On Darkness

At our Easter service the pastor said something to the effect of, “Darkness cannot eliminate darkness; only light can eliminate darkness.”

Of course, the darkness is our sinfulness and/or pain we experience because we are fallen people in a fallen world, and the light is Jesus, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of the fact that we – in our own strength – often try to eliminate darkness with more darkness.

When we feel depressed or angry or otherwise discontent (that is, when we feel darkness), how often is our knee-jerk response to try to combat those feelings with more darkness?

My go-to’s include, but are not limited to, over-eating, under-eating (I’m a complicated person), distracting myself via hours of reruns or Word Brain (you guys, I’m addicted), manipulating, withdrawing, clinging, sleeping, worrying, over-analyzing, indulging and the list goes on and on.

I sin to make myself feel better because I buy the lie that sin will make me feel better.

And so do you.

Unchecked, we all use dark measures to try to rid ourselves of dark emotions.

And the way our pastor put it made me realize how illogical that is. Darkness cannot eliminate darkness. Sin cannot eliminate emotional pain. (In fact, sin only and always amplifies emotional pain, but that’s where the darkness metaphor breaks down, so let’s save that for another day).

Only light can eliminate darkness.

Jesus is the light, according to the scriptures (John 9:5). He is truth. He is love. And whoever lives in the light – whoever combats their own darkness with the truth of Jesus Christ – has life (John 8:12; Psalm 36:9).

There is only one way out of our pain and our sin – our darkness. And that way is Jesus – the Light. As we press into Him in our moments (our days, our months, our years…) of darkness, He will bring light (truth, hope, love, comfort).

What to Do with Grief

It’s hard, this life.

This summer, in particular, has felt like one gasp after another – personally, globally. Murder is everywhere, in every form. The pre-born, the just born, the born not-long-ago, the bearing, the bearing arms, the unarmed, the armed forces, the forced to bear arms, the forces of faith and fortitude born within me… they’re all being murdered all around us every. single. day.

What do you do when you can’t breathe anywhere?

Our hearts weren’t made to grieve all the time.

But how do you not when pictures of unattached pre-born hands and legs in petri dishes pop up on your screen? You can’t unsee that. You can’t unfeel that.

How are we not swallowed whole by grief when the heads of babies and children and pregnant women are rolling daily on the desert floor, sometimes at the hands of pre-schoolers who should be rolling playground balls instead?

How do we keep our heads above water when our police officers and Marines are being shot in theirs by career criminals and brainwashed terrorists who don’t understand that they are loved by the Creator and are worth so much more than the identities they’ve settled for?

How do we breathe when racism has choked out the breath of unarmed men because hundreds of years of a false sense of superiority keeps getting passed down in white families in our country?

How do we not grieve when we know the one behind each and every one of these incidences hasn’t stopped there but has incited a personal attack inside each one of us, seeking to kill and destroy whatever faith and hope we have in God?

It’s too much, this daily onslaught of heartbreak.

We have two choices, as I see it.

We can let the grief win. Here’s how that process typically looks for me:

  1. Hear bad news/realize Satan has the upper hand in my spiritual life.
  2. Feel like I am suffocating.
  3. Try to combat that uncomfortable, paralyzing feeling with any manner of distractions.
  4. Try to encase my heart with steel in an attempt to not feel anything.
  5. Fail at all of these things.
  6. Feel depressed.
  7. Get angry I am losing the battle against grief, depression, and Satan.
  8. Lament things will never get better.
  9. Stop making any effort at anything whatsoever.
  10. Generally irritate myself and everyone around me.

As you can see, this is a super mature, wise, and productive way to handle grief. It enhances every relationship I have, including my relationships with myself and with God. My loved ones really get the message that I love them, and Jesus is glorified through me.

I may or may not have chosen this approach to grief the majority of the summer, and that may or may not have played a huge role in why I have contributed nothing to this blog for six weeks. (You’re welcome.)

The alternative response to the chronic soul-crushing chaos that constantly threatens to consume us is to use the grief for our good.

We can choose (so I’ve been told) to see grief as a gift.

