These Present Sufferings

Sometimes God makes you struggle for a long time before giving you understanding as to why.  Sometimes the understanding never comes and you just have to struggle your whole life without it.  Other times the struggle and the understanding come together.  I like those times.

I have a mixture of both these days.  There are long-sufferings so old I’ve long given up hope of  seeing resolution on this earth, and then there are shorter frustrations that turn around pretty quickly.

Like today, the internet went down at work just as two groups of customers walked in.  “Perfect…just my luck”, I thought.  I made the first set of drinks hoping the internet was just experiencing a glitch and would come back on so I could take their credit card payment.  No such luck.  I took the second set of orders and apologized that it was taking so long.  When I explained that my internet was down, one of the men in the second group said it was okay, that he could pay with cash.  He then offered (or rather insisted) on paying for the first set of customers in cash as well.

This sparked a short conversation about currency, during which a lady walked in and got in line.  She paid for her drink in cash, but then decided to add something else to her order.  The second group of customers had left (the ones who paid for the first group’s order) but the first group was still there.  To pay it forward, they left cash to pay for the lady’s order before they left.  She wasn’t aware of what had happened, so I explained it to her.  She was so touched by the gesture, she left $5 to pay for whoever came in next.  That $5 is now sitting under my register waiting for the next customer who walks in.

As luck would have it, my internet returned right after the whole group left and now I’m standing here wrapping my heart around it all.  My very first thought when the internet went down was “great, of course this would happen to me…”.  But now, not 30 minutes later, at least two people were blessed because of it…something that never would have happened if I was able to take that first payment.

I wish all frustrations in life were so quickly resolved.  But God is also showing me tiny glimpses into the long-sufferings that have plagued my life for, well, all my life.  Least of which being the torments and traumas that have so mangled my inner being.  The evils of this world bother me more than most, I think.  Probably because I have lived my entire life on the losing side of them…a fact I’ve been giving God my what-fors about lately.

Today He showed me something, though.  He gave me a glimpse into the inner-beings of the so-called “winners”.  You know, the ones who always seem to have life work out for them, get what they want, somehow always get others to give them things/serve them, etc.  He showed me inside the ones who don’t have the slightest idea what struggle and suffering really is…and it was not pretty.  In fact, it was so ugly it turned my stomach and changed my mind around from “why me?” to “thank you, Lord.”

He showed me that there is a choice between an easy life with a sick, petrifying soul or a difficult, suffering-filled life with a purified one.  Each soul can either submit to the purification process, which means submitting to suffering, or they can reject it..in which case Satan is right there, dressed like an angel, waving a “This way to the easy life!” sign.  And most people follow that sign…that road is wide, after all.

But given what He showed me, I’m happy choosing the difficult life.  Injustice bothers me more than anything in the world, and that’s not likely to change.  But God showed me something – that those who have it so easy never make it to the mountaintops of God’s presence.  Why?  They never develop the legs for it.  So many people sell their spiritual heritage for ease and for comfort.  They get winded and turn back to their comfy chairs and baby bottles at every inconvenience…how could they ever survive the storm that is our Lord’s presence?  And it is a storm.

So I stand here again and thank God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Why?  Because I know it is producing in me a strength that will one day be able to withstand the all-consuming fire that is our God.  Our perfect, omnipotent, fire of a God.  And on that day I know that I will bow at His feet having accepted the sufferings from his hand (not always gracefully, but accepted nonetheless).  And I’d rather do so as a weather-beaten warrior than a whiney little baby.


So thank you God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Because I know that in you, no suffering is wasted.  Give me grace to trust you more, and more than anything….come.  Lord Jesus, come.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18

 

 

 

 

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Into The Light

Life finally seems to be making more sense.  That may sound rather anti-climactic, but for me it’s incredibly refreshing.  As someone who thrives off structure and logical reasoning, the last few years have been anything but comfortable.  In fact, they’ve been almost purely maddening.  For things to finally start making sense is more of a relief  than most people realize.

While I don’t believe our God is one of chaos or confusion, I do believe he allows our lives to be confusing and chaotic.  Realities of evil, sin, and their consequences mean that life will inevitably be both confusing and chaotic… and sometimes worse.  Sometimes it becomes downright excruciating and destructive.  My life has been lived mostly in the latter and yet my deepest pains have not come from evil actions against me but rather from not being able to make sense of them.  It’s impossible to move past things you can’t even make sense of, so understanding has always been my unrelenting pursuit.

