Create a sacred place for suffering

“How you process [deep sorrow] will determine its effect on your life.  If your suffering has become your identity, it’s too close to you.  Create a sacred place for suffering in your heart, and it will make you more like Christ.”- Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miler continue Chapter 11 of Boundaries for Your Soul as they look at the benefits, dangers, needs, and fears one associates with feeling sadness.  The authors observe:

  • Benefits – when you treat painful loss as an ally, you honor it and offer it up to God.  As a result, the part of you carrying sadness reminds you of your need for others and for God.  In addition, sadness helps you understand your heart and the things you deeply love.  Finally, it allows you to speak the truth of your story and the hardships you’ve faced.
  • Dangers – sadness surfaces in unhealthy ways when not lovingly welcomed.  Thus, this process leads to: feelings of being invisible, worthless, or unlovable; weariness and exhaustion; rumination about painful memories.
  • Needs – your sadness needs a safe place to grieve your loss of people, relationships, or opportunities. Also, rather than a quick fix, your sadness needs validation of the sorrow it holds.
  • Fears – finally, your sadness displays fears over letting your Spirit-led self take the lead.  Examples of these fears include the idea that forgiving implies that you forget your pain ever happened or that no one will pay attention to you if you’re not in need.

In conclusion, Alison and Kim exhort:

“As the part of you carrying sadness develops trust in God, made known through the loving attention of your Spirit-led self, this lost sheep wandering in your soul will settle into the arms of the Good Shepherd.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you create a sacred place for suffering in your heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Moving on or moving forward – the difference”

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”

A more integrated and peaceful internal life

“When your protectors become prayerful and your exiles find strength, your internal life will become more integrated and peaceful.  You’ll enjoy more compassion for others and an ever-deepening intimacy with God.”-Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.  As he was going down, his servants met him and told him his son was recovering.”- John 4:50-51 (ESV)

As Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller continue Chapter 6 of Boundaries for Your Soul, they discuss the soul’s suffering parts.

3.  The Suffering.  As the authors note, Jesus didn’t blame nor marginalize the suffering.  Instead, He encouraged, helped, and treated them with respect.  Whether it concerned a man unable to walk (Mark 12:2) or a young boy on his deathbed (John4:50), Jesus asked the suffering person to do something before his/her healing.  And, Alison and Kim underscore, Jesus wants to empower the suffering parts of you.

In addition, the authors observe, the suffering characters we encounter in the Gospels sound like our exiles.  Consider three common beliefs of the suffering soul:

  • Insecurity: I’m not as important as other people.  Why would God bother with me?
  • Doubt: Does God really care?  Why would He let me suffer so much?
  • Bitterness: I’m angry at God because of what He has let happen to me and to those I love.

In conclusion, Alison and Kim exhort you to invite Jesus to draw near:

“Invite Jesus to draw near, and you might notice his invitation for them to take leaps of faith that seemed impossible before.  In his presence, these suffering parts of you find comfort and healing.  With healthy boundaries, exiles can transform into beautiful aspects of your humanity- channels of empathy and grace.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses sustain a more integrated and peaceful internal life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Leave your unwanted thoughts and feelings at the door?

Locating your soul’s overworked or suffering parts

“Locating an overworked or suffering part of your soul also helps you gain perspective.  When you realize it’s just a part — not the sum total of who you are — your Spirit-led self is beginning to take the lead.”- Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

In Chapter 4 (“Step one: Focus”) of Boundaries for Your Soul, Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller present the first step in taking a You-Turn.  First, when you’re hurting, picture a part of yourself that’s presenting itself for healing.  Then, focus on this part of your soul that’s bothering you.

However, the authors stress, your focus isn’t on getting rid of that part.  Rather, you must focus on the hurting part and get curious about it.  When you do so, it’s possible for you to give that hurting part needed care.

Next, Alison and Kim, using anger as an example, present four key focus questions:

  1. Where do you experience anger physically?  When you feel a strong emotion, the authors suggest you pause for a moment.  Sense where you feel it in your body.  As a result, that exercise physically grounds you.  Easing the tension creates more space for your Spirit-led self.
  2. Is there an image that comes to mind when you focus on it?  Often, Alison and Kim note, once you locate your tense spot and begin to relax, you’re able to notice it as an image.  Visualizing the part of you needing your attention engages your right brain’s creativity.  Thus, you gain added insight to your left brain analysis.
  3. Is there a thought or belief that comes to mind when you focus on your feeling?  Whether or not you notice an image or thought, your main goal involves a focus using nonjudgmental curiosity. This helps you better understand your feeling.
  4. How long has this part of you been angry?  What are some of its early memories?  Your implicit memory stores your responses to past events.  Sharing past hurts helps you gain insight into how to process your pain.