A grieving heart is one who understands things are broken. And it’s not until we understand that reality that we can comprehend how dire our need for a Savior is. And it’s not until we understand our desperate need for Jesus that we will choose to sprint to Him for holding and healing and hope – for Him. And, of course, it’s not until we draw near to Him that anything will be right at all in our lives and in our hearts. And none of this will happen without our experiencing grief in the first place.

Grief is a gift that leads a willing heart to the heart of God.

And when we get there, He gives us the breath we can’t find any other way.

What to do with grief

What to Do When Pain Overwhelms You

I’ve had a heavy heart the past week or so. I’ve been blaming gray winter clouds hiding the sun that I need to light me up and the beige walls of my home closing in as winter weather held our family hostage all last week.

And maybe they have something to do with it.

But the Lord brought it to my attention this morning that those things aren’t the true source of my disquieted spirit.

No, my sullen disposition lately is a product of my internalizing a lot of hard news instead of exporting it to the Lord.

I’ve struggled to get the savage murders of the 21 martyrs off my mind. The images of them in orange jumpsuits with knives to their throats are still all over the internet. And today I woke to news that at least 90 more Christians have been kidnapped. We know in our sickened guts which way that’s going to go…

A couple of high school kids drove a rural road two weeks ago and slammed into a tree. Dead. I drive by the gifts laid at the bottom of the giant oak every day. A headlight still hangs on a branch, and part of the bumper lies unclaimed a few feet away. My heart aches for those boys’ moms. My lungs burn when my imagination jumps to “What if my kids…”

Last night a 16 year old in a nearby community took to a highway I’ve driven many times and threw himself off a bridge into oncoming traffic below. Gone. Every overpass I drive under I hurt for his family… his classmates that had to digest the news this morning… his teachers who had to keep it together enough to guide teenagers through tragedy… and the driver who struck the boy as his body fell in darkness…

All of this news is devastating. Although none of it “personally” involves me, I am a person with a soul and emotions and so it goes that I am personally affected by each horrific story.

I think I may have forgotten this.

I took each piece of news as it came. I heard about it, I read about it, I saw images of it, I have tangible reminders of it. But I never processed it with the Lord because I never considered it mine. Sure, I uttered a plea for mercy, “Oh, God,” each time I learned of an event, but I never said, “Lord, this hurts my heart.” I didn’t sit with God and let Him minister to me.

So these pains piled up in my soul. I drove to a ministry this morning where I knew it was highly likely I would face more deadly news. Driving under overpasses and imagining what that boy who jumped must’ve been feeling before he leapt, God connected some dots for me.

I wasn’t even particularly thinking about Him as I drove until my heart got so heavy a sentence fell out of my mouth: “I can’t handle this!” The weight of the emotions inside had become too much. And the Lord responded in turn, “You’re not meant to. I will handle this.”

I marveled. Then I tried to decipher what, exactly, He meant. I had meant that I couldn’t handle the hurt in my heart anymore. And He knew what I had meant. So logic tells me what He meant in His response was I am not meant to handle all these emotions that are too big for me; He is supposed to handle them for me.

After giving me time to come to that conclusion, He continued, “Just bring me your heart.”

Ah. That’s all I’m supposed to do during heavy times. And I’ve known God long enough to know His solution would work. If I brought Him my battered heart, He’d tend to it.

To be honest with you, I didn’t have time to let the Lord stitch up my heart at that moment. I was walking into a war zone where Satan tries to do some of his best work by convincing women who have made mistakes that they are unlovable and that having an abortion will somehow solve their problems.

But I did have time for a quick band aid.

The Lord brought to mind a verse I had discussed with my kids a couple days earlier.

Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Paul was instructing the Colossians on how to live holy lives with one another. I told my girls we can learn three things from this verse.

  1. There is peace that comes from Christ, and God wants that peace to control us because
  2. God expects Christians to live at peace with one another.
  3. And when we don’t feel peace in our hearts, we can get some if we start giving thanks for things God has already done.

