Living in the Joyous Generosity of God

“When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God . . . Life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to give and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined.” Walter Brueggeman in The Threat of Life.

To be trapped in a prison of fear and hate, is to cheat ourselves of the gift of life God has given us. God wants so much more for us than this. God wants us to find meaning and significance in our daily lives. We can never find that meaning when our hearts are filled with bitterness. The day may be beautiful on the outside,  but inside we are a simmering stew, ready to spew our frustration and our anger on the unfortunate person who crosses our path. The day God has given us to enjoy  is wasted.

I’ve found what appears from the outside to be fear and hate  is  often on the inside – pain this isn’t being dealt with honestly. We cannot hide our pain from ourselves or from others. We may think that we are succeeding quite well, but those who know us best see the telltale signs of hurt. Little things cause us to be upset easily. What we once would have let slide off us, we now internalize and become defensive about. The hurt inside us spews out in the way we speak and live with others. We hurt people we don’t intend to hurt. We say things that we did not intend to say. We find people trying to avoid us. Our cause may be just, but our approach to people may be very unjust. The apostle Paul wrote “Though I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . . If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3)

But how hard to love, when we are hurting inside. How hard to love when we cannot or will not love ourself. How hard to love, when we are not wise enough to share our hurts and pain with our friends. God gave us each other so that we could share our journeys. There is nothing heroic about hiding the sad and painful things that are happening in our lives. We are meant to live in community with one another. Sharing our burdens is one of the ways we live with joy in the Christian life. When we choose to live according to our fears and our hates and yes . . hidden pain, our life becomes small and defensive lacking the deep joyous generosity of God. God wants more for each of us than this. God wants each of  us to know the joy of Christ’s love – both as one who receives  and one who gives.

Seeing Through a Glass Darkly

The question of suffering is deeply troubling. We want the very best for those who are precious to us. When a loved one hurts, we hurt. When they suffer, we suffer. Part of what makes us human is this connection of suffering love. So, we wonder how a good and loving God, can allow the grief and pain we see in our world. We don’t understand why God allows a September 11th or the shooting of little girls in a small Amish school.  Mudslides, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis all come with their own “Why.”

 

Especially, we wonder why God allows painful things to happen to ourselves and people we love.      If nothing else- we at least want to make some sense of our suffering.  A young woman from a congregation, that I had left weeks earlier, was murdered by a man who had just moved into her apartment building. As I searched and prayed for words of comfort and hope for the family, this passage of scripture began to fill my mind, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known..” I Corinthians 13:12

At the deepest level of faith, we trust that God will take our broken hearts, our deepest questions, our gut wrenching grief and weave them into our life in such a way, that some good will shine through. Today, we do not understand the “why” of suffering.  Till then we are comforted by God who chooses to be involved in our world, in our lives.

The apostle Paul’s affirmation in Romans encourages us. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39

The mystery remains . . . as does God who is with us and from whom, nothing can separate us in Jesus Christ.

Why God,  Why?

Why God, Why?

IMG_2662
These past weeks have brought us news of one tragedy after another. Tragedies, however they strike, leave us shattered. We ask the questions of why. We wonder how God can let such terrible things happen to people we love and care about. We wonder at the aftermath of a truck rolling into a crowd in Nice France and the devastation left behind. We worry about the country of Turkey and the consequences for an average person after an attempted coup. Closer to home, our cities are filled with unrest. A long hot summer looms ahead. Police fear for their lives after a second sniper attacks. Our system of law and justice becomes more fragile. In our personal lives heartaches rip the heart in two.

“Where is God anyway?” It comes, that question, when life deals us a bitter blow. “Why? Why didn’t God stop the drunk driver who killed my friend. . . .Or the spread of cancer in my child . . . why didn’t God make my marriage work, when I prayed so hard?” “Why did my child get mixed up in drugs?” “We loved each other, why did my spouse die so young?” Would that there were easy answers to these difficult questions. The more I experience of life, the more convinced I am that there are no easy answers to life’s griefs, disappointments, and sorrows. I am equally convinced that God cares, that God is with us in each and every tragedy, that God does not leave us comfortless. Believing that and feeling that are, of course, two entirely different situations.

My oldest son was just shy of three years old when I discovered that he was gone. In the distance I saw him riding on his little red tractor. Gathering up my 18-month-old son, I began the chase. The problem was, I was seven months’ pregnant. With the added weight of my second son, I couldn’t run faster than my older son was scooting. The best I was able to do was to keep him in sight. The race had gone on for about three blocks when I saw him heading for the freeway. There wasn’t much else to do, but put my 18-month-old son on a corner, tell him to “stay,” and with less baggage go after his brother. I remember how my younger son started to cry. I’m sure he felt that I was deserting him. What he didn’t know was how much he was in my thoughts, as I pursued his brother. He had no concept of how hard it was for me to leave him there. He didn’t understand that I didn’t want him left by himself, even for a few minutes. Nor, could he know how very worried I was about him. He didn’t know that my heart was aching for him.

