Tag Archives: isolation

The Individualist Branch

branchI consider myself a pretty blessed branch. I wasn’t always so nicely situated as I am now. I started off on the wrong side of the vineyard, growing up on a vine that just wasn’t going anywhere. Thank God He saved me from that dead-end and grafted me in to the Living Vine. Without Him I don’t know where I would be.

Of course, nothing in life comes easy. God has given me so much. The least I can do is take the potential He has invested in me and make something of it. I want to live up to His expectations and do Him proud. That’s why I pay close attention to His standards and strive for excellence in all I do. I never want Him to regret having picked me.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. … Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:1-5

After all, I understand that the point of being a branch is to bear fruit. I’d be a pretty worthless branch if I didn’t! So I make every effort to fulfill my calling. I avoid the things that would compromise my output quality, and I rise each day determined to produce the best fruit possible. I groom, discipline, and develop myself, ever pushing to squeeze out an admirable and plentiful crop.

I have come a long way from where I started, and most people looking at me would say I am an admirable success of a branch. But if they examined me closer up, they would notice the bitter or blighted fruit that often pops out on me. I scramble to cover it with my charming leaves and other presentable products, but I still know it is there. And that disturbs me.

If I’m really honest, I’d have to admit that sometimes I fake it. In some of my places I look and see no fruit at all. I know the kind of fruit He expects, but it just doesn’t automatically pop out on me like that. What’s a branch to do? So I hold out last season’s fruit, pretending like it is fresh and real. I simulate a healthy, thriving branch while all the while I know that I am shriveling from the inside out.

What’s wrong with me? What am I missing that other branches seem to get? I see them fresh and green, bearing beautiful fruit in season while I push and groan trying to pop out a few decent deeds. What do they have that I don’t?

Sometimes I suspect it might have something to do with that Stream they root themselves close to. Or perhaps the way they all cluster around the Vine gives them an extra advantage.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:9-13

But I’ve never placed much stock in going with the flow or running with the pack. I enjoy the challenge of making my own way, maintaining my freedom rather than being confined by the group. I want to bear good fruit, but I’d rather do it on my own. I’ve carried on this far with the sap-transfusion that the Vine conferred on me when He transferred me in. But perhaps that isn’t enough.

Perhaps there is something to this whole communal connection thing. I may be designed for producing fruit, but I can’t produce my own sap, too. And though I prefer connecting to the Vine in my own, personal relationship, I’m beginning to recognize that being a solitary branch falls short of His purpose for me. Only as I conform myself to the greater plant, investing myself in the other branches and allowing them to impinge on me, will we together realize our full organic potential.

If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit…
John 15:6-8

I suppose there isn’t really any room on this Vine for a stand-alone branch. If I want to stick around, I’ll need to stick closer to Him and to my fellow branches. Interdependence may strip me of my independence, but it will fill me with more of His life-giving self.

After all, fruit bearing is a team effort.

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When There are No Words

Words escape me just now.

I have spent the past few weeks immersed in the life stories of my Ugandan students, listening, reading, and responding to their experiences of pain and trauma, survival and redemption. Even as I walk through my routine of homeschooling and hospitality back home in Scotland, the echoes of their ongoing stories continue to reverberate through my soul.

They have survived genocide and rape, bullying and witchcraft. Some have witnessed their parents butchered, their siblings shot, their husbands poisoned to death. Others carry the scars of intense hunger and severe beatings, crippling poverty and abusive families, obstructed justice and oppressive social systems.

Despite attacks from every angle, these valiant men and women have carried on working, ministering, leading, and serving. On the surface they are strong and capable, but just beneath their wounds lie festering and vulnerable. Their safety and survival have depended on the ability to stow away their painful baggage. But I have assigned them to pull it all out and put it into words.

Words offer a healing release, except for when they won’t come.

Sometimes prayer is merely a groan, a feeling felt in His presence, a desire placed in His hands.

Some traumas run too deep to put into words. Some experiences are too painfully fresh to be able to stand back and formulate into rational sequences of sound. They can only be relived in images and sensations, imaginations and dreams.

