Not Easy, but He is Good

Gentle Reader,

…a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

– Ecclesiastes 3:4 (CSB)

Time is linear. Ever-moving forward. Marching toward a specific end.

It’s also wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff. (Thank you, Doctor Who).

In each of our timelines, there is good and bad. Weeping mixed with laughing. Mourning combined with dancing. It’s not easy to separate our experiences, and the emotions that arise from those experiences, into discreet parts. Perhaps that’s why someone coined the word “bittersweet” ages ago. That, I think, is an apt description for life.

And so, the truth is (and I remind myself here that truth is what I’m meant to be focusing on this year), we have to learn to accept whatever comes our way. There is very little that we can control. Really, most often the only control we have is in how we respond to events. Will we choose bitterness and fear? Or will we choose to exercise the gritty kind of faith that takes shape in the cauldron of adversity?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not telling you to be a doormat. I’m not telling you to say, “Yay! I have cancer!” I’m not telling you to paste a placid expression on your face when your heart is breaking.

What am I telling you?

To ask Jesus to give you eyes to see Him, even on the worst days. To seek God at all times, in all things. We can accept whatever comes our way when we learn to embrace the Lord who loves us first and foremost. When we are wrapped in His arms, we can breathe deeply, despite the torrents of tears, and resolve to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that He will never let us go.

It would be nice if life was simple. It will be, one day, when the feet of the Savior touch the earth again and all is renewed and restored. That, we look forward to. But for now, it’s complicated. It’s messy. The destructive tentacles of sin, that of the first people which fundamentally tainted and twisted our souls, reach out and with a sickening thud glomp onto everything. Every person. Every relationship. Even down to the bits and pieces that make up the atoms. The entire world blew up at the first bite of forbidden fruit.

We blew up.

And we keep blowing up.

Thank God that He’s not like us. Me, if I were Him I’d have called it quits a long time ago. Heck with all of it. Heck with this chaos. But He’s not me. He’s Other, Unique, Mystery, Holy, Just, and Good. He is Love. He keeps working, patiently. He knocks down walls, breaks through doors, shakes the mountains, stops the rivers. There is no depth to which we can descend that His arm does not reach further still.

The author of Hebrews calls this saving “to the uttermost” (7:25).

Maybe we won’t see that uttermost in this part of the timeline. Maybe that will wait until Eternity. Maybe we won’t understand all that He is doing right now.

What is definite and assured is that we will continue to have wave after wave of tribulation wash over us. Some, we cause ourselves. Some, we’d never ask for or anticipate in a million years. What is also definite and assured: All storms can be navigated by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. His light continues to guide us to the safe shore.

Perhaps you cry today. Perhaps the news never seems to be good.

But then you see the first faint buds of spring. Just the barest wash of green upon the trees. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds. And you remember: Blessed assurance. Jesus is mine.

And you raise your hands to Heaven as the tears drop to the ground.

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Tenderhearted

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For the first time that I can remember, someone described me as being tender. Sensitive, even. This person seemed to think that these are good, positive character traits.

I do not like this.

Many have wondered if I have emotions. There have been jokes throughout the years about how I must be a robot. I must be some kind of frost princess. And now, someone perceives me in an entirely different way. Those few sentences have acted like a needle, the bearer of which reached in and popped my protective bubble. All of these…feelings…threaten to spill out.

It’s awful.

Anger, I can do. Righteous or otherwise. Anxious and depressed, obviously. But to put words to those emotions, to say, “So-and-so hurt my, ugh, feelings”? To say, “Please stop doing _________, I don’t like it”?

Yikes.

Vulnerability. No, thank you.

I’ll take stoicism for $500, Alex.

Those of us who have been around church for any length of time have heard one of the most famous verses having to do with the heart:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?

– Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)

From this, we gather that we cannot “follow our hearts” as is so often encouraged in movies. We learn

There is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourishes, in the assurances that it gives us . . . The constant yearning of the heart is to gratify its propensities to pride, ambition, evil desire, and corruption of all kinds.

Asbury Bible Commentary

I know that my heart (or, in our modern understanding, my mind) plays tricks on me. There’s a reason I take medication every night. I am a living, breathing example of a human’s inability to jump on, without question, every line of thought and every train of feeling. I have to critically examine those thoughts and feelings. We all do.

The heart, which the ancients understood to be the decision-making center, is not to be blindly trusted. This is not a false statement, but as is so often the case, we take the truth and run with it until we wind up in Legalism Land. Never let them see you cry. Put a brave face on. If you’re sad, you’re sinning. 

We have read something into the text that isn’t there.

Consider these verses, so often glossed over:

 Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.

– Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 22:37; 2 Corinthians 4:1 (NKJV)

Feelings should not, and really cannot, be divorced from faith, or any other part of our lives.

