Through eyes that have cried

“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”- Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the poor in spirit.”- Psalm 34:18 (ESV)

In Chapter 11 (“Boundaries with Sadness”) of Boundaries for Your Soul, Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller assert that you need your pain.  Because, the authors note, grief makes you real.  In addition, disappointment develops resilience.  Also, suffering gives birth to vision, innovation, and dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, sorrow contains the potential to inspire new chapters of purpose and creativity in your life.

However, excruciating silence often results when nothing seems to work and God feels absent.  Consider the prophet Elijah.  At one point in his life, he experienced profound sorrow and darkness.  Indeed, Elijah’s pervasive sorrow caused him to ask God to end his life.  And, like the prophet, many of us have a part of our soul so overcome with sorrow that we lose sight of God’s power.

As a result, in his book Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen portrays the painful aspects of life as a faithful offering.  Nouwen goes on to suggest that one needs to befriend brokenness as well as put it under the blessings.  Therefore, Alison and Kim exhort:

“No matter the cause of your pain, your heart can become a reservoir of compassion and empathy for others.  To paraphrase Nouwen, through your experience of suffering, you can be taken, blessed, broken — and given for the world.”

In the next blog, Alison and Kim help you get to know your sadness as they look at the benefits, dangers, needs, and fears associated with sadness.

Today’s question: Describe how God’s redeemed your sadness through eyes that have cried.  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Create a sacred place for suffering”

When we stop pressing forward in faith

“When we pray and nothing changes, many times as believers we use the outcome as an occasion to alter our theology to match our experience.  When we do this, we stop pressing forward in faith to find out why the natural world didn’t line up with what we expected.”- Christa Black Gifford

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”- Ezekiel 11:19 (NIV)

In Chapter 5 (“The Undivided Heart”) of Heart Made Whole, Christa Black Gifford describes the therapeutic technique of Father Andrew Miller.  Father Miller, an Anglican priest, encountered cases that modern psychology – and even Christians – labeled as hopeless.  Thus, Father Miller studied, prayed, and tirelessly pored over the Scriptures.  He determined to find tools to help his clients know freedom and deliverance from their horrific earthly chains.  Like the tortured demoniac in Mark 5 regaining his right mind after he encountered the mercy and love of Jesus.

Most noteworthy, no matter how life’s punches tatter a heart, Jesus has never faced an impossible case.  Therefore, Father Miller believed Jesus’ promise that we’d do greater things than He did (John 14:12).  As a result of clocking more than 4,000 clinical hours loving broken hearts, Father Miller uncovered a common thread in all his patients.  Every person on the brokenness continuum possessed the same primary components in their heart: the emotional heart, the guardian heart, and the function heart.

Consequently, God revealed and unpacked these parts of the heart to Father Miller.  Hence, he started seeing many miracles in his counseling practice.  For his patients’ broken and divided hearts encountered Jesus – Someone more powerful than their pain.

Finally, Christa observes, “God’s intention for your heart has always been to bind it up, making it undivided and whole.”

Today’s question: What, if anything, keeps you from pressing forward in faith?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Your emotional heart – connected to your pain”

Guarded from God doubt and distrust

“Our hearts can either be guarded from God in doubt and distrust, or peace will guard our hearts through relationship as we abide in Christ.”- Christa Black Gifford (emphasis author’s)

In Chapter 3 (“The Doubting Heart”) of Heart Made Whole, Christa Black Gifford admits that every time she went through a trial, she immediately put God on trial.  As a result, no matter how hard she tried, Christa never got close to God.  Because she pushed Him away in distrust.  In addition, Satan knows this and stands ready to take full advantage.  Ms. Gifford explains:

“The deceiver knows that if he can get you to question God as a good Father — believing that He doesn’t love you fiercely, that He doesn’t fight to protect you, that He didn’t send His only Son to restore you to His embrace — then you will begin to withhold pieces of your heart from Him. . . .  Our scheming enemy also knows that as long as parts of you aren’t on friendly terms with God . . . those pieces will remain barren, tormented, fragmented, and broken.”

