Tag Archives: experience

Walking a Mile in God’s Shoes

Jeremiah_14Last spring I spent four days in agony. My food suddenly seemed dry and tasteless. My knees trembled with weakness. And my heart felt like lead in my chest. Day and night, waking or sleeping, all I could think about was what 200 girls in Nigeria were currently experiencing. I could feel their terror as brutal men surrounded them. I could feel their pleas for help, their forced captivity, their dominated bodies, their broken spirits, and their forever altered reality.

As the weekend progressed, I became more and more trapped in their experience, unable to shake myself free from the overwhelming pain of what they were going through. I couldn’t explain why it was so personal for me. I didn’t know any of those girls, nor had Nigeria been on my radar before that. But of all the news events and world crises that daily flit across my computer screen, this was one with which I was involuntarily but inextricably bound.

I wept on their behalf. I pleaded with God as though what was happening to their bodies was being done to mine. I read the Scriptures searching for answers to their dilemma. I sat in church feeling torn between two worlds, my body in a peaceful sanctuary while my soul was tossed about in the backwoods of Nigeria, denied access to the altar of God and forced into subservience to a cruel tyrant.

Why was I feeling this way? As I tried to make sense of it with my husband, it became increasingly clear to both of us that, for whatever reason, this was a prophetic burden God was giving me to carry.

God’s children stand in the gap between
human experience and divine perspective.

When I look back on God’s people through the ages, I see that I am not alone in this odd experience. Earthy farmers and holy priests, young boys and elderly widows, seasoned apostles and inexperienced girls have walked this path ahead of me, bearing the yoke of standing in the gap between human experience and divine perspective.

“Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief.
Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people; it is against all the princes of Israel. They are thrown to the sword along with my people. Therefore beat your breast.
Ezekiel 21:6, 12

But what I still struggle to understand is the prophetic role of feelings, whether privately endured or publicly enacted. Why did Ezekiel have to experience the discomfort and defilement of lying on his side for days on end, eating bread baked over poop? Worse yet, why did he have to go through the agony of losing his wife without even being allowed to mourn her death? This wasn’t a little demonstration that would be over in a day or two. It was real and permanently life altering. So was Hosea’s assignment to marry and raise kids with a woman who would repeatedly cheat on him.

But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.
Jeremiah 13:17

What is accomplished by simply feeling prophetic pain? I see the point in Ezekiel’s experiences portraying messages for others to receive or in Jeremiah’s tears moving him to intercede on behalf of other people. But how do I explain the times when God overwhelms a prophet with feelings that have no apparent product?

God gives us the chance to
walk a mile in His shoes.

I am beginning to suspect that God wants company. He wants some of His people to get Him, to understand how He feels about the events He constantly witnesses on earth. Even the relatively few crises that flit across my computer screen overwhelm me, and yet I can switch them off and go process my feelings with a friend. With whom does the Triune God who unceasingly watches over the earth share His heart?

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
Psalm 22:7-17

He invites us to share bits of it with Him. He grants us the privilege of getting to peek through His eyes, to walk a mile in His shoes, to share in His story. This is what I think was happening with David when he wrote the prophetic psalms depicting what Jesus would later experience on the cross. And yet David wrote them in the first person. Somehow he himself was sampling the bitter agony of the cup that Jesus would come and drink down to its dregs.

Somehow I think this is the privileged yoke that God has been giving me to bear on behalf of His persecuted people in Nigeria. For a short period of time last spring I got to feel His grief over them from afar. And now, for reasons beyond my current understanding, the Lord has opened the door for me to go and be His mouthpiece in their midst. Next week I will be in Abuja teaching Spiritual Formation to a class of mature Christian leaders from all over Nigeria. And the following week I have been asked by the Bishop of Kontagora (for whom I once had the privilege of opening a different sort of door) to travel through his diocese encouraging the Christians there, particularly those displaced by Boko Haram’s violent regime.

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. … “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:11-16

I have no certainty in what will be accomplished through my presence in Nigeria and no confidence in my ability to make God’s plans succeed. But I do see God’s hand at work. And so in the heritage of God’s servants past and present, I offer myself to Him, body, heart, and mind, to use as He pleases.

Only time will reveal what God has in mind.

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My bit of the story…

This time last year I was furiously finishing up writing a book on shame, wondering what next God would lead me to do. Was it time to launch a more public speaking ministry, or should I pursue a more academic track by doing that postgraduate degree down in Edinburgh? The last thing on my radar was writing a blog. I don’t even like blogs!

But what I intended as a sacrificial labor of love for others has turned out to be a blessed source of nurture and growth for myself. My motivation in writing is to address those topics that we often feel are too messy to have anything to do with God. We are comfortable confining them within the sterile walls of a counselor’s office, but we don’t know how to take them to church, to the Scriptures, or into God’s presence.

Writing this blog has taken me beyond just privately relating with God through the ups and downs of my own life to having to put into coherent words what it looks like to live the full range of human emotion and experiences coram deo, before the light of His face. More than anything, I want to capture a perspective of how He sees us: how our struggles make sense in light of His ongoing story, how His eternal story infuses meaning into our everyday experience.

We are part of an ongoing story, with God as the author, us as the characters, and our daily lives as the stage on which He is playing out a grand metanarrative.

The cerebral part of me far prefers doing theology “from above,” losing myself in lofty thoughts about the nature of God and His creative brilliance in littering His natural and written revelation with symbols and themes that point to heavenly realities. But living with my feet planted on earth—my soul splattered with its muck and my hands dirtied with its troubles—has forced me to take my theology to the bathroom. Who God is must be relevant to how I navigate even the most unpleasant or mundane of earthly circumstances. And actually, as I have learned to look more honestly at His Word, I’ve been delightfully surprised to discover just how “earthy” He can be.

Narrative theology has continued to unlock the Scriptures for me, meandering like a flexible stream through eternal truth and unpredictable experience, pristine worship and scrappy struggle, heavenly reality and earthly reflection. It is painful but rewarding labor to perpetually lay distressing human realities on the table next to my Bible and go looking for what God has to say about them. At the same time, it is a joyful act of worship to be able to discover His current awareness through His past interaction with people living the same kind of stories.

I have come to view life and read Scripture through the lens of an ongoing story, with God as the author, us as the characters, and our daily lives as the stage on which He is playing out a grand metanarrative that culminates in our shared glory. If you have wondered about my blog category called “Defining Metanarratives,” it is where I stick those posts that have attempted to retell that overarching story from different angles. This is the big story that makes sense of all our little stories.

Experiencing our little stories is what enables us to participate in His big story.

At the same time, experiencing our little stories is what enables us to participate in His big story. Taking the time to reflect both psychologically and theologically on my own past experiences and others’ ongoing struggles has deepened my appreciation of a God who has written Himself into such a convoluted, bitter-sweet plot line. And, in a roundabout way, it has trained me for the next step in my own story.

Later this month I will be travelling to Uganda to teach a masters-level class on spiritual formation. As I have spent this summer preparing for the course, I have been repeatedly struck with the pleasant realization that the massive amounts of reflection and writing I have invested in this blog over the past year have also been equipping me to teach Christian leaders in the developing world. I look forward to the privilege of getting to be a part of their stories as they bring God’s kingdom to their corner of the globe.

Because of this delightful addition to my workload, I am planning to scale back the frequency of my blog posts to once a week. I would rather sustain quality over quantity. I pray God will use what I have written and guide what I keep writing to help you experience your role in His story. It’s a joy to be living it with you.