Category Archives: Suffering

God Speaks from the Storm

I had to sit down on the step outside my door. I just couldn’t ignore the awesome display of God’s greatness unfolding across the sky. Thunder constantly rolled in the background. Lightning danced from cloud to cloud as mesmerizing as any fireworks display. And the clouds visibly moved across the horizon like rafts floating down a swiftly moving river.

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In both good and bad ways, so much in this world can make us feel so small. Senseless shootings. Political unrest. Terrorism. Poverty. It all feels so overwhelming and makes us feel so powerless and out of control. Thunderstorms. Stars. Mountains. The ocean’s tide. Miracles. They all feel so overwhelming and make us feel so powerless and out of control.

You see, it is all about perspective. We can spend time anxious about all of the things that are out of our control. Or we can relax because we are not in control and be grateful we know the One who ultimately is.

Proverbs 19:1-4, 7 says,

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

    The skies display his craftsmanship.

Day after day they continue to speak;

    night after night they make him known.

They speak without a sound or word;

    their voice is never heard.[a]

Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,

    and their words to all the world.

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,

    reviving the soul.

The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,

    making wise the simple.

The commandments of the Lord are right,

    bringing joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are clear,

    giving insight for living.

In times of doubt, anxiety, fear, confusion, anger, or grief, God’s creation proclaims His glory and reminds us He holds all things together. It is so tempting to wonder why this world is the way it is because so often it just doesn’t seem right. But God isn’t done redeeming yet. When Job questioned God about the suffering he had endured, God reminded Job that he was not there when God created the world and everything in it. For an entire chapter (Job 38), God reminds Job of how great God is and just how small Job is. The chapter starts with, “Who is this that questions me with such ignorant words?” I used to imagine God scolding Job and putting Job in His place. I used to read the first verse as the Biblical version of, “Who do you think you are!?” But I’ve grown to read it differently. Now I see God as a compassionate Father telling a beloved son that the way of the world is not his concern, that it is too big for him to understand, and what he must do instead of question is simply trust. Essentially, God is saying, “Job, I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing.”

Isaiah 55:6-9 says,

“Seek the Lord while you can find him.

    Call on him now while he is near.

Let the wicked change their ways

    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.

Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.

    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.

    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so my ways are higher than your ways

    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

No, this world doesn’t always make sense. Yes there is unimaginable suffering happening everyday. People are capable of causing such great harm to one another. And yet, God holds it all together. He is slow to anger. He is patient. He is full of grace. He is not to blame for the evil. He is responsible for redeeming it. And that redemption process in ongoing. In order for our relationship with God to be real and true, He must allow us choice to either love or hate. And even that truth doesn’t answer or satisfy all of our “why” questions.

So as I sat staring at the light show in the sky and took in the power of the rolling thunder, I was reminded that I have an intimate relationship with the Creator of those things. He created the thunder and the lightning. And He created me. And though I don’t understand it, He wants to relate to me intimately and He loves me fiercely. His ways are so much higher than mine, and slowly I’m learning to trust His way and love Him back.

Lessons from Losing Megan

A little over a week ago I learned of the death of a former student. I never expected to lose a student before losing a client. These types of things aren’t supposed to happen. Megan was only 24 and had her whole life ahead of her. Which means she wasn’t supposed to die and especially not in a tragic and unexpected way. Not to someone so full of life and possibility. It’s not supposed to happen to someone so intelligent and driven and talented. Not to someone who so clearly loved Jesus and loved others so intentionally. She was so kind, so humble, so joyful, and so compassionate. Tragedy was supposed to leave her alone. This wasn’t supposed to happen to her. Yet these things do happen, every day. But to someone else right…until it happens to you.

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And when it happens, it simply takes your breath away. And you can’t think clearly. Or sleep soundly. And you find yourself weeping uncontrollably at your desk or in the arms of a friend. And the “why” questions begin to flood your mind…Why her? Why did God allow this to happen? Why…?

But great pain brings opportunity for great growth so the appropriate questions are not “why” questions but “what” and “how” questions…what can we learn and how shall we live in light of Megan’s life and death?

You see, answers to the “why” questions always seem to leave us unsatisfied. While the “what” and “how” questions can comfort and help us find a new normal. So what have I learned? I’ve learned how important true friendship is in the wake of tragedy. Friends showed up and sat with me every night last week. Those who lived far away texted  and called and emailed. My neighbor brought my trash cans in from the curb. Friends hugged, and asked, and genuinely cared to listen. They didn’t try to fix. They simply showed up. They didn’t leave it up to me to tell them what I needed. They simply did what they felt called to do. I hope you have people around you like this and if you do not, my prayer is that you will begin to reach out and foster these kinds of relationship. And if you know someone who is grieving, reach out, show up, and just do.

What does tragedy teach us? That though it is awfully easy to blame God or accuse Him of evil (which He is no stranger to – see Job, the prophets, and even Christ on the cross), that in the midst of the pain, He is ultimately our greatest source of comfort. God does not abandon us in the darkest of moments. In fact, that is when God shows up most tangibly. The power of death is destroyed by the immense love of the cross and the greater power of the empty tomb.

How then should we live? At the risk of sounding cliche, like Megan did. We should send birthday texts and hand written notes. We should grab coffee and enjoy slow, deep conversation. We should take genuine interest in the other and treat all with great kindness and respect. We should choose joy, unexplainable joy. We should ask questions, passionately seek answers, and be inquisitive lifelong learners. We should have fun. We should laugh.

