For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Isaiah 55: 8
As a teacher, I get asked a lot of questions every day. Everything from, “Is it almost time for lunch?” to “Why do people say mean, stupid things?” Sometimes I have an answer because the question is routine or simple but often I’m left asking the Holy Spirit for words because I simply don’t know. After one of my recent speaking events, a beautiful soul sent a question I didn’t know quite how to answer. I was neck deep in Holy Week and Easter stuff at school so I could have typed a quick reply in an attempt to take the task off my to-do list, but the question begged prayerful thought, research and of course the wisdom of God’s Word. What started as an email to answer a question has spilled into a blog because I’m sure this dear lady isn’t the only one who has this wonder. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Scripture and a dynamic priest, here’s what I’ve got.
The question sprung from a scripture verse I was talking about that night in a church hall. We were thinking about Psalm 139:13-14 which reads …you knit me in my mothers womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made… It’s a beautiful passage steeped in God’s loving truth but sometimes it comes with a sting. What if we aren’t perfect. What if we’re sick, or we have a condition or situation that causes our life to be anything BUT wonderful and perfect. Did God knit that? When life is hard or confusing or the suffering is great we often turn to God in our pain and befuddlement and wonder where he is and did he really intend things to be this way.
Here are a couple of things to think about. First of all, there is no such thing as perfect. The world pedals that concept constantly but it’s a deception. There is no such thing as a perfect family, job, or life like the TV commercials would have us believe. The goal of life is to get to heaven, not to have everything neat, tidy, pretty and easy. The goal of life is to get to heaven and claim our sainthood, and my friends, the path to that is not so simple. The holy men and women who have gone before us have shown us again and again that the path to holiness requires sacrifice and suffering. In John’s Gospel we read the words…In this world you will have trouble…16:33 Even though hard stuff came with a warning label we still shake our fist and say, “What the heck, God!” We have to know that he hears us, he loves us and he is working right in the middle of the messy, imperfect and un-wonderful parts of our life. He’s using them to bring holiness and lead us home and sometimes that’s a quick trip but more often than not it’s a long journey.
The second thing to remember is that suffering is inevitable. There are hundreds of commercials out there for stuff to make things quicker or easier. Heaven just plain can’t happen without suffering and trial; there’s no short-cut What we do with our suffering makes all the difference my friends. Suffering without Jesus is just pain without a purpose and it can leave us bitter and fumbling in the darkness. Suffering united with Jesus brings holiness. St. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians, Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…1:24 his words are even more powerful when you consider that he wrote those words while chained in a prison cell. He knew the secret. He knew that Jesus didn’t die on a cross to take away our suffering but rather he came to transform our suffering. If we say in our suffering, “Jesus please suffer with me, please allow this “thing” to help me grow closer to you.” we will give our suffering purpose and the result is redemption. In other words, suffering is our vehicle to heaven. Uniting our suffering with Jesus gives our suffering meaning and the result is that wonderful, perfect life we’re all working for.
If suffering is our “vehicle” to heaven, it’s helpful to note that no two look alike. We buy into the crazy notion that everything should be fair and that is yet another deception of the world. When Christ allows us to carry a sliver of his cross, we grow in holiness and often help others through our personal suffering. It might be tempting to think it’s not fair because some sufferings seem much smaller or greater, but the reality is, God knows exactly how much we can bear. My mom suffered greatly when she buried my brother and then again when she battled cancer for 2 years but she always asked God to use that suffering not just for her soul, but for her husband, her children and all those who needed the redemption her suffering might bring to them. We can never completely see the burdens that others might be bearing…only God can see that and we have to trust in his wisdom and mercy.
That was a rather long answer to a pretty big question. I hope it offers some peace, some understanding and some, well, some hope.
A Seed To Plant: As you pray today, make a list of all the things that cause your heart suffering. Each time that “thing” enters your mind say, “Jesus join me as I carry this sliver of your cross.”
Blessings on your day!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Philippians 4:4
This verse is one of those “feel good” verses I like to spit out when I’m happy and things are going well. I’m getting better and better at calling out in thanks for every good thing. It’s been a consciences effort over the past many months to really remind myself to thank him and recognize the million moments when he’s working powerfully in my life. Lately though I’ve been asked to look at this verse through a different lens.
The truth about this verse is that it was written by St. Paul. The hit me over the head truth of this verse is that it was written while he was in prison awaiting his martyrdom. From the darkness, the squalor, the stench, the most unfortunate, uncomfortable and undeserved location, he cried out for us to rejoice as he was at that very moment. He didn’t say it once, but twice; rejoice! Now, I’ve been in some pretty dark, complicated, painful spots but I’ve got nothin to compare to this…not even close. Praying with this verse has brought to mind some things I need to remember about rejoicing, especially when it’s the last thing on my mind.
Being a disciple means saying YES to God. When we say yes, it’s usually because we want to grow closer to him and experience his powerful grace. We sign up for the good stuff! How conveniently and quickly we forget about the hard or bad that comes with the good. God shows us how this works in his creation again and again. He put thorns with roses and cobs with sweet corn and mosquitos with summer. We’ve lived it and seen it dozens of times but we are always shocked when the suffering and hardship come. The Apostles said yes to Jesus and talk about a roller-coaster ride that yes was. Every one of them endured trial, hardship, persecution and all but one faced martyrdom. Amazingly, they all listed to Paul and did it all while rejoicing, and for what? For eternal peace, freedom and absolute perfection.
These thoughts served as a sort of “buck up butter-cup” kind of experience in Adoration a couple of weeks ago. I was lamenting about people who were sick and troubles and woes we are facing as a community, a church and as a nation. Wouldn’t you know it, this was exactly the verse he led me to. When I look at all the stuff I was made heavy-hearted by, I realized I have absolutely no control over any of it and the only thing I could do was lift it up to him and rejoice! Rejoice not that these things were happening, but rejoice because I trust he’s working in all of it.
Embracing hardship cheerfully isn’t something we generally put on our daily to-do list but I suppose it really should be. Following St. Paul’s advice in his letter to the Philippians I decided to give it a try. I have a really bum knee and long walks through the airport and standing to deliver an all day training is pretty awful. Last week when I went to Texas, I parked my car at at the airport and said, “Lord, I thank you for this lousy hurting knee. I will praise you and rejoice in the pain and I offer this suffering to you. I rejoice in the pain in the hopes that you will bless someone in great need with the pain I offer you.” And of course because I can be sassy, I added, “And Lord, If I’m gonna stand and do one evening and two full days of training, I need you to take some of the pain away during those hours. If you could part the Red Sea, I know you can manage the pain for a couple days.” It was sort of an experiment but he was so faithful and mighty and lovingly answered my prayer. Through the prompting of the Holy Spirit I rejoiced when it didn’t hurt so much and then again when I got home and it did. His power is overwhelming! Give it a try, rejoice in the middle of something awful or painful that’s going on in your life. He will be waiting to meet you in the middle of it.
A Seed To Plant: Make a list of all the things going on in your life that are hard to rejoice in. Write or say the words; Lord, help me rejoice in_____.
Blessings on your day!
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