This morning I woke weighed down with so much undone that needing doing. A week of travel, as delightful as it was, lends itself to a deep sleep on Sunday night and an early fretful waking on a Monday morning.
Do you have those awakenings? When your mind clears from sleep and you begin looking at the week ahead and think “How am I going to get it all done?” Or “How do I even do it?” Anxiety builds, and depression follows.
That’s how this morning started…and then the heaviness lifted with the simplest thought. A reminder I received just this weekend…a reminder that stirred sweet memories of a woman with huge influence on my younger years…writer Elisabeth Elliot.
On our trip to see family this past week, we had an evening with girl talk. Four generations of women around the dinner table, laughing, sharing, and remembering. [I know men do this, too – how else do they keep all those football, baseball, and fishing trip stories so fresh in their memories?]
In the course of the warm glow of that conversation, my dear sister-in-law, Stacie, reminded her girls of how she counseled with them through their high school angsty moments. She told us she used to quote Elisabeth Elliot‘s own advice to her daughter, Valerie, when she was overwhelmed by life: “Do the next thing.”
[Stacie sounded just like Elisabeth Elliot as well…took me back to when I was her girls’ ages and first began reading Elliot’s books, including her husband Jim’s journals.]
Elisabeth Elliot died in 2015, but through her life she wrote many books that had huge impact on my life. From my teen years. Books that remain treasures today…
For years after, as a struggling mom with young children, I would tune into her daily radio shows – Gateway to Joy – listening to her “square-your-shoulders” walk-with-God counsel. Her manner was both tough and tender as she covered the real stuff of life and how we maneuver through it in the presence of God.
This morning, in the cloud of confusion over where to even begin this week, God brought our dinner table conversation to mind. Hearing Stacie quoting Eliot in that no-nonsense voice of hers made me laugh then, and smile today.
Four little words that brought clarity.
“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now…Do the next thing.“ – Elisabeth Elliot
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – God to Abraham – Genesis 12:2
We are so blessed. Even those who don’t believe God is will use the expression of being blessed. I wonder, “by whom” and “why?”
We are blessed to be a blessing. From the beginning of time when God instructed His first man and woman. Especially to childless Abraham who would receive that promise in faith…blessed to be a blessing.
From a young British friend’s Facebook page sometime ago, I was introduced to songwriter Andy Flannagan and Reverend Kevin Lewis. They both love Jesus and sing and write about blessing…
They both cheer us on to shake off the weight of self-interest and reach out to a broken world…that those desperate for love will find it in the same Savior we know…and show by our love that He loves them, also.
“[We need to] come out of Moral Superiority Castle, cross over the stagnant moat of separation and meet the kingdom of God where justice and mercy meet, where the never-ending stream is full of justice and goodness; where people are messed up and broken and dirty like old cracked pots that leak and feel pretty useless and that, that is where we are and where we are a part of the repairing and restoring and transforming of the world. It is a place of tension. It is a place of unresolved hurt.
No-one said that where justice and mercy meet was a comfortable place.” – Kevin Lewis
Bring heaven to earth, Lord
Bring peace where there’s fear
Bring life where there’s death, Lord
Bring joy in these tears
Bring love where there’s lust, Lord
Bring hope where there’s pain
Bring rest where there’s chaos
Bring faith where there’s fame
You invite us to partner with you
To see your kingdom come
We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces We are loved, to love where love is not We are changed, to be the change you promised We are freed, to be your hands, O God
Bring home to the homeless
Bring keys to the chained
Bring worth to the purchased
And touch to the shamed
Bring flesh from your word, Lord
Bring truth where there’s spin
Bring risk where’s there safety
And grace where there’s sin
In the broken, we shall see restored
The image of our King
We are blessed…
Lord we cry out to you
Change the atmosphere
Breathe new life in all who gather here
We are blessed…
Bring justice to profit
Bring patience to growth
Bring wisdom to progress
Plant trees on this road
Bring freedom from debt, Lord
An end to excess
Bring closer your kingdom
By quiet success
May we grow in the knowledge of you
Through every heart and face
We are blessed…*
Postscript: Andy Flannagan, in a town meeting with London mayor Sadiq Khan, at a local church, talked (in this video clip) about what we as Christians do well. He closed with “The harder thing is to go back to the Jericho Road to work out how to stop anybody else getting mugged.” (Luke 10:35-37)
If you can spell narcissism, then you have made a study of it somewhere along the way. Possibly trying to figure out how to work successfully with a narcissistic colleague or boss…
[Hard topic for a Monday morning but you will have a sweet story at the end.]