And so they remain locked inside the soul, expressing their presence through irrational behaviors and unexplainable tears. Left alone they slowly suck life out of the spirit, leaving little behind but the empty shell of a once vibrant person.

I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear, like a mute, who cannot open his mouth; I have become like a man who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply. I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God.
Psalm 38:13-15

I have been there myself, walking around in my shell of a body, mechanically interacting with the people and events around me while feeling spiritually and emotionally trapped within invisible walls. Comforting comments bounced. Listening ears walked away empty. Without words to bridge the gap between my inner experience and my outer reality, I carried on a lonely, dual life, one of external performance and internal anguish.

I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.
Psalm 38:8-9

But the beautiful thing about God is that He is not limited to words. His Spirit passes through the walls of language and location and time. He is able to enter the world of our memories and emotions and commune with us there, too. He sees the images that haunt us. He hears the silent screams that reverberate through our souls. And He knows the longings that we haven’t figured out how to express.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8:23

Prayer doesn’t have to involve carefully crafted words or even coherent sentences. Sometimes it is merely a groan, a feeling felt in His presence, a desire placed in His hands.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
Romans 8:26-27

And yet prayer is also the outlet for our pain, the bridge that once again connects us to Someone outside of ourselves. It is us laying bare our broken, messy selves before God’s holy, penetrating gaze, knowing that our only hope lies in communion with Him.

jesus-weeping-277x300

Even apart from words, we can invite God’s Spirit to come into our most privately held grief and pray the right words for us. Sometimes even His intercessions go too deep to be able to express with words. He cries along with us, compassionately expressing our pain with groans of His own.

That is where I find myself now, groaning along with the Spirit on behalf of my students. Some things I have words for, specific prayers on their behalf and written replies to their assignments. But for the most part I agonize in God’s presence over all they have endured, longing for the redemption of their pain.

Thankfully, God doesn’t need my words.

Legal Aliens

Passing through U.K. customs and immigration recently, I witnessed a scene that redefined “identity crisis.” A young, middle-eastern family was pulled aside, frantically searching their many documents for whatever evidence they could muster that would convince the authorities to allow them in. Their young son sat waiting in a wheelchair while his parents helplessly pled their case with the security guard. Children’s hospital records, a scheduled follow-up appointment, legal travel documents: all fell short of gaining them entrance apart from an acceptable nationality or a valid visa.

Remembering my alien status humbles me, reminding me that I have no more right to belong than anyone else does.

I felt the weight of their rejection as I produced my dependent’s residence card and, after answering a few simple questions about my husband’s work, was casually waved through. What was the difference between us? Both of us were aliens here, yet I had immediate acceptance because of my relationship to someone else. The contrast in our life situations got me thinking about my identity.

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:12-13

The fact is that I’m an outsider. Years of crossing borders and living as a foreigner have made me deeply aware of the privilege of belonging. What locals take for granted, I cannot; so Paul’s writings about being aliens and strangers from God hit home with me. Fear of rejection. Anxiety over fitting in. Constant awareness that we live by others’ leave, a permission that can be rightfully revoked at any time.

The Syro-Phonecian mother felt it as she begged Jesus for a share in the crumb benefits that fell under the citizens’ table. The Samaritan woman resented it as she argued with Him about access rights to God. The Ethiopian eunuch struggled under the weight of it as he returned home, painfully aware of his exclusion from God’s house.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Ephesians 2:14-18

But thankfully, God’s immigration laws have changed. He has made a way for everyone to gain entrance into His kingdom. Jesus tore down the walls, opened the borders, and called out an invitation for all to come in. Medical conditions. Unemployment. Criminal record. Dodgy connections. None of these disqualify us from access to His realm, if we have a relationship with Someone on the inside. Jesus’ blood provides us with the dependent card that we need to clear security.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…
Ephesians 2:19

Experiences of exclusion make an invitation to belong all the more valuable. They also turn the tables on any sense of entitlement or superiority I may have over others. Remembering my alien status humbles me, reminding me that I have no more right to belong than anyone else does, whether that citizenship is in the kingdom of God or in a particular country on earth.

