When You Feel Abandoned

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (4)

Gentle Reader,

Things like natural disasters and unexplained illnesses often cause us to question God’s goodness. Surely He, if He loved us, would not allow us to deal with such difficult and heart-wrenching things? I myself have asked this question from time to time, though I have never come up with a satisfactory answer. The truth is, nobody has, whatever their philosophical outlook or religious belief. There are always “whys” that remain.

My personal opinion is that many of the things we suffer through are the natural consequences of living in a world that doesn’t work properly. Sin effects everything. Paul writes of the world around us:

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:19-22 (NKJV)

Praise be to God, for His eternal plan involves the redemption and restoration of the whole of creation. There is not one blade of grass, one flower, one mountain, one stream, one deer, one fish, one dog, one anything that will not be healed under His hand. Those of us who live under the Lordship of Christ will get to live in the “ideal world” that is always talked about. We will get to be whole and healthy, entirely at peace, our lives devoted to the worship and service of the King.

What do we do until then?

Jesus said:

“In this world you will have trouble. . .I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” – John 16:33, 14:16 (NKJV)

In our humanness, we’d rather escape trouble. We feel terribly alone and afraid when tornadoes rip through our homes or we are diagnosed with a disease that the doctors just can’t fix. We don’t understand. We’re angry. Hurt.

In those moments, there is amazing hope. Jesus guaranteed that we would go through hard times, for He does not snatch us immediately out of this life when we come to faith in Him. We have to exist in the same sin-sick world as everyone else does. But He is with us. Did you catch that? God is with us.

There is not a tear you cry, not a hurt you feel, not a question you ask but God does not see, hear and respond. He does not always work in the ways we would like Him to, or even in ways that we can understand, but He never leaves. Never.

The question is true: “When you feel far from God, who moved?”

Jesus went on to say:

 “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (NKJV)

He is bigger, stronger and mightier than the fiercest of storms. It is beyond me as to why He allows them to come, but I stand in the truth that He guides us through them all, His arms wrapped protectively around us. Whatever is allowed has first passed through Him, and is meant for our good.

That is a hard truth to swallow. It takes a lot of faith and teeth-gritting guts to hold on. It takes effort, determination and a conscious decision to accept that some things are beyond us. To believe that God is other than we are and cannot be controlled. To know that we are fiercely loved, despite outside evidence to the contrary.

I do look forward to the day when I can see God face-to-face and ask Him why my husband had to battle depression daily and why I had to live with a mysterious illness. Why I was born partially blind. Was it an integral part of the plan? Was it something that He allowed as part of living in a fallen world? I would like to know, though I suspect it has something to do with the lessons He has to teach to His children over and over again; lessons about humility and dependence. Until that day, however, I am content to live in this broken body, secure in the knowledge that the Lord is with me, and this is not all there is.

What do you do when you suffer?

You cry. You get angry. You ask questions.

God hears. He sees. He loves. He guides.

What do you do when you see someone else suffering?

You don’t mouth platitudes. You accept that person for who they are and where they are. You pitch in where you can. You hug them and listen.

God hears. He sees. He loves. He guides.

We are never alone.

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Stay the Course

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Often we think in detail, forgetting to consider the big picture. We get wrapped up in the dailyness of our lives, often halfway convinced that we are never going to actually get through this specific 24-hour cycle. In the back of our minds, there is occasionally a sense of wonder at waking up again the next morning.

In short, we have massively skewed perspectives, most often focused on our belly buttons.

After all, are we not each the center of the universe? Isn’t that where our conflict comes from, as we bounce off each other and offend the notion that “I” am the most important?

Today I want to take a wide-angle view. Usually when speaking about a faith journey, we hear stories of specific times when God stepped in with grace, strength, protection, conviction, etc. While these stories are special and important, they often distract us from the larger course of life. For those of us without “exciting” testimonies, we often wonder if God has ever worked in our lives at all.