Furthermore, although nothing ever separates you from the love of God, you can certainly live like you’re separated.  And perception can determine your spiritual reality.  Thus, when your heart shields itself from God, you’ll find it hard to hear and experience the very God you’re pushing away.

Therefore, like Christa, when you hit a rock-bottom-hopeless zone, you need Jesus.  He’s more powerful than the hurt ruining your life.  And Jesus easily carries the heavy burden of your offense toward God, yourself, and others.

Finally, Christa asserts, when you doubt God’s goodness you need more than another sermon giving factual evidence of God’s faithfulness.  Rather, you need to believe.  And that requires a supernatural encounter with a love greater than your brokenness.

Today’s question: How have you guarded your heart from God in doubt and distrust?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The thing you set your heart on”

Spelunking down with Jesus

“Because many of us have seen our heart as an adversary that can sabotage our best efforts to become the person we want to be, if we’re honest, we’re petrified of spelunking down with Jesus and finding out what’s really going on down there.”- Christa Black Gifford

As Christa Black Gifford continues Chapter 2 of Heart Made Whole, she asserts we must try to find out what’s inside of our hearts.  Because this is the only way to fully understand ourselves and find wholeness.  Also, we need to know why God’s given us hearts in the first place.

Most noteworthy, though, sometimes we must approach our pain monsters, Christa notes, with great care, skill, and intentionality.  For the brokenness, damage, and lies deposited by old pain monsters need untwisting and eviction.  Then, healing occurs through relationship with the perfect love of Christ.

Yet, Ms. Gifford stresses, most of us fear spelunking down with Jesus into the depths of our heart. Since we view our heart as an adversary, we’re reticent to unveil the contents of our secret vault we’ve guarded through lockdown.

Rather, you must strive to understand the design of your God-given heart.  And, the author points out, Scripture uses the Hebrew and Greek words for heart more than one thousand times.  Thus, the Hebrew word for heart, lebab, denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life.  Hence, it’s the core where your feeling, intellect, and will reside.  Similarly, the New Testament Greek word,, kardia, refers to thoughts or feelings (mind). So, it’s also defined as the middle.

However, Christa asserts, our modern culture often reduces the heart to a feeling factory.  In contrast, every one of your thoughts and emotions grow out of your core beliefs.  And it’s this center inside of your heart that makes you special and unique.

Today’s question: What keeps you from spelunking down with Jesus?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The created heart – never your enemy”

Risk – the only way forward

“There are so many unknowns. . . . Risk is the only way forward.”- John Piper, Risk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life Than to Waste It (Crossway, 2013)

In Chapter 8 (“When Waiting Is Risky”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell notes the consequences of her failure to risk.  First, Ann’s fear coerced he into the false belief she needed a lot of social currency with another before taking the risk of revealing her condition.  Next, she’d circumvented questions about her trich in some form for most of her life.  Thus, Ann tried to wriggle out of explaining trichotillomania.

Therefore, the author asserts, we take a risk in telling others about our brokenness.  It’s risky because we can’t control what others do with our confession.  Yet, Ann underscores, “risk is inexorably bound up in faith.”  Time and time again she’s found that risk seem important to God.

Furthermore, biblical people of faith – Abraham, Daniel, the Virgin Mary, for example – trusted that the rewards of their faith greatly outweighed the risks facing them.  And the Bleeding Woman, already bereft of social standing, jeopardized her last thread to dignity to encounter Jesus.  After exhausting almost all her choices, only risking remained.  If we’re honest, Ann states, that’s the only choice we have left as well.

Most noteworthy, no one sees our internal risks that we take with God.  You take risks when you choose to keep your spirit open and vulnerable.  Even when your prayers go unanswered in the way you with and know God can!  The author summarizes:

“This is the real, hard work of faith for most of us — not jumping off cliffs or swimming in shark-infested waters, but being willing to lay our hearts and souls bare before God without protection or pretense.  It’s risky to open our hearts to the Lord when our dreams and desires don’t line up with reality.”

