When Church Hurts

I know most of my readers are church folks.  And anyone who’s been a part of a church for very long knows that eventually hurtful things happen in a place that is assumed safe and caring.  Why?  Because everyone in the church is flawed, broken and in need of the same transformation as you and me.

As a pastor’s wife of 40 years I have experienced what one man calls both “the beauty and the brokenness of the church.”  Sometimes the brokenness comes for the unexpected reason that we Christians too often and too quickly think we get things “right.”

You can read more of my story here.

It’s an honest story.  A sad story.  But a story where I hope you’ll see redemption and hope.

Because my story, like yours, includes God.

I would love to hear your feedback on this one.

Advertisements

Who’s With You in the Mess?

Yesterday I talked about how much I hate being sad. Several women contacted me to say they were grateful that what is often the silent trial of sadness was brought into the light. They, too, are sad about unplanned singleness, relational challenges, distance from family, martial strife or ongoing struggles with weight.

It made me wonder why we’re sometimes afraid to admit we’re sad.

Is is because we will be perceived as ungrateful? Whiny? Discontent? Do we fear others will quickly point out all the things and people in our lives for which we should be thankful? Does being sad mean we are automatically ungrateful or discontent?

In short, is sadness always rooted in sin in our hearts? If not, why do we and others often rush to “fix” the sadness with reminders of God’s blessings?

I’ll be honest.  I often want to “fix” others sadness because I don’t want to face their sadness either!  Recently one of my grandchildren was crying because she had lost a treasured toy. Her sadness threw me into high gear to help her find it! When we couldn’t locate the toy I pulled her onto my lap and attempted to talk her through the disappointment and assure her it would turn up soon. No amount of words helped. She wanted that toy in her little hands…now. After a few minutes of sitting in Granma’s lap she settled down and ran off to play.

When we hurt, others don’t know what to do. They want to fix our hurt or disappointment or sense of loss by helping us to see our sin, seeking to align our thinking with biblical truth or ask us what they can do to make things better.  But sometimes we just need to be held and told that God is with us. Human “fixes” don’t really deal with the pain when what we really need is His comforting presence.

A friend and I were talking last week and I was expressing to her my craving for relief from the sadness in my life.

“What would bring you relief, Sheree?” she asked.

footage.shutterstock.com

footage.shutterstock.com

I paused. The thoughts running through my mind all surrounded a change in my circumstances: better communication between Benny and me; fewer interruptions during the day from my mother-in-law; appreciation and understanding from an in-law with whom I had a recent conflict; etc. When I shared these things with her she listened patiently but even as I talked my words seemed hallow. There was something missing. I knew comfort and hope wouldn’t really be found by God fixing my circumstances but by doing something wonderful in my heart.

My wise and caring friend empathized with my struggles but then lovingly reminded me that the relief I sought wouldn’t be genuinely found by God dealing with the stuff on the list I had just shared with her. While this would be wonderful on one hand, deeper peace would come in enjoying His help and strength in the midst of my challenging circumstances. Because the Christian life is one of various trails and difficulties  (which are, in fact, promised because of our fallen lives and world) I needed to know that the Bible also promises that Someone is with me all the way.

“Sheree, what we all need to understand is that true relief is found in God walking with us through the messes of our broken and flawed lives. That’s why Jesus came into this dark and needy world: to bring His presence here.” She went on to communicate that the temporary relief from Him fixing the current circumstances would tempt me to find my hope in man, not Him.

Over the past week her words have meandered through my thoughts, bringing me hope. I’m a fixer. I find peace in order. I don’t do well in the midst of a mess (unless it’s created by my adorable grandchildren!). My good friend helped me to see that I was looking for relief in all the wrong places.

The source of your and my relief is God Himself. Not God plus an attentive husband or obedient kids or understanding in-laws or more money or less weight or living near family or fewer interruptions in our full days. Those things may happen or they may not. But what is always true no matter what messes we find ourselves in which bring sadness or pain is this: God is with us. He is faithful, good and loving — even when hardships expose our anger, resentment, self-pity, distrust of Him or ungratefulness.

God is with us in the mess and that’s where relief can truly be found.