Many years ago, in nursing school, the term narcissistic personality disorder came to my awareness during our coursework on mental health. It is defined as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Someone can be narcissistic in temperament and behavior without having a full-on personality disorder.
The experience of having a narcissistic boss or coworker is not mine personally. In fact, this dark topic isn’t one I’d prefer to cover…except for an interesting happenstance this past week. So…here we go.
One favorite podcaster you have seen referenced here in the past is Carey Nieuwhof. Last week he published a leadership podcast which showcased a conversation he had with Erwin McManus.
McManus (starting at minute 35 in the podcast) talks about the high incidence of narcissism in top-tier leaders (CEOs, etc). His focus is on megachurch pastors and the battle against pride. His observations were spot-on in many ways. “Humility is best-expressed in a willingness to decentralize power. The more decisions you make, the less humble you are. You can never know you are humble; you can know if you do humble things.”
In Nieuwhof’s shownotes, he highlighted these points by McManus:
A Narcissist has:
A high need for praise because the world needs to be about him.
A view that there is no one in the world who can do something better than she can.
A Narcissist doesn’t:
Ask for help because he doesn’t believe anyone else could ever solve a problem that he can’t solve.
Take risks because if she fails it will completely violate her identity.
Accept responsibility for failure, because in his mind the failure was someone else’s fault.
McManus’ take on narcissism was so insightful, I did something rare – publishing a comment on the podcast. Somehow that comment, commending Carey for such an insightful interview on narcissism, got swallowed up in other comments on how hurtful their associations with Mr. McManus had been. Where my original comment went is a mystery, but as others commented, bouncing off my own, I was drawn into their pain.
Whether or not Mr. McManus struggles himself with narcissism is not the focal point here. As I listened to the podcast again, he never denies his own particular bent. I don’t know him so I can’t say. As a successful mega-church pastor, he, like others, has had his critics (covered in another Nieuwhof podcast).
What is clear, in this interview and the comments below, is the huge emotional cost to those who come under such a leader.
Leadership coach Lolly Daskal has written an empowering piece for those who work for a narcissistic boss. Daskal poses two options for those employees – either quit or “stay and deal”. Here’s how to stay, in 10 points of action, according to Daskal:
Understand the source – Quite probably your boss is not going to improve. You have to start with that understanding.
Respond, don’t react. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into a conflict. The narcissistic boss has skills on how to stay on top of any situation. Learn to respond in a way that “keeps you in control of options and choices. If you feel yourself reacting, step away and regain back your control.”
Set clear boundaries. These are for your own benefit. They are a reminder to you of what is right and reasonable in terms of your own operations. Boundaries are essential. You set them for yourself.
Don’t allow them to get under your skin.“Use emotional intelligence to manage your thoughts and actions…remember that any cruel behavior and words reflect badly on the narcissist, not you.”
Don’t feed the beast. “The more you feed the bad behavior the worse it will become. Narcissists surround themselves with only two types of people: those who enable them and those who bite their tongue. Anyone who doesn’t fit into one of these two categories will certainly be fired or banished.”
Don’t empower those who don’t deserve it.“Refuse to follow those you don’t admire, those you don’t trust, and those who lie. Just do your job to the best of your ability and with respect, honor and integrity.”
Fact check everything. Wisdom is to always confirm the facts… especially as far as your work and your work relationships are concerned. No matter what your boss tells you about a situation or a coworker or other work team, as much as you can, be sure you have the facts…before you go too far in your own assessment or putting together a solution.
Don’t argue. “The last thing you want to do is argue with a narcissist, because everything you say and do will be held against you. Don’t argue or engage but instead make them invisible–the last thing a narcissist wants.”
