On thanks despite circumstances

I appreciate these words today from Shauna Niequist: “…when life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

I find life is more a mix of the two, but yes, the response to God can always be thank you. For example, #disabledmamalife (my new, humanizing and humorous hashtag on Facebook): Physical healing? Thank you. No healing? I praise and thank you yet. For are the sick, broken, poor, weak any less beloved? Oh no! And the Sermon on the Mount calls out the mourning as blessed. There’s a thanks to be experienced and lived and uttered even there, in those hard places.

It got me reading and thinking about Scripture: Paul’s thorn in the flesh, the charge “to give thanks in *all* circumstances ” (from 1 Thessalonians 5:18), and remebering Jesus’ suffering.

(This popped out to me too, from 1 Thessalonains 4:9-10: “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. *Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.*”

There’s a call to more love and more thanks ringing in my ears and pounding in my heart tonight, and I’m listening. Do you feel the pounding rising in you?

And for those in the bitter-sweet more than the sweet-bitter, oh how Psalm 13 (BUT I trust in your unfailing love) and Psalm 18 can be our encouragement and reminder: “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord…but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me…Exalted be God my Savior!” For there is spaciousness even in the suffering. I’ve experienced it to be true. It’s what Psalm 23 talks about – that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God has me lie down in green pastures, leads me beaside quiet waters and *restores my soul.*  And as my friend Shannon Evans said: “A life that bears suffering is not what we should most fear – our Lord modeled that for us Himself.”

More tidbits come to mind. Call this my suffering stream of consciousness…

A prayer from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals: “Lord, as the seasons turn, creation teaches us of grief, patience, and renewal. Make us good students of these rhythms that we might not hurry the work of grief but receive the gift of your presence in our time of need. Amen.”

And words from a sister in Christ, @wildrootsparable: “To be sure, holding the griefs of the world in one palm and the joys of God’s providence in the other is a heavy burden; do you feel it too? But there is grace yet, my friends. And laughter. And peace. And beauty. If anything, these sacred gifts from our Creator shine brightest when found where they hide, tucked into the icy corners of the world’s darkest corners.”

And Cynthia Bourgeault on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The haunting prayer woven into Teilhard’s (T) reflection of faith in The Divine Milieu makes clear that it is no cheap optimism that T is dispensing here, but a wrenchingly honest acknowledgment of our human predicament and an unfailing fidelity to seeing God in *every* aspect of the earth, even in our human suffering.” A final “prayer” by T himself:

“Ah, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a man: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal…At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks – the thing which we try hard to forget is always there,  separated from us a by a partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces – these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love. Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this…*teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it.*” – Amen

I’ll let my stream continue on in my head as I drift off to sleep, suffering but held close by my intimate Abba Father. Or maybe I’ll focus in on the words to this song, one of honor and thanks, that just came to mind (my brain, friends, it never stops…!):

Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

If you aren’t feeling the sweetness now, in your life or when you look at the world around, grace and peace yet to you. May our mouths be full of thanks, wherever we find ourselves in 2018. We’ll get their by walking with Christ, our Suffering Servant, who is our “me too” gets it Saviour and friend. We’ll get there by looking for him in our bitter-sweet, with a spirit of thanksgiving, heart remebering his past faithfulness and his promises, and eyes wanting see.

“I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart; I will enter His courts with praise. I will say this is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice for He has made me glad.”

Peace and love, friends.

(And clearly I’m into the oldies but goodies of songs). All stream of conciousness responses welcome on the comments. 😉

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Surrendering over and over

Things are so, so good. And things are so, so hard. Maybe you feel that way too? Our hards are all different, yet they can feel in us and do in us the same.

Right now, my hards have been giving me a spirit of fear. Do you ever feel it too? Sometimes starting in your toe and creeping up your leg; a little pest? Sometimes sitting hard on your chest, or filling you to the top of your head, filling you to overwhelming?

Yet I am reminded – by myself, the Spirit of God in me, those in my life (thank you!), by Scripture –  that I need not have a spirit of fear, because instead I have one of sonship/daughtership. Scripture reminds me that the Spirit helps me – helps us – in our weaknesses, that if God is for me – for us – who can be against us?, and that nothing can separate me – separate us – from the love of Christ (Read Romans 8; it’s powerful stuff.)

So what do I do when the unwelcome companionship of fear hits? I recognize it in me, and I ask my people to pray for me. They listen to my fears, and they remind me that I am a beloved child of God and he is FOR me. One speaks a word over me; a powerful reminder to surrender to what my body is doing and to find God there. The Holy Spirit reminds me of Mary’s willing prayer: Let it be to me according to your word. And I’m reminded of what I read about St. Francis in The Road to Assisi:

Joy had returned to Francis. During a night of sleeplessness he heard a voice saying to him, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this mountain, ‘Be removed from here,’ and it would move away.” Was not the mountain his sufferings, the temptation to murmur and despair? “Be it, Lord, according to your word,” Francis replied with all his heart, and immediately he felt that he was delivered.