Although, linguistically, it doesn’t necessarily follow that thankfulness causes peace to rule in our hearts, I am certain these ideas were put next to each other for a reason. The ideas are connected in some way. And experience tells me, whether this verse does or not, that cultivating gratitude does lead to peace in my heart.

This mini lesson resurfaced in my mind this morning, and I asked myself, “Okay, am I going to do this and live this thing out or not? I have a choice right now, what’s it going to be?” Most days my heart rolls its eyes and the heaviness wins. But not today.

I started thanking God for what I knew to be true about all these tragedies. “Thank You, Lord, that You are in control of all these situations. Thank You that You are willing and ready to comfort all the hurting right now. Thank You that You care.”

That was it. That was all I had time for before I walked through the doors of my clinic and had five counseling sessions with women who were hurting in their own right. But my short act of giving thanks had birthed enough peace in my heart that I was able to offer some to them. 

Pain and suffering and grief are hard. They are big, ugly problems we can’t handle. But we’re not meant to. It’s His job to handle our hearts. We just have to let Him. 

Grief and Joy

I’ve been mulling over an oxymoron the last 24 hours or so.

At church yesterday, somebody (Keith Thomas – give props where props are due) brought up the idea that, as Christians, we can have hope and joy in the midst of grievous situations.

We can trust Christ is at work – doing His best work, in fact – and the hope we have in Christ will not disappoint us, according to Romans 5:5. The person discussing this issue said, “We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time.”

It was an interesting concept… He used an example of a mother losing her teenager whom she knew was a believer. Deep grief, yet tremendous joy…

To be honest, the idea didn’t really take hold of me emotionally the first time I heard it. Sure, I agreed with it, but it remained in the philosophical compartment of my brain for the next hour.

Then I went to service, and as the Lord is wont to do from time to time, He put His finger on a part of my heart I’d been trying to pretend wasn’t hurting and communicated, sans words, “You are experiencing deep grief and tremendous joy simultaneously right now.”

He was right.

I’d been trying for so long to convince myself I was only experiencing the joy Jesus was offering in my situation, subconsciously believing that if I never admitted to myself that I was also extremely sad, then I wouldn’t be. I’d be able to keep the feelings of grief at bay.

Except I couldn’t anymore.

Things came to a head, and I – superior emotional wall-builder that I am – couldn’t keep the bricks in place any longer. The wall fell, and I felt firsthand the truth I’d been exposed to earlier that morning… we can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time…

I scribbled something down on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget it…

Grief and Joy

From experience, I think this is a true equation. Prior to my becoming a believer in Jesus, I was hopeless in times of grief. After I became a believer, I was hopeless in times of grief when I neglected to focus on Christ. But those rare moments, like yesterday, when I’ve considered Jesus’ faithfulness and goodness in the midst of my grief, I’ve found hope and joy.

But, to be honest, it doesn’t matter at all if I think this equation is true. My feelings and experiences don’t make something true. Truth is defined in the Bible, and our experiences only serve to confirm truth. But that’s another post.

My point is, I don’t want to post this idea without biblical proof. And Peter gives it to us.

In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter writes to believers, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Joy during suffering and grief…

How? What are they rejoicing in while they suffer so greatly?

If we back up to verses 3-5, Peter tells us.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Verse 6 begins, “In all this…” That is, the believers are rejoicing in the 4 things (at least) I highlighted in verses 3-5 while they “suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

So, it can be done…

You, me.

We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time… if we keep Christ in the center of our suffering. 

 

How God Heals

When my daughter was three years old, she fell down our stairs. Her ongoing tears told me she had broken her arm. A few hours later an x-ray confirmed my deduction; she had broken both bones in her left forearm. So, we were ushered into the casting room of the orthopedic office.

I watched the tech gently slide a breathable cloth sleeve onto my daughter’s arm. Then she carefully wrapped the arm with a long strip of cotton, overlapping layers as she went, and securing some padding between my daughter’s index finger and thumb. Lastly, strips of wet fiberglass (pink, of course) were wrapped around the arm and allowed to dry to form the hard outer shell of the cast.

