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Category: Facing Opposition

No, God Is Not Always There …

No, God Is Not Always There …

 

As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.

Somewhere in our Christian culture we have been inundated with the false idea that God never leaves us.  We somehow cling to the “footprints in the sand” concept that when it feels like we are all alone God was really there carrying us all along.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people emotionally declare with the utmost conviction that God will never leave us—he’s always there.  That’s fine for them, I suppose.  Yet I can’t tell you how hurtful it feels to hear someone say that when your reality is that you are completely alone, treading water in the middle of a stormy sea.  As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment during my lifelong struggle with lung disease and life on a feeding tube, has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.  And yet I remain faithful.

If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone. 

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone.  You have to let them struggle.  If the child is always clinging to her father in the deep end of the swimming pool or wearing a life jacket, how will she ever learn to swim?  If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?  If the toddler never lets go of his mother’s hand he’ll never learn to walk.  Of course God leaves us to struggle on our own best efforts at times.  Does that make him a cruel and merciless God?  Absolutely not.  Indeed, true cruelty is to molly-coddle us, never allowing us to experience true growth.

… one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds

We have a family cabin near Yellowstone Park, Wyoming.  It sits in the midst of many tall, lodge pole pines.  For many years there was one particular lodge pole pine that seemed taller and straighter than the rest.  It was situated right on the bank of a small creek running through the property.  The waters of the creek provided constant nourishment for the tree and greatly aided its tremendous growth.  For dozens of years, perhaps more than a hundred years, this tree stood on the banks of the creek looking down upon all the other pine trees.  But then one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds (and, unfortunately, causing it to land on our family cabin).

The tree was taller and straighter than the rest.

How could something so seemingly strong and resolute be taken down so suddenly?  How could something so seemingly superior to those around it be the one to fall?   It’s because in all its years of growth the tree was never far from its source of strength and nourishment.  The constant supply of water had actually weakened its root system.  Unlike all the other isolated pines around it, which were forced to dig their roots deeper for strength and nourishment, this stream bank tree grew upward but did not have to sink its roots downward, for there was a constant and cripplingly convenient supply of water right there on the banks of the stream.  The source of its strength had actually become its weakness.

Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver. 

Like the strong trees that survived the microburst winds, strong people need to be left on their own.  Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver.  What we learn about ourselves and the growth that we achieve in those moments of being “forsaken” can sustain us throughout this stormy life.

While I do not reject the idea that God sometimes carries us along unawares, to believe that God never leaves us to struggle and suffer on our own is sheer nonsense.  Yes, God will forsake us.  “God[] … trieth our hearts.”  (1 Thessalonians 2:4.)  God “chasteneth” and “scourgeth” us.  (Hebrews 12:6.)  In his great wisdom and mercy he sometimes leaves us alone.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.

Suffering brings you into fellowship with Christ.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.  “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps[.]”   (1 Peter 2:21.)  In other words, we must suffer with Christ, which means we, too, will be forsaken as he was forsaken.  (Matthew 27:46.)  Thus, when—not if, but when—you are forsaken, you should “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings[.]”  (1 Peter 4:12.)   Abandonment is a sign of spiritual progress.  It’s a sign you’ve made the big leagues.  It’s part of what brings you into fellowship with Christ.

This forsaking is a manifestation of God’s love.  It’s a token of his trust.  Mom and Dad won’t leave you home alone unless they think you can handle it.  With God it’s no different.  And yet, just as the father is never too far from the wobbling bike or the edge of the deep end, so, too, is our Father ever near and ever watching.  Though he, in his great wisdom and mercy, deliberately leaves you alone when he thinks you can handle it or, perhaps, when you need growth; to be forsaken does not mean to be forgotten.  He hears your cries for help.  But sometimes he ignores them for your own good.

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.

 

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.  He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee (even though to us mortals a “skinned knee” may come in the form of lung disease or gastric paralysis).  He’ll let you struggle to keep your head above water and watch you struggle with all your might to make it to the other side of the pool.  And he’ll be there to embrace you in the end. Though you are, at times, truly “forsaken,” you are never forgotten.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee ….

 

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We'll Miss Making Him Smile
We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

My little friend and fellow tube feeder passed away a few days ago.  His name was Gabe (short for Gabriel).  Gabe had a very difficult life.  Born several months premature, his brain didn’t develop normally.  Burdened with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, epilepsy and a host of other major health problems, Gabe also suffered from the inability to eat or swallow food.  Hence, he was a tube feeder like me.  He was only with us for shortly beyond half a decade.  Yet, in those 2003 days, he taught us all so much.  His angel mother, noble father and loving brothers and sisters taught us even more.

At Gabe’s funeral on Friday, Nanette, his mother, told the story of how Gabe’s older brother, Samuel, said he would miss Gabe’s smile.  Nanette, trying to offer Sam comfort said, “You’ll still see his smile in our pictures, in our videos and in your heart.”  Sam replied, “No, mom, what I mean is that I will miss making Gabe smile.”

What did this beautiful family learn in the 5.48 years of sleepless nights; through all of the vomiting, retching, and convulsing; after five solid years of changing diapers; with all of the carrying, lifting, and transferring … in and out of bed … in and out of the chair … in and out of the bath … on and off the exam tables … in and out of their arms; after more trips to the emergency room, the doctors’ offices, and the hospitals … more than you or I could ever comprehend; with no rest, no reprieve, no grand vacations?  They learned the wisdom of the ages.  It’s in giving that we receive.  It’s in building others that we’re built.  It’s in lifting that we’re lifted.  It’s in giving away our love that it’s received … and retained.  This wonderful family didn’t just teach this from the pulpit at the funeral on Friday.  They have been teaching those of us who know them for years now.