Throughout my life, I’ve learned that all manner of evil can be endured with patience if we’re able to see the end game.  If we know the purpose of a particular pain before we experience it, the pain is much easier to endure.  For example, if I have asked God for patience and all of a sudden my life becomes annoyingly complicated, I take a great deal of comfort in knowing that God is growing my character and internal strength.  I then ease into the discomfort and find myself working with God instead of resisting him, and life almost magically becomes easier.

On the other hand, there are some sufferings so tragic, so deep, and so damaging that they’re as senseless as they are painful.  And this has been my greatest struggle – enduring pain that is not only excruciating but also seemingly senseless.  What purpose is there in being repeatedly victimized in such a way that your wounds never heal but only compound into something not even recognizable?  What is the purpose in abuse by parents, friends, or people who claim to love you?  What is the purpose in being raped?  What is the purpose in being lied to and manipulated and coerced?  Those are hard questions to answer when you’re in the thick of things.  But with time and space have come perspective, and with perspective comes a great deal of peace.  It may be over 30 years coming, but important answers are finally arriving.

In the same way that we are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others, I also believe that we are allowed to endure great trials in order to help others through the same.  God would not have allowed me to survive the assaults on my life and very soul if he didn’t want me to help others survive as well.  And I firmly believe that one day, the balances will shift in the right direction.  That survivors from all walks of life will find their voice, speak out against the abuses they have endured, and enact positive change that shines a bright light into the deep darkness of pain that has threatened to overtake so many lives.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”  I pray that no matter what darkness you find yourself in, you’re able to gravitate towards the light.  And as you find yourself moving more and more into the light, you will become a light for others as well.

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Abuse and Forgiveness

Forgiveness-and-Freedom


For many, the idea of forgiveness brings with it a feeling of inner peace, comfort, and freedom.  For those who have walked the road of deep remorse and regret for their own wrongdoings, forgiveness can taste very sweet.  As Jesus says in one of his parables, “…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36-50 ESV).  Likewise, he who is forgive much, loves much.  Forgiveness is, and should be, a wonderful thing.  But it isn’t always…

Like any other inherently good thing, forgiveness can be misused.  It can be taken out of context or used selfishly to further one’s own ends, or it can be applied inappropriately in ways that bring about harm instead of healing.  In these cases, forgiveness does not bring freedom at all, but rather further harm and in some cases, psychological and emotional trauma.

Here are some honest aspects of forgiveness and how they commonly get misused.

  1. Forgiveness is both a free-will choice and a process.  Forgiveness is misused when it is demanded, guilted, or otherwise manipulated from a person who has been wronged.
  2. Forgiveness requires a full acknowledgement and assessment of the wrongdoing and its effects.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with or implied to necessitate condoning, excusing, forgetting, or denying the wrong that has been done.  (As Pastor Mark Driscoll states, “forgiveness does not come with a side of amnesia”).
  3. Forgiveness is the process by which rightful emotions stemming from wrongdoing are resolved.  Forgiveness is misused when it is spiritualized in a way that dismisses the need for emotionally processing valid feelings of anger or pain associated with being wronged.
  4. Forgiveness is a personal process that takes place within the self.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with reconciliation with another person, especially when the other person has neither acknowledged nor repented of their wrong.

Forgiveness is, essentially, about our own heart and our own actions that flow from our heart.  It’s about not exacting vengeance or seeking retribution for the wrongs done against us (which is different from seeking justice, which should be pursued if violent or criminal activity is involved).  Forgiveness is the process through which we are able to both process and effectively resolve anger, pain, loss, and even rage resulting from harm that has been done to us.  The only emotion we are to look out for is that of resentment, which is simply the unresolved, unprocessed anger that has taken root in our hearts.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “be angry, and do not sin.”  It actually says “be angry!”  Anger is healthy and necessary to feel and process.  The only thing we aren’t supposed to do is use that anger as a reason or excuse to cause more harm.  But the emphasis of that scripture is on controlling our actions and responses, not in denying the initial emotions themselves.  Clearly, scripture expects anger (Jesus got angry a lot), especially in the face of wrongdoing.  However, scripture does expect and implore us to control it and handle it in healthy ways.

Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with the emotions of anger and rage, hurt, or grief.  Yet these are healthy and necessary emotions to feel, especially in the wake of loss, betrayal, or abuse. The full range of emotions need to be felt and acknowledged in healthy ways which, depending on the severity of the offense, may take anywhere from weeks to years to fully analyze, assess, and process.  And while it’s true that dealing with hurt feelings isn’t always easy, expecting a person not to have them when they have been harmed (or dictating how long you think they should last) is not only irresponsible and ignorant, it is further damaging.