Today’s question: How might you apply these questions to your soul’s overworked or suffering parts?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A single diamond castle – many rooms”

An initial response of resistance – God still calls

“Another striking aspect of these stories (call narratives): even though people almost always have an initial response of resistance, God never reacts by saying, ‘Oh, I can see where this would be pretty scary.  Okay, never mind.  I’ll get somebody else.’ “- John Ortberg

Today John Ortberg discusses the second and third consistent patterns found in biblical call narratives.

2.  Response.  After God summons someone to serve Him, in every case the person God interrupts gives his or her reaction directly to God.  And, almost always, their first response is fear.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“If there is a challenge in front of you, a course of action that could cause you to grow and that would be helpful to people around you, but you find yourself scared about it, there’s a real good chance that God is in that challenge.”

Conversely, John adds, if you’re not facing challenges to big for you and you haven’t felt afraid in a while, that’s a good sign you’ve been sitting in that chair too long.  Thus, when God makes the call, we need to roll the dice.

3.  Reassurance.  Because God knows people get scared, He makes them a promise.  Like Joshua and Gideon, God promises to be with us.

Yet, we cannot deduce from the Lord’s promise that nothing bad will happen to us.  On the other hand, we can’t just sit there.  God promises that nothing separates us from His love- not suffering, hurt, or even death.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg comments on the musings of Christian journalist Greg Devoy:

“Christian journalist Greg Devoy has said that Jesus promised those who would follow him only three things: that they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble.  The problem is that most of us figure two out of three ain’t bad.”

Today’s question: When have you given an initial response of resistance to God’s calling?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “What raw material we all wrestle with”

Jesus deeply affirms our suffering

“Although Jesus deeply affirms our suffering, and although he catches each tear and profoundly understands every trial we have walked through, the suffering isn’t meant to be the focus of our lives.  Jesus must be the focus.”- Ann Swindell

As Ann Swindell concludes Chapter 7 of Still Waiting, she asserts we miss the point when we take Jesus’ affirmation of our suffering as carte blanche to worship our suffering.  As a result, suffering feels bigger than anything else in life, especially Jesus.

Thus, Ann observes, when we worship our pain rather than Jesus:

  • a sense of self-pity seeps in
  • we find ourselves thinking adversity = our cross to bear, our struggle, our pain
  • that pain “worship” threatens to unseat God in His place of authority
  • we make an idol of our suffering as we allow that suffering to become the biggest thing in our mind and heart

Therefore, Ann emphasizes, you must ask yourself this question: Do I want to be healed?  In order for healing to happen, you need to shift your focus from your suffering to Jesus.  Fix your eyes on the truth of His Word.   Hence, when you put your suffering above Jesus, Ms. Swindell states, you start:

  1. seeing the endurance of your pain, suffering, and struggles as the high pitch of your experience
  2. demanding that Jesus heal you
  3. setting the end of suffering as the goal of your relationship with God
  4. making yourself and your suffering the center of the story you’re living

In conclusion, the author admits:

” . . . it’s hard to live in the tension of letting Jesus acknowledge and affirm our suffering without allowing the suffering itself to become the focus.  It can feel like a teeter-totter constantly tipping toward one extreme or the other. . . .  to avoid navel-gazing, we must practice Christ-gazing.”

Consequently, Jesus has the final word, not our suffering.  As Ann says, that’s good news indeed!

Today’s question: How would you witness that Jesus deeply affirms your suffering?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Risk – the only way forward”

The genuine pain and sorrow in every heart

“Jesus knows the suffering that each of us carries, and he knows the genuine pain and sorrow in every heart.”- Ann Swindell

“You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle.”- Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

In Chapter 7 (“When Waiting Feels Like Suffering”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell references the suffering of the Bleeding Woman.  Ann states that the hardest kind of suffering comes not from the body, but from the spirit.  While physical suffering is hard enough, the weight around one’s soul feels impossible to carry.  Such suffering renews itself every sunrise.

Furthermore, the waiting itself feels like suffering.  In response, the author asks, should you put on your big girl or big boy pants, acting if no problem exists?  Ann doesn’t think that’s what Jesus is asking of us.

Therefore, Ms. Swindell believes, Jesus doesn’t minimize our suffering or suggest that we toughen up.  Rather, Jesus validates our pain and acknowledges our suffering.  Ann explains as she compares Jesus’ response to the Bleeding Woman’s suffering with His response to the death of Jairus’ daughter.  The author writes:

“But.  But her [Bleeding Woman] suffering was significant to Jesus.  He understood that her waiting had been part of her suffering — that the waiting itself had caused her suffering.  And that suffering mattered to him. . . .  Jesus validated her suffering by stopping for her, by seeking her out. . . .  In the face of another person’s death, in fact, he affirmed her search for healing and her faith in his ability to do so.  Only Jesus can hold things like this in tandem.”

