Friday, October 28, 2016

The Problem of Pain

I see people in pain all around me.  I hear about the pain people are going through on the radio in different programs I listen to. Each time someone tells me their story or I hear a painful story somewhere I jump back to the memories of pain in my life and I can immediately feel that intense dark sunken hole of suffering, the intense hunt for escape, the feeling of being isolated from the rest of society that's seemingly functioning normally around me, and the conflict of which self to wear on the outside: the real me or "what I believe others need" me.  And that's the problem of pain!  It takes a lot of time, and mental and emotional space which is annoying and inopportune and well, painful!  It challenges our sense of control.  It's like, "I thought I was in control of me!  Now I'm weeping and sad and angry and I feel vulnerable!"  Vulnerable is not fun; not for anyone.

When I think back about my developmental years and early adulthood I can easily recall that I did not handle pain well.  In fact, the problem of pain came to me at a young age through my family and the way it dysfunctioned.  Loneliness, anger, fear and anxiety, believing I was a disappointment and lacking skills to communicate my feelings and needs made life very painful for me for many years actually.  As the majority of people do, I started running from the problem of pain.  First I ran to anger.  That gave me a great place to hide for some time because I could relive events and get angry and vindicate myself by being a victim of the situation.  Then when I had fed my anger long enough and caused it to grow, increasing my problem of pain, I ran to troubled friends.  These friends were more than willing to encourage me towards deviance, sneaking, rebellion, and lying which increased my problem of pain even more and so I ran to drinking.  Drinking and sneaking and lying were fun for awhile but then that even became monotonous.  My pain resurfaced and had gained more strength due to my repression, suppression, and self-illusions.  I ran even further to sex, drugs, and then to running for the sake of running.  All of this just heaped the problem of pain with, you guessed it, more pain.

I reasoned that, maybe I could try being smart and a good person.  So I got sober, went to college and tried to settle down.  Strangely enough, I couldn't escape the problem of pain.  Why was this thing following me?!  Why wouldn't it leave me alone?!  I just wanted to be like everyone else, fine, normal, anything but in pain.  I continued running from pain to all my old favorites (denial, blaming, not accepting responsibility, numbing out, staying busy, get angry, over-thinking, over-controlling, unhealthy eating and spending, etc) and eventually my pursuit of escaping pain destroyed my relationships and my opportunities leaving me at rock bottom with no more excuses and no one to blame but me.  It was then, when pain had its most powerful place in my life that God stepped into view.

He waited ever so quietly for me to see Him there, whispering so quietly, "come to me", that I barely heard Him.  He began to say, "if you come and bring your pain to me I wont disappoint you.  I can heal you Shannon.  I've been waiting all this time for you".  Needless to say, I did, come to Him that is and it took some years to heal all that repressed and suppressed pain and set right what had been broken by my family and then by myself in running from the problem of pain.  In reflecting back on learning to endure pain, I realize that I used to blame myself for pain.  Pain was the evidence that I was constitutionally flawed and weak.  That I couldn't be trusted.  That I had lost control.  That I was an embarrassment and "should" be ashamed because I couldn't maintain composure.  Pain meant I was a failure.  With all that condemnation it is no wonder I didn't want to acknowledge and endure pain!