And here’s another comforting reminder: not only is He with us but He is patient with our wrestlings. He is at work, moving us toward hope that His past faithfulness to carry us through dark times in the past is a pledge of His present and future grace to bring us through yet again.

Cleaning up the mess might seem like the best thing that could happen in our lives right now. But another mess is just down the road because we live in a fallen world with fellow sinners; a world that is literally groaning for Jesus to return and make all things new (Romans 8:22). Our own groanings for relief can be turned to humble cries to God to help us see and experience Him in the mess.

My sadness is still coming and going. But gratefully I am more aware of God’s comforting presence in the midst of it. He is opening my eyes to see that fixing the mess is far less important than experiencing His strength, tender love and comforting guidance in the mess. He is using His word and a dear friend to counsel me and I am finding growing peace even though my circumstances aren’t changing.

There is hope.

Something I truly Hate.

I dislike numerous things but honestly, I hate being sad.

Sadness is like a thick, wet blanket that closes in on me and tempts me to feel alone. Do you know what I mean?

richpersonality.blogspot.com

richpersonality.blogspot.com

Recently several things have brought sadness to my heart. Watching a friend deal with the debilitating illness and slow death of her husband. Caring for one dear woman dealing with the shock of an unplanned but healthy pregnancy while another suffers grief from a planned pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Walking through some challenging circumstances in my marriage. Dealing with weighty adjustments to my elderly mother-in-law moving in with us. Missing a son who is away at college (oh, so much to miss about him!). Being misunderstood by an in-law. Being acutely reminded recently of how much I miss my long-gone Mom and Dad.

Walking through this season of sadness has reminded me of how good but hard it is to have a God-tenderized heart. You see, not everyone feels things the same as others. Some people either refuse to feel because it hurts too much; many elect not to feel because they’re afraid of where the grief will take them; still others have deeply painful things that happened in their past that make sadness utterly fearful and to be avoided; and some choose to embrace sadness because..well…because there’s no way out of it but through it. A tender heart (which is only possible with God’s help) makes sadness really hurt, but it brings with it a desire to take that path through it.

My friend Ginny calls this “processing.” In the nearly two years since I’ve known her I can’t recall the number of texts or emails or Community Group conversations when she’s mentioned she was processing a sermon, Bible passage or experience. To Ginny, processing means not rushing through the grief or confusion or temptation to be overwhelmed. Rather, the goal is trusting God even when sturdy answers can’t be found.

I’ve been processing my sadness. In fact, I still am.

A friend recently compared processing to having a “psalmists mentality.” People (like me at times) who avoid taking the often leisurely path that’s required to effectively deal with the sadness or grief that comes from painful situations in our lives or the lives of those we love  shortchange the process. Jumping from the sting of sadness to the unhelpful end of premature “acceptance” of the source of our grief cuts God out of the picture.

The psalmists didn’t rush the process. Rather, they honestly poured out their hearts and complaints to God. Why was this acceptable to a holy God? Why did He respond with compassion and help? Because their desire was to work it through to an honorable end.

I used to think that complaining to God was always wrong and that the mature and biblical thing to do when faced with sadness was to stop whining and accept God’s plan. I was right. Sorta. Whining, complaining and charging God is never the godly woman’s response to pain…longterm. But God is our Father; the One to whom we can pour out our hearts —  including our perplexities and complaints and the “Lord, what are you doing” cries — when the disorientation of sadness grabs our hearts and then twists them hard.

Are you sad today? Are you or someone you love facing painful circumstances that leave you feeling like a wet blanket is leaving you alone in your sadness?

I might know a little of how you feel. What I’m certain I know, though, is that you are not alone. If you are a Christian, God is with you.  His very name is Emmanuel, which means God with us. Even if you have no one to talk to or listen to your struggles or with whom you can share this burden, He is near. One of the first things that often happens to hurting people is a feeling of isolation that either says, “No one could know how I feel” or “No one cares.”

Someone does know how you feel and does care. Sometimes we don’t feel His nearness, comfort and help, but He promises He will “never leave or forsake us.”