Don’t be provoked. Keep your cool. Stay calm.
Stay focused on what’s important. “Working with a narcissist boss means a constant pull to play by their rules and for everything to revolve around them, with no accountability or responsibility when things go wrong. It’s easy to feel angry and frustrated. That’s when you have to take a step back and reconnect with your purpose in being there.” – Lolly Daskal
As a writer, topics can almost force themselves to be written. I wrestled with this one because maybe it isn’t relevant to most of you….which would be a very good thing. Unfortunately, this topic wouldn’t let go. Then last night, I came across a piece written sometime ago by Joni Eareckson Tada, an advocate worldwide for persons with disabilities. At 17, she became a quadriplegic after a diving accident. That was over 50 years ago.Photo Credit: CBN News
This incredibly gifted and giving woman is the epitome of a person without a bent toward narcissism. She ever points to God and others … empowers others…gives others a voice. She has an accurate understanding of herself, honest about her strengths, weaknesses, and limits. She is diligent and determined to have a positive impact on the lives of those around her.*
If you’re struggling with figuring out how to thrive under a narcissistic boss, either get out or figure it out. Lolly Daskal’s advice and that of others can help…as well as the refreshing stories of folks like Joni. The light of a life well-lived, no matter the circumstance, can break through any dark place we find ourselves. We can all aim for a life well-lived whatever our work situation, for sure.
“If I were to nail down suffering’s main purpose, I’d say it’s the textbook that teaches me who I really am.” – Joni Eareckson Tada
Whatever our struggle with a difficult boss, we can take that struggle and let it shine a light on our own issues; our own bent and character. If you feel blocked at work somehow, you can respond in bitterness or betterment. You can take heart that learning what being blocked does to your heart and mindset moves you to an understanding of how to grow in ways that no one can block.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. – 1 Peter 5:10
Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me…For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10b
Some of my sweetest times with the Lord are driving in a dark car with the radio on. Last night I was on my way to a friend’s house and a string of songs came on all meant just for me…we’ve all had this experience, right? They were:
Every one of those songs highlights God’s work of grace in our lives. Mandisa‘s song especially spoke to the transforming nature of suffering. How God takes suffering and brokenness in our lives and perfects us through it. Perfects us in such a way that not only are we made stronger but our ability to comfort others is strengthened.
One of God’s gifts to this distractible daughter of His is how He speaks to my heart in waves to drive His message deep into my heart.
Last night, in a circle of women drinking tea and catching up with each other, the Lord spoke Mandisa’s message again through my friend. She told us a story about how her little daughter had a favorite doll that she always had with her. The mama even kept a second similar doll nearby for when the favorite occasionally went missing. That doll was a poor substitute. Her daughter’s favorite was her constant companion and because of that, this doll was dirty, worn, and well-loved. She had in some measure endured whatever that little girl endured.Photo Credit: Pixabay
…and was made perfect (in this little girl’s eyes) because of their shared experience
Even God’s sinless Son was somehow made perfect through suffering.
For in bringing many sons to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God–all things exist for Him and through Him–should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings. – Hebrews 2:10
Though He was God’s Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. – Hebrews 5:8
When we suffer and bear up under it, with God’s help, we come out the other side stronger. What that does for us…and for those watching us…is give us a confidence and assurance that we will get through it. Just as we have seen Jesus suffer for our sake…and gloriously endure.
It’s not surprising that the song Stronger comes from Mandisa’s album What If We Were Real. It set me to remembering the childhood story of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. In the story, the Rabbit confronts the reality of what makes things “real”. In short, he discovered that love makes us real…and with that love comes suffering…but the love makes that suffering not matter.Photo Credit: Reddit
Suffering is a part of all our lives. I can understand, especially if your experience of suffering is very raw and current, that this talk of dolls and rabbits will feel frivolous.
What Jesus endured for us, however, is not a trifle. It is, in fact, the most real thing in my life…and hopefully yours, as well. That and His ongoing work in our lives transforming us to become more and more like Him.
Sometimes…that is through suffering.
Worship with me, if you will, through this song brought to us by our dear sister, Mandisa.