Lexi Marie - No Longer ThreeThis memory came to mind this morning as I was reflecting on that worn out verse that says,”[God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,”(Psalm 147:3). Clearly, this verse is talking about God healing emotional hurts, but my thoughts took me elsewhere. I thought about the healing process of physically broken and wounded people.

The casting process is multifaceted. There are several steps that have to be done in a certain order for the cast to serve it’s function in healing a bone. Casting takes precision and patience. The broken bone will heal correctly if the cast is put on correctly and left on for the correct amount of time.

I’m not up on my wound care, but it’s probably safe to say that process of healing open wounds requires similar diligence – washing, applying ointments, bandaging, taping, etc. Repeating these steps in the correct order for the correct amount of time will most likely result in healing of the skin.

Both processes are slow.

Kind of like how God heals our broken hearts and emotional wounds. Slowly.

Sometimes days and weeks and months and years may pass without us sensing that we are being healed in any way. As with the casted broken bone, all we can do is wait. There is nothing for us to do to expedite the process. God will heal our broken hearts with the fiberglass of time.

Other times we cooperate with God in the healing of our emotional wounds, daily doing our part to change bandages and apply more antiseptic. We have a role to play in our emotional healing – cleaning out closets, tossing what we don’t need, and replacing those items with things we’ve been missing all our lives. And after awhile, God heals our once festering wounds with the ointments of time and our own hard work.

All of it hurts.

But we live in a fallen world – where bones and skin sometimes break but hearts break much more frequently.

The thing about that verse, though, is that it clearly establishes God as the author of our healing. He does it. HE does it. Which means healing doesn’t originate with us. WE don’t have to figure it all out. Yes, He may ask for our cooperation in the healing process, but the power and wisdom and prerogative are all His.

We can rest.

Which, ironically, is exactly what our bodies and souls need to do when they are broken.

Who’s Laughing Now?

It’s almost laughable…how life is just one sucker punch after another.

Just when you think you’ve recovered from one crushing situation, just when you’ve gotten back up on your feet and are in a semi-upright position, another seemingly catastrophic circumstance hits you in the gut, and down you go again.

I don’t know why this surprises me. The cynic in me knows this is how life goes. The Bible even says this is how life goes, “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33). But I’m still always unprepared when another bad situation comes my way. I always act shocked.

It’s almost comical, both that the number of ridiculous events seems to grow daily and that I am always taken aback by such a reality each and every time.

I’ve made it a habit for the last 20 years to respond to hard situations with anger and sadness. Those are the default emotions, after all, so I didn’t have to try very hard to develop a pattern of responding to hardship this way. But you know what reacting like that has done for me? It has made my heart hard. It has made me captive to bitterness. It has robbed me of joy.

And so I’m wondering if a new approach would help…

I want to laugh.

The next time I get bad news, I want to laugh, not unlike Tom Hanks in the Money Pit when he starts to lose his marbles.

Go ahead and watch the clip. I’ll wait.

 

I don’t want to laugh in order to suppress any anger or sadness but, rather, as a way of saying, “I see what you’re doing there, Satan (or broken world, or sinful self – whichever the culprit might be). You haven’t caught me off guard this time. I’m not surprised by your ridiculousness. I can laugh that you continue to send your haymakers because the truth is God is not moved by your efforts to wreak havoc. He is unchanged. He is still sitting on His throne. He is still working all things together for the good of those who love Him. He is still in control of every single detail in this world. And because these are facts, I have no need to get angry or sad.”

I can laugh out of pride – boasting in the Lord that He’s going to take care of whatever mishap comes my way – and I can laugh out of joy – rejoicing that the Lord is going to take care of whatever mishap comes my way!

He’s got this. Laugh with me?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

It’s Clear Above the Clouds

If I had to guess, I’ve flown about 100 times in my life. As a military kid, flying was a way of life. Whether we were moving halfway around the world or traveling to visit extended family members we weren’t privileged to live near, I spent more time at 34,000 feet by the time I was 12 than most people do in their whole lives.

All that to say, I’m familiar with the process.

