July 22, 2009

Our Hearts Be Shattered

A few nights ago I went to a Saturday service for middle schoolers through college kids called Youth Alive. The worship there is great: people skilled in music and worshiping with it themselves. It creates such a great atmosphere for just talking to God through the songs and however else you get led to. I hadn't been in this kind of worship service since I left Williamsburg for the summer, so when I showed up at Youth Alive it was a pleasant surprise to get to worship with them in an awesome way. When the worship is done that way, God never fails to speak something to my heart- sometimes bigger or smaller things, but there's something. This time was no different... and given that it was in the middle of a very tough time for me, God decided to deal with something huge that night.

I started talking to God a few songs into the worship set. Especially after the frustrations of that day, I felt gross and disgusted with myself. I felt dysfunctional, hurt, broken, unworthy, failed... I felt like a clay pot that had been thrown to the ground, and the pieces had scattered far and wide and all that was left in the immediate area was a few incomplete shards that would never be a whole jar again. I felt beat-up and torn. There was pain from my parents and frustration with myself for wasting my summer time fooling around and messing up when I could have been pursuing God.

Something my friend Ian said the other day came to me, and God filled my heart with the thought and truth of it; Ian said he would subconsciously slip into the mindset of doing things and fighting fights under his own power, without meaning to. He said, as a piece of advice, that it is something to watch out for in my walk.

In my pain and brokenness that night, God showed me just how much I'd been trying to do on my own. I had started to attribute (without realizing it) the great season of growth and joy I'd had in the spring to things I had been doing- like daily devotions, praying often, and spending time with the people at the church I was attending. Reflecting on it, this is a habit that's been part of me for a long time. In high school I was an overachiever, "hard working" and earning good grades. Even when my relationship with God was renewed last October and it became intensely personal and wonderful, I still applied my work ethic to it: work hard and earn good spiritual grades. For the first few months, I was blinded to what I was doing because of all the spiritual blessings that were pouring out- that's when I started this blog about all the good things God had his hand in. God was just waiting until the right time to fix my mindset.

That right time was this summer of my vulnerability.

My situation brings to mind a verse in Job I read recently, 35:6-8...
"If you sin, how does that affect him [God]? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself, and your righteousness only the sons of men."

One cannot earn things from God... they're given. Which is a blessing, if you think about it: sure, there are some times when we feel pious, but we're all sinful and we know it! If we earned things from God it would just make our failures more despairing, and we could never conquer sin on our own anyways, as we are sinful by nature.

So when the metaphorical storm hit at the beginning of summer, it wore down my efforts to be worthy. I was frustrated with myself for wasting time and angry at myself when I didn't get to my devotions everyday. My sights had slipped from Jesus: the Door, the Way, and the End. So when I felt very shaken and broken by the situation, God took the vulnerability created by that and the failings of my flesh to let me know that I can only survive in His strength, and to watch out for when I start to use my own. He "let me know" in the deepest sense of the words. It was such a moving experience that the lesson is stuck in my heart, and I won't forget it.

There's definitely still pain; that's normal. It doesn't go away because there's a purpose for it. God has brought a beautiful jewel of wisdom out of this time of hurt, and resting in His sovereignty instead of working under my human power brings a peace on an even deeper level than the pain. I have confidence that God is going to rebuild and fix me in His strength (in His time, too). I'm just going to let him do that by not getting in the way with things I try to do myself. I'm being healed and remade from the ground up by the perfect sculptor and master architect...

From this perspective, what a huge blessing brokenness is! What a privilege to be rebuilt by Jesus... who's passionately in love with me and knows me so well. The pain is being redeemed, and compared to the end result the price is little.

