The God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable: a Strength

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Gentle Reader,

For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10b (NKJV)

I forgot to take my various medications this morning, so my brain is sloshing around, no longer solid enough to neatly fit inside my skull. That, oddly enough, illustrates the final point I want to make about us and God perfectly:

It is only in fully owning up to and embracing our weakness that we are able to engage in authentic relationship with God.

We can’t go the full-on deterministic route and assign God the blame for every bad thing or every moment of suffering. Nor can we go the complete free-will route and decide that God is totally hands-off. Neither position accurately reflects what Scripture reveals to us about our wildly wonderful Creator and King. When I started this series of posts, I was hoping to be able to discern whether or not God causes suffering to come into our lives. I no longer think that’s the right question; we don’t know enough, can’t see enough, to able to nail that one down.

Now, I ask: What do You want me to here, Lord?

In my heart, I feel that His answer is: Trust Me. Rest in Me. Obey Me. Stay with Me.

I am weak. Frail. Fragile. My life is but a breath, the merest whisp of eternity. I can’t deny that, especially when I want so much to break down crying because the chemicals in my brain are out of whack and it will take awhile for the recently-ingested antidepressant to kick in.

Whether God ordains a thing to happen or allows a thing to happen, I think that He works to bring us face-to-face with our intense inability to maintain any semblance of strength. He is like a drill instructor in that; He seeks to peel back the layers of self-assurance and get to the heart of who we are. He then builds us into the people that He designed us to be. That process, I think, means coming back to this weakness over and over again. What does that song say? Heal the wound – but leave the scar.

In some strange way, I am content in not knowing exactly why I am sick and sad. I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out and never get anywhere. I’d rather travel the roads of healing that God has provided, gathering as many tools for the fight as I possibly can, all the while knowing that I will never, ever arrive at a place where I am not in desperate, aching need of Him.

The tears are coming down my cheeks now. My adopted niece likes to say, “But I’m just little.” That is what I feel my soul is crying out. I’m just little. I’m just awkward. I’m just weak. I’m just tired.

And yet I am strong. I am hidden in the folds of God’s robe, tucked safely against His heart. He is my shield, my defender. I might be little, but He is so beyond big. I might be awkward, but He moves with perfect grace. I might be weak, but He isn’t. I might be exhausted, but He never sleeps. I can go confidently forward with a Lord like that.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.

The God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable: a Pleading

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Gentle Reader,

Does Scripture, and this passage specifically, teach that God actively brings pain into the lives of those He loves?

I’ve been pondering this question all week. It’s easy to point to numerous passages in the Bible and flippantly state that God does bring suffering into the lives of His people. This is to gloss over the issue, however, for many of those passages detail cause-and-effect situations. God told the Israelites not to do ____________. If they did ___________, then ___________ would happen. The Israelites did __________, so ___________ happened.

We’re not talking about the consequences of sin. God is more than clear about the things that will happen in our lives if we depart from His way. This is suffering that we bring entirely upon ourselves. Most thankfully, He is always ready to hear our repentant cries and to help us navigate through the mess!

What about things like cancer? Job loss? Stock market crashes? Houses burning down?

What about those things?

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. – 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NKJV)

Paul’s got this stake hammered into his body, jammed in there by one sent to torment him. We have no idea what this stake was. He could have been sick, he could have been struck with depression, he could have lost a friend. The nature of the pain doesn’t matter when it comes to our understanding of this passage. What does matter is that he was hurting, that he didn’t like it and that he asked God to take the pain away.

Concering: huper (hooper) – in behalf of; over, beyond, more than; more, beyond, over.

Pleaded: parakaleo (parakaleho) – to call to one’s side; call for; summon; address; speak to; exhortation; entreaty; beg; beseech.

Lord: kurios (kooreeos) – He to whom a person or thing belongs; master; owner; title of honor; reverence; God.

Times: kairos (kaheeros) – due measure; opportune or seasonable time.

Depart: aphistemi (afistaymee) – cause to withdraw; remove; go away; desert; fall away; flee from; cease to vex one; to withdraw.