Never leave. Even if you feel abandoned by those who you wish were close and considerate.  Or even if you wish you could help the person you’re grieving with and feel there’s just nothing you can do but pray.

thesimpltruths.wordpress.com

thesimpltruths.wordpress.com

Never forsake. Even if you’ve been betrayed by someone you thought you could trust or have been slandered by people you assumed knew better.

I pray that your sadness will be met with the tangible, real and promised help of the only One who can truly help you even when you crave human empathy. Pour out your heart to Him. And, yes, even your complaints. He’s been hearing some of mine recently and I’m thrilled to say that He really can help. When the heart of His sons and daughters are disposed to trust and honor Him and yet we’re struggling with the sadness of life, He is ready and eager to help.

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t have a heart to know and follow God.

I don’t know all of you who visit here but God does.  And I’m stopping to ask Him to help you now.

When Only an Embrace Will Do

mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

Have you seen the youtube videos of children greeting their camo-clad father or mother upon their return from oversees military service? I have watched several through tears. Watching little ones jittering as if they need to use the bathroom while waiting for Dad or Mom to come into view, then seeing them rush with outstretched arms to a parent who own arms have longed to hold their beloved child gets me every time.

I imagine that when Dad, for example, was gone for all that time Mom tried hard to offer their child a good explanation.

  • “Daddy is working hard far away to protect and serve our country.”
  • “I know you miss Daddy, sweetie.  He’s doing a really important job and he’ll be home as soon as he can.”
  • “What does Daddy do?  Well, he fixes big tanks and trucks so people can use them to help keep others safe.”
  • “You know Daddy is a pilot, right? Well, right now he’s flying things like food and medicine to people far away who wouldn’t have those things without Daddy.”

I don’t know a single child who would understand why their Daddy or Mommy needed to be the one to do these things. What child would say, “Oh, I get it. Now it makes perfect sense why I won’t see my Dad or Mom for a year.  Thanks!”

Explanations don’t satisfy kids who miss and want their parents when only an embrace will do. A child who misses Mommy or Daddy can’t fathom any reason good enough for not having them tuck them in bed at night month after month or missing their birthday party or not being there on Christmas morning. The only thing they want is to be with Dad or Mom…now.

And that’s what their parents want, too. Seeing the beaming faces of mothers and fathers on those videos clutching their kids, often with tears streaming, fills my own heart with joy.

I’ve been thinking about how this relates to my relationship with God. You see, sometimes I think knowledge will help, especially during difficult seasons. There have been numerous times when trials or suffering left me craving an explanation.

  • “If I just knew why this was happening, I’d feel better.”
  • “God, just explain how all this is going to ‘work together for good’ (Romans 8:28) and then I’ll feel better.”
  • “So, Lord, what’s the purpose in this awfulness? Help me understand and it’ll be easier to endure.”

During challenging times it helps me to realize that knowledge isn’t what I need; I need God Himself. The answer to difficulties isn’t explanation but relationship. You see, even knowing the future good that will come “someday” isn’t all that comforting in the midst of sorrow, loneliness or disorienting circumstances. Knowing that “down the road” fruit will come from a dry and painful season doesn’t take today’s sadness and weariness away.

The only thing that makes today’s hardships lighten is the Father’s embrace.

Are you going through a tough time? Do you believe that having God sit down and explain why this is happening and the good things that will come from your pain will really help you? Consider Job. If he knew that his dead children would be “replaced” by future children, would he have said, “Oh, I get it. That makes me feel better.” No. Knowledge just begs new questions, not fresh peace.

When we Christians are hurting and craving explanations for tough times, what we need is to tangibly experience the nearness, comfort and warmth of God’s embrace. Hearts that crave knowledge bow to arms that feel welcomed and loved.

I pray you’ll find the strength to let go of the demand for explanation and knowledge and just run into your Father’s eager arms. You’ve missed Him, not answers.

When Pain Strikes

Nancy and David had a son named Matt and were joyfully expecting a baby girl.  This was before sonograms were routinely performed so they didn’t know there was a problem until her birth. The doctors were immediately concerned about Hope, and the next day a geneticist told her parents she had the metabolic disorder, Zellweger Syndrome. Imagine their heartache to learn that there were no survivors; no cure; just months of life ahead; no “hope.”

199 days later she died.

