Do not lose heart

Running is the worst.

I get it if there is a specific purpose in mind—a child is headed for the road and a life has to be saved, a fast break in basketball and you just want to score.

I ran somewhat unintentionally two days ago and I’m still hurting, the good kind of sore they say.

Running just to run is not my thing.

My brain apparently loves running and not the kind that’s good for you.

It’s the kind that starts the moment the light in the bedroom goes off and a weary, worn body is just ready for rest. It is that kind that begins when all else is ready to drift away and find some type of restoration before another day starts.

You might even call it racing.

It is when I purposely try to slow the onslaught of thought, of worry. Every thing that seemed manageable—though perhaps barely—during clear-eyed, daylight hours is suddenly an insurmountable obstacle or an event that will cause my demise or perhaps my offspring’s demise.

In the dark hours be they night or early morning, it is as if my mind cannot see the light, any clear way out. Logical, thoughtful response has scattered and left me groping and fearful in the mystery of all that could be.

I will attempt to focus and quote scripture to myself, particularly that part about renewing my mind. I will pray and grasp for God’s peace. Yet it seems so very far.

My child is not yet home and it is storming and roads are slick. What if there is a wreck? What if she injured? 

My mouth is sore and achy. What if that tooth is infected and I wake to swollen jaw and excruciating pain? What if the antibiotic doesn’t work? What if it has to be removed?

What if the lady from the car wreck decides to sue?What if he doesn’t get this job?What if she’s pregnant? What if he does get that job? What if someone hurts him? What if a dictator attacks with nuclear weapons? What if someone brings a gun to my kid’s school?

I could never win a marathon but my mind will out run the best of them. It is absurdly fast and veers off the tracks of the rational with the flip of the light switch.

Scary hypotheticals abound and my mind won’t stop running.

I want peace. I am asking for it, for just a piece of His grace in that moment. He tells us that He will not give more than we can handle. He will never leave us or forsake us. Why do I feel forsaken?

Last week my brother preached on Ephesians 3.

Paul expounded on God’s mysteries.

I thought of Paul’s joy and grace and love for those he’s ministering to, writing to. He talks of the unsearchable riches of Christ, hidden in God.

I do not want them hidden! Please reveal them to me in the dark moments.

Paul was encouraging, revealing, worshipping. Then I read and remember in verse 1 that he was doing all of this FROM PRISON.

He was there in the midst of tribulations telling everyone else to not lose heart. This is the peace I am looking for. This is the piece of His presence that I need in dark hours.

Not only am I not in prison.

My child was not in a wreck.

My tooth is not infected.

No one brought a gun to my child’s school today.

Fully reliant on God’s presence, he was not sitting somewhere quietly writing about what would happen if he got thrown in prison or if he got snake bit or if he got shipwrecked.

He did. And God was enough, more than enough.

That is how, that is why Paul could write words like these while he sat in a prison cell:

“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;  to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,  in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”

He is asking that his brothers and sisters not lose heart while he suffers.

I am losing heart while not actually suffering, putting myself in the middle of every imaginable scenario.

Oh heart ache.

There it is again. Me, in the middle. A place I frequent so much you’d think it’d be recognizable by now.

One of my favorite quotes springs to mind: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” ~Donald Miller

What a whopper it is. It is the lie I battle every single day.

This is not my story.

It is all His story.

This is not about me. Putting ‘me’ into every circumstance that I am not actually in is actually pride, vanity.

This does not mean those things could not or will not come. We are in fact promised that the suffering will come. The moments of life that I was in true trouble, God graciously stripped away every earthly solution. When it wasn’t a ‘what if’ scenario, it was the real heartbreak, God was absolutely, unshakably faithful. This is the mystery of what is.

I could bear the moment because I was in it and He was as well. There was no more searching for solution elsewhere, no more self-reliance.

It is the complete removal of me.With that was freedom to focus solely on Him and He has endured it all and then more.

Roman lawyer and orator Cicero said: “There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” He was talking about crucifixion.

Jesus did not imagine that things were bad. They were. As he approached death, He even asked if there was another way. Stripped, beaten, nailed, butchered mercilessly with forgiveness on his very lips. And His story did not end with death and defeat.