…even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”
Romans 9:24-25

As I listen to Christian reactions to the waves of immigrants seeking to gain entrance here in the U.K. and across the sea in the U.S.A., I wonder if it wouldn’t help us all to remember our true identity as aliens. We are quick to recall that we are aliens in this world, but somehow we forget that we were once aliens to the nation of God’s people, too. We have become legal citizens in His Kingdom only through the sacrificial kindness of its primary Resident. We did not deserve the insider status granted to us, nor do we have any ongoing claim to it apart from His grace. That grace does not come cheaply, nor does our citizenship come without requirements (which we consistently fail to meet), but that doesn’t stop God from welcoming us into His community.

Now we as Christians get the opportunity to live out this gospel before others in an imminently tangible way, to reflect His love to the nations who are rapidly becoming our neighbors. After all, isn’t that the commission extended to all naturalized citizens of His kingdom?

A Righteous Response to Rape

Desolate: empty, alone, grim.

The Bible chose this word to describe what became of a godly woman when she was sexually abused. Not “overcomer,” not “unshaken,” not even “rejoicing in affliction.” Just desolate. Broken. Used up. Tossed aside. Devoid of feeling, of beauty, of future, of life. The walking dead.

Extreme external reactions are mere reflections of ongoing internal realities.

Tamar hadn’t always been that way. Once upon a time she had been beautiful and regal, strong, well-spoken, and wise. She had walked the palace halls with dignity and grace, confident of her position and secure in her place. She had worn the elegant clothes that fit her station as a pure young woman, an honored daughter of the king. And she had spoken up with self-assured boldness when someone tried to treat her in a manner less dignified than she deserved.

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

“Don’t, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
2 Samuel 13:7-14

How could she have seen it coming? Amnon was her brother. She had trusted him. Their father had trusted him, too. After all, he was the one who had sent her to take care of Amnon when he claimed to be so ill. She had been there out of compassion for her brother, out of submission to her father.

What could she have done differently? She had behaved as modestly and appropriately as she knew how. She had only gone into his bedroom when he asked because he seemed too weak to get up and eat. Even when he grabbed her and she realized what he intended to do, she had kept her wits about her and tried to reason with him not to do it. She had resisted such demeaning treatment of herself, fighting with all her bodily strength when her mental strength had proved inadequate. But at the end of the day, none of that had been enough. She had failed to stop him, and now she was ruined.

Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”
“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”
But he refused to listen to her. He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.” So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her.
2 Samuel 13:15-18

Spoiled. Tarnished. Fundamentally altered. Despite her best efforts, completely against her will, her status had been changed. Her body was defiled. Her self was degraded. As a righteous woman, her soul recoiled from the idea of impurity and evil. And yet it had entered her, even if by force. It remained with her, long after the deed was done.

She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.
Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.”
2 Samuel 13:18-19

Torn robes. Ash-smeared face. Loud weeping. Public ranting. Tamar’s external reactions were merely reflections of her internal reality. Her body had been treated as if it were shameful and worthless, and her soul had gotten the message. Marred and broken on the inside, she could hardly go back to the life she had known before and pretend like everything was fine. She couldn’t be silent and spare others the horrific details of what had happened to her. She couldn’t dress her body up or treat it as if it were deserving of honor. And she couldn’t smile and socialize with her family and the others who still belonged to the club of the spotless and good.

What would become of her? Who could love her anymore? How could she live with herself? Where could she ever get rid of her disgrace?

And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.
2 Samuel 13:20

These are the heart-rending questions that any sexually exploited person, Christian or not, is left to grapple with. Simple answers and quick fixes won’t make them go away. Surface remedies only drive the issues deeper underground, stranding abuse survivors alone in their struggle. Tamar needed to be allowed to express her anguish, to lament what she had lost, to enact her body’s debasement, to hide in self-imposed exile, and to wrestle towards true resolution. She and those of us like her need to be listened to, not silenced; protected, not pushed; accepted, not conformed; and loved, not turned away.