I think many people, many families experience pain in life in this way.  It is never to be shown, spoken of, acknowledged, or have any time "wasted" on it.  However, this only breeds the problem of pain.  It reminds me of the children of Israel as they went into the wilderness seeking their homeland.  They were lost out there 40 years because of the pain of their rebellion and the pain of their denial of their need to make it right with God.  If they would have just stopped and said, "O.k., we were wrong.  You were right.  You are God and You know best.  We will follow You", they could have saved many many years of wandering.  But they instead ran from the problem of pain and delayed their deliverance, some never seeing it.  Oh what we could do if we would just accept that God is tender, loving, compassionate, merciful, relents from sending calamity....  The thing is though, God's tenderness, love, compassion, mercy, and long suffering do not look/act like a human's!  And we judge these characteristics and how they should play out in our lives through our ideas of them!  We have got to get to know our God in order to trust His attributes and the way He administers them in and through us.  It begins by stepping out on a limb and saying, "O.k., I don't know if I can trust you yet that You wont let this pain destroy me or humiliate me but I'm going to take a chance and see!"  And then just allowing pain to be present and following Gods leading through it to the other side where I have always found a greater sense of peace, deeper connection with God, deeper maturity, deeper understanding about me and others and skills to improve relationships, a much greater sense of trust in God and how He works, a greater knowledge of myself and deeper confidence in who God has made me, more direction for choices, on and on.  It's sticking with the pain until God brings the pain to completion through acceptance of the thing or things that we must know and learn and realize.  Pain is only a problem because we make it a problem.  The more we tolerate pain, the less we will begin to see pain as a problem.  A baby is born out of great pain producing a great blessing!  And when he or she arrives the pain is forgotten for the joy that they bring.  So it is with spiritual birth.  Out of some of our greatest pain in challenges, relationships, losses, and wounds come our greatest seasons of blessing and spiritual enrichment!

Hebrews 12New International Version (NIV)

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus [not our feelings or perspectives], the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow wearyand lose heart [God cares about our suffering].

God Disciplines His Children 

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood [Look to Jesus as our example]. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline [training],
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[a]
Endure hardship as discipline [training]; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it [Maybe we didn't in my case].  How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best [as best they knew how]; but God disciplines [trains] us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.11 No discipline [training] seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet [this is where we make choices how we will respond to Him],”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Warning and Encouragement [training on how to treat one another]

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy;without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy [the power and purpose behind your ability to be trained!]

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blastor to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”[c] 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”[d]
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all,to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel [hallelujah!  There is therefore no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  This means we can fail in the process and God is not shocked, moved, or disappointed!  Get up, dust yourself off, fix your eyes back on Him and take the next step.].
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks [listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit for direction and comfort]. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”[e] 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” [He can meet any challenge, any size and win!] [f]       

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Collateral Nature of Trust

A few weeks ago God spoke to me to begin reading 1 and 2 Samuel.  Today I finished 1 Samuel.  This book was a roller coaster ride of drama.  There were so many principles that applied to my life as each day I read a few chapters.  I would go away renewed each time with a fresh annointing of Gods presence and call in my life.  And I would feel a sense of excited anticiapation for the next time I could read more of the story.  It's not always like this when I read God's book, but when it is I sure cherish it!

When I finished 1 Samuel today I was left reflecting on how the story played out from the fall of Eli the priest and the rise of the first prophet Samuel.  The fall of Israel's trust in God as their king to the rise of their demands for a man to lead them.  God answered with Saul, a man who trusted in the opinions of the people because he loved the people's love more than God.  And then David appears into the story.  A humble shephard with the heart of a king.  He loved God more than anything else.  That's really the book of 1 Samuel...the comparison drawn between these two men, Saul and David.  

Before reading this book again I remembered David's exhile into mountains, forests, and caves as a terrifying and lonely time for him, but I wonder now that I have reread this book if it was Saul (living in his castle with his servants and riches) who was exhiled, terrified, and lonely whereas David was rich and powerful and free?!  In fact I do, I do believe that's exactly what it was!  David followed God down the path of adventure and on that path he formed alliances, built friendships, brought down nations, won 2 lovers, built an army, commanded a legion, traveled the nearby world, experienced cultures, learned to seek God, learned to follow God, observed the consequence of obedience and disobedience to God, gained great wisdom and discernment, got to feel the pride of outsmarting the highest authority of his nation in the name of the Lord, was a champion for families, experienced life in many different environments and not just life but survival or being sustained by the very hand of God.....!  Reflecting on all this makes me wonder...what, what are we missing?!?!

Saul trusted in the opinions of his people.  David trusted in the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth, the deliverer of Israel, the one who made the sea stand at attention and then swallow up His children's enemies!  A picture began to form in my mind!  I saw these 2 men as opposite examples.  One who trusted in the Lord each and every second, with each experience, no matter what came and he lived an adventure!  The other who trusted in the love of people, power, riches, and position and lived fenced in.  

