Momentary, Light Affliction

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So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul certainly knew about suffering. He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked and starved. He had friends abandon him and spent the last years of his life on a perpetual journey and finally in prison. He knew trouble’s first and middle name.

When people are sick or taking care of sick people – they can get absorbed in the situation. Surely this is a survival mechanism that helps people in crisis make it from day to day. But Paul reminds us that despite the urgent crisis that inevitably hits, there is so much more to center our souls upon. There are things that will last forever, things to come that we will be a part of and will be a part of us. How are you doing at “fixing your gaze” on what really matters?

Preliminary to any self-determined act of behavior there is always a stage of examination and deliberation which we may call the definition of the situation. And actually not only concrete acts are dependent on the definition of the situation, but gradually a whole life-policy and the personality of the individual himself follow from a series of such definitions. – W.I. Thomas

How are you defining your situation? Is the suffering you are experiencing the whole ball of wax? Is there more to your life, to your suffering, than just right now? Do you need to get some people around you who will help remind you of what’s going away and what’s lasting forever?

Remember, every single day of your life, there are people that cross your path who are suffering in their own private ways. What can you do to be a lighthouse, a little bit of salt, a reminder to look up and watch what you believe?

“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness!”
― Pablo Picasso

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Homesickness

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For here we do not have a lasting city,
but we are seeking the city which is to come. – Hebrews 13:14 (NASB)

Sometimes our suffering is made worse because we are too attached to this world. The poet Wordsworth wrote “this world is too much with us…” He was in anguish about civilization all around that had created such a deep chasm between mankind and the natural world.

The ditch that that I typically fall into when suffering arrives is the one between my earthly and heavenly perspectives. It even now seems to plague my travel through these recent days. I fall into it and my eyes are averted, panic and worry set in, I quickly forget to keep my sights set on what is eternal.

There’s always going to be something here and now that will distract us from our eternal beliefs. Then when suffering arrives, our attachments are made even more urgent. They seem to weigh us down and keep our sight too short.

  • Our health and freedom
  • The mortgage and our debt
  • Family and friendships
  • That all important career
  • The future of our children
  • Those big plans for retirement

When we suffer (or someone close to us suffers) we face an existential fork in the road. We can run down the path of panic and fear – filling our pockets with worry about the here and now as if it was all that really mattered. Or, we can take the path that leads us toward that vast horizon of eternity. Things that only mattered, now seem to matter just enough, only after drawing near to God.

“We lead our lives so poorly because we arrive in the present always unprepared, incapable, and too distracted for everything.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Life

When we spend so much of our life worrying we haven’t anything left to spend on seeking what will matter forever. When suffering raises it’s ugly snout, our worries multiply through the roof. Fear drives us into the dark woods and we lose sight of home.

I DON’T WANT TO GET ADJUSTED

In this world we have our trials
sometimes lonesome, sometimes blue
but the hope of life eternal
Makes all old hopes brand new

And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world
I’ve got a home so much better
and I’m gonna go there sooner or later
And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world

Lord, I’m growing old and weary
and there’s no place that feels like home
Saviour come, my soul to ferry
to where I never more will roam

And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world
I’ve got a home so much better
and I’m gonna go there sooner or later
And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world

Iris Dement

Jesus’ parting words to his disciples… Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.  I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. 

– John 14:1-3  (The Voice)

Through Every Dark Night

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“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I’ve been thinking about suffering these days.

There are different kinds of suffering. I just read one pastor who cataloged 14 different kinds of suffering he found in the Bible. That’s a lot of heartache. It’s impossible to divorce the Christian life from suffering. It’s almost impossible to find someone in the Bible who didn’t experience suffering. Suffering has always been a part of the life of faith. I suspect it always will be.

We can experience misery as the result of consequences, such as bad behavior or selfishness.

  • When people have to go to prison for breaking the law
  • A student fails a class because he stopped attending or didn’t hand in assignments
  • A family falls apart because neither spouse will give in

But the kind of suffering I have been thinking about is the kind that happens to people out of the blue, when someone experiences terrible harm for no reason at all other than because they live here on earth with others.

  • A drunk driver kills a family in another car
  • A child is diagnosed with an incurable cancer
  • The economy shifts and your father loses his job all of a sudden
  • An innocent victim is sexually assaulted

It doesn’t seem like the same degree of suffering if its somehow deserved. There’s got to be a different word. To me, what makes it real suffering is that the people who live the experience have done absolutely nothing to deserve it. Horror and pain sometimes fall without reason on innocent people. That’s suffering.

 “The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.”
– Psalm 34:19

There is no immunity from trouble, from suffering. Even people who are living right, end up suffering. How will God come to the rescue? So often, it’s not the way we planned or fast enough. But He is near to the brokenhearted. When we walk through the valley of shadows He provides visible comfort. His Holy Spirit has been sent to walk with us so that we will never be alone, never be afraid, never feel abandoned. Through every dark night there waits a sunrise.

“The Lord has turned all our sunsets into sunrise” – Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)

 

 

Who You Thought You Were

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I was watching a talk by writer David Brooks a few weeks ago. He said something that seemed very important to me.

“As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.” 

Tillich was a Lutheran theologian from Germany (1886-1965). He spent his academic career here in the United States first at Union Theological Seminary and then at Harvard Divinity School. I hear these words from the past and I discover some meaning to the road I’m on for the past few years. A road I’m sharing with several others as well.

My response to suffering has been anything but pretty. I can’t believe what’s coming out of my mouth most of the time. I’m the guy who has old men at church calling me “sir” – surely at this stage I am supposed to have things figured out and be able to maturely handle defeats and disasters. But that’s not what’s been going on. Tillich hits the nail on my head. I’m never going to grow up if I’m not even sure of who I really am.

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.” ― Hermann Hesse

When we suffer we are able to look past the fable of who we think we are and present to others. We see another side of ourselves, the vulnerable and broken remains.

  • Suffering helps us to grow up because it reveals to us a truth hidden from our happy introspection
  • Suffering helps us to see what must be attended to in our lives, we see faults and frailties for the first time or that we thought we had outgrown
  • Suffering shows us more of the truth and less of the fiction that keeps us deluded about whether we are moving forward or not

This quote from Tillich continues to speak to me because it calls me to cast off more and more of the comforting veneer and become more genuine, more frail and less in control. I believe that transformation, healing and growth can happen only when we look at our true selves. No, I’m not who I thought I was.

That’s okay.

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed