Tag Archives: Pain

The End of the Line

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.
2 Kings 17:6 (NIV)

In this life, some things end. That’s the simple truth of the matter. Along this life journey I’ve come to the realization that we human beings like to feel a sense of the eternal amidst the temporal. We like things to remain fairly stable. We are lulled into a state of accepting that what has been always will be…

  • I will always live here…
  • I will always have this job…
  • We will always be together…
  • We will always be friends…
  • My parents will always stay together…
  • My children will outlive me…

And then suddenly, things end. Relationships end, jobs go away, homes are destroyed, people move away, churches split, companies are acquired, and so on, and so on, and so on.

World rocked. Equilibrium off. Heart breaking. Mind spinning.

Life changing.

In today’s chapter, we get to the end of the line for the northern Kingdom of Israel. For 190 years they had existed through a roller coaster succession of monarchs. Hoshea would be the final king. The Assyrian empire lays siege to Israel’s capital city, Samaria. It is destroyed, plundered, and the Israelites taken back to Assyria as slaves. Using the ancient playbook of conquest, the Assyrians move a melting pot of other immigrants peoples into the neighborhood to ensure that the Israelites left behind don’t unite in rebellion against the Empire. It is the end of the Kingdom of Israel.

As I read and mull over this morning’s chapter, I’m reminded of our chapter-a-day journeys through the prophets who warned that this was coming. For those who had ears to hear, the warning signs were there. Amidst the chaos, grief and questions that arise when things end, we can often look back with 20-20 hindsight and see that the signs were all there. In our desire for the eternal amidst the temporal we simply choose to ignore them.

I’m also mulling over the lessons that I’ve learned both in my journey through God’s Message and my journey through life. Things must end for us to experience new beginnings. In order for there to be resurrection, something must die. God even wove this truth into His artistic expression of creation. The seasons teach us that the new life and recurring promises of spring don’t happen with out the long death of winter. In summer Iowa has such lush green landscape with deep blue skies that it almost creates a new color all its own. But eventually we reach the end of the line. Lush green corn turns to ugly brown stalks, and the blue skies give way to the dull gray snow clouds of winter. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Old things pass away, then new things come.

For the people of Israel, this chapter of life is ended. But the story isn’t over. The prophets predicted this, as well. A new chapter has begun. Perhaps unexpected. Perhaps unwanted. Perhaps scary and unnerving. Yet that’s why we love great stories. They take us to unexpected places and new experiences we hadn’t dreamed or imagined. But we don’t get there without journeying through the end of the previous chapter(s).

“Enough” With Which to be Faithful

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
Matthew 25:22-23 (NIV)

A wise counselor once asked me to name my pain. “At the depth of your soul,” he asked me, “what would you label the core ache that feeds your strongest feelings of sadness and inadequacy?”

I pondered the question, but it didn’t take me long to come up with an answer: “Not enough.”

I came to realize that most of my life I have had to actively work to overcome an inherent sense of never being enough, giving enough, doing enough, loving enough, caring enough, sharing enough, serving enough, or achieving enough. Addressing “not enough” is a  large part of my spiritual journey.

In today’s chapter Jesus tells a parable that has grown increasingly powerful to me as the years have gone on. As with most of Jesus’ parables, it is quite simple. A master gives each of three servants different amounts of his money and goes away for a long time. The master returns to find that two of the three have invested his money and earned a return on the investment. The third buried his master’s money out of fear and returned just what he’d been given.

Two lessons from this parable have become quite important to me.

First, the master does not evenly distribute his money among the servants. One was given five bags, another two, and the other one. This is another reminder to me that a seemingly fair and equitable distribution of anything in this temporal world has never been part of the economy of God’s eternal Kingdom. I have been given more than some and less than others. The question has never been what I’ve been given, but what I do with what I’m given.

Herein lies the ying and the yang of my core pain. I must learn to be content with what I’ve been given, but also accept that I am responsible for it. I must learn to accept that I have been given “enough” and that God knows I am capably adequate to faithfully invest it wisely.

The second lesson I take from this parable is in the master’s compliment to his servants. “You have been faithful with a few things” he says. The servants were not burdened with the entirety of their master’s affairs. They were given a relatively small amount and were rewarded simply for being faithful with what they’d been given.

Sometimes my feelings of “not enough” grow to epic disproportion in my heart and mind, fueling all sorts of unproductive thoughts and paralyzing fears (much like the third servant in the parable). I quite literally blow everything up in my mind until its completely out of proportion to the truth of the situation. In these moments the master’s compliment helpfully reminds me to boil things down to the simplicity of being faithful to the tasks right  in front of me.

This morning, that means serving my client well in a day full of meetings. If you’ll please excuse me, I have a few things to which I must faithfully attend. And, that will be enough for today.