Hey, heard you were up all night
Thinking about how your world ain’t right
And you wonder if things will ever get better
And you’re asking why is it always raining on you
When all you want is just a little good news
Instead of standing there stuck out in the weather
Oh, don’t hang your head
It’s gonna end
God’s right there
Even if it’s hard to see Him
I promise you that He still cares
When the waves are taking you under
Hold on just a little bit longer
He knows that this is gonna make you stronger, stronger
The pain ain’t gonna last forever
And things can only get better
Believe me, this is gonna make you stronger
Gonna make you stronger, stronger, stronger
Believe me, this is gonna make you …
Try and do the best you can
Hold on and let Him hold your hand
And go on and fall into the arms of Jesus
Oh, lift your head it’s gonna end
God’s right there
Even when you just can’t feel Him
I promise you that He still cares
‘Cause if He started this work in your life
He will be faithful to complete it
If only you believe it
He knows how much it hurts
And I’m sure that He’s gonna help you get through this
“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore you, secure you, strengthen you, and establish you.” – 1 Peter 5:10
What do you make of this? Please comment below if you have a story of suffering you are willing to share. How did God reveal Himself to you…through you?
I want a Tshirt with this graphic on it. I also want to learn how to live “up and to the right”.
This graphic comes from Andy Crouch‘s book, Strong and Weak, which is still my favorite of 2018 so far. It sets out Crouch’s premise that flourishing is how God means for us to live. How we get to “flourishing”, individually and in community, is with high authority coupled with high vulnerability.
Authority is defined as “capacity for meaningful action”. Vulnerability is “exposure to meaningful risks”. These are the truest definitions. We have bent both of them to mean something else in today’s culture – either power with potential to be corrupted or a smarmy sensitivity that needs protecting.
Both authority and vulnerability when aligned with the will and nature of God are so much more…and work together to make us true image bearers of our Creator and Redeemer. As community (church), we can actually move toward a flourishing that includes the most vulnerable and the seemingly least empowered.
This Worship Wednesday blog is not about singing praise but about thinking and meditating on God’s Word and His intent for our lives.
“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable, or well pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2
“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”– Micah 6:8
Thus says the LORD, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”– Jeremiah 22:3
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free,and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” – Isaiah 58:6-9
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a part of a Common Good RVA event. Andy Crouch was the keynote speaker. He spoke practically about how we could apply ourselves to the good of all, especially through the vocations God has given us.
As educated and affluent, our temptation is to avoid vulnerability placing us on the left side of the graph. In our flesh, we prefer withdrawing to safety or exercising control at all costs.
God calls us to a different life…a surrendered life for the common good.
A writer pastor, Jonathan Storment, wrote a series of blogs, taking the reader through a thought-provoking review of Crouch’s wonderful book. Below are quotes from his review and from the book Strong and Weak. When you read the take-aways below, you’ll want to read the book…then you will be compelled to act, with authority and vulnerability.
This paradox of both God-given authority and also the vulnerability that we all face in the world is where true Jesus-like leadership occurs. This is what it has always meant to be humans made in God’s image. – Jonathan Storment
Power that is transfigured by love is an entirely different kind of power. It’s the kind of power that leads people to lay down their lives for the good of others. It’s why the New Testament can use the word Dunamis (the word for power, where we get the word dynamite) so often in positive ways. Because Jesus redefined what it meant to wield power. – Jonathan Storment
Think back over the people who have made a difference in your life. Chances are they had roles as teachers/parents/mentors/friends. If they helped you flourish in your life, it was because they were acting in some kind of authority, and exposing themselves to some type of vulnerability. They had authority because they had the capacity to make a meaningful difference in your life, and they had vulnerability because they were opening themselves up to someone (you) who could potentially hurt them…Crouch is talking about what the word vulnerability really means…woundable. – Jonathan Storment
Idols always promise to give you everything and cost you nothing, but given enough time, they take everything and give you nothing. So Crouch says: “The first things any idol takes from its worshippers are their relationships. Idols know and care nothing for the exchange of authority and vulnerability that happens in the context of love.” – Jonathan Storment
[Sidenote: We don’t usually think about idols…probably because we have already been deceived by their control of our lives – alcohol, drugs, pornography, position, wealth.]