This summer is my fifth wedding anniversary. Next summer is my ten-year high school reunion. As I reflect on all that’s happened in between, I amazed not at the details, but the flow. When has God stepped in to give me strength? To give me grace? Protection? Conviction? Help?

I can only answer that with another question: when hasn’t He?

God is always there. He is always working. He called to me and drew me in even as I was determined to go my own way the first time I went to college (you do read that correctly). I worked for a newspaper, got my heart broken several times, made wonderful friends and had experience that I will never forget – but all of these pale in comparison to the knowledge that God had not forsaken His pursuit of me even as I had turned from Him.

Stay the course.

When I despaired of His existence as my husband sat in a hospital lobby sobbing, He was there. He gave me what I needed to adjust to being the wife of a clinically depressed husband before I even knew I needed something from Him.

Stay the course.

When we leaped into buying a house too soon and wondered how we’d make the payments, He calmed our souls.

Stay the course.

We we walked through the fire of testing and learned to be obedient even when it meant losing friends, He strengthened our resolve.

Stay the course.

When I wanted to drop out of school two weeks ago and felt so worthless and stupid, He issued a stern but loving warning to me through His Scriptures.

Stay the course.

When I wake in the morning, stumble to the bathroom, see the bags under my eyes and wonder just how it is that I am going to make it through one more day when I feel so unendingly sick, I pray, “All right, God. You know me. You know what I have to do today. You’ve got to get me through.” And He does, every time, with just enough energy for me to do what is on His agenda. I am slowly learning that, when I feel burned out, it means I’m not supposed to be doing it.

Stay the course.

Over and over again, those words ring in my  mind. Keep walking. One foot in the front of the other. Even if all I take is one half-step in the course of a day, it’s God-engineered and enabled progress.

His consistency and faithfulness swell my heart and reduce me to whispered praises. He is never not there. He is never not available. The problem is never with God, but with us. We don’t ask. We don’t seek. We go our own way and try to deal with life in our own strength – and then we’re amazed when can’t.

Can I remember a time when the Lord was giving me strength?

How about right now, as I prepare to go grocery shopping? How about this afternoon, when I get a haircut? How about tomorrow, when I clean the house? God is not only interested in the big events. He’s there, every day, in every moment, in every place. He stays the course.

All we have to do is follow, dwelling in the shadow of the Strong Tower.

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Photo Credit: Scott Webb

Called

Gentle Reader,

My pastor is currently preaching through the ministry of Christ in anticipation of the Lenten season. Today he focused on a small and oft-studied passage, the call of the first disciples in Matthew 4:18-22. Though the first two chapters of the Gospel of John reveal that Jesus had likely already met Peter, Andrew, James and John, it is here that their role in relation to Him is explicitly defined.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. (NKJV)

Two things about this passage struck me afresh today.

First, Jesus didn’t call the creme de la creme. He didn’t go out and look for the prettiest, the best, the brightest. He searched out ordinary people. Second, these ordinary people immediately set aside what they were doing and followed Him. There was no dragging of feet and certainly no excuses.

At the end of the sermon, my pastor noted that the call is the same today as it was then. Jesus invited twelve Average Joe’s to go along with Him on the adventure of a lifetime. He took what they were good at – fishing – and translated it into a work that would ultimately glorify Him and point others toward salvation. So, today, Jesus invites each of us to do the same.

What amazes me about this is both the gracious condescension of the Lord and His creativity. Jesus did not have to have anyone come along on His ministry. He could well have done it all alone. Yet He choose to allow human beings to play a part. He sees value and ability within His children beyond that which we see for ourselves. He draws out the qualities that we assume are worth nothing and uses them for something special.

I am thinking about this today in relation to being ill. It’s quite discouraging to be shut up at home so often, having to say “no” to fun activities and events. Today I wonder if He wants to use that. Surely there are others, far sicker than I, who struggle to climb out of dark holes. There must be a way for me to minister to them, out of my own frustrations. After all, it is the holes caused by our weakness and wounding which allow His light to shine through.