The lights twinkle on the Christmas tree, casting a soft glow throughout the room. Candles flicker next to the Willow Tree figurines. Mary and Joseph, shielding the newborn Savior. She looks as though she pats His back in order to soothe Him. He wraps his arms around them both.

Who was ever more vulnerable than Jesus? The King of Glory, knowing exactly what was going to happen, wrapped Himself in frail flesh. He had no delusions of a quiet life. Never had a moment when He believed He’d die in His bed, at a good old age. Who better than He ever showed us how to connect with and express our emotions in healthy ways? He cried as a baby. Cried when His friend died. Cried when the people wouldn’t listen. Flipped some tables and yelled, too.

Feelings are God-given. No, we can’t obey them. I can’t slap my husband just because he makes me angry. But we shouldn’t ignore them. We shouldn’t buy into the notion that the only acceptable feeling a Christian may experience is happiness. If my husband makes me angry, I need to open my mouth and tell him why. Tell him what’s bothering me, what hurts me. (Without swearing, which, let’s be real, is a struggle).

We don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want to be hurt. We think that putting on the mask, bearing the abuse, never speaking up, will somehow make it better. Somehow make us impervious to damage. The act doesn’t work. The feelings remain. They grow. They intensify. Then, one day, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself throwing a glass across the kitchen, sobbing for reasons that you can’t begin to identify.

I am tenderhearted. A large part of me recoils in typing that. I may not reveal this tenderness in conventional or easily-understood ways, but nonetheless, it’s true. I can’t read books or watch movies that involve animal death. My heart burns over the idiotic choices so-called Christian leaders make these days. I panic in crowds. Behind this tough outer shell lies a gooey center.

Perhaps this is who you are, too, dear reader. Perhaps you’ve worked very hard so nobody but the Lord ever sees your tears. If so, be brave with me. I suspect there may be new experiences of strength and grace found in taking down the wall and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

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Photo Credit: Jamez Picard

Five Minute Friday: Follow

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Gentle Reader,

Tonight we spoke of eating our feelings, throwing things and longing for new bodies. We prayed for hurting doggies, discussed my upcoming book “Things That Make Me Cranky and the Food the Makes It Better,” shared Blacklist jokes (yes, that show comes up fairly consistently in conversation) and enjoyed the deep sort of soul-sigh that comes with being in the company of family.

Connected across the miles and denominations and food preferences.

Kate and the gang. We: follow.

Go.

Today was tough. Some stuff was said by some people, which pushed the ever-shortening fuse of my temper closer to the dynamite. I got quiet. (Nobody seems to realize that lack of speech is a warning sign. I might not be the most verbose of persons, but if I’m completely tight-lipped there’s a good chance it’s for the safety of others). I tried to keep my head down and just get through.

But really I wanted to cry.

I hate that. Emotions are so awful.

Of course, they aren’t really awful. They are God-given. I know that. As a person who is very much wired for the head-space and not the heart-space, however, emotions are difficult to handle. Often I don’t know what I’m feeling until the moment has passed. Sometimes it’s hours later.

I felt embarrassed. Publicly humiliated.

So I ate my feelings and put on my sweatpants and chatted with my lovely Twitter friends. All the while, I hear the Spirit speaking into my heart, “Follow Me.”

Why does He say this? I know without having to think. Because my reaction to those feelings was not good. My face was a blank mask (at least I hope it was), but my insides were ugly. I was throwing things. Name-calling. Screaming.

And following Him, while it means not that I ignore the hurt or gloss over the wrong, does involve letting that screaming, cussing, termagant die. It involves killing her. It looks like taking all that pain and frustration and dumping it at His feet. Asking Him to sort through my emotions and help me to feel them in a way that does not bind me tight.

Following Him means releasing the desire to whip around, look at those people and drop a list of their wrongs, failures and short-comings on their laps. It means not retaliating.

Following Him is hard.

So very hard.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Detox Diaries, Five Minute Friday Edition: Grateful

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Gentle Reader,

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker for Five Minute Friday. This week’s prompt: Grateful.

Go.

The zaps keep coming. I feel like my brain is going to pour out of my ear any minute now.

But there is Jesus.

That probably doesn’t make sense to you if you’ve never been through an antidepressant withdrawal. My brain feels like mush. I could cry…because. Don’t need a reason. My ribs hurt. But Jesus is there. He’s holding me. Every time I turn around, He’s got an encouraging word for me through a blog post, a song, the Word itself. No condemnation. No “do better, try harder.” Just the assurance that He’s walking this twisting road with me.

I’ve only begun to climb this mountain. It’ll get steeper. But it feels like I ran 18 marathons this week. I’m so tired. And wired. Everything all at once, it seems. I don’t make sense to myself. And I don’t like that.

But there is Jesus.

I don’t have to explain myself. He knows. He’ll dry my tears and ease my fears.

I am so grateful.

Stop.

What are you grateful for today? I’d love to hear about it! Come join the Five Minute Friday party!

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.