Because of the high risk of having another child with Zellwegers, David and Nancy made the very difficult decision to surgically prevent another pregnancy. Nancy started writing her book, Holding On To Hope, to bring comfort and hope to other grieving parents. As I came to page 44 last week, I read these shocking words:

“Evidently the procedure reversed itself , and today as I write, I find myself pregnant.”

Pregnant? Again? She and David hoped beyond hope that this baby, like their son Matt, would be okay. But a series of tests revealed the awful truth that their unborn son also had Zellwegers. They didn’t know Hope was sick until she was born. But from early on they knew their baby boy would have a very short and very hard life.

I finished the book yesterday. It was gripping. Nancy was painfully honest. She talked about unhelpful things people said and did during her years of suffering. She shared her despair; her why, God? questions; her frustrated desire to understand; and the reality that part of the hardness of going through difficulties is having to navigate the reactions and responses of friends and family.

Yesterday I also had the opportunity to hear Nancy speak at a conference here in Orlando on the topic of dealing with grief. I haven’t recently lost anyone close and have never held a dead baby in my arms. But I just wanted to listen to her. To benefit from her words and life. I’ve often heard “more is caught than taught” and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to catch something from a woman who has so beautifully allowed suffering and pain to produce the desire to embrace it without becoming a ball of bitterness and destructive anger.

I’m so glad I went.

Losing a baby isn’t the only way people suffer. We suffer when long held dreams or ambitions we really thought were “right” don’t look like they’ll ever happen. Children we’ve sacrificed our lives for break out hearts us with chronic ingratitude or disrespect. Co-workers gossip so they can get a leg up with the boss. Someone we’ve chosen to love forever betrays us through adultery, pornography or lust. Financial irresponsibility means we may always have to count pennies and have to give up thinking we’ll ever get ahead. Elderly parents need us to change their diapers even though they’ve forgotten who we are. The test results show the tumor got larger.

One man said, “It only takes living long enough for suffering to happen.” Hardships come to every person because we live in a broken, fallen world. Sadly, some Christians believe that real godliness and faith protects us from suffering. If we believe enough, we’ll have all the money and happiness we need because God wants to bless us, not hurt us.

But think about it. Look back on your life and think about the difficulties through which you’ve walked. Aren’t some of your greatest lessons and blessings the result of your deepest pain? That doesn’t mean you would ever want to repeat that horrific season of life and genuine faith doesn’t say, “Bring on more pain and suffering!” But the promise that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28) means that the disorienting perplexities of death, illness, rejection and pains of all kinds really do “work together” for good.

Our suffering isn’t meaningless or useless.

I can’t recommend Nancy’s book enough. But I have to warn you: this book is not for anyone who wants to marinade in your pain. Nancy’s solutions, forged in the fires of suffering unlike I’ve ever experienced, are full of both grace and truth. Using the life of Job in the Bible — a man who lost everything — she provides hard fought but life changing help to hurting people.

You can find Holding On To Hope here. And whether or not you ever read it, I trust that God will bring you your own special and personal hope in the midst of your suffering. If for any reason you would like to contact me personally, just leave your email in the comment section and I would be glad to reach out.

The Ultimate Blog Challenge: Day Ten

UBC-banner3

Motherhood: A Desperate Life

gagaoverbabies.blogspot.com

gagaoverbabies.blogspot.com

I’ve become accustomed to hearing one side of weighty phone calls. Being married to a pastor means having to wait while curiosity and dread build.  Last week was no different.

“Oh, no. That’s just awful. How in the world are they doing?” Benny responded. “I just can’t imagine….Thanks for calling; we’ll be sure to reach out to them soon.”

None of the scenarios I could have considered would have landed on what I heard when Benny ended his phone call. Just hours earlier, a dear and precious young couple with three little boys had given birth to a lifeless baby girl. Later that day I visited her in the hospital. It was one of the hardest visits I have ever made.

I saw the desperation of motherhood like I have rarely seen.

Over the coming days I want to talk about desperate motherhood. I’ll share from my own heart and life, and also from the lives of others. I also want to invite a couple of mothers to communicate their desperate moments, too.