Have a good day.

Featured image courtesy of AZQuotes

Hope We Never Wanted to Imagine

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”
Isaiah 54:4 (NIV)

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted. In yesterday’s post about our vacation in Palm Springs I gave a host of reasons why I’ve been on an unintended sabbatical. This morning I had to wake up to the realization that I was, perhaps, simply trying to avoid today’s chapter.

I don’t know what to do with ‘No,'” Wendy often said to me in the depths of our journey through infertility. Walking with Wendy through that stretch of our journey I had the same fear. Though I still don’t pretend to fully understand just how pervasive that fear is for a woman whose body and soul is uniquely crafted to bring a child into this world, and is then repeatedly denied the opportunity.

Yes” is the answer on which you place our hopes.

Yes, you are finally pregnant.”
Yes, the pregnancy will take this time and you will bring it to term.”

Wait” is the answer we didn’t want, but we would be willing to put up with.

Wait, it will happen – just not yet.”
Wait, you are going to realize what you so greatly desire. But, just like so many other women, you will have to wait longer than you wanted.

No” was the answer we didn’t know how to handle.

And yet, “No” was what we, and so many others, have walked through. It is a part of our story. We couldn’t fathom it in that moment. We couldn’t go there in our minds. We couldn’t wrap our hearts around it. We avoided the thought like the plague. And, then it happened. It became part of our story. But, it is not the story.

In today’s chapter Isaiah uses the barren woman as a metaphor of lost and forgotten hope. Out of the depths of hopelessness Holy Spirit breaths through the old prophet’s poetic pen to bring new hope to the people of Judah whose lives and city lay in ruins. At the same time, Holy Spirit breathes a much needed reminder of renewed hope to all of us who have realized some of our deepest fears.

Our stories are still being written, and the pain of the chapter called “Infertility” is a part of it. It is just a chapter in the story. It is not the story itself.  Wendy and I have experienced God’s compassion and everlasting kindness. In witness of Isaiah’s prophetic word, Wendy and I can attest that God’s unfailing love has not been shaken, nor has His covenant of peace been removed. I write this knowing that it will not bring comfort to those who find themselves in the reality of that same fear. Those who live in acute fear of “No” will desperately distance themselves from the thought of it possibly happening to them. However, things that are true need to be written, and they need to be said for those who may not want to hear it in the moment.

This morning I am thankful for the chapter of our lives called “Infertility.” The grief of it will never fully recede in this life. That grief marks all who make that journey. We are, however, truly thankful for what that chapter of our journey has taught us and for the good places to which it led. Sometimes in this life our deepest and most natural of hopes and desires go unrealized. For those willing to follow, the journey leads further up and further in to good places you never wanted to imagine in the moment.

Healthy Shame

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.
1 Corinthians 4:9-13 (NIV)

A friend told me the other day of his teenager who had been faced with the truth of their self-centered, uncaring attitude. When the reality of the teen’s selfishness set in, the teen was crushed in spirit and retreated to their bedroom to sulk. The father chose not to rescue the teen from their emotions in that moment, but to allow the realization and resulting feelings of shame to set in.

I have done a lot of study on the topic of shame and have even given messages and workshops on the subject. Unhealthy shame can certainly be toxic to life in an abundant ways. Shame, however, can and does serve healthy purposes as well.

When I was a young teenager I was gently shamed by a teacher when she publicly pointed out in front of my peers that I acted selfishly towards the group. It was not unhealthy shame which says, “You are an awful and completely worthless individual. There is no hope for you.” It was, rather, healthy shame which says, “Your actions are self-centered and hurtful. You can, and should, be better than this. Something in you needs to change.” That moment of healthy shame in the Home Ec room of Meredith Junior High School, and the awful feelings it created in my soul for a long time, was one of the most important moments in leading me to the realization of my deep need to change, and my utter need of a Savior.

My friend chose to let his teen sit in their room stewing in healthy shame, even though it was hard to see his child struggle. There’s a piece of a parent’s heart that always wants to rescue our child from pain, but it is absolutely critical that a parent have the wisdom to know that some pain and suffering is essential to growing up and maturing spiritually, emotionally, and in relationships.

I am concerned as I see a generation of children growing up with parents and a culture intent on shielding them from any and all discomfort or suffering. We seem to be under the delusion that any pain is bad for us: Cheer up. Take a pill. Entertain yourself. Throw a party. Whatever you do, don’t feel bad.

God’s Message says the opposite of that. We should rejoice when we suffer discomforts in this life because of the truth that our suffering produces perseverance, character, hope. I think it’s important to point out that the opposite is equally true. If we avoid suffering it produces in us laziness, foolishness, and hopelessness.