What we believe in faith is that some day we will understand this life with all of its unfairness. To say that it is God’s will a child dies of cancer, a drunk driver kills someone, a marriage fails or that anyone gets messed up in drugs seems to me blasphemy. It’s equally evident that God doesn’t protect us from life’s hurts. I once heard the theologian Henri Nouwen say, “The good news of the Gospel is not that God has come to take our pain away, but that God has come to be with us in it.” The apostle Paul says it another way, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

No, I don’t have the answers for “Why.” But this I know, God sticks by us, in whatever place we find ourselves in. May that be your strength and your hope.

Grief’s Expression

Grief’s Expression

Grief catches us unaware. A sudden and completely unexpected loss in my extended family has left us all reeling. Grief’s expression comes in waves of sadness, the inability to sing a song, misplaced resentment. There is an emotional roller coaster which spins me on a ride I never intended to get on.

Grief usually sends us backwards to other losses and other times. Memories rise from an earlier heartache we thought we had worked through, only to discover remnants that shatter our illusion of control. Last fall I co-led a grief class. I feel a need to reread the text for the class, to remind myself that sorrow has its season, but joy will also have its time. The psalmist tells us that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) But how hard it is to remember, joy will come when the heart is broken and sorrow lingers far more than a single night. Grief is the unwanted guest, whose intrusion moves and rearranges life.

Revisiting previous griefs grounds us in the reality that healing is possible. Each loss has its time span. Our response to grief may be one of the most significant decisions we will make in our lives. We can close in on ourselves or we can reach outward. One direction will leave us letting go of people who care about us, the other will allow those same people an opportunity to love us with a friend’s love. There may be awkward attempts at comfort. They may say words meant to console which do the opposite. Our friends are unlikely to have perfect timing in what we need and when we need it. Still, recognizing the gesture of kindness for what it is, kindness, is important to our own souls.

As I’ve walked with people in times of grief, I’ve learned the greatest comfort I can give is in simply listening. No profound wisdom is needed. A simple ‘I’m so sorry,” means more than the perfect phrase we struggled to find. A hug can speak our love louder than words. In my personal life I keep a prayer journal, in which my own heart is poured out to God . . . who listens to everything I have to say and simply responds with love.

Hoping in God in the Midst of Discouragement

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?” These words have often come to me in moments of discouragement. I don’t remember ever committing them to memory, though I must have learned the verse in some early Sunday School class. My memory is set in the old King James Version of the Bible. The quotation, which is found in both the 42nd and 43rd chapters of Psalms, ends the question with this statement, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise God, my help and my God.” Discouragement may be a temporary condition, but when we are down, it is simply hard to remember better moments. We forget about the path God opened for us in an earlier day. We fail to remember that God has prepared a way for us on the other side of despair in previous eras of our lives.

Discouragement is a natural condition of the human spirit which is explored in several books of the Bible. The book of Job examines the question of suffering through the eyes of Job, who has lost everything – almost. His children, his homes, his cattle, his health and his place in society. Job is in such distress he asks God why he had been allowed to be born, if it was only to face the depth of suffering and heartache that was his. So vocal was he, in his complaints to God, that friends accused him of blasphemy. But God doesn’t. God understands his pain, his sorrow and his loss. God knows his broken and suffering spirit. God holds Job in hands of love and compassion. Eventually, Job discovers that God will not leave him in his suffering. He will never understand the why of pain, but he will learn that God is with him in the midst of it. There will come a day when joy fills his heart again.

So it is in our times of discouragement. You may be wondering if you will ever see light in the dark place you have landed in. You may be questioning today, the why of a difficult situation. You may be agonizing over a friend or family member. Know this . . . On the other side of despair lives joy. For now the words of the psalmist give wisdom. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise God. My help and my God.” Psalm 42:11

Changing the Landscape of a Heart

Thursday morning’s news was filled with the tragic story of a young mom who slid into a retaining pond with five young children in the car. The story has grown worse over the last two days, as two of the children submerged in that icy water have died, one remains in very, very critical condition, while two are making signs of progress. I can only imagine the devastation this blended family is feeling. Hoping, waiting, praying for a child to recover from a critical illness changes the landscape of a heart. Grief over the loss of a child, rips the soul in two.

I used to drive past that retaining pond on a daily basis, and many times wondered why it was there. I often thought of the “what if’s” should a car slid into it on an icy morning or land there because of an accident. I had no idea it was so deep or so deadly. The highway department has good reasons and names it purpose as protecting our waters. But, one wonders if there couldn’t have been more protection to keep a car from going into the water.

I think of children submerged in icy waters, a young family trying hard to make life better for themselves. A new job that led a mom to drop her boyfriend off at work early in the morning, on the way to daycare, school and her new job. A family trying so hard in a society where the poor too often carry the weight of their poverty. All the while leading quietly heroic lives.