Why? Because all mothers live desperate lives. You may have never lost a child, but if anyone calls you Mom you’ve likely experienced dark nights of your soul when you wondered if they would be okay. If you were doing a good enough job. If their symptoms meant something serious was going on. If hard things that mothers with older kids are walking through would come to your family. If you’ll hear from them when they’re older that your anger or selfish demands or irritability was harder on them that it now seems.

As you read this, you may be thinking whatever challenges you’re facing as a mom pale in comparison to losing a child. While the suffering of others can help us to more wisely manage our own comparatively light trials, please don’t minimize the impact of your own motherly challenges. Perhaps you have a special needs child who requires more of you that you could have ever imagined. Maybe the fatigue of working and trying to be a good mom leaves you wondering if your child is getting enough of you each day. Do you sometimes miss the toddler-turned-teen that keeps you awake at night churning over their lack of heart for God? Or are there times when you think you just can’t take the bickering and selfishness between your kids and feel trapped by unfulfilled dreams about what Christian family life is supposed to look like?

Desperate mothers aren’t just those who have endured tragedy beyond comprehension. While such moms are certainly objects of the tender compassion of God reserved for the sorrowing and broken hearted, your struggles are hard, too.

I’ve never held a dead baby and I can only pray I would have responded with half the trust in God that my friend has. But I’ve cried many tears over tantrum-throwing toddlers; spiritually wayward kids; sinful choices made that tempted me to fear; tension between Benny and me due to differences in how to handle things with young adults; fretful nights when the only thing that brought sleep was listening to worship music; and gut wrenching pleas to the only One who could “cause all things to work together for good.”

The desperation of motherhood comes in many colors. But each of us have something amazing in common: we serve a powerful and sovereign God. No fear or sin or grief or heartache is beyond His strength, compassion and grace. Nothing that has happened or will happen to you or your children can separate you from His love (Romans 8:28).

Whether you are expecting your first baby or are watching your children now give birth to their own, the sacrifices of motherhood last a lifetime.

But so does grace.

When News Changes Your Life Forever

There are a handful of days in my life that changed me. Days I can tell you what I was wearing or where I was sitting when I heard the news. JFK’s assassination. Daddy’s heart attack. Mom’s cancer. 911.

imagesYesterday was one of those days, especially for a dear friend of mine who had something horrific happen to her and her family. When I heard the news I could only weep and shake my head in disbelief.

Anyone who lives long enough will have those days. Moments when you feel like you can’t breathe and disorienting chaos swirls through your heart and mind.

Those times when it feels like life is spinning out of control it’s good to know God is there. And not just there but good. Last night I visited my grieving friend. There were no words tender or wise enough to have helped her. No flowers bright enough. No hug warm enough. No prayer articulate enough.

Some years ago I was experiencing the trial of my life. It was one of “those” days. The news I heard that March day in 1998 rocked my world and started a series of life altering events. The sorrow and perplexity lingered for months, then came and went for years, as Benny and I sorted through the longterm effects of wrong choices made by someone we deeply love.

Friends called and tried to offer comfort, but it felt like someone was trying to put a bandaid onto an open chest wound. One of my friends told me she cried out to the Lord, asking “who is going to take care of Sheree?” You can expect what she heard back.

“I will.”

Oh, and He did. He took care of me through the loneliness. Heartache. Days when I couldn’t cook or do laundry or return phone calls. Sleepless nights. Fretful pacing in my bedroom when burying my face in a pillow was the only way to protect my kids from hearing Mommy’s sobs. Moments of begging God to help me understand why. And, yes, times when — for the first time in my life — I understood why people escaped to thoughts of death as a comforting option.

What should we do when someone we know or love is facing the trial of their life? The Holy Spirit will lead us. He will lead some to serve and others to organize service. A few to visit and many to understand why they weren’t asked to come. And all to pray. In my experience, the one thing that isn’t helpful is for well meaning friends to try to make sense of suffering by speculating what happened, why it happened or what might have been done to prevent it.  Such matters are between the sufferer and their Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace.

I’m resting today in this timeless truth from God’s holy word:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18).

Are you suffering today? Is someone you love facing overwhelming circumstances?

Let’s remember that He is close and He still saves.
.