Hope in Disguise: How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

Hope in Disguise:
How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

“Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.”—Romans 12:12-13 NLT

If you read my last post (Waiting for Redemption) you know the last year has been a difficult one. But during that time, God has continued to sprinkle little blessings here and there via a couple of special women in my life. The friendship and support they have given me have often served to keep my head above the waves as I’ve attempted to tread water in a deep ocean of uncertainty. So many times I have wanted to give up, but at just the right time, their words, hugs, and even silence, have shot hope through my veins when I’ve needed it most.

 
One of the first things she said to me, shortly after I drug my tired, discouraged self into her home yesterday was, “How is the depression?” Four simple words never spoke so much hope into my life. I know, it doesn’t make sense, after all, how can asking a simple question about depression, of all things, actually bring hope? I don’t really know, but somehow it did. Not at that very moment, but a few hours later.

 
Anyone who has dealt with clinical depression (I have now for over 15 years) knows the feeling. Even the simplest activities of daily life seem overwhelming at times. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve got the added guilt of not being a “good” Christian because you’re not walking around on cloud nine all the time (see How to Live When Depression Lingers). If you have a lot of people in your life who don’t understand what you’re going through, sharing your true feelings can be risky. It’s hard for people to resist trying to give solutions and pat answers to “help” you, when in reality all we really want is someone to listen and meet us where we’re at.

 
Anyways, later that afternoon her words sang through my head, “How is the depression?” I was able to speak to her freely about my struggle, while she nodded in understanding. She knows what it feels like too. And, as much as I hate that she knows what it’s like, I am so grateful for it. None of us want to suffer, but, admittedly if it weren’t for our mutual suffering, none of us could relate to anyone in any tangible way. Our struggles are often how we find those “kindred spirits”, the ones who will hold our hand through our trials, speak truth in love, but also listen at the right time, instead of always being the “problem solver” or “advice giver”.

 
Because of her own struggles with depression and hardship, my friend instinctively knew what I needed—to be listened to and met with grace. She didn’t offer up a bunch of things to do to fix my “problem”. Really, she just listened. And it had an amazingly therapeutic effect.

 
Later that afternoon I sat in my recliner, as I have done so many times over the past months, staring at the wall while warm tears flowed down my face. Only this time, it was because of hope. My friend’s four simple words brought me hope. She cared, she understood, and she wasn’t trying to change me. She was merely loving me in the dark places, and continuing to pray in earnest for my physical and emotional healing. In that moment I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness for the two special friends God brought into my life almost two years ago. We are “sisters” in every way. And it isn’t because we’re perfect Christians, it’s because we’re perfectly flawed Christians who know we can be transparent with each other without fear of judgment, criticism, or cliché advice-giving.

 
If you know someone struggling with depression, please try to avoid offering them “solutions”. Your intentions are amazing and appreciated, but unless you’ve suffered in the same way, you can’t really “know” what it’s like or how to “solve” the problem. Yes, we need to go to and stay in God’s word, and yes we need to focus on the truth and refuse to believe lies. Yes all of these things are true and helpful to the depressed Christian, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will produce spiritual rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes the depression lingers and sometimes all we really need is someone to listen. You can be a good friend without offering “answers” to every problem. Often, not spewing “answers” is just what your depressed friend may need.

 
In my case, just knowing how loved I am by a couple of flawed friends inspires me to get back up and move forward through the difficulties instead of allowing them to control me, and the prayers of my friends have been the greatest gift, more so than any “advice” they could have given.

 
So, ask God to bring to mind someone in your life who may need to hear four simple words. Maybe it’s not “How is your depression” but some other difficulty, “How is your [insert chronic illness]” or “How is your grief”? Just asking a question and listening patiently to the answer might be all your hurting friend needs to see a ray of hope amid the darkness of their circumstances. Choose to be that source of light in their life. And most importantly, continue to pray for them, even if it seems they aren’t “progressing” quickly enough through their struggles. God is listening, and in due time, He will answer (and quite possibly use YOU to be the answer).

 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”—Proverbs 13:12 NIV

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If you or someone you know struggles with depression, or is going through difficult life-circumstances, please share this post. Instead of shying away from these “troubled” people, let’s come together and encourage them through the hope of Christ. Let’s be the hope of Christ in their lives.

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Also, I will be starting a new blog series titled “Choices”, and will be sharing more details about my journey over the past year, and how our choices, from the big ones to the seemingly insignificant, can have a lasting (positive or negative) effect on our lives and the lives of those we love most. Please sign up to receive new blog posts in your email and share this blog with your friends. Your support is much appreciated! Thank you!

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Waiting For Redemption

 

Waiting for Redemption

I’m not particularly looking forward to sharing what I’m about to share with you. In fact, I’ve been fighting it for some time, which, as you may have noticed, is why I haven’t written anything in a couple of months. But the Holy Spirit keeps pressing so, reluctantly (yeah, I don’t always obey cheerfully, shocker!) I am sharing an extremely difficult journey in hopes that someone else out there will make better choices as a result of reading this, and perhaps, save themselves and their loved ones unnecessary pain, heartache, and grief.

 

 
About four years ago my life was completely different than it is today. I was abusing prescription pain killers; I was also taking other mind-altering prescriptions that left me, as my husband later shared, in a state of what he considered the “crazies”. I was emotionally all over the place but mostly in a deep dark depression that left me suicidal on many occasions.

 

 
At the same time, I was struggling with my faith. I had only “come back” to God two years earlier, and was fumbling through the logistics of how to cope with being in an “unequally yoked” marriage. I harbored a great deal of bitterness and resentment towards my husband as well. But, rather than communicate with him about my struggles, I chose to talk about my problems in somewhat of a venting manner, within the confines of a twelve step program (even in the twelve step program, I continued to abuse the drugs). I had no idea how to cope with the things in my life, not just the present situation but my past choices.

 

 
I vented to anyone and everyone except my husband and received varying degrees of advice. I had some Christians advise me to divorce and start over; after all, God would want me to be happy (that’s a load of crap, by the way). I had a lot of voices whispering in my ear, but the one voice I wasn’t hearing or even looking for was God’s. I didn’t pray about it, I talked to people about it. In turn, I followed human reasoning.

 

 
So, one day I made my decision. I told my husband what I was doing, and that it was my body, I didn’t give a damn about his opinion (what a great Christian influence I was!). I refused to pray about this decision because I knew God’s answer wouldn’t be the same as what the people in my life were giving me. I liked their advice, it suited my purposes better. So, in somewhat of a selfish fit of anger, I stormed off and willingly made my choice.

 

 
This decision was made based on emotions and current circumstances, without any regard for the fact that God is all-powerful, and maybe, just maybe, He could and would change the circumstances, my husband’s heart, or my own heart (which was in