Paul’s mind and emotions are consumed by this pain. I don’t know whether “three times” means “three times” or if the number is representative as in so much of Scripture, but it’s safe to say that this pain was a topic of discussion between Paul and God more than once. The Apostle took what opportunities he could to say, “Oh, Lord, You are my King. Please, please take this thing away from me!”

There is so much comfort in knowing that God listens, isn’t there?

Paul’s perspective in the preceding verse, where he talks about this pain being necessary to keep him from undue pride, must have come after the experience. I don’t know anyone, no matter how long they’ve walked with God, who says, “Oh, yes, I am experiencing _________ so I don’t ______________.” Perspective in cases like this almost always involves hindsight. I find that comforting, too, because it means that Paul was absolutely human.

Paul’s getting beat up. He being knocked about. He’s pleading with God to make it stop. I think that this gives us a starting point in terms of the great Problem of Pain: God alone is the one who can bring the healing, the restoring, the relief, the peace that we so desperately need.

Until next time.

My journey to faith. (15)

  For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.

What Depression Means to Me: Nightmares

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Gentle Reader,

I was told to expect them, the nightmares. As I allow myself to work through the healing process, my mind begins to bring to the surface long-suppressed memories.

I can accept this as reality.

But, oh… So much pain.

I had a boyfriend once, many years ago. He was the second boy I dated. My first boyfriend, my high school sweetheart, tried to dump me without actually dumping me by not speaking to me for a few weeks. When we finally did connect, he told me he no longer liked me. Well, to a just-turned-17-year-old with deep insecurity issues, this was quite a blow. Quite a blow indeed.

When this second boy showed interest in me, I was immediately hooked – despite having a crush on someone else. (Funny how that works). We’d been friends for awhile; he was funny, enjoyed many of the same activities I did, was part of my social circle. What could be more natural than to become this boy’s girlfriend?

It began subtly. Within a week of “going steady,” he told me he loved me. I recoiled from this. I wondered how it could possibly be true. Looking back, I wonder at my lack of trust in my own instincts. I should have run – fast and far.

Little jabs were dropped into our conversations. I wasn’t living up to my girlfriend potential. Why was I friends with other guys? Why did I want to spend time with people other than him? That was stupid, unfair. I was stupid.

I didn’t say anything, to him or anyone else. I don’t know why. Who in her right mind would allow that?

It was clear to me that I was being manipulated, but I didn’t know how to stop it.

The timetable is muddled in my head, but I know it wasn’t that long before he pretended to kill himself while on the phone with me. Said he had a gun in his hand and was going to blow his brains out. I begged him not to do it, but he hung up the phone. I couldn’t reach him after that. I spent the next hours in sleepless agony. No, I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t call the cops. It makes no sense, I know. I was trapped. It was my fault if he really were dead.

At school the next morning, he laughed. Treated it all like a big joke.

He hit me once, after I told him that I was afraid he would. “What, like this?” he asked. Whack! Hard as he could, right against my arm. I bruise easily, so nobody asked about the dark stain on my pale skin. I bit back the tears of pain as he apologized profusely and asked for forgiveness.

He always asked for forgiveness.

On graduation day, he screamed at me, calling me words that I don’t care to repeat here or anywhere else. I had ruined his high school experience. It wasn’t fair that I was at the top of the class and he wasn’t. I should have made him do his homework. I should have pushed him into more activities. How could I do this to him?

Amazingly, I stayed with him for another three-and-a-half months. I devoted an entire year to this guy – who forgot our anniversary and blamed me for not reminding him. Finally, after revealing what had been going on – the name calling, the threats, the manipulation – to a friend I trusted, I broke up with him. (Only after this friend plainly told me that I was in a dangerous situation and needed to get out).

That’s when the trouble began.

I worked in a public place with a staff that didn’t make a habit of kicking people out. He would show up when I was there. He followed me around, spewing hatred and obscenities. He followed me home from work. I remember  going to the front windows of my parent’s house to close the blinds one evening, after being home all day, and watching, frozen in terror, as his car slowly went past. He called a few minutes later to say that he’d seen me.

Still, I said nothing. Told no one.