Whose Side is God On?

This true story says it best…

Pregnant. Battered. Alone. The woman was running away, but to what? Her whole life she had been controlled by others. Sold into slavery as a girl. Carried off to a foreign country by strange owners. Forced to have sex with an already-married man. Bearing his child, but only to have to give it over at birth. Now violently humiliated by his jealous wife. She couldn’t take it anymore; she had to escape. But she had nowhere to go, no one to help her.

As the miles dragged on, her mind whirred towards the future. Who was she anyway? She was a possession, her identity completely bound up in those who owned her. Apart from them, she was just a runaway slave, the baby within her a bastard child. What future could she possibly hope for? What would become of her, of this child within her? Frazzled and shaken, she pulled off the road into a rest area.

A soothing creek ran undisturbed by the side of the road, its peaceful gurgle a welcome relief from the turmoil in her soul. She sat down to rest in solitude. But she had not gone unnoticed.

“Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
Genesis 16:8

Her heart plunged into her stomach. She had been seen! Who had come all this way in search of her? An angel! She should have known better. Abraham and Sarai were important people, very special to their God. She was carrying their baby; she herself was their property. Of course He would never let her get away with running away from them. He was on their side. He was here to protect their best interests. Was there no one out there to protect hers?

Broken and helpless, Hagar didn’t even try to resist.

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.”

Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”
Genesis 16:8-9

Naturally, God was on their side. They were the righteous ones; she was the one who was out of line. After all, she was the one who had let her pregnancy go to her head. She was just a little slave girl who had gotten cheeky with her mistress, thinking that perhaps now that she was carrying Abraham’s child she should be treated with a little more respect. Who had she been fooling, thinking that she deserved to be treated better? God would probably say that she had brought Sarai’s abuse on herself with her uppity attitude. God had made her their slave, and God was here to make sure she stayed in her place. Hagar resigned herself to her fate. Who could argue with God?

God was not there to condone her leaders’ actions. He was there because she had been wronged.

But the angel wasn’t finished. God was not there to condone her leaders’ actions. They may be His chosen people, but that did not give them the right to treat her the way they had. She, too, was His creature, made in His image and loved by Him. He was there because He had noticed her plight. He had seen her misery, and He was moved to act on her behalf.

The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”
Genesis 16:10

Had Abraham and Sarai’s God just promised a future for her? Her descendants? This was the kind of promise that He made to important people like them, not to insignificant slave girls like herself. This must just be an extension of the covenant God had already made with Abraham. It couldn’t be meant for her, personally.

The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”
Genesis 16:11-12

Incredible! God was doing this for her. He was making this promise to her, speaking directly to her with the same honor and dignity that He would later bestow on Hannah and Mary, the maidservants of the LORD. A promised son, named in advance by God. Prophecies about his future, his significance, his role.

Why would the God of her abusers do such a great thing for her? Was she really so valuable to Him that He would stand up for her and make restitution for the wrongs she had endured? But He had promised He would. He had seen her. He had come near to her and honored her with this rare glimpse of Himself. Hagar responded in faith.

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13

Counting our Blessings?

Tiff,
We sang “count your blessings” in morning prayers yesterday. There’s a line in there about “does the cross feel like a heavy burden to bear” (something like that) and prescribes counting your blessings. 
So, my question for your blog: what do we do with songs like this? Is there value in reminding people to count blessings? I remember people telling me all kinds of things that would “fix” me (more prayer, more bible study, more service to others, etc.). Some of them helped in small ways. None of them “fixed” me.

I hate to admit this, but the rebel in me wants to stand up after a song like that and read aloud Psalm 89, which begins by “recounting” God’s former blessings and promises and then abruptly jumps track and launches into a long list of all the curses that He has brought on His people. Singing about “counting your curses” might not send everyone away with a pleasant smile on their face, though.

The movement in the Psalms, and the goal in our own lives, is towards joyful praise. But the road from despair to worship often has to first pass through lament.