Nothing is sadder than a leader who has refused to bear vulnerability. Whenever someone in authority refuses to bear vulnerability someone else is forced to bear it.But it’s not just the people who are oppressed, it’s also the oppressor. They lose something of what it means to be made in the image of God. They slowly create a Hell for themselves and then are forced to live in it. – Jonathan Storment
“This is the definition of Hell. To know the power you have and not have the ability to realize that potential.” Hell is like a cruise that never ends. But the real danger for us today is not that we book ourselves a lifetime filled with cruises. It’s that we do the same thing in different ways. Here’s how Crouch says it: “The real temptation for most of us in not complete apathy but activities that simulate meaningful action and meaningful risk without actually asking much of us or transforming much in us. So if you really want to see what withdrawing looks like in affluent, technological America, you don’t have to visit a port of call. You just have to turn on the PlayStation in your living room.” – Jonathan Storment
[Sidebar: This is not about bashing ocean cruise aficionados or gamers. I know both who are incredibly engaged as image bearers in their communities. This is about not being deceived. Recreation or needed downtime are not the same as a life’s pursuit of avoiding risks and settling for idols.]
The way of Jesus is up and to the right, authority and vulnerability in the world, bearing in the world’s suffering while being a part of the God’s redemption process.
I don’t think Christians are the only ones tempted to escape, and in our secular age, it’s no longer Heaven that people are escaping to. It’s much easier to stare at your iPhone than to have a conversation, slowly spend your life watching t.v. every night instead of going that group or civic effort.
[God help me here.]
Vulnerability and Authority – called to make a difference and remain open to the suffering of the world. Because we follow a God who did anything but withdraw, we are called to do the same. Now Up and to the Right. – Jonathan Storment
Now the challenge for us is to take the wisdom of these words and apply them to our lives and our community. Thoughts?
Today’s Friday Faves blog comes to you on Saturday. It’s been that kind of week, full to busting. Along with it were fun times with friends, poignant occasions to serve people in crisis, beautiful sunrises and sunsets (plus a Blue Moon), and a few moments of quiet calm to process it all. I hope your week was memorable.
Writing helps me remember (even if it’s a few lines in a journal or on an old-school calendar)…maybe your memory is better. Here are five of my favorite discoveries for the week. Please share yours in Comments below.
1) Right Bus/Wrong Seat – Writer, seminarian Chuck Lawlessposted recently on dealing with employees who appear to be on the right bus, but in the wrong seats. He wrote about church culture but
his counsel reminded me of work situations as described by business leader and writer Jim Collins. – in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. Collins focuses on the importance of having the right people “on the bus”. Then he pushes deeper in employers or leaders getting those right people into the right seats. We can find ourselves wondering at times if we’re in the right company when really the question could be that we may not be in the right job within that company. Collins’ approach puts people over product, but he knows the better product will come out of better-positioned people. Right bus/right seat.
Have 100% of the key seats on the bus filled with the right people. This doesn’t mean 100% of ALL seats have the right people, but 100% of the key seats. If you think there might be a “wrong who,” first give the person the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he or she is in the wrong seat. Whenever possible, give a person the chance to prove himself or herself in a different seat, before drawing the conclusion that he or she is a wrong person on the bus.
Spend a significant portion of time on people decisions: get the right people on the bus, get the right people in the right seats, get the wrong people off the bus, develop people into bigger seats, plan for succession, etc. Develop a disciplined, systematic process for getting the right people on the bus. With each passing year, ensure the percentage of people decisions that turn out good versus bad continues to rise. – Wendy Maynard, Jim Collins
2) Live Streaming – I am really not fond of paying the high ticket prices required these days for celebrity entertainment. What intrigues me more are the younger (or newer) artists pushing into the public’s eye through live streaming. In 2015, KrueTV was launched, and it has made a huge impact on where I go for music. A live streaming app. Where I get to watch, listen to, and chat with artists who are just beginning to hone their craft. Rough sometimes, but so fresh and very much “in the moment. Beyond the Guitar streamed on Krue from early on. Photo Credit: Screenshot, KrueTV
The bad news came this week that Krue’s creators are going a different direction. Another app will eventually come, but Krue will be shut down soon. It made all of us sad, all of us who enjoy the streams there.