If the rightful feelings of hurt, pain, loss, or anger are not allowed to be communicated or expressed in healthy ways, the only alternative is for them to settle into resentment or repression…that’s just how it works.  Allowing people around us to feel and healthily express the full range of emotions, especially in response to wrongs done against them is necessary and good.  We must understand that the entire concept of real forgiveness was hijacked for many people, not being used as a healing balm to restore but rather as a battering ram meant only to control, shame, and manipulate.  We need to understand how to help those people work through their feelings without further traumatizing them.

When people have been abused this way, they may hear the word “forgive” and, quite naturally, have a negative reaction.  Conscious nor not, the body and mind remembers former attempts at manipulation or psychological/emotional abuse and will respond instinctively to avoid it again.  What emotionally battered people need is compassion, a listening ear, and the freedom to both feel and communicate their emotions in healthy ways…not more dismissal of, shame about, or demands to feel or not feel their feelings.  This, as one can expect, only pushes a person into resentment…not lead them out of it.

I believe it’s our job as Christians, friends, parents, pastors…or just as compassionate people in general… to understand what it means to have suffered from spiritual abuse and learn how we can help and not further hinder those who have suffered it.  And whether intentional or not, callous dictates to “just let it go” or “move on” or “forgive and forget” can, and often do, deepen the emotional and spiritual damage of an already battered person, pushing them further away from healing than ever.  I hardly think that’s the goal of any well-intentioned individual, Christian or not.

If we are to truly help those who have been wronged or spiritually abused, we need to properly understand the emotional and psychological ramifications of that abuse.  We need to learn how to walk with people through the turbulent waters of emotional, psychological, or spiritual trauma so that we can patiently, kindly, and compassionately lead them to a place of healing and peace.  Then, and only then, is true forgiveness possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering for Christ

Suffering“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” – Romans 8:16-17


There are two things I’ve noticed when it comes to these verses.  1) I always seem to hear the first part…the “children of God” and “heirs with Christ” part… in Christian teaching.  2)  The second part….the provision of suffering in order for any of the aforementioned statuses to be true…that part doesn’t seem to make it into the sermon.

I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t feel like an honest portrayal of Christianity for anyone inside or out of the Christian faith to proclaim that we are heirs of Christ while not mentioning the pre-requisite for that status.  It seems more admirable for American churches to focus on and teach what scripture actually says about our position in the Heavenly realm rather that what simply feels good.   I mean, come on, we’re supposed to be the image bearers of Christ and the proclaimers of His truth…not a gimmicky marketing campaign.   Contrary to how the verse is often presented, this portion of scripture in no way indicates that the provision for attaining the status of “children of God” and “heirs with Christ” involves going to church, doing ministry, worship, listening to “Christian” music, dressing “modestly,” or any other rule that church people tend to focus on.  The provision for attaining the status of “children of God” and “heirs with Christ” is one thing….that we suffer with Him…end of verse.

I mean, let that sink in for a minute.  We are heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him.  Provided that we suffer with Him.  Provided that we suffer with Him.  And….Jesus suffered a lot.  He suffered in a lot of different ways.  He was misunderstood, despised, rejected, lied about, constantly accused of untrue things, betrayed by people who swore to follow him, left alone in his greatest moments of need, and then tortured and killed.  And Scripture tells us to be like him.  To follow in His footsteps, and to suffer with him.  And only if we suffer with Him, are we children of God as He is.

How many of us (myself included at times) in moments of not even real suffering but rather just minor inconveniences, remember that actual suffering is the pre-requisite to being an heir of Christ, and in that knowledge, thank God for it?  I’d venture to say, not many.  I know I certainly forget way too often.  But I read this scripture and get angry at the Americanized churches that conveniently forget to teach that suffering is absolutely the pre-requisite to being an heir of Christ.  That if we aren’t suffering, we aren’t doing something right.  That if we’re totally comfortable in our lives, we’re actually doing something wrong.  And if we’re seeking nothing but comfort and ease, we’re DEFINITELY seeking the wrong things.

It’s a truth that counters both culture and what is often taught from the pulpit.  It’s a mindset that is totally foreign to our current culture and society.  But it IS the truth and reality of Scripture, and I think we need to fully grasp and understand it (and other hard truths like it) before we jump on a bandwagon we don’t honestly know anything about.

The Red Pill

“To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and the capacity for evil in human nature.  To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events.  When the events are natural disasters or acts of God, those who bear witness sympathize readily.  But when the events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator.  It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict.  The bystander is forced to take sides.  It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the person stand by and do nothing…the victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman


She’s right.  It’s true.  And if I hadn’t been on the victim side of this coin as many times as I have in my life, I would probably be right in line with the bystanders who successfully pretend it isn’t real.  The problem with suffering yourself is that it opens your eyes wide to the suffering happening all around you.  And once your eyes are open, you really can’t close them again.  It’s kind of like waking up from the Matrix.  You take the red pill and you go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.  The more you see, the more you experience, the more you suffer.  And you can’t go back and take the blue pill.  You can’t reverse the domino effect.  You can’t forget.