Today, I’m thankful for suffering healthy shame which taught me humility and my need of God. I’m hopeful that I have been wise in knowing when to shield my children from pain and when to let them feel their discomfort. I am prayerful that their continued struggles and sufferings in their young adults years are producing measurable depth of character, perseverance, and hope.

Things I Don’t Control and Things I Do

Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior.
Judges 11:1a (NRSV)

Jephthah, son of prostitute. How long had that moniker followed him? His glories in battle, his deliverance of his people, and his leadership could not wipe the reference away. Dale Carnegie taught us, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and for thousands of years, the first impression we have of Jephthah is that he was born to a prostitute.

The fact that he was progeny of an anonymous woman of the evening was not under Jephthah’s control. He had no say in the matter. Still, this heritage marked him for life. It led to being driven away by his half brothers. I can only speculate (having known those of similar fate) that he had a chip on his shoulder throughout his life.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the first consequences of their sin was shame. They realized they were naked. They felt their exposed bodies were bad and something they had to cover despite the fact that God said that the way He created their bodies was good and the Garden had been a nudist paradise to that  point. Once sin entered the picture, humanity has forever been locked in a struggle with our shame, and we see that struggle in the story of Jephthah.

What I find interesting about Jephthah is that his story is bookended by contrasting examples of sin and shame. At the beginning of the chapter it was the sin of the father (sleeping with a prostitute) that led to shame being visited upon his son for the rest of his days. At the end of the chapter, it was Jephthah’s own foolish actions that led to the despicable human sacrifice of his daughter and solidified his story as a tragedy for the ages.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that I have things that I don’t control (the family into which I’m born) and things that I do control (my own thoughts, words, actions, and relationships). Shame, that core pain in the depths of my heart that perpetually whispers to my soul that there is something terribly wrong with me, originates from both sources. It runs in the blood of my forebears and it is confirmed in my own foolish choices.

As I write this, less than two weeks from Christmas, I’m reminded that it was Jesus’ mission to address my shame. The progeny of God, born in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, came that He might take on all of my sin and shame when He died in my place on the cross, so that I might be unshackled from my shame and find redemption.

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And, the wisdom to know the difference.

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featured image by Gwen Meharg

The Goal

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
1 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

I got an earful. The tirade was marked by anger and came from a place of disappointment and hurt. The object of the vehemence was unknowing and undeserving. The accusations were all about an “i” not dotted, a “t” not crossed which had been blown into outrageous proportions. The goal of the rant was, from what I discerned, to project the injured’s own hurt somewhere else.

Along life’s journey I’ve been involved with many different groups of Jesus followers. Among every group I’ve encountered those Paul describes to his young protegé Timothy. There are always those who major on the minors; Those who immerse themselves in things that don’t lead to the goal, which Paul reminds young Timothy, is love.

As I read Paul’s charge to Timothy this morning, I thought about the person who gave me an earful. If the goal had truly been love, how would they have handled themselves differently? They might have started by going directly to the person they were complaining about rather than others. They might have asked this person questions and sought to understand rather than demanding to be understood. They might have considered Jesus’ command to love and forgive others a greater priority than advancing their own rights and needs.

Even as  I write these words I am looking back at a few past tirades of my own. I recognize myself in the person who gave me an earful. I have lounged in those loafers. I, too, have spewed righteous anger out of personal pain. Lord, have mercy on us both.

Today, I’m reminded of how simple and powerful love is, as Jesus exemplified it. Love is a goal to strive for. Love is also a litmus test for my own words and actions; A standard against which I can discern whether I am moving in the right direction. If my goal is truly love then it constantly forces me to choose words and actions that lead, not to places of personal right, justice, or satisfaction, but to places focused on others and marked by forgiveness, selflessness, and peace.

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Even the Wise Stumble

stumble danceSome of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
Daniel 11:35 (NIV)

Our culture does not like stumblers. We like our heroes to be perfect. I have noticed over the years that if we as a culture like a particular hero well enough we will even turn deaf ear and blind eye to his or her stumbling. Most of the time, however, we prefer to socially crucify people for stumbling, especially if their stumbling disappoints us or brings the arrogant down a notch or two.

I found it interesting what the Man in Daniel’s vision slipped in during the lengthy explanation of what was to happen politically in the centuries following Daniel’s life. “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” In other words, even the wise may stumble, and there is ultimate purpose in their mistakes as the consequences of their mistakes refines them. People learn from their mistakes.

Having had my fair share of stumbling in this life, I can attest to both the pain and the purpose of the refinement process. The further I get in this journey the more grace I find that I have with the stumbling of others. I find myself more often choosing not to focus on the disappointment of a person’s mistake in the moment, but to consider what good purpose God’s refinement process might ultimately serve in making him or her a more healthy and whole person.