Thus, regardless of how the word ranks pain, only Jesus sees all pain as real and valid.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you see that Jesus validates the genuine pain and sorrow in your heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Jesus deeply affirms our suffering”

Moving on the wave of God

“When we do suffer with someone else, even a little, we may be sure we are moving on the wave of God.  We are doing what God does.”- Lewis Smedes, How Can It Be Alright When Everything Is Wrong? (1992)

“There is a world of difference between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 10 of I’d Like You More . . . , he describes two ways to suffer.  As somebody once wrote, you can suffer from something, or you can suffer with someone.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“As a victim of adversity, I suffer from illness, or injury, or mosquitoes.  But I suffer with someone when I choose to take that person’s suffering unto myself as an act of intimacy, a shared experience. . . .  Suffering with is an act of tremendous intimacy.”

However, as John reminds us, a world of difference exists between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.  A friend of John’s once took his ten-year-old son Andrew fly-fishing.  For three days in a row, they fished for a few hours after lunch.  They caught nothing.  But, another fisherman observing their futility told them to try at 5:30 AM.

By 7:45 the next morning, they still hadn’t caught a thing.  After hearing Andrew’s pleas, the father permitted five more casts.  On the fifth cast, Andrew caught a northern pike.  As a result, Andrew reasoned, God’s name must be “the God of the fifth cast.”

In relationships, Pastor Ortberg observes, suffering often leads to impatience.  Yet, one thing enables us to sit quietly during times of suffering – knowing that we serve “the God of the fifth cast.”

When philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s twenty-five-year-old son died in a mountain-climbing accident, he didn’t find a God who explains our suffering.  Rather, Nicholas found a God who enters our suffering.  In Lament for a Son, Nicholas writes:

“GOD IS LOVE.  That is why he suffers. . . .  God is suffering love.  So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. . . .  The tears of God are the meaning of history.”

Finally, John states, to keep hope you must give it away.  As you give hope to others in love, you receive it most yourself.

Today’s question: How do you move on the wave of God as you suffer with someone else?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Embraced by God – making space for others”

Groaning in suffering builds intimacy

“The difference between grumbling and groaning has a similar effect on intimacy, whether with God or with people: Groaning in suffering builds intimacy.  Grumbling destroys intimacy.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg continues Chapter 10 of I’d Like You More . . .  as he offers additional distinctions between groaning and grumbling.  John takes special note that, in the Bible, people groaned on their knees.  Because sorrow, suffering, and adversity drove them there.  In contrast, people grumbled privately in their tents.  There they felt free to exaggerate, play the victim, and thus excuse their own lack of obedience.  Pastor Ortberg summarizes:

Groaning

  • builds intimacy with God and people
  • you speak directly to God – holding nothing back
  • views suffering in the larger context of others who have suffered
  • includes awareness of our own sin – confession
  • calls us to be our best selves; honest struggle to cling to God in difficulty
  • God-centered, even when God seems absent

Grumbling

  • destroys intimacy
  • contagious
  • you exaggerate suffering to justify your negative attitude
  • makes irritations and inconveniences known to everyone around you

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg stresses, when other people experience trouble, sensitive people just show up.  Thus, they provide a ministry of presence.  In addition, sensitive people:

  1. learn not to compare.  Since each instance of suffering is unique, each sufferer responds in his/her own unique way.  As a result, comparison fails to help the situation.
  2. do practical things.  John states that helpful people never say, “If I can do anything, please call me.”  Because helpful people know how hollow that statement rings.  Rather than waiting for a call, they just act.
  3. don’t try to comfort prematurely.  Sensitive people don’t pretend to have answers or seek to lessen the pain with an explanation.  Instead, they allow the dignity of suffering.
  4. watch for surprising moments of gratitude.

Today’s question: Currently, what describes your response to adversity – groaning or grumbling?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Moving on the wave of God”

Stare at the glory of God – good beholding

“Stare at the glory of God until you see it.”- Ray Ortlund

“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”- 2 Corinthians 3:7 (NIV)

Jared C. Wilson concludes Chapter 3 of The Imperfect Disciple as he states Christ’s glory far exceeds the glory of the law.  In fact, Jonathan Edwards once compared Christ’s glory to the sun rising in its strength and eclipsing the stars.

Thus, Jared asserts, Christianity’s essential message isn’t “do” but “done.”  As a result, the author adds, the direct route to God-honoring behavior consists not of good behavior, but of good beholding.

True release, then, comes when God changes who you are.  That change comes through Christ’s cross becoming your cross.  Jared exhorts:

“Don’t believe the lie that always struggling to obey God is a lot worse than disobeying him with peace.  God did not make us to ‘feel good inside’ (or outside) all the time this side of heaven; he made us to share in the suffering of Christ, that we might also share in his resurrection.”

In conclusion, as long as we live in what Jared refers to as the bittersweet limbo of simul justus en peccator (Latin – righteous and at the same time a sinner), we’ll struggle to see the glory.  We’ll always fight that battle this side of heaven.

However, we must not get so busy trying to do great things for God that we forget to look at His glory.  Then we’ll never quite behold it.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you stare at the glory of God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Spiritual disciplines – religious duties or relational delights?”