need a little TLC and trust Him to be enough. We can truly rejoice that no experience of our lives lies beyond His power to redeem. Not even our pain.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Inglorious

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1:14-15)

If ever there was a flowering plant designed with the busy (or lazy) gardener in mind, the morning glory may well be it.

As a child, I always admired the perpetual presence of purple flowers adorning a remnant of fencing left between my grandparents’ property and that of their neighbors. When my children were small, I even bought a packets of morning glory and sunflower seeds after reading about a fun-sounding, natural “clubhouse” that could be planted – the sunflowers serving as the frame and morning glories filling in for walls and roof. Somehow, that year, I never actually got around to it, very possibly because my children were small…

So the first year I saw a morning glory growing near my vegetable garden, I did not MG008mind. The purple trumpets of flower and the cheerful, heart-shaped or deeply lobed leaves seemed a very attractive addition.

Little did I know how I would later rue the moment I let the thing grow.

One busy spring and summer, my family ended up traveling much more often than usual and so I had little time to devote to weeding. Upon returning from one of our trips, I walked out to check on the progress of my vegetables and was rather surprised to find that, in our absence, the tall and majestic rows of popcorn were festooned in green frocks of dense, heart-shaped segments embellished here and there with deceptively delicate-looking purple and blue blooms all nodding at me in mock friendliness as they effectively choked out the life of my plants, diminishing my harvest.

MG010

From that summer on, most of what little time I have for gardening has been spent stalking and uprooting morning glory sprouts. To my utter dismay, the plant reseeds itself with prolific, almost furious abundance.

MG006Every time I take the short hike from house to garden, I keep an eye open for the little seed leaves shaped like old-fashioned ladies’ bloomers that pop up by the zillions. Despite my best efforts to scour the area thoroughly, those treacherously innocuous-seeming hearts pop up apparently the moment my back is turned, sending out their coiling tendrils to snare and suffocate the very plants I try to nurture.

As I was ripping out fistfuls of the demonically attractive vines the other day, it occurred to me that most sin is a good deal like the morning glory.

MG007

Sin, too, appears attractive at the beginning. As it grows, it can also appear friendly-looking, even desirable. At times, we sow the seeds of sin with eager anticipation, looking forward to some pleasure or indulgence that seems benign, unlikely to harm anyone but ourselves.

At other times, sin grows from neglect. We see it sprouting up in our hearts, but either we are too apathetic or too busy to care. Perhaps, even, one tiny pair of cotelydons thrusting themselves up through the soil of our hearts seems to pose no threat. After all, it is a very small, even an insignificant thing.

 

 

MG009Yet, left to its own devices, sin also grows quickly to overwhelming proportions. It, too, sends dainty tendrils snaking through the landscape of our hearts and minds, catching hold of those things we have purposefully sown and choking them, diminishing the harvest of good and useful fruit. Fully grown, it mocks us with the very flower of what we once desired; the very thing we once thought beautiful now nodding at us scornfully from every corner and niche. And sin, too, is prolific in its reseeding.

Just as I wage war with the morning glories in my vegetable garden, I find that identifying and uprooting sin in my heart is a never-ending task. Yet I give thanks to my Lord because He has not left me to this battle blind and empty-handed.

Though I may be prone to overlook a shoot here or a shrub there, the Light of the World illuminates the shadowy places in my heart, exposing sin in various stages of growth.

And while my efforts at defeating the virulent growth fall short, the only good and perfect Gardener is able to do what I cannot – ripping out the twisted vines by their roots, killing even my desire for them, and pruning the sickly, undernourished plantings of righteousness that are left behind so that they may once again bear fruit for the glory of the King.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:24-25a)

Amen!