When Brutality Smashes Into Grace

photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr
photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr

“Or God disciplines people with pain on their sickbeds,
with ceaseless aching in their bones.” 

Job 33:19, NLT

“Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.  Your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt.” 

Rick Warren

There really is not anything I can say about your pain that will make you feel better.  Words and counsel are almost always pathetically weak. Many will want to speak to you, they mean well, but seem to lack authenticity and wisdom.

Pain, in every way is always evil and dark.  I have friends who struggle with migraines, and others with Lou Gehrig disease.  A few friends have been incredibly injured, with bad disabilities.  Some have severe diabetes and one has a degenerative hip syndrome.  A dear elderly saint is in her later stages of Alzheimer’s. One of my friends has cerebral palsy. I had very close friend who just died with colon cancer.  Pain has been a constant companion to them. It is a definite issue.  And yet, there are also terrible mental disorders– and vicious schizophrenia, depression, and frightening paranoia that cripples them, they need medication.

We who hurt deeply, have an option of growing into gentle people.  Gentleness is not a given, in so many ways it is earned.  Not in the sense of attaining something, but “experiencing” something.  Our pain drips down on us while we sleep, and we discover we start caring about others, which is new.  Tears of love, mercy and grace begin to flow, often coming after years of stoic hardness.

“Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings.” 

Exodus 3:7

Having to live for the rest of your normal life with this pain can be horrifying, and incomprehensible.

God’s grace does meet us, we find.  But there are some moments of empty desperation.  So few understand, and even fewer can help.  Some have asked me if I had the faith to be healed.  But, doesn’t it take just as much faith to be ill? Think about it.

If you had never known afflictions in your own life, how do you think that you can touch those ‘nail-scarred’ hands which Jesus meets you with?  And the apostles, and all those martyrs from every generation in an unbroken line of suffering.  Grace grows considerably faster from a bed of pain.  It has our Father’s “Miracle Grow” in it.

Some should try to readjust themselves.  Faith doesn’t always lead us to sweet victory; but it does lead us to obedience.  And when it grows this way, sometimes victory will come.  But our Father places such a premium price on our obedience.  When we hurt, we grow.

“Ah, afflicted one, your disabilities were meant to unite with God’s enablings, your weakness to combine with His power. God’s grace is at hand –sufficient– and at its best when human weakness is most profound. Appropriate it and learn that those who wait on God are stronger in their weakness than the sons of men in their stoutest health and vigor.”

F.B. Meyer

“He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Aeschylus

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Recalling the Daily Grind

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“I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit;
I have become like a man without strength,

Psalm 88:4

In May 2011, this is what I wrote–

“I feel like I am going through a meat grinder. Pushed against my will (and desire) I’m finding myself in a place I’d rather not be. My therapist confirmed today that I’m in a “mixed state” where bipolar mania and depression come together.  I compare it to two massive ocean currents smashing into each other.  (please Google, “mixed state”).

I’ve been into this state for just two weeks and the urge to commit suicide is starting to become surprisingly strong. For my own safety, I’m almost thinking that it maybe time to go to the hospital again.  I must tell you that these are places that you really don’t want to go if you don’t have to.  (FYI, my particular choice is Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. It’s actually a somewhat “nicer” degree of miserable, and they have cooler art.)

I also get paranoid that people are attacking me and are plotting to ruin me. I am quite  suspicious of Facebook and my depression chat. I believe that the people that I encounter there are trying to get at me behind my back. Social networking with these type of services can be a nightmare.

But, then there is also the grandiosity. I believe that I think clearer, better, and faster than other people. It’s like I have superpowers.  I will think of myself as extremely gifted, superior to others.  I paint and write poetry and do “noble” things.

But I also have tremendous anxiety, with racing thoughts, and even heart palpitations esp. when I am sitting trying to relax. I don’t sleep well at all, in spite of the sleeping pill, the Klonopin and the melatonin, and the Benadryl, (to make sure I do sleep).

I continue to take my psych meds like a good boy. But they don’t seem to work like they used to. I think they can’t handle this particular concoction of depression/mania.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting better, but I never seem to get well.

The endless cycle of feeling really good and then feeling really bad is a challenging thing.  It is difficult to have a stable walk of discipleship under these circumstances.  I think being starkly honest and broken over my own fallenness is the key for me. (Now if I can only remember this.)