In this new found place, I feel less of a need for everything else that's not God- I don't need other people, but I'm fairly certain God will continue to use my brothers and sisters in Christ to love on me (have I mentioned that I have some of the best friends ever? I'm so blessed that God has brought them into my life). The point is that I don't feed off of their attention or love at all, but what God provides through them. Don't get me wrong, I love my friends and love to hang out with them and talk with them... but when I start relying on them as people, instead of God's love in them, I get led astray and I am not focused solely on God. I don't need to look elsewhere for love and strength as God's providing everything I need. I've got my priorities more straightened out now; not to say I'm doing growing, though. I can't even say I'm done growing in the area I just learned a huge lesson in... there's always room for growth and improvement. That's the point!

July 16, 2009

A Purpose for the Pain

I heard a great quote on a radio broadcast. The man talking was a former professional football player who has very bad cancer. He said that every time he's in pain, every time he has to pull over to the side of the road to puke, that pain makes him just a little bit more like Jesus. Ideally, that's what Christians want to accomplish, isn't it? The sad part is how little most Christians and non-Christians know about Jesus's actual character and attitude towards people. But I digress, and now I will write a note to myself to blog about that later.

As soon as I heard that guy saying that he sees his pain as a blessing to make him more like Jesus, my first thought was "What about emotional pain, when life is just tough?" The answer is that emotional pain builds us towards Jesus's likeness just as much- he suffered in all those ways, after all. The most obvious is the extreme physical suffering he went through before and during the crucifixion. As emotions go, he cried over the death of a close friend (Lazarus), and was so emotionally overwhelmed in the Garden of Gethsemane that he was sad "to the point of death." Also, since there's no mention of Joseph being around during Jesus's ministry (while his mother is around), it seems that something happened to him sometime before Jesus began preaching. That's definitely grounds for emotional suffering right there.

When I thought about this and went back to the verses where all these painful situations are found, it really gave me a whole new way to think about what I'm going through (more on that later). Each blow to a breaking heart creates an even bigger place for God's love to fill in, increases our ability to empathize with others and makes us more like our Savior. Each and every kind of pain has at least that as its purpose; and God uses those things for his plan in ways we might never know about until we get out of here.

Recently, I also got to see a clip of a bedridden man talking. He has been completely immobilized and dependent on other people since birth, and when the video was recorded he was 47 years old. He talked about his personal journey after he met Christ, how he came to terms with God being all-powerful while not healing him of his very serious disease. With complete sincerity and a warm honesty he said that he was honored to be chosen to serve God in the area of suffering: he gets to minister to so many people because of his situation and is gets to glorify God through his pain.

When you put it in that perspective... it's really powerful stuff. We're all uniquely called by God to serve in different places and in different ways, and each and every one of our experiences (positive and negative) shape us to better serve Him. Every tragedy and every blessing is used by Him for His plan; we can't change it, no matter how much we screw up or fall. He'll use everything. This doesn't mean we should turn apathetic and just sit back and go our own way, of course... but it lets us know that when things do go wrong, when they fall apart, whether it's our fault or our parent's or a disease's or a drunk driver's, God will redeem it all and use it for good. Even the most painful, evil things that seem to only destroy.

I don't say these things without meaning them... I'm living out this side of life to an extent. A slower, more painful season in life. Not physical pain, but emotional pain coming from the tearing of relationships of others... sadly, it is an issue which a lot of people have to deal with nowadays. If this situation which is upon my family now, though, would have interrupted God's plan, if it had been something which didn't have the potential to glorify God in awesome and huge ways, He wouldn't have allowed it to happen. Even if I don't see the fulfillment of that in my lifetime, I've got faith God's going to use it for the best. That doesn't make it any easier, of course; things have been tough for me (I cried while watching Minority Report... and in retrospect, I laugh at how silly that sounds). God's been providing in huge ways, though. I connected with my sister and talked to her about God, something I hadn't done before; that was a huge blessing. My church family here at home is amazing; if I'm with them, I AM home... as in, the place I am the most comfortable and safe.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned in the past two months is that when "God is my strength when I am weak," I am still going to feel weak. God doesn't just take away the pain and weakness because we ask Him to... there's a purpose for that pain. And that's the thought that keeps me going.