Again, the timeline is muddy, but I know that after we broke up, there was a big group of us who went to the movies together. I don’t know if he had been invited by someone in that group or somehow found out that we were all going, but he was there. Seated a row behind me. Saying I couldn’t wait to get out of there would be a gross understatement. Ensconced between close friends who knew all about the situation, I tried to pay attention to the movie. I don’t even remember what we saw.

Nervously I stumbled out of the theater, hoping to get to the car without him seeing. He had disappeared, however. I relaxed a little. Our group went out into the chilly night air, chattering and pushing as 18-year-olds do. A few split off. I stopped in the lane to wave goodbye when his car appeared. Headlights trained on me, he hit the accelerator, tires squealing. I have no doubt that he intended to kill me in that moment. I don’t remember if I jumped out of the way or was pushed. He screamed intelligibly out the window as he continued on.

Foolishly I held on to the ridiculous hope that we could be friends somehow. Who tries to be friends with a person who wants her dead?

We were at the same Christmas party. He left early. He called me. Stupidly, I answered. The most vile things spilled out of his mouth.

I began dating another boy. We went in together to buy my ex-boyfriend tickets to a play that we knew he wanted to see. The three of us went together – in his car. (I know, I know). It seemed to be all right until we drove home. Again he pushed the pedal to the floor and veered off the road, heading toward a tree. At the last second he swerved away. This time, he said nothing.

At last, after a year-and-a-half, I cut off all contact. I have no idea how long the stalking continued. I did my best to pretend that he didn’t exist, though it had become habit at that point to look over my shoulder. I heard through the grapevine that he failed most of his classes that first year of college, and somehow that was my fault.

His mother claimed that I destroyed his life. She also spread the rumor that I “had” to marry my husband, if you catch my drift.

I’ve been having nightmares about all of this. He appears and tells me I’m horrible. Worthless. Useless. Ugly. I awoke this morning after sleeping for 14 hours feeling like I’d been up all night running a marathon. I’m afraid to close my eyes now.

He’s married now. Has been for…three or four years, I think. I hope and pray that he’s changed. That God has worked a miracle. I hope that he has learned to love. That he’s learned about compassion and kindness.

As hurtful as these memories are, as rotten as the nightmares have been, I bear him no malice. I don’t share this with you so that you’ll get upset. I really do long for him to have allowed the Lord to take control of his life and to demolish that terrible, dark anger. I’m not making excuses for him. Obviously he worked a lot of chaos and left behind a lot of damage. I have to contend with that. But I don’t have to give him further power over me by hating him – which I did for a lot of years.

It is very difficult for me to acknowledge that I walked into and stayed in an abusive relationship, ignoring all the warning signs. Ignoring the Holy Spirit. I believed that I was worthless, so I found someone who would treat me as if I was. I didn’t stand on what God had to say about me. Don’t read me wrong – abuse is never the fault of the victim. I don’t think that for a second. I do, however, think that the victim has a responsibility to understand why he or she has chosen that role.

I don’t know who is reading this tonight. I don’t know what kind of nightmares you face. What I do know is that you are valued by God. He did not create you to be someone’s verbal, emotional or physical punching bag. He did not call you to take the role of victim. You do not have to accept contemptible behavior. I pray that you – and I – would believe Him. Take Him at His word.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.

What Depression Means to Me: a Tenacious Hope

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Gentle Reader,

I’m housebound today, caught in a swirl of Kleenex and Vicks VapoRub. The invader is making its way from my sinuses to my lungs; I’m certain that this has turned into another bout with bronchitis.

It is beyond difficult to feel hopeful in the midst of illness and depression. If I had my druthers, I’d pull the covers over my head and never leave. That seems like the safest option. Instead of ramming against the brick wall, straining and striving to break through, I could just give up. Give in. Call it quits.

My eyes fall upon the Christmas tree. Twinkling lights and precious ornaments, each with a story to tell. (Except, perhaps, for the Batman figure my husband insists upon hanging each year). Gifts chosen with care and love.

It’s not about the tree or the wrapping paper, I know. Christmas is so much more than that.

The tree transfixes me. It’s light reaches through the dark fog surrounding my heart and I remember.

I rub my ears and wince at the ache. Despite the clog, I hear. Hope. The tiny Baby who grew into the Man.

I don’t know how anyone gets through this life without Emmanuel, God with us.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.