Yet, every single time I ascend in an airplane, I am filled with wonder. Good wonder, mostly. (I have bad wonder too – how do people taller than 5’6″ and more than 115 lbs use the lavatories, for instance.)

My flights Thursday and Sunday were no different. Like a child on her first flight, I peered out the oval window almost the entire time, waxing philosophical.

During the initial climbs I pondered, as I always do, how it is that the human brain came up with this extreme way to defy gravity. I imagine God was laughing as gleefully as the Wright brothers were when they finally got their contraption off the ground. The joy of creating and the thrill of invention is something God is quite familiar with.

Then, as we passed through the clouds, I thought, as I always do, how mysterious clouds are. They look so soft and fluffy, like cotton stuffing from a child’s teddy bear, yet we physically pass through them as if they are phantoms. I’m not up on the science, so perhaps that’s why it perplexes me that we can see clouds but we can’t feel clouds…

photo (2)

After we passed through the clouds, we were, as it were, above the clouds. We settled in at cruising altitude and sped across the round surface of the earth at over 600 miles per hour, but it felt like we were crawling… another enigma that always comes to mind when I’m flying.

It’s at this point I always think about how close, relatively speaking, I am to space. The clouds beneath me, the light blue sky bleeding imperceptibly into navy blue, I suppose, as a result of the dark, atmospheric blanket hugging our little world – it’s miraculous to me that the average human (astronauts not withstanding) can safely and successfully travel that far off the ground…

photo (1)These are the things that run through my mind on each and every flight I take. But that’s not it. There’s always more. I always have at least one unique revelation when I’m hurtling through the sky in awe.

(For instance, when I was 13 years old, flying alone, peering out the window, I decided the deceptive nature of clouds was a symbol for life – nothing is as it seems, and everything is a disappointing facade. I was delightful back then 🙂 )

Thursday’s flight was no different. With my forehead pressed against the plexiglass (I hope someone cleaned that before I got on the plane), staring straight out at the bluest of sky, I realized something.

It’s always clear above the clouds. 

When planes take off, assuming it isn’t an entirely clear day, they are below the clouds, and their goal is to get above the clouds to make a smooth ride for the passengers. Pilots may disagree with me, (and they certainly would be qualified to do so), but I personally have never been on a flight where we didn’t get above the clouds and discover every single time that it was clear up there.

We pass through the clouds, sometimes being unable to see anything at all and often uncomfortably bumping our way to higher elevation. But once we get up there, it’s clear… always.

And so the spiritual analogy practically writes itself.

There are real clouds in our lives. I spend most of my time living under them, fretting about the storms they potentially hold. Sometimes I climb inside them, disoriented as to which way is up, blindly searching for safe ground to return to. But rarely do I successfully navigate through them to higher, clearer, peaceful sky.

The Lord doesn’t want us to stay beneath the clouds, too afraid to deal with the painful things within us and that life has in store for us. The truth is, we can’t avoid all pain. If we don’t go through the clouds, sometimes the clouds come down to us – all the way down to the ground in a thick haze of fog.

And the Lord doesn’t want us to get stuck in the clouds – to begin to unwrap the parts of ourselves that need His healing, to begin to embrace the painful parts of life that are meant to grow us into Christ’s image – only to get turned around and fearful when confusion sets in. If we scramble back to the “safety” the ground has to offer, those clouds will still be there, looming, waiting for us to gather up the courage to try to deal with them again…

God wants us to persevere, pushing through the clouds, trusting that He is guiding us by our right hands, leading us to clear, peaceful skies above the clouds.  He wants us to trust Him with our hearts, our pain, our scary circumstances, our needs, our wants, our everything – even when we can’t see – and to allow Him to bring us to the place of His peace that surpasses understanding.

It’s not that the clouds aren’t there anymore when you’re flying at 34,000 feet. They are. You just have a different perspective on them. The storms they contain aren’t so threatening when they are below you. And when we are truly trusting God, allowing Him to infuse our hearts with His peace, the broken parts of ourselves and our lives don’t seem quite so consuming anymore.

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Isaiah 41:13