Today’s question: How do you embrace riskiness as the only way forward?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Staying tender and needy before God”

Shame can be silenced – even as we wait

“Shame can be silenced.  Even as we wait in unwanted realities and sickness and broken relationships, unwhole and unwell, we can still silence shame.”- Ann Swindell

“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 weary and lose heart.”- Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

Ann Swindell reminds us of the cost of shame as she concludes Chapter 6 of Still Waiting.  Shame:

  • makes it seem impossible for us to extricate ourselves from our struggles
  • makes it appear that our brokenness determines our value
  • pairs our worth with our weakness
  • yokes us to lies
  • tells us whatever image we put forward, whole or not, reflects our identity
  • forces us to cover up who we are
  • is a liar

However, Ann asserts, shame need not have the upper hand, even in the most staggering circumstances.  Shame, indeed, can be silenced.  Citing Hebrews 12:2-3, Ms. Swindell states that she loves the word scorning.  Because it points us to the fact that Jesus chose – or better refused – to endow shame with power in His life.  Therefore, Ann explains:

“Through the Holy Spirit, we now have the power to live new lives and make new choices.  Although we may feel shame, we, like Jesus, can choose to scorn it.  We can choose to separate our identity in Christ from the ruined image we have of ourselves.  We can choose to listen to the truth of Jesus and separate our worth from our weakness, our lives from lies.”

In conclusion, the author adds, there’s one way to live in freedom from shame.  Open your heart and life to those who love you.  And invite them to extend the grace all of us need from each other.  For love and acceptance from people and the Lord help us “grasp the truth of the gospel for the tender and waiting places of our souls.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you know that shame can be silenced?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The genuine pain and sorrow in every heart”

Awareness of brokenness – a baseline reality

“I didn’t know how to bring the knowledge in my head — the awareness of my brokenness as a baseline reality and a starting point for my need for Jesus — in line with the motions of my heart and my deep desire to feel whole . . .”- Ann Swindell

In Chapter 4 (“When Waiting Claims Your Identity”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell stresses that she loathed her “trich” identity.  Yet, she knew that identity comfortably.  Thus, she still had a face, or façade, to put forward.  She needed to mask her condition.

Furthermore, even though faith in Christ means acknowledging and accepting your brokenness, a cultural tug comes into play.  That cultural tug pulls us to maintain an identity and put a face forward — in both a literal and allegorical sense.  But, places exist in life where you need a façade.  As Ann notes, you can’t wear your heart on your sleeve for everyone!

Ultimately, however, how others perceive the size of your lack is immaterial.  For in your own heart, that lack potentially looms large.  Also, once you view yourself as an outcast, you carry that stigma in, as Ann describes, “the folds of your persona.”  Therefore, that stigma need not come from anyone else.

Most noteworthy, a major difficulty comes up when we start to define ourselves by what we lack.  We begin to obsess about it.  The author explains why she once found herself incredulous that Esau exchanged his birthright for a simple bowl of stew, yet now judges him less harshly.  Ann writes:

“When we experience that ravenous hunger for the one thing we so deeply desire, we all find ourselves tempted to give anything in exchange for it.  We assume that getting that one thing will be the key to permanently transforming our lives.”

Therefore, we need a baseline reality – an awareness of brokenness.

Today’s question: What Scriptures establish a baseline reality of your brokenness?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation- “The sustaining face of God”

Tomorrow’s blog: “A deep-down ache — made for more”

We spend ourselves on what we value the most

“Yes, we spend ourselves on what we value the most.  Whether it’s money, time, energy, or emotions, we pour ourselves out on the thing that we deem most worthy of our devotion.”- Ann Swindell

In Chapter 3 (“When Waiting Costs You Everything”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell discusses the high price of hiding.  On a personal note, Ann states that she found herself unable to untangle the lie from the truth.  Thus, she believed any brokenness tainted the successes in her life.  She failed to realize her daily failures with truth didn’t define her or negate her strengths.

But, Ann asks, at what cost?  Hiding her condition from her friends and teammates cost her a great deal.  Ann paid in time, energy, and friendships.  In contrast, friendships build on the back of brokenness.  Also, intimacy often stems from shared pain.

Furthermore, we feel desperate when we need something from God.  We frantically await His response and action.  To varying degrees, we all surrender time, energy, emotional wholeness, and sometimes money, to cover up our weakest places.

