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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Diamond, Perhaps

diamondintherough


When it comes to faith, the Grand Canyon feels like a smaller rift than that which separates what I know to be true from the emotional realities I experience every day.  One is no less true than the other, but neither do they agree.

In my life, faith has felt a lot more like hauntings than tangible realities.  It has seemed more of an unseen and entirely intangible truth.  However, a truth none the less.  And actually, sometimes the hauntings feel far more real than anything else I feel or even experience firsthand.  Sometimes misunderstood, unnerving, inexplicable, and maybe even frightening…yes.  On one hand, they’re easier to deny than material things I touch and feel, and yet, harder… because, like hauntings, they never allow me rest.  Always gnawing on my insides and in the back of my mind, demanding attention as though constantly whispering (which sometimes sounds like screaming) in my ears.

“Okay, okay…” I say to myself.  “What are you trying to say?” and I turn to face the whispers.  But as I face them, they stop speaking.  “What do you want??” I demand.

…they flee…

Apparently, faith doesn’t respond well to the insolent and angry demands of those it provokes.

And I do suppose that makes sense.  Actually, it supports everything I know to be true about faith, but it’s no less frustrating.  I’m a foot stompin’, hands on hips, give-me-the-answers-right-this-minute kinda gal.  Faith does not work that way.  No wonder we are so often at odds.

People have often told me they’re shocked to learn how strong my faith is.  “You’re just so….logical” they say, as though that somehow negates the capacity to believe.  Yes, I’m logical…and that’s a large reason why I believe the things I do.  What I believe makes far more logical and rational sense than any other explanation or theory in existence.  It has more scientific support as well.  It’s not a difficult leap at all, as long as you have the information of course.  If you’re ignorant, or have false information, or have petty emotions standing in the way of rational thought, faith may be more difficult for you.  But for me, it is quite simple.

Simple, but not easy.  Faith isn’t even easy for those who already believe, so I’d assume it’s downright impossible for those who don’t.  It is tested at every turn, pressed in on every side, and it seems as though the universe is intent on taking all faith and pushing a person beyond the breaking point, just to see if it remains.  I will not lie and say I’ve never been driven to despair of my faith and of my God.  I have…many, many times over.  And yet…the dust and ashes of what I’ve believed get pressed together in such a way as to create a whole new substance.  A purer substance.  A simpler substance.  A substance I never had before.  A diamond, perhaps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

To Hide And To Rest

“Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.  And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.  My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”

– Isaiah 32:16-18


I feel a few things when I read these words.  The first being excitement at the idea of justice dwelling “in the wilderness.”  If this world is anything, it’s a wilderness.  And of all the awful things that take place in this wilderness, such rampant injustice is one of the worst.  And I don’t just mean that which has happened to me – I mean that everywhere I look, there seems to be evil and injustice stealing love and peace from innocent people, the severity of which is far more upsetting than things that have happened to me.  It is without a doubt the hardest thing I struggle with.  Often enough, the only idea that brings me consolation is that justice and righteousness will, one day, overcome this deeply twisted world.  I certainly feel hope when I read of concepts like these.

As I continue reading though, my feelings begin to change.  It seems that words of peace, quietness, trust, security, and rest do not immediately produce any feeling at all and the excitement switches rather dramatically to a vague and far-away sense of confusion – as though I’m reading words of a language I do not know.  Yes, I can spell and even pronounce them correctly, but it’s disconnected as I have no idea how they’d look or feel.  The best I can manage is to think of scenes from movies and imagine the happy feelings that would embody those ideas.  But they’re imaginary to me.  I can’t think of a single memory or experience in which I actually felt peaceful or secure. If I have any, they were either illusions or have long since been forgotten.

The other day, I was having a conversation with God about some issues I currently face.  These issues directly effect my life and future, but I have not been allowed any control or influence over them.  No amount of action (or inaction) makes any difference at all, which leaves me feeling wildly fearful and out of control. After expressing these fears and frustrations to God, I asked what He wanted me to do and the only two words I felt in my spirit were the exact words I don’t know how to implement.  Those words were “hide” [in Him, not from life] and “rest.”

Ugh…really?  Of all times that ‘rest’ may seem like a reasonable achievement, this is most certainly not one.  My life and future are currently shrouded in darkness and hang in the balance of strangers I don’t even know.  Hell, I don’t even know how I’m going to feed myself next month. Every moment is ridden with anxiety, so this is most certainly not the time in which I would think, “Yay!  Let’s take a break!”  Quite the opposite.  Sheer panic is far more natural…and yet…God did not stutter.  In fact, the words rang in my spirit so loudly they may as well have been audible.  I can’t exactly pretend like I didn’t hear them.  (Well I suppose I could, but being a foolish idiot isn’t a flaw I particularly wish to add to my already long list.)

So… now I struggle.  To hide in Him and rest during the most anxiety-filled, out-of-my-control, world-altering season of my life is the exact opposite of everything I find natural. It also requires trust, which I fully believe was left entirely out of my genetic makeup.  To entrust myself (or my life, or my feelings, or my plans, or my future) to anyone outside myself has never come naturally, even before I encountered betrayal and trauma.  I even prefer the self-checkout at the store because it seems quite stupid to have another person do something for me that I’m fully capable of doing myself.  (In all fairness, that’s also because I find non-essential human interaction an annoying waste of time.)  My very first words were “me do it myself,” for crying out loud!

But back to my point… it takes an enormous amount of conscious effort and energy to act so counter-intuitively, which isn’t helped in the least by having PTSD. Even if I do manage a meager amount of trust that maybe, just maybe, things are going to be okay…random interactions trigger the PTSD and then all internal hell breaks loose. Feelings and memories I can’t control flood my body, setting off the fight-or-flight response which then takes hours, days, or even weeks to settle. And you never know when those triggers will get flipped, which is anxiety-producing in itself.  (And people wonder why I prefer to be alone.  Holy cow…believe me, it’s for the best.)

Anyways, when I think about it though, a lot of Jesus’ instructions are counter intuitive.  The last shall be first, the poor shall be rich, you must give to receive, and to lead you must serve.  To rest and have peace during the world’s worst hurricane is right in line with the rest of his teachings, and is clearly illustrated in many a Biblical story.  Remember when Jesus called Peter out of the boat and onto the crashing waves?  There was a storm on the sea and there Jesus is, walking on the water and beckoning Peter to come hang out with him.  You know, like it’s no big deal.  Peter begins to walk on the water but then begins to sink as he sees all the waves crashing around him.  Imagine the panic he must have felt at THAT moment.  Now imagine living in that state of panic for months and years on end.  Yeah…not cool.

But here’s the thing.  Maybe I was never meant to experience peace, quietness, trust, security, or rest as part of this broken world.  Maybe Christ, and “hiding” in Him, is the only place I will ever learn what those words mean – even while the world rages on around me.  I may be 30 years old, but I have absolutely zero experience with any of this so I might as well be a newborn.  But again, wouldn’t that be in line with scripture?  Being “born again” has a lot of implications…one of which is that no matter how old we are, following Christ is going to be a new start.  We are going to learn things we never knew or understood before and in losing our life to Him, we will truly find it.

For me, lessons in rest and trust are only now beginning, but I am committed to learning them.  I may not always have a clue what they mean or what they look like, and sometimes I legitimately think God has lost his ever-loving mind.  But I also don’t go back on my commitments which means I’m going to figure this thing out one way or another.  And in the meantime, pray that He sustains me as I fumble and crawl along this rocky path.