Songs like “Count your Blessings” often seem to downplay the reality and immensity of our troubles, sending the message that if we would just focus on the positive rather than the negative, all our problems would just go away. If only the solution were so simple! Formulaic, moralistic approaches to comfort are more likely to heap additional guilt, isolation, and wounding on a person barely managing to keep their nose above water. They don’t need another sermon; they need a life raft!

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.
Psalm 77:1-2

That being said, I do see a form of “Count your Blessings” in many of the Biblical prayers, Psalm 77 in particular. The psalmist doesn’t jump straight to the blessings, though. First he cries out his distress and troubles to God, refusing to be comforted until they have been properly addressed.

My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Psalm 77:6-9

As he considers his current misery, he verbalizes to God the horrible doubts that his recent experiences have forced him to consider. These are the disturbing questions that have been simmering under the surface, questions about the character of God and the nature of their relationship. They seem too heretical to put into words, but if he doesn’t ask them his soul will remain in turmoil and their relationship will remain unresolved.

Even as the psalmist hears the questions stated out loud, he recognizes how preposterous they are. God “forgetting” to be merciful? Unfailing love that fails?

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy.
Psalm 77:10-13

The psalmist desperately wants to get beyond despair and back into praise, but he refuses to shortcut the process and shortchange the relationship. So instead he appeals to the history of God’s dealings with His people. He chooses to remember the things God has done in the past, to count the ways He has already proven His love and shown His goodness.

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.
Psalm 77:19

Memories of God’s incredible rescues and tender mercies come flooding in. In the past when troubles overwhelmed God’s people, He always showed up and delivered them, even when they couldn’t see Him doing it. This time will be no different. Finally, his soul can be a rest again. God has been good to him, and God will once more be good to him.

The movement in the Psalms, and the goal in our own lives, is towards joyful praise. But the road from despair to worship often has to first pass through lament. Interestingly, lament rarely manages to sustain itself for too long. Once it has served its purpose, lament fades away and leaves room for gratitude. And at that point, counting our blessings is a helpful life buoy in lifting our spirits back to joy.

Heard.

Shouting. Calling out. Trying to explain. Failing to be heard. There are times when I feel that I am living out one of those vivid nightmares in which I am trapped and calling out to friends and loved ones, but no one hears me. They are so close I can see their faces as they laugh and interact with each other, but nothing I do can get them to notice my desperate plight. Am I invisible to them? Don’t they hear my silent shouts for help? Despairing and worn out from the effort, I am tempted to withdraw into the background and resign myself to being helpless and alone in my misery.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Luke 18:35-43

Bartimaeus didn’t quit shouting. Blind, helpless, without an advocate, he sat at the fringe of the crowd calling out. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Who would stop and notice his plight? Who would bring his needs to Jesus? But the people who could have walked with him to healing stopped only to obstruct his efforts. Rebuked. His complaining was disturbing their peace. Silenced. If he kept voicing his needs, they might have to be inconvenienced or get emotionally involved. Despite the callousness of their responses, Bartimaeus refused to quit crying out to Jesus. He clung to the belief that God cared, that His earthly representative would listen and respond. And He did.

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.
Psalm 10:17

Several of you have written me personally about your own experiences of being trapped and alone in the middle of hardship and grief. I have felt honored that you would entrust me with your stories, the deep, unspeakable sorrows that leave you wounded and vulnerable. I feel, though, that your voices need to be heard by more ears than just mine. What you are suffering is real. It needs to be shared with others who feel like they are alone in similar circumstances. It also needs to be heard by those who want to understand but struggle to. With your permission, I have compiled some of your quotes for all of us to hear.

All these years I’ve felt alone in my physical and emotional anguish. I felt judged for questioning the platitudes of Christianese.

You have given words to things I have been feeling for years. Perhaps these few sentences explain why I no longer feel connected to “the church”… It was not “acceptable” to have the negative feelings I felt and so I stopped sharing those feelings with people who should have loved me through. Love did not compel them to acknowledge or share my emotional realities. I want to feel connected, but don’t have any idea where to start so I just wait…

It is just hurtful when the legitimate heart ache I feel is brushed aside as though it is nothing.
 I guess I find myself withdrawing from people mostly because I have been getting lots of cliches, “God’s got a plan,” type thing. True, yes, He does. I find people minimize the entire situation… “It could be worse.” I don’t really feel like going to church anymore… Is church a place of worship–or performance?