However, while desperation has it’s own cost, we face another cost in our painful places.  The cost of waiting.  Ms. Swindell explains:

“When we have to wait for God to move on our behalf — when we find ourselves at the end of whatever rope we’re hugging — it’s painful.  That’s because waiting demands that we pay . . . because when we are forced to wait for God’s work — for his healing, for his provision, for his answer — the waiting itself becomes a high cost.  We come to a point in waiting for his breakthrough when it feels like too much to bear.  The waiting is the thing that hurts — sometimes even more than the initial pain we faced.”

Today’s question: How do we spend ourselves on what we value the most?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The cost of waiting — payment of our self-sufficiency”

Brokenness – more normal than foreign

“All of us live with brokenness in our lives.  To varying degrees and in various ways, brokenness is more normal than foreign in the human experience.”- Ann Swindell

in Chapter 1 (“When Waiting Makes You Broken”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell states she began to clearly understand brokenness at the age of eleven.  Up until that point, Ann considered herself a “good girl.”  A rule-follower by nature, the author notes she came from a long line of rule followers.   Thus, Ann felt a sense of internal control.

However, at age eleven, Ms. Swindell received a challenging diagnosis: trichotillomania.  The American Journal of Psychiatry defines the condition as “a poorly understood disorder characterized by repetitive hair pulling that leads to noticeable hair loss, distress, and social or functional impairment.”  For Ann, “trich” manifested itself through pulling out her eyebrows and eye lashes.

As a result, Ann first experienced the emotion of knowing her own brokenness.  In addition, for the first time she felt helpless to change her brokenness.

Whether small or overwhelming, we all know that feeling.  And sometimes it seems too much to bear.  As the author astutely observes, “we wait because we are broken and we are broken because we are waiting.”

Also, waiting hardly presents as a calm and even business.  Ann explains:

  1. We wait because we are broken.  The Bible declares what we know in our bones.  It describes all creation as tattered, destroyed, and torn.  Yet, until God comes and makes all things new, we wait in the brokenness.  We wait to receive from God what we can’t secure on our own.
  2. We are broken because we’re waiting.  God could end our waiting at any point.  Until then, we wait.  We put our trust in a God who saves, who promises to come through.  And yet, Ann stresses, God’s prolonging = a kindness.  It reveals His patience.
  3. We know the defeat of broken waiting.  As Ann poignantly writes, “we all know the hollow truth of brokenness, of feeling defeated, of seeing ourselves as failures.”

Today’s question: How do you reconcile that brokenness is more normal than foreign?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the annotated bibliography of I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

Tomorrow’s blog: “Coming to know weakness in a broken world”

Press into these thirsty moments

“God calls us to resist succumbing to readily available distractions and instead to press into these thirsty moments, our weakest seasons.  Thirst is our ally.  We want to be thirsty for God.”- Sara Hagerty

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground.”- Isaiah 44:3 (NIV)

Sara Hagerty concludes Chapter 10 of Unseen as she observes this conundrum.  Although we drink the water Jesus gives us and never thirst, we still feel parched for Him.  And before our completeness in heaven and the end of lack, we rest in our thirst, our longing for God.  Ms. Hagerty explains:

“When our thirst for more of God deepens our awareness of how much we need Him, our capacity for Him grows.  We not only see Him as the spring of water, but we develop a continued and ever-growing thirst for that water.  Our thirst is how God allures us.  The thirsty don’t just find God, they thrive in God.  They drink with deep satisfaction.”

Therefore, we want to have a tender brush with God.  For God didn’t just come to reset the bones of our brokenness.  He came to make our broken hearts sing.  However, in order for this to happen, we must feel the hurt, feel the longing for something more.  Thus, we miss the infilling of God if we constantly try to avoid how spiritually parched we feel.

Most of all, in whatever desert we inhabit, Jesus promises to speak tenderly,  Sara concludes:

“What feels like a wilderness, a desert — the hidden seasons and the hidden places throughout the day that expose now dry we are on the inside — cannot thwart the maker of rain.  These are the times our roots forge deeper through the earth to find the water source.  It’s the only way to survive drought.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you press into these thirsty moments?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “When our wounds meet the Healer”