Turning that sad into action, the artists continue to stream on Krue for now and commiserate with each other and their fans. Also sorting out what live streaming app to jump on next.
I was surprised to find out that there are several now. GigFM. StreetJelly. Twitch.TV. One of these apps will become my next favorite, depending on where these favorite artists land. Because it’s not just their performances, it’s also the community around them. Never would I have thought, in all my life, that this would become important to me. Online communities. Gamers understand this, but it’s new to me.
3) Words – Any of you who continue to stick with me on this blog know I love words. If you walked into our home, you would see them everywhere. Bookcases in every room. Words on the walls.
Books by my bed and beside my computer. Notes on top of my keyboard. Words that can remind, instruct, encourage.
In my resolve to read more, this year of 2018, I’m currently in the middles of a strange and fascinating book. It is The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth. It’s a book about the English language and what makes us love and remember certain phrases by how they are written. I will probably write about this book later, but here are some words that have caused me to think…this week.
4) Mommy Blogs – The blogs I subscribe to are usually about leadership, the Bible, or living cross-culturally. However, lately, “mommy blogs” have come to my attention, thanks to the young women in my life who read and write them. This week, I discovered Liz B. who writes Life in a Coffee Spoon. A mom of two who also works outside the home, she posted this week on the challenges of life that literally drive her to write in order to process it all. Photo Credit: Pixabay
Her writing is like that coffee – real, strong, and just right for when you need it.
5) The Inevitabilities of Life – This has been one of those weeks when life has been full of the inevitable – sickness, hard news, death. There are also the inevitabilities, thankfully, of new babies, good news, and happy anniversaries. This has not been a week of those.
[There was a time just a bit ago that I didn’t take any meds. Then…it happened. The inevitable, I presume.]
Still in the middle of all the hard, I’m struck by the great gift of community, the strength of true friendship and family, the power of prayer. The presence in our lives of a loving God and those we can lean on – good neighbors, first responders, trusted colleagues, and those sainted strangers – all, in their time, are there for us, as we are for them. The leaning in and showing up – in the inevitabilities of life. It’s really quite beautiful…and takes so much of the sting away.
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation [trouble; suffering], but take courage; I have overcome the world.”– Jesus – John 16:33
So there are my 5’s this week. What are some of yours? Have a safe and splendid weekend, hopefully with those you love or in your own good company.
In Which I Am Learning to Live with the Ache – Sarah Bessey
Quote: I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history. – H.G. Wells
“I think my plays offer (white Americans) a different way to look at black Americans,” he told The Paris Review. “For instance, in Fences they see a garbageman, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbageman every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this black garbageman’s life is affected by the same things – love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with black people in their lives.” – August Wilson
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – God (Job 38:4)
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”…and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. – Job 42:1-6, 9b
I don’t cry easily. Maybe it’s all the years of cancer nursing where my tears were spent. Or having already lost loves of our own has drained them. Or this broken world has finished off my tears.
Or so I thought. This morning has brought tears as my sister-in-law texts with me about Dad. He is in his last weeks…days…we don’t know. This funny, intelligent, extraordinary and simple farmer’s son…this man who took in four more children when he married my mom…this man who has always been strong as an ox even in his 90s…this man who fiercely loves his family and friends…this man is winding down in this life.
I don’t ask God “Why?” about Dad’s dying…he’s lived a full and amazing life. My prayer has been that he can enter the healing of Heaven without the terror of late Alzheimer’s or the pain of cancer spreading. So far, he still knows us all and has sweet moments of reflection…when he wakes from his long naps. The pain, like the cancer, is growing, but so far, with medication and the close care of family and hospice, he is managing to be comfortable most of the time…and we’re thankful.
The part of life, for any of us, when suffering looms large does cause us to ask “Why?” sometimes. This past Sunday, at Movement Church, we sang Where Were You. We are in an Explore God sermon series along with several other churches in the Richmond area. This Sunday the topic was “Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?” [You can listen to that podcast here.]
