My heart is heavy this morning with the loss and sadness and suffering I see all around me. I have held off for several days on any new blog entries hoping for something lighthearted and pleasant to write about. I have systematically avoided writing about the things that have been so prominent in my mind and since these things have become almost all consuming there has been nothing else of which to write. Unfortunately, this cloud of sadness has not lifted. Instead of continuing to avoid the blog I decided that I need to address these things because they are not going away. I feel compelled to write because all other roads are barren and these thoughts must work themselves out of my mind and heart:
Everyone struggles, even Christians, even Christians who walk closely with God, and struggling does not equate punishment. Sometimes we struggle because there are lessons to be learned and sometimes we just struggle for no apparent reason, other than we live in an imperfect world. I know how flip that sounds and what a poor and lackluster reason that is to give someone whose world is wrenched apart by grief but sometimes it is the only answer we have. So often we are quick to pass judgment on those among us who suffer. We think God is judging them or they have done something wrong to merit the suffering in their lives and so they are reaping what they have sown. We judge ourselves and question God and wonder “what have I done wrong? Why is God punishing me? Why can’t I ever win?” When, in reality, as our salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” sometimes our suffering is too by no fault of our own.
This week I lost an old friend, whom I had not seen in years and had only recently reconnected with through facebook. He was only thirty-three years old. We had chatted on line and said those things like “let’s get together soon” feeling for all the world like there were many tomorrows stretching ahead of us because, really, no one thinks at thirty-three that we will die in our sleep. This week a former colleague, whom I hold in great esteem as an honorable man of God and whose family I greatly respect as good and kind examples of practical Christianity, lost a son to cancer. They knew their tomorrows together to be finite but I assume their grief is no less sharp for the knowledge, because twenty is too young to die of cancer. This week I have watch a friend struggle with her son’s illness and vague diagnosis and with all the financial burdens that weigh down single parent’s everywhere and I know as I look at him that eighth grade should be a year of carefree fun not of doctors visits and tests. This week I have watched my dad struggle with his chronic pain and more surgery. I look at his sleepless face and know that retirement should be a time of ease and enjoying grandchildren not a constant struggle against insidious pain and depression. This week the nucleus of my own family has struggled and I find myself helpless.
In this time of powerlessness all I can do is give my struggle and my doubt to the Lord as we are instructed in I Peter 5:7 “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you,” because I can do nothing else. I am staggered by the vast amount of suffering everywhere. As I look out my window onto the first calendar day of Autumn I see with my physical eyes a beautiful, calm, warm and sunny day. As I look around me spiritually I see the storms of life raging all around the people I love and rocking their boats, and mine, to the point of capsizing. I see friends and love ones clinging by their spiritual fingernails to the planks of driftwood that are all that remain of their lives.
Growing up in Sunday School I was taught that we are always in a state of spiritual warfare, that we are in a constant struggle with the unseen to maintain our soul’s integrity. I do not so much believe this as I have gotten older. I believe that if you truly accept Christ as your savior then that ultimate battle has been fought and won. I do not believe that it is then somehow my responsibility to fight and re-win that battle every day. That lends a “works” aspect and a sense of futility to the whole thing that I just cannot swallow.
That being said I know through my own practical experience that being a Christian does not somehow magically exempt me from suffering, from hurt, from loss, from bad decisions, from death or from hurting others. We are still human, we still function inside this flawed world, we are still children of flesh and blood who bleed and die. So if Christianity does not exempt me from suffering then what practical good does it offer me? I think this is where I personally have struggled and where I have seen so many loved ones fall away. They often feel as if God did not answer this specific prayer with the answer they begged for so: A) God obviously does not love or care about them, or B) God does not exist. Well, I have been there. I have been on my knees begging for healing, begging for a job, begging for relief from pain, begging for specific answers only to feel like my prayers hit the ceiling and fall back down on my head.
I think too often we want to treat the Bible like a magic eight ball or a Google search, expecting it to magically fall open to a verse tailored for our specific question when we reach a crisis. We pray to God like he is a genie who will grant our wish if we can just find the right combination magic words. Too often in our day to day lives God gets pushed to the back, Bible study becomes a once a week social excursion to church or a five minute cutesy story with an abbreviated Bible text blurb at the end. If we sit down and really delve into the Bible God does not promise us lives of ease if we follow him. In fact Christ tells the disciples the opposite that if we follow him the way of righteousness will not be easy. Matthew 7:13 tells us, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” The undemanding path will ruin you.
That leads me to the conclusion that the Christian life will never be easy but I will tell you this; I will tell you, from my own experience, that surrendering your burden to Christ offers an ease of the spirit if not an ease of the circumstance, a shelter in the storm. Immersing yourself in God’s love and surrounding yourself with the church, delving into the scripture and truly seeking God’s face is like rubbing a balm on a wound. It will offer comfort. It can ease pain and prevent the suffering and the hurt from infecting your heart and eating away at your joy the way disease infects an open wound.
King David was a man who lived an extraordinary life. Reaching the loftiest heights of accomplishment and sinking into the lowest depth of despair. As I face the rest of this week and try not to be pulled down into despondency I seek comfort in the word of God, in my Christian friends and family and in prayer. I also look for inspiration and words to comfort those around me who suffer. I look to the words of David as he wrote poetry to God in the Psalms; “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.”
We have the promise of God to always lift us up again. It is easy to look down and sink beneath the waves. Faith is sometimes a struggle and keeping our eyes on Christ is not always easy as the grind of daily living tries to churn us under the waves, but that is why it is so important not to neglect that relationship with God, that daily time spent in prayer, those moments spent reading the Bible trying to gain a deeper understanding and not just an instantaneous answer.
I am sorry if this blog is kind of disjointed. I should have been writing all along instead of trying to stuff down things I needed to get out. This week as I have watched so many around me suffer and have felt so powerless to help them I go back to the story Jackie tells about the flood that took away our church building fifteen years ago. Jackie talks about how, when they were trying to clean out the copious amounts of mud, she felt powerless and helpless but amidst all that suffering and pain she could still sing. And that song became her prayer, her plea, her communion with God. I feel that and I can relate whole heartedly to that elemental cry. When I can do nothing else I can raise the song in my heart to God’s ears and let the emotion of my soul cry out for me when I cannot find my own words.
So I encourage you, my brothers and sisters in this life, to raise your voice to God, find your song and let it pour out of your soul. God will hear you. He will understand. Throw your burden on him. When you are too weak to read and feel too abandoned to form the words to pray let your song take those emotions and carry them to God, let that be your prayer and let God heal you. He will give you the strength to carry on. I encourage you to spend time in the scripture and study when you are not in crisis so that when the storms of life rage you are standing on a firm foundation but when you can do nothing else, please, sing.