How shall we live? Unashamed of our faith but humble and full of grace. One of my favorite comments about Megan came from a graduate school classmate of hers who identified as an atheist. She wrote, “Megan was truly one of the most beautiful and gentle people I have ever been lucky enough to know…Megan lived so gracefully in her strong faith. She was never in your face about it, but was influenced by it in all she said. She was so smart and would bring up very compelling points in classes that challenged my own belief system without ever making me feel shamed or condemned. I told her once that her faith was a beautiful example of what a Christian should be, that her actions made me want to be a better person. She responded with something along the lines of ‘thank you, its always nice to be able to discuss difference of opinion without anger’. She not only believed in her faith, but she lived it, and that is something I will never forget.” I’m afraid this can rarely be said of me, but this is what I aspire to and hope one day it will be true of me as well.

I will never forget Megan. I’ll always remember her challenging questions, fired from the back row after consulting with her buddy Blair. I’ll remember how embarrassed and fake angry she was with me for playing “God Save the Queen” as she walked into class after being crowned Central’s homecoming queen.

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I’ll remember watching her counseling skills develop right before my eyes. She was a natural, but she also worked so hard to improve. And of course, I’ll never forget the way she and her group members decorated the observation room to look more like an actual counselor’s office.  I’ll never forget conversations about her future goals and dreams and what she felt was God’s calling on her life. We all took Megan for granted when she was alive. She is not taken for granted in her death and may her death remind us not to take our own lives or others for granted either.

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“3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-7 NLT

 

Thoughts from the Office: Robin Williams and Dealing with Pain

Some things just seem to shake people up more than others. The news of Robin Williams’ suicide this past week seems to be one of those things. It seems that for many, hearing the news of his death has become one of those moments you never forget, one of those moments that you speak about with the phrase, “I remember where I was when…” I’ve had several of those moments in my life. The first was the Challenger exploding. The Berlin Wall coming down, declaring war on Iraq, and of course 911 are all seared into my memory like a branding iron on an animal’s hide.

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Honestly, I’m not sure if this will become one of those moments or not, but I do know that I will long remember the way others have responded to this tragedy. I do not often write directly about my life as a counselor, but I assure you that it influences every aspect of my life, including my writing. I learn much more from my clients than they ever learn from me. Each client’s unique story, perspective, brokenness, and road towards healing inspires and challenges my own journey. And so in light of that, let me step out of the norm and share a few thoughts from the office…

Everyone hurts. Pain is a part of life, an unfortunate part, but a part nonetheless. This means that when you are hurting, you are not alone. Others have been there, some are there with you now, and many will be there after you. Even the Bible is full of people familiar with sadness, anxiety, and pain. Elijah begged to die. So did Job. Moses was scared to talk to Pharaoh. David sat in sackcloth and ashes. Remember even Jesus was called the man of sorrows. God knows what you are going through.

Pain is temporary. This one is often difficult for my many chronic clients who have battled depression or anxiety for more days, months, and years than they wish to count. But every new day holds the hope and possibility of a good day. And hope is a powerful thing. Without holding onto the hope of a good day coming with the next sunrise, pain with surely be permanent. Remember, though there may be pain in the night, joy comes in the morning.

Everyone needs help. It always saddens me when I discover how long a client has been suffering in silence before they finally found the courage or reached a place of desperation large enough to make a phone call. We are not meant to walk through life alone and we are certainly not meant to walk through painful times alone. We all need help. We all need support. We all need each other. When you are experiencing times of pain or despair, please reach out. Call a friend, a pastor, or a counselor. Believe me when I say that there are things that can be done to ease the pain the bring joy back to your life.

Be a steward of your pain. Pain is a gift. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a gift. Pain teaches. It points us to places in our lives that need our attention. Pain inspires growth. It allows us to see where change and maturity are required. And when you’ve been through a painful time and come out on the other side, it is a gift to share that victory with others. Allow your pain to make you compassionate instead of jaded, sensitive instead of stubborn, victorious instead of a victim, and patient instead of prideful.

I have read many blogs in the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death. Some advocating for awareness that depression is a disease and needs to be treated as such, some arguing that suicide is a choice and should never been described as anything else. Regardless of beliefs regarding suicide (and I know I have mine), I believe we can all agree on one thing: it is tragic. Please do not allow stigma and shame keep you or a loved one from getting the help and support you need. There are people who care. There are people who are trained to walk with you and give you the tools you need to make it through. There is hope.

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One of my favorite song lyrics says, “Dying is easy, I’ve known from the start, It’s the living that’s the hardest part.”* Jesus promised this would be true! He says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” It would be terribly hopeless if the verse ended there. Thankfully it does not! Jesus continues saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus, the man of sorrows, is also the man of hope and joy. He has overcome the world. He came to bring abundant life (John 10:10). And therein lies the tension on this side of Heaven: the promise of trial and tribulation alongside the promise of abundant life. Someday that tension will be resolved and all those who follow Jesus will receive the treasures they have stored in Heaven and enter an eternity of no more tears, no more sorrow, and no more pain. What a glorious day that will be! Until that day comes, embrace the tension, cling to the hope each new day offers, and choose joy and fulfillment Jesus promises is found in following Him.

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*Living is the Hardest Part by Rictor www.rictormusic.com