The issue of suffering is a very personal one. It’s really a wonder, in such a fallen world, that there is not more suffering. God has always been intimately present with us in times of loss and suffering, and I hope to be able to trust Him in future hard places.
The song Where Were You? is taken directly from the book of Job. He suffered enormous loss and physical pain which could have entirely shaken his faith in God. The book describes his wrestling with the “why’s” with the help of three not-so-helpful friends. Beginning in Job 31, Job makes one last appeal to God to satisfy his questions. Before God speaks, another friend, Elihu, shows up and offers a glorious defense of God’s character. He speaks through 5 chapters of Job on God’s behalf. Then, God Himself, makes the closing statement to Job (Job 38-41). It is thrilling to read. God is the answer to all our questions…if we will listen.
I said God I do not understand this world
everything is dying and broken
why do I see nothing but suffering
God I’m asking could this be Your plan
Sin has taken hold of this whole land
Will You not say anything else to me?
He said where were you the day that I measured
sunk the banks and stretched the line over
all the earth and carved out its corner stone?
Where were you the day that I spoke and
told the sun to split the night open
caused the morning dark with its light to show
Who shut in the ocean with stone doors
marked the reach of tides on those new shores
hung the day the waves rose and first broke forth
Have you seen the springs of that great sea
walked the caverns carved in the black deep
through the gates of darkness there on its floor
Have you seen the armory I hold
snow and hail are stacked up in silos
for the times of trouble and war and strife
Can you raise your voice to the storm cloud
would the thunder answer and ring out
does the lightning ask you where it should strike
Who has cleft the channels for torrents
rain to sprout the desert with forest
in the wilderness that my hand has built
Can you hunt the prey for your lions
can you use the cords of Orion
is this whole world bending beneath your will?
I spoke of things I did not understand
things too wonderful for me
although I had no right to ask
my God knelt and answered me*
We are not alone in our suffering. There is plenty of great teaching on suffering elsewhere (including John Piper’s article linked below). For me, for today, thinking about and praying for my dad…this song was a just-right reminder of God’s power and His goodness. He can do all things and His purposes are not thwarted. Hallelujah!
[If you’re reading this just after it’s been posted, we would appreciate your prayers for our dad and for those most closely caring for him. Thank you.]
Who is God? …Really. What difference does it make for me to believe in God or not? Isn’t my path set anyway? In the religion of my parents?
We have so many questions as we go through life. I have had my share…and yet still come back to the profound difference God has made in my life… Even in a world that is broken, we see glimpses of beauty, and order, and love outside ourselves. Glimpses of God’s touch and movement in our lives and throughout the world.
Wisdom is to seek answers to our questions. To wrestle with them with friends and family we love and are sure of their love for us. Or strangers even who appreciate an opportunity to sort out these questions together…respectfully and decently.
The Explore Godwebsite will help you find a Richmond area church or discussion group focusing on these questions. Also the same website has videos, articles, and resources by topic if you want to explore on your own a bit. Explore God can also be followed on Facebook.
My plan is to join the discussion at Movement Church tomorrow (Sunday morning) and then gather with a small group during the week continuing to sort out answers to these questions. No pressure kind of experience. Very stranger-friendly…meaning, no in-your-face weirdness.
**Please note – Movement now has 2 gatherings on Sunday mornings – one at 9:00am and one at 11:00am.**
If you’re like me, you have questions…even if you think you’ve already sorted out the answers yourself. For me, as the world and culture change…and as I get older, my questions have changed. The God I’ve come to know can handle our questions and meets us in the answers, too.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13
It’s been quite some time since I attended a funeral. Not that we haven’t lost dear friends in the last few years…but we lived far away at the time and just didn’t go. This time…when Heath died…we went.
Death is something no one wants to have to look on full-face. There’s no way really to polish it up. It is our final enemy. Our temptation is to remove ourselves as far from suffering and death as we can. When someone you love is on this path, then how can we do anything else but enter in…?
Heath lived 15 months or so with a devastating, killing cancer. That in itself was a miracle. When he died, a small loving family is left to figure out a new normal for their lives. They won’t be alone in this.