Despite all of their challenges, you would struggle to find a happier family.  Rarely did I ever see one of Gabe’s brothers or sisters without a smile.  They are living examples of the thesis that our happiness depends not upon what circumstance does to us but upon what we do with our circumstances.

Gabe’s family, which includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., has corroborated the thesis of the Dalai Lama, who said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  And of Confucius, who taught, “He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.”  And of Kahlil Gibran: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.  I woke and I saw that life is all service.  I served and I saw that service is joy.”  And, of course, the central message of Jesus from Nazareth is confirmed, as well:  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  (Matthew 10:38-39.)

Gabe and family, thank you for reminding us that a life of suffering is not about what you can learn but what you can teach.  And thank you for teaching us all that all happiness is a choice—the choice to personify Love regardless of circumstance.

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a Decision

Faith is a decision.  It’s the decision to keep loving, to keep being kind, to be patient, to think of others, and to do your best to follow Jesus, regardless of your circumstances, regardless of your trials, despite how you feel, and despite opposition.  It’s moving forward.  It’s being the person you know you’re supposed to be … without waiting. So many people wait.  They say, “I can be kinder when ….”  They say, “I will be able to give when ….”  And then they point to circumstances, situations or people that allegedly hold them back as the justification for holding back.  Faith doesn’t wait.  It acts even though the circumstances aren’t ideal, even though there’s opposition, even though there is less than perfect understanding, even though there is doubt.

I feel terrible on most days.  With a paralyzed stomach and gastrointestinal system, you constantly feel nauseous, bloated and gross.  I have constant chronic nerve pain from my malnutrition.  The vertebrae in my back grind on each other–sometimes with every move.  It would be so easy for me to wait.  It would be so easy to say, “I can be kinder when … I feel better.”  It would be so easy to say, “I’ll be able to give when … I’m not so sick.”  But when you realize you may never be free from nausea, sickness and pain, you realize that you either must move forward and push through the obstacles or sit and let the obstacles hold you back.  You also realize that there will always be obstacles.  But you have to move forward.  You have to keep living.

You don’t have the option to say, “I’ll be a father when ….”

You don’t have the option to say, “I’ll go to work when ….”

You don’t have the option to say, “I’ll be a good husband when ….”

You play with the kids … when you’re sick.

You go to work … when your insides are bubbling like a cauldron.

You go on walks with and listen to your wife … when you feel like puking.

You go on with life.  You choose to live.  Despite how you feel.  Faith is the decision to push through and do the things you know you need to do and be the person you know you need to be.  It eliminates excuses.  It runs from rationalizations.  It hides from hesitation. Jesus was well aware of our human tendency to wait for things to be ideal and convenient.  But fair weather discipleship is not discipleship at all, as we learn from this account in Matthew 8:

18 Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.

19 And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.

20 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.

22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

What did Jesus mean when he said to the excuse-maker “let the dead bury their dead?”  I think one possible meaning is that if you choose to let circumstance hold you back, you are not living.  You might as well be dead.  If you choose to let the inevitable obstacles of life prevent you from getting on with your discipleship, from doing what you need to do, from being who you need to be, you’re not living.

So reach deep down inside and stop making excuses.  Don’t wait for the sun to shine.  Don’t wait until you feel better.  Don’t wait until the clouds have parted.  Don’t wait until you understand everything perfectly.  Don’t wait until all of your fears or worries are resolved.  Just get on with it.  Move forward, even if you don’t know why, even if you don’t know whether it will work.  Have the courage to do what you need to do and be who you need to be, despite how you feel and in spite of your circumstances.  That, my friend, is faith.  THAT is what moves mountains.

 

You Will See Me Rise

You Will See Me Rise

2016-07-8--23-18-41

You Will See Me Rise

As I sit here in my hotel room on Whitley Bay, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, watching the sun rise over the North Sea, nibbling on some animal crackers I brought with me from the states to quell the rising surge of nausea in my stomach, I feel so loved and understood by God. It is windy outside … and cold. The day is less than perfect. My body is less than perfect. I can hear the seagulls in between the intermittent gurgling of my stomach. I can hear the wind whipping the ice cold waters of the North Sea as I hear my stomach and bowels churning in protest—as if they, too, were being acted upon by some invisible and relentless force like the wind. And yet all of these “problems” and imperfections make it all so perfect somehow. The sunrise is magnificent and all of the nasty elements make it even more so. The sun is rising above it all. And so am I. The clouds will move. The wind will shift. The tides will change. The gulls will fly here and there. Would I dare change any of it? Could I really improve upon the beauty that is all around me, imperfect at it may be?

Turn your face to the wind, my friends. Something is causing it to blow. Turn your face and stare into the blazing sun. Something is causing it to shine. Turn and face your challenges. You can focus on all of the “imperfections” in your life. You can try to rearrange them. But doing so would be like tampering with the majesty of the storm. Doing so would be like re-orchestrating the sunrise—silencing the gulls, calming the winds, moving the clouds. But are you really able to paint a more beautiful picture? Is your way really better? If everything was the way you wanted it, would the picture be any better? Or is it better to embrace the “imperfections” and see the magnificent perfection in it all! For me, I am choosing to embrace the marvelous scene before me. I’m choosing to stand in awe of the marvelous imperfections of life. I’m choosing to see the beauty in the randomness of it all. And, in doing so, I feel so happy, so loved, and so understood by the One who paints upon the canvases of soul and circumstance.