Thank God this is His story and not my own. That He is faithful in the moment. That when it comes time to rely on Him He has endured it all and more.

Paul was free from himself, focused on bringing that same relief to all those who would follow in the faith.

I read on to the final verses of chapter 3 relinquishing the what ifs and holding fast to what is:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

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the thorn isn’t leaving

I look for tidy answers to tiring days. Those long days, moments discouraging seem to run me down, even during what should be sabbath rest. It’s as if attacks are more prevalent when we’ve celebrated worship, rejoiced in The Victory. I can run down lists of all the ways the kids are awry and how I long for it to be made right. Running down the list though is more like running down the kids, pointing out flaws. The consequential sting spreads and aches and I swell hurt. I recognize myself. These short comings and failures are equally my own.

So I look for happy, quick-fix answers.

There is a verse for this somewhere, some devotional that tells me I am not a bad parent. They will “get it” and grow up and be kind and love others, even their own siblings. My own weaknesses overwhelm those thoughts and I recall 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul receiving the not necessarily quick-fix answer in the face of fleshy thorns, trials, hurts, longings for those he’s been striving to bring along in the faith.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (NKJV)

I have plenty of that last part to go around. So if it’s made perfect here, He’s made perfect in this weak fleshy moment of mine and my kids, where is it? When is it becoming perfection? How do I see it?

I know it is true and authentic and applicable today. I believe it is true. Is this the faith without sight? Because it doesn’t look like strength is abounding when a child says they are no longer sure they believe. It doesn’t feel like strength when tempers flare, egos swell, and no one “likes” each other anymore.

Perhaps this isn’t a simple solution I am offered. Maybe underneath that isn’t what I am really seeking, or more importantly really need. The need is to first acknowledge the need, for the need to fulfill the intended purpose and drive me to that intimate space, that quiet where I meet Strength. How else is anything made perfect? Flare prayer with instant results would not teach or train or accomplish heart mending at deepest levels for the long term. It would only be instant gratification and a moment fixed in a world overflowing with these things. And those are not the things that last.

I need to need Him, to long for Him, to ache for repair and the repair begins here when I meet Strength. I only begin to glimpse that as I go to my knees in these times, the times when I recognize I cannot do this. The shortcomings fall long and failures pound me down to the earth.

This is where I find Him.

We all want the simple, smooth answers. We request ________, He grants__________.

The simple. The slick.

I think relationships that only exist this way may not actually be relationships. Could this God who is relationship in and of Himself, possibly want more from and for His children? The gritty, zipper-stuck-push-and-pull of a true knowing, true relationship. He isn’t content to leave me slick and falsely satisfied. We aren’t moving on without the knowing that comes in the struggle, the gritty moments.

Consider those you truly love, truly know. Not the idols, the idealized versions of someone you think you want to know. Knowing comes with that rub, the rubbing off of the rough edges, the changing one another.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (ESV) Proverbs 27 tells us for a reason. That sharpening means we are having the dull, the useless parts filed away. It does not feel good. It does, however, accomplish His purpose.

God wants us here. This is where, this is when we know Him. When we know strength.

Here, bowed low, I find immediate relief and strength for the moment. When I recognize that this too is in a sovereign plan, I can breathe. When I remember  Strength was truly perfect the moment He went up on a cross, that moment when onlookers only saw weakness, I can know it isn’t all on me. I am not alone and there is a work in progress—in them, in me.

It is the Jacob wrestling the angel reality, the push and pull for souls in Sodom. It is Paul pleading repeatedly to have this thorn removed.

Paul receives that answer. This thorn is not leaving. This particular trial is necessary now for humility, for purpose accomplished. So Paul leads by example, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (ESV)

There is no other way to truly know Him, unless we know Him in the struggle. When we can wrestle and then declare His grace all sufficient. When bad is worse and He is still more than enough, it is only then that we do know.

When it doesn’t look like strength, when it doesn’t feel like strength, I have to let go of the perception and hold fast to the reality of God.

I hold fast to the God who knows me and is enough.