How thankful I am that God draws close to His children in the daily and in death. Heath’s wife and children will have what they need to face what comes next. God is faithful. God is good.
When a gifted, lovely 42-years-young man dies, leaving a wife and three little girls, can we say in this that God is good? If we cannot, then we never can. We cannot see what God sees, but we know from experience and from His Word that He will work good out of every situation in His children’s lives…every. single. situation.
Heath understood that, and he lived it. His family does as well.
You might not think that a funeral can be a joyous thing. I don’t cry easily. Maybe after so many of our own losses, maybe after years of cancer nursing…tears just don’t come at the usual times. During Heath’s funeral, I couldn’t stop them from rolling down. Out of love and out of loss…but also out of wonder at the beauty of God’s care and character.
With Hope is a song written by Steven Curtis Chapman in 2008 after the accidental death of his 5 y/o daughter, Maria. The tribute video for Heath at his funeral featured this song as the soundtrack and it was so right. Somehow, especially in times of loss, God weaves a deep hope into our faith. I saw it in Heath’s family…and I experienced it myself. God is good…always.
This is not at all
How we thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We has so many dreams
But now you’ve gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you
And we can cry with hope
We can say good-bye with hope
‘Cause we know our good-bye is not the end
And we can grieve with hope
‘Cause we believe with hope
There’s a place where we’ll see your face again
We’ll see your face again
And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God’s plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father smile and say ‘well done.’
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
‘Cause now your home
And now your free
We have this hope as an anchor
‘Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true
We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope*Photo Credit: Facebook
Postscript: Toward the end of Heath’s funeral, a solitary musician with guitar began to sing Come to Jesus. We, in that gathering, were all suspended in our thoughts of Heath, sad in our loss of him and full of joy that he was Home with the Lord. In the emotion of that moment, the singer, just into the first verse of that beautiful, soulful song, faltered. He willed his voice to continue but couldn’t. Even as his voice gave away, soft voices in the congregation took up where he left off. He strummed the guitar, and we sang…quietly, full of reverence at the meaning of all before us.
It is what we find in the truest experience of the Family of God and the grace of God. We all falter sometimes…we all fall. He lifts us up – either through the hands and voices of others, or by His own hand and word. He carries us. He helps us see beyond the pain and wretchedness of an unbelievable loss…to the glory of that life, of our lives, and His glory reflected in them.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:3-9
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” – Psalm 121
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29
There are wonderful and terrible things in this life I do not understand. The cycles of seasons. The next breath. The birth of a baby. The death of a young mother. A world crumbling under the weight of its own sin. At the same time, a world still sustaining life in exquisite beauty in the face of centuries of war. How is all this possible?
We are carried. By a God who loves us, comes alongside us, and lifts us up out of the muck and mire of our troubles. He shoulders our burdens. I am daily grateful to Him for that, because my shoulders are too small and weak for the task. Even when I don’t see God in a situation, I know, by faith and by experience, that He is present. How would we bear the wonders without Someone to praise for them? How would we bear the wrongs of this world without knowing, deep in our hearts, that He carries us?
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Some of you go forth to your daily labors and you find the place of your service to be a real wilderness, full of trial and everything that is unpleasant to you. Yet look again, with eyes touched with Heaven’s eye-salve and, instead of seeing the bitter poverty, and the grinding toil, and the daily trial, you will begin to see that God is in it all and, “underneath are the everlasting arms!” You shall go cheerfully home to Heaven, borne up by God. He who made you will carry you! He who loves you will bear you all the days of old till you shall come unto the Mountain of God and stand in your lot at the end of the days!”*
Luke and Joel Smallbone, of the group for King & Country, write so honestly about the Shoulders of God. The writing comes out of their personal experience of both a life-threatening illness and the birth of a child. Watch their video linked below which visually tells stories some of which we have also experienced. Thankful for these guys who help me to worship God as He is. Strong and true.
When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near
When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near
My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
You mend what once was shattered
And You turn my tears to laughter
Your forgiveness is my fortress
Oh Your mercy is relentless
My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true.**