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I know that I’m being very blunt here. Tact has never been an easy thing. As I read I remember the struggle, and how I couldn’t see a way out. I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who led me when no one else could. I wrote this post some time ag0. I’ve been reasonably stable, but I’m certain that putting it up now maybe timely for some. I’m in a better frame of mind the last several months.

 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Romans 5:6

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Bragging Rights

 

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“Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am.”

2 Corinthians 12:8-9

This is a very crisp idea, Paul flips things upside down and then gives it a shake.  His attention is directed at bringing clarity and understanding about these issues of pain, weakness and conflict.  There is an understanding that Paul passes on that has personally worked its way through his own heart.  Truth that has taken that pathway is very precious.

Paul shares a conversation he had with the Lord Himself.  It really does seem that this subject was a continual topic between them.  He mentions it to Jesus three different times.  This tells me,  that suffering and pain are issues where it’s hard to get resolution.  When we hurt, we want Jesus to intervene, asap.  It is a real riddle to us, “Why am not healed?”

It seems to me that Paul comes to the point over and over and its not resolved to his satisfaction.  When the Lord does bring Paul to an understanding; it is basically the whole dynamic of the Christian experience.  And it is this, when a believer is sick, or weak–it’s then the strength and power of Jesus can be accessed.  Simply put–No pain, no power.

Paul ‘begged’ for resolution, and the ultimate response was the Lord was showing him the secret for his strength was in that presence of pain.  It gave him a power and force and might that he would not have otherwise.  Now Paul had a very intense ministry.  He would deal with issues and conflicts that would shrivel up most believers.  The list is long (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) and painful.  But the gist of it was Paul being abused and attacked by other people, over and over.

Paul had to have an extra boost to fulfill his ministry.  He needed affliction and weakness to connect him to a  huge ‘underground river’ of grace and love that flowed under his feet unseen and unknown.  The difficulties that Paul dealt with were actually what propelled him in his ministry.

There can be no power without pain; no discipleship without some kind of ‘disability.’

Paul tells the truth, “I boast in my weaknesses.  Just tap me into His power”.  Trials are the power outlet for the believer.  When he says things like that, it is good to pay attention.  The earnestness of Paul’s language in these verses gives us a sense of what is real, and how we should trust these ideas, as we are propelled into our ministry to the Lord.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.” –Mike Yaconelli

 

 

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Blood in the Water

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It’s a well known fact. Biologists tell us that sharks can smell blood from 2-3 miles away. They follow their noses to the place where they sense it. They have an ‘attack mechanism’ to anything that is vulnerable. Blood acts as a trigger inside their brains. Occasionally dozens of sharks attack in a feeding frenzy that can be pretty horrific.

Almost 30 years in the Church has taught me that sharks aren’t the only ones that turn on the wounded. The Church was supposed to be a safe and a healing place. This is what the Holy Spirit wants. That isn’t always the case.

Someone fails, another falters. Sin is uncovered and everyone takes cover. Many people who could have been restored are instead trampled down. There are many who would rather kick than pray. There is almost always an escalation that creates even more blood in the water.

There are many who bleed. Those with a mental illness, or confined to a wheelchair, or with Downs Syndrome. The developmentally disabled, the drunk, the addict, the divorced, the adulterer, the homosexual, and the poor, the ex-con are just several kinds of people that regularly get hurt in our churches.

“God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.”

Matthew 5:7, NLT

Mercy is what God extends to people who don’t deserve any. Failure to understand God’s deep penchant for mercy is the first step into religious confusion. Keep in mind that the Prodigal’s older brother refused to party with the forgiven son. How terribly sad.

In theory, we agree. We find tremendous inspiration when this verse is read. But the noble feelings do not always translate well into dedicated action. I have come to see that I must consciously press this into action. I must actively show mercy for the healing of others– and to protect my own heart.

The Kingdom of God is designed for losers; you could say it exists for the sick, the infirm, the sinner.

The Great Physician has come for the sick– and not so much for the healthy. He loves each of us, but cares in different ways.

If there is blood in the water, let’s turn it up a notch, and show special mercy for those who are struggling. Let us be kinder than we have to be. If we err— let us always err on the side of mercy and kindness.

Father, please help me be full of mercy as I touch those who are in pain. I ask that you would make me sensitive and alert to each one on this path. –Amen.

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