Francis might have perceived that the mountain had not greatly changed its place, but for several days he turned his eyes away from it and had been able to forget its existence.

And after a day’s break from fear, it rolled over me again. And someone again prays for me. And these words roll around in my heart and in my head until they roll bigger and louder than the fear: I surrender. I surrender. I want to know you more. I want to know you more.

So I will repeat those words. I will turn them into my anthem. I will keep calling on the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of my community. I will trust what Romans 8 says: that the Spirit helps me in my weakness, that the Spirit intercedes for me through wordless groans. And I will turn my eyes from my mountain – my suffering, and turn my eyes to Jesus instead. And I will do it as often as I need to put the mountain of my suffering’s existence in its proper shadow – that of Joy and Love and Peace himself.

Do any of you suffering want to share this anthem from Hillsong with me?

Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all

Find me here
Lord as You draw me near
I’m desperate for You
I’m desperate for You

I surrender

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

With arms stretched wide
I know you hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

(YouTube video here)

So here I am. Surrending. Over and over. As many times as needed. Saying Lord have your way. I don’t know why. I don’t understand. I don’t know how long this will last. I don’t know what the next moment holds. But I can see beauty here, even in this. I maybe even see you here, most in my suffering and in the suffering of those I walk with. Lord have your way. I surrender and I want to know you more. I surrender. I want to know you more right here where I find myself.

Sing with me?

I picture us – the broken, the suffering – holding hands and singing and surrendering together, and it is a beautiful picture. May God hold you tenderly in your fear and may the Holy Spirit be your comfort. May you be able to yet praise, and if not, the Holy Spirit groan praise within you.

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(Gems from the Internet on illness and withstanding suffering here and here. Art from one of my favorite and local artists Nikki McClure, currently on my wall, reminding me to praise and keep praising.)

On embracing suffering as gift

Hi, friends!

I have a few thoughts bumbling around in my head about suffering that I’ve been talking with friends around the table and over text with lately, and I wanted to open the conversation wider – to all of you. I invite discussion in the comments!

Many of us weren’t taught/raised with a robust theology of suffering. 

Western civilization as a whole does not know how to hold darkness. Rather than teach a path of descent, Christianity in the West preached a system of winners and losers, a “prosperity Gospel.” … We are hardwired to avoid the human mystery—that we are all a mixture of darkness and light—instead of learning how to carry it patiently through to resurrection. – Daily Meditations

We see suffering, or most kinds of darkness within and without and impacting others as something to be avoided, or a sign that we or others are surely living wrongly, or worse yet, that the quality and strength of our/their faith is broken. We’re extolled we’re not praying hard enough, or trusting in or claiming God’s healing enough, or picking ourselves up by our bootstraps enough, or thinking positively enough (or any number of things you’ve told yourself or thought about yourself or someone else – and oh those cultural messages…!).

In this extended season of health challenges, I’ve learned a lot from sitting in my suffering and with others who are walking in their own long or short season of suffering. And it’s not a passive act. Rather:

I’ve learned to bravely embrace my suffering and the people in my life’s suffering for what it can teach me – for what God wants to teach me. And it’s a lot. In fact, I think it’s the depth and breadth of the gospel.

Darkness is a good and necessary teacher. It is not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” in our belly, and only eventually becomes sweet as honey (see Ezekiel 2:9-10; 3:1-3).

Darkness is sacred ground. The God who calls us into darkness will also sustain us and lead us through it. “God . . . brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17). Resurrection is the one and only pattern.

Daily Meditations

“Resurrection is the one and only pattern.”; I could park myself with that thought for a good long while and learn and learn and learn and not learn it all still. And I appreciate most the focus on God – HE who calls us into darkness will sustain us through it. It’s about the work that God’s doing, not what I’m doing or not doing or she or he is doing or not doing; Suffering is about the work the Holy Spirit can only do in me through suffering or walking in suffering with someone else. I need to be a participating actor, but God is bearing good-hard fruit through the very suffering culture challenges me to pick myself up from in my own strength or to sweep under the rug.

The way through is always much more difficult than the way around. Cheap religion gives us the way around, avoiding darkness. True religion gives us the way through, stepping right into the mystery.

Darkness is sacred ground. The God who calls us into darkness will also sustain us and lead us through it. “God . . . brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17). Resurrection is the one and only pattern. – Daily Meditations

I have definitely felt a “calling into being” of what has not yet existed in me/my faith and life through sitting in and with my own and others’ suffering. These are precious somethings that didn’t grow in me when I was “highly successful” and independent/self-dependent, and can’t grow in us if we have “been able to avoid all suffering”, “move from success to success”, or “have never lived in solidarity with the suffering of others” (source).