We’ve got to keep our eyes open, I think. God might be willing and wanting to use us in a way we have never imagined.

Chronic

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For years now I have complained of not feeling particularly well. I catch every cold and flu under the sun, and I rarely, if ever, feel anything other than tired. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve known what it is to be rested. It is entirely normal for me to operate at a certain level of exhaustion. Sometimes it’s an accomplishment just to get out of bed and take a shower.

Today I went to the doctor.

Today I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Today I was informed that there’s little to be done.

Oh, I could try going on an anti-depressant, because some people respond well to a serotonin boost. I could try thyroxin, a thyroid supplement, but that’s not really recommended. I’m supposed to do hard cardio exercise every day. I shake my head at all that. I’m not exhausted because I’m depressed, although I’m on my way to being depressed because I’m exhausted. I know I need to exercise more, but when? How? Sometimes it’s all I can do not to fall asleep at my desk. Or in the car while driving.

And, you know, it doesn’t help that the doctor I saw today was sorely lacking in the compassion department. Okay, fine. You don’t know a lot about this illness or how to treat it. I’m okay with honesty. It just would have been nice if he’d said, “Sorry you feel like crap and you’re going to cycle in and out of this for the rest of your life.” That would have made me feel a little better. Instead I came out of there feeling like he sees me as just a lazy, crazy person.

I’m not lazy. I’m not crazy. I’m tired. Down in the bones, make you feel sick kind of tired. I feel like I haven’t slept for days. I’m having trouble concentrating at work and the short-term memory I once possessed is long gone. I live and die by my calendar; if it doesn’t get written down, it doesn’t exist.

I’ve been reading about CFS on the CDC website. It’s a lifelong thing. Lifelong. I’ve just been diagnosed with an illness that I will have for the rest of my life, barring some miracle or the development of a drug. I can work on managing the symptoms and learn coping strategies, but that’s it. This is forever.

It’s not cancer. I’m not facing immanent death. For the most part, I’m not in any pain. You know what, though? I’m done with trying to minimize how I do feel. I’m sick. I just am. It’s not the type of sickness that is readily seen on the surface. I don’t have a fever and I’m not throwing up. But I’m not healthy.

Do you know what it’s like, to be diagnosed with a chronic illness? My brain can’t even wrap around it. Maybe this is not the kind of news that some people would define as bad, but it’s a blow to me. Can you imagine what it would be like to battle the sort of fatigue that you have after running for a long time, or after extended periods of stress, every day for the rest of your life? To know that, even if you go into remission (and that is the word they use), it’s all just going to come back, without any warning?

You may not think that exhaustion has any kind of impact on your life, but it does. Not only does my natural introversion cause me to need “alone time,” but having no energy means that I miss out on a lot of things. I don’t have people over during the week because I know I have to get up the next day and go to work. If I have a large weekend event to attend, I have to take the following Monday off to recoup. I know that I’ve hurt the feelings of my friends and family because I’ve been unavailable and they have assumed it was a personal thing.

Do you know what is highly recommended for this illness? “Cognitive behavioral therapy.” Counseling. I’m not against counseling in any way, but the implication here is that it’s all in your head. It’s not. IT’S NOT. I only wish it was. That would be easier to deal with.

Can I call into work tired? Is that an acceptable thing to do? Is it wrong to hope that someone might organize meals for me for a week even though I’m not sick in an obvious way? Is it stupid that tears are streaming down my cheeks because I am beyond frustrated? How can you be diagnosed with lifelong tiredness?? It doesn’t even make any sense!

The funniest thing of all is that I’m reading all over the place that I should avoid stress. Really? Isn’t life itself stress? Isn’t it stress-inducing to be told, “Hey, you’re sick, and you’re stuck with it?” Don’t worries arise in knowing that you’re liable to be misunderstood?

Maybe none of this makes sense to you. Maybe you don’t think it’s a big deal. But it’s a big deal to me. It’s a big, fat honking deal.

 

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