I think that all of us Christians naturally struggle with this same issue!  We start out getting saved and are excited to live for Christ but then the daily monotony, the daily challenge sets in again and we either become a David or a Saul.  The Saul in us wants our life to look like a paint by number but God wants an improvisational and inspirational masterpeice!  The Saul in us wants total control but God wants joy and pleasure in the making!  The Saul in us strategizes and plans; where God is interpreting the landscape.  Gods plan is a roller coaster with twists and turns and drops and swift ascensions.  The Saul in us has a plan for a ride on a merry-go-round where we know what to expect: a challengeless state of repetetive diminshed pleasure.  God wants to set us loose!  The Saul in us wants to fence ourselves in.  

My question today, God's question for me and you today is, Do you want to live an adventure or do you want to fence yourself in?

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).     

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Happiness of Sadness

Have you ever been thankful for sadness?  Today I am.

Sadness is typically an emotion I fear and hide.  Maybe not knowingly but when I see it coming down the street towards my emotional house I get that mental knot in my stomach and try to board up the windows and doors of my house so sadness wont feel welcome here.  Then I stand in my dark house silently behind my unwelcoming door, as quietly as a mouse hoping it wont know Im there and if it does Ill pretend long enough, that sadness will grow tired of waiting and knocking.  And just go away.  Then I will tell myself as I walk away from sadness's door, "Thats right Shannon.  It wasnt really sadness.  Anger, yes!  Silly woman, not sadness!"

Today is different.  I dont know why.  It seems odd, even to me.  I have chosen, chosen to make sadness my friend.  Today instead of pretending to be busy and not at home I opened my door and welcomed sadness at the street.  Today I will walk togethor with sadness.  I will listen to what she has to say.

She's nearing my house, coming down my street.  I notice the day.  Someone is here.  I sense it.  There is a presence in the day, all around me that is much greater than sadness or even me or my will.  But wait, who's that with her?  Today she walks with someone.  Im straining to see....It's Jesus!  He is my friend.  I had forgotten, He promised me that I would never have to walk with sadness alone.   "You see", Jesus says to me, "sadness isn't as terrible and scary as you may have thought.  I'm here," He says.  "I'm here.  Take My hand.  Lets walk this togethor."

He holds my hand.  With us still, is sadness.  Tears stream down my checks.  Jesus smiles sweetly and begins the walk.  He is calm, sure, unafraid, confident.  I am broken and in pain.  My heart feels as if my chest will burst.  I look to Him and he smiles gently and begins to tell me a story.  Sadness grasps my other hand tightly.  I begin to sob and continue on.  He tells the story of the love of His father for me, his life, His death, His ressurrection, all for me, for my pain and the pain of the one who caused my pain.  Wait...there is beauty all around I realize!  My heart is filled with pain but all around me I begin to see and sense the father.  He is here.  He is here.  We are walking.  We are walking and soon I notice that now we are four.  Hope is with us!  No longer is sadness my only friend.  No longer are my tears only for sadness and her pain, but tears of thanksgiving begin to stream down my face.  Hope as arrived.  She walks next to Jesus.  She doesnt take hold of me but she is there.  Letting me see her and saying with her eyes, "Im with you now."

Jesus grasps my hand tighter and draws my attention back to Him.  We walk on.  He tells us a story about Heaven and when I get to come live with Him.  Who's that walking toward us?  Is it, could it be, love?  And...forgiveness?  "No, Im not ready yet!"  I look to sadness as we all walk.  She holds my hand.  She assures me that she is with me for now but soon, very soon Jesus will ask me to welcome love and even forgiveness to walk with us.  Sadness says, then, she will go away and love and forgiveness will take her place as my companions.  I am thankful.  I am not ready for that yet!  For now, I know that I need to walk with sadness, lean on her, learn from her.  I will listen to the voice of Jesus and rest in His confidence.  I will see Hope and know that Sadnesses presence doesnt mean death, destruction or eternal depression.  She promised that she would not be there forever and Hope makes it true.