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s not about the suffering itself, but keeping my eyes on God in the suffering that is the key to making it through suffering and soaking in all God wants to teach me through it, and then living changed in the midst of it and after differently than my life was without the suffering. I have felt stuck in my suffering, sat with others stuck in theirs, and see a system I’m complicit in that helps and elevates some and keeps others in suffering. And for me, lament & praise is what keeps me learning and connected to God through the suffering (I’ve written about that here and here), going through and not around, walking with instead of around, moving through instead of getting stuck and buried. And it ultimately leads me to a participatory faith-work with the Holy Spirit that builds Christ-following muscle and calls me into a different way of living, being and seeing. It helps me to live more fully and comfortably inside of God’s deep love, which is there for me and others no matter our suffering – other or self-imposed, or fact of life suffering from living in a broken world where free will is allowed to take its course.

I’ll never forget these words from The Road to Assisi and a prayer I read shortly thereafter:

“Joy had returned to Francis. During a night of sleeplessness he heard a voice saying to him, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this mountain, Be removed from here, and it would move away.’ Was not the mountain his sufferings, the temptation to murmur and despair? “Be it, Lord, according to your word’ Francis replied with all his heart, and immediately he felt that he was delivered.

Francis might have perceived that the mountain had not greatly changed its place, but for several days he turned his eyes away from it and had been able to forget its existence.”

“But for several days (Mel/you/we) turned (our/her) eyes away from (her/our suffering) and had been able to forget its existence” and be able to let the Holy Spirit work in her/us instead. For God to be bigger to her/me; the biggest; the only thing she/I need(s).

From Common Prayer:

Lord, you are a God who heals and calls forth life. Keep us from the pitfalls of self-pity and despair, lest we ridicule your grace and power, and forsake our own healing. Amen.

Suffering has been my greatest invitation to be still and know that He is God and that I am not. To watch for what He is doing and will do through my suffering. To know my suffering is not in vain. And maybe even, that our suffering is something so much more. And I believe it:

Our suffering, my suffering, is important and necessary. 

It seems all God wants are useable instruments who will carry the mystery, the weight of glory and the burden of sin simultaneously, who can bear the darkness and the light, who can hold the paradox of incarnation – flesh and Spirit, human and divine, joy and suffering – at the same time, just as Jesus did.” – Father Richard Rohr

I am not a useable instrument if all I want is to live and move and breath and work in the weight of glory, the light, Spirit, the divine and joy without the rest of it.

Further:

James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, describes God as “the infinity of the unforeseeable; so we know that [the unforeseeable] is trustworthy, because in everything, God is trying to move us into Christ consciousness. If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things, then we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.” Perhaps this explains the mysterious coexistence of deep suffering and intense joy in mystics. (source)

I just texted two of my friends, saying the above “gives words to what I was trying to say at the table about surrendering (to our suffering) and questioning our definition of what God’s love and working in our suffering looks like. ‘If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains all things, then we can face all things…” That’s what I’ve experienced. My circumstances don’t change; (despite my efforts) my suffering exists. Yet God sustains me and that’s the only promise I have. He alone can make heavy yokes easy feel easy and burdens light (versus promising to take the yokes and burdens away.)” Even now, from cane and shower chair, to walker, to sometimes wheelchair, to more diagnosis, to no clear end in sight He is present and good; I am learning deeper each day to live abundantly and love God with wide open arms and embrace His love with wide open arms right where I’m at and even if nothing changes.

Feeling the same? Wanting to move in this direction of admitting your suffering and walking through it with your eyes on God, seeing his full and unchanged love for you and others? Then pray these prayers with me:

From the Common Prayer:

Broken, we kneel; humbled, we cry: help, – Jesus! Raise us gently on high.”

And from The Divine Hours, the Greeting (based on Psalm 71:14):

“I shall always wait in patience, and shall praise your more and more.”

I’m here, clinging to God and finding joy and meaning and growth and greater solidarity with those who suffer as I sit and look to God in my and their and our suffering. When I least feel like it, you will find me sometimes throwing a tantrum or at my best praising God more and more. Because you truly need Him when you’re suffering and/or walking alongside the suffering!! Oh Jesus, how sweet it is to be loved by you! How sweet it is to know that you use suffering to teach us resurrection truth and to see ourselves in kinship with all who suffer.

Feeling different or the same or have more insights to share for the benefit of us all? Please engage in the comments! May this be a safe place to wrestle together in our diverse sufferings. And bear with me for any typos and oh the run on sentences, my new fave (as a good friend says, I’m loquacious – ha!). My particular suffering comes with extreme exhaustion and brain fog. And if I wait until I’m sure I can make complete sense, I’ll be sitting on my words all day. So here they are, imperfectly imperfect and out there, just like me.

Peace to you, friends! ~ Mel