Suffering is a difficult subject to address, especially when you throw God into the mix and then try to figure out how it all makes sense.  Believe me when I say I don’t feel qualified to speak to the subject, especially not the God part of it.  I always believed that cursing at God and accusing him of being a horrible, malicious bully was wrong, but in the last few months I’ve made up for lost time. It’s been awhile since he’s gotten anything but rage, accusation, or the cold shoulder from me so needless to say, I probably shouldn’t try and give advice on God right now.

I don’t know a lot, but I know a couple things. I know that suffering is real and that everyone experiences it to different degrees.   I also know that denying or ignoring it are both really bad ideas.  For me, though, suffering has not just been a “season” in my life that I’ve just had to buckle down and endure until it was over.  In order for that to be true, I would’ve needed to experience something other than suffering to compare it to.  Suffering and extreme emotional pain is the very environment into which I was born and the only thing I understood of people and the world until I was 20 years old, which was when I felt a feeling of love for the first time in my life.  It was brief.  Very brief.  But though momentary, I’ll never forget the feeling.  Extreme emotional and psychological pain was set as my “normal” and was internalized as such by the time I was a young girl.

I’m only now able to see my life as being so painful.  At the time, it was just life and I probably would have found it strange not to feel the pain.  Although I was recently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after a recent trauma, there is no doubt that I have suffered with it for much longer than that.  I remember having flashbacks, extreme emotional responses to triggers, panic attacks, etc. since I was young.  Growing up in the family I did forced me to cope with life and chronic emotional pain in some really unhealthy ways.  One of those ways was an eating disorder that almost claimed my life at the age of 20.  I was also diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  I remember dissociating in a severe way after my parents got divorced and having no connection to my emotional or internal state at all.  I remember day dreaming about different ways to end my life because those were the only thoughts that brought relief from the endless emotional torture.  Even though in-patient and out-patient treatment brought physical life back to my body, I remember being forced to endure further trauma without the coping mechanism I had developed, pushing me even further into dissociation and a nearly complete level of emotional numbing.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  And to make it worse, I didn’t even know until recently what was actually happening to me.  At least now I have a name.  Something solid that can be studied and understood…explained.  Before, I was just acting out without a clue.


“War and victims is something the community wants to forget.  A veil of oblivion is drawn over everything painful and unpleasant.  We find the two sides face to face.  On one side the victims who perhaps wish to forget but cannot.  And on the other, all those with strong, often unconscious, motives who very intensely wish to forget and succeed in doing so.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman


Perhaps worse than the trauma, the abuse, and all the resulting effects, is the complete lack of acknowledgement from others.  I’ve had people ignore, deny, and dismiss my experiences just about as much as I’ve had the experiences themselves.  You wouldn’t expect a perpetrator to acknowledge the pain or abuse they inflict, but I think most people would expect others to.  Friends, family (given they aren’t the perpetrators), pastors, community…someone.  But I never had any of that.  Family and friends were usually the perpetrators.  I wasn’t allowed to show pain without incurring more of it, and strangers didn’t know the difference.  Ever since I was a little girl, all of the pain I have experienced has been internalized, shoved down, and locked deep inside my body and mind.  It comes out, but in ways people don’t understand and can’t recognize.  I have body aches, muscle aches, headaches, anxiety so high I can’t concentrate on or remember anything, I dissociate a lot, I isolate, I hide, and I run.  Or I fight.  If I can’t hide or feel trapped, I just start fighting and nobody understands why.  Sometimes they disappear but usually they just reign down insults, accusations, and shame on me…pushing me further and further into myself.

Sometimes I try to explain it but it doesn’t make sense to most people.  It’s only ever made sense to the people who have experienced similar things themselves, but there aren’t many of those.  The one hour a week of therapy I get is the only time in my life I don’t feel crazy.  It’s the only time I get to be honest and have someone treat me like I’m a normal human being.  It’s the only time I see or feel compassion from someone else.  The rest of life is just desolate, dark, despairing, and painful beyond all imagination.  It’s full of expectations I couldn’t meet on my best of days, and rejection.  So…much…rejection.  Some days I’m able to flip the switch and make myself go numb.  Other days, I lack the strength and the pain comes seeping into everything I do and say.

I don’t understand why God has made me suffer so much.  I don’t understand why he never gave me support or help to deal with it in better ways.  I can’t pretend to know why he’s sat back and watched as I disintegrate into a shadow of a person without ever stepping in, showing up, or making good on any of those lofty promises you read about in the Bible.  I can’t pretend that I still believe he’s good…not after I’ve spent years begging for help and healing and never getting any more than a turned back.  I can’t pretend like I know anything about anything any more.  But I do know that even though my body and my mind feel like they’re wasting away to death and destruction, my eyes are more open than they’ve ever been.  I see and feel not just mine, but other’s pain in ways I never did or could before.  I see the delusions and denials of the world more than ever before.  And I feel a rage towards it all that I’ve never had before.   If anything is for sure, it’s that I swallowed the red pill, and there’s no turning back.

Lord, Please Help Me

a_world_of_fear_by_planarisu-d6e5mxvIt’s been too long since I’ve written, and I feel it in my very bones.  Like they’re decaying.  An emptiness, being both drained and so full of pressure I could explode… all at the same time.

I’m working three jobs for the next week.  I barely have time or energy to think, much less to write.  I’m trying to somehow make my life work, while realizing the more I attempt it, the less it actually works…and the more I fall apart.

I’m exhausted.  I’m frustrated.  I’m alone.  I’m angry.  I’m scared.  Not much else really occurs to me as behind the scenes, my soul decays.

I don’t want my life to be what it’s always been – desperately clutching at survival to the detriment of any form of true life or freedom. Running after mud pies and away from a holiday at sea.  I run because I am not worth it.  I’ve never been worth anything but pain.

And yet, I want to live.  I want to be free.  I want to feel what it’s like to not be broken on the inside.  I know God sees me.  I know He cares.  He has already shown me through so many ways and so many people and I know I don’t deserve it. But trusting it is a different thing.  I’m just coming around to accepting the idea.  Reality will take longer, but I hope not forever.  Lord, please help me.

Sifting Friendship

thanks-for-your-friendship


“A friend loves at all times,

and a brother is born for adversity.”

~Proverbs 17: 17


A funny thing happens when you go through long seasons of suffering.  Some people you think are friends suddenly disappear while others become harsh and cruel every time you’re in pain, as though they need you to fake happiness in order for them to be okay.  A lot of people you lean on for support will either disappear altogether or bite you in return.  Those people both create new wounds and infinitely deepen the original one.  But then, miraculously, some people show up who you never imagined would care at all and love you in ways you don’t expect.

Long seasons of suffering do tend to weed out the people in your life who don’t really care.  It exposes their motivations for being in your life and sometimes those are really selfish.  I’ve learned that in seasons of pain and suffering, true friends will rise to the occasion, stand next to you, and fight for you no matter what, but it isn’t always the ones you expect to do so.  Suffering doesn’t have a lot of upsides, but proving who your friends are (and aren’t) is one of them.

The last few months have brought me more than one surprise as people who called me “friend” suddenly disappeared into thin air or became evasive and unavailable at every turn.  Others who I didn’t think had a reason to care, suddenly stepped in and showed more love than people I thought were closer friends.  The sifting process is still taking me by surprise and forcing me to “let go” of people I believed were friends, and open myself up to people I never would have seen before.

One effect of going through suffering is no longer being able to relate to what now seem such ridiculous and petty “problems.”  Though for legitimate pain or sufferings, my heart is far softer and more compassionate than ever before. But for those whose life feels entirely unjust and unfair simply because they had to wait in line for 30 seconds longer than normal, or didn’t get to see their favorite band play for the 18th time…I have a very distinct reaction of disgust.  Listening to the endless complaints from my own entitled generation has recently become my new definition of hell. But for the broken, for the hurting, and for the hearts that have really been wrecked…those are the people whose companionship I seek.

It isn’t easy, but I’m realizing that I’d rather have one true friend (or none at all) than a million fake, shallow, or entitled ones.  I’d rather live in solitude and silence than have to listen to the insufferable commentary of people who think they have all the answers, or whose every minor discomfort is viewed as “suffering”.  I think what I’ve learned the most over the last year is to stop assuming who my friends are and to always be open to change.  It doesn’t seem to take much the relationships in my life to completely rearrange, so it’s best not to grow too attached to where they currently stand.

Despite the ever-shifting sands of friendships, I do have a constant and steady friend in Jesus.  Thick or thin, high or low, rain or shine – He is and has always been my rock in every storm.  He is the one in whom I seek comfort, counsel, guidance, and restoration.


“But they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  

~Isaiah 40:31


Lord, give me strength.  Bring to me the broken ones in need of your comfort and love and give me the wisdom and courage to love them well.  Amen.