… ‘hurt’ with me…to feel the depth of my pain and not dismiss it as if it doesn’t exist or to have had enough of me/it if I don’t bounce back in a time frame that seems ‘reasonable’… A heart that loves deeply hurts deeply. If we can’t ache and suffer honestly with the body then who can we do it with?

The people who have made me feel most cared for in times of difficulty have been the ones who are willing to really listen, to find out how my heart is, not just the facts of the situation. Really walking with someone through a trial takes time, but we are called to bear one another’s burdens, to lean in and hear them, not rush off to the next thing. I think the Holy Spirit will prompt us as to who needs our care and when, if we are sensitive to His leading.

I think this…we have to WANT to show love in this way…a way that is foreign and uncomfortable to some…

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
Psalm 116:1-2

When Joy is Wrong

“Stop telling me why I shouldn’t hurt. Since when did that help anyone? Listen to the roar of the pain, the rage, the frustration, the disappointment churning deep within me. Don’t ignore my agony. Acknowledge that it is real. Don’t leave me alone in it. Hurt with me. Don’t mock me with simple solutions. Wrestle with me. Don’t silence me with platitudes. Make space for my lament.”

I know I shouldn’t be, but I have been surprised by the number of wounded individuals who have responded to the raw, unresolved pain of my last post with stories of their own suppressed suffering. I say suppressed because for many of them, well-intentioned Christian “comforters” have compounded their pain, not alleviated it; praise-filled church services have crushed their spirits, not lifted them. What’s wrong with this picture?

I suspect that many Christians are too threatened by the immensity of pain to be able to engage it. It scares them, because if they look it straight in the face, they might lose their joy, might start to question God’s goodness, might even be in danger of losing their faith! So they escape into exciting praise songs, testimonies with happy endings, and repeated reminders to be thankful and joyful all the time. But where does that leave the wounded? Out in the cold. Isolated, hurt, and now with a generous serving of guilt on top.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Psalm 137:1-3

The Jewish exiles shared a similar experience. Their homes pillaged and burned, their loved ones raped and murdered, their temple desecrated, their country destroyed, and themselves hauled off as helpless captives, they sat in the prison of a strange, scary place with nothing but the painful memories of all they had lost. Traumatized. Grieving. Broken. Their hands hung limp. Their harps hung unused.

There are times when songs of joy are just wrong, when cries of lament are the truest form of worship.

As if that weren’t enough, their captors came around to taunt them. “Sing us one of your praise choruses! You know, the catchy tunes you used to sing back home.” Worse than another blow to the body, this kind of torment violated their souls. It made a mockery of their pain, requiring them to pretend that nothing had happened and that everything was fine.

The exiles did not give in to the pressure. They refused to join the farce, to surrender the last few shreds of dignity they had left. How could they enact the lie of being joyful when they were anything but? Instead they used their voices to express their agony over the horrors they had endured. They called on God to remember all that had happened to them, and not to forget it until He had made it right. God did not condemn them for refusing to be joyful at that moment. Rather, He recorded their laments for our benefit.

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell…
Psalm 137:4-7

There are times when joy is just wrong, when faking praise only further isolates us from God. There are seasons when lament is the truest form of worship, the only honest way we can relate to God. This is not a permanent state, but rather a necessary stage on the road back to joy.

Embedded within the New Testament calls to “be joyful in hope”(Rom. 12:12) and to “rejoice with those who rejoice”(Rom. 12:15) is also a reminder to “mourn with those who mourn”(Rom. 12:15). Whether we find ourselves currently in a season of celebration or in a season of despair, love compels us to acknowledge and share in each other’s emotional realities. Compassionate tears. Shared laughter. Heart-rending cries for mercy. Heart-filled songs of praise. This is the stuff that binds us together as the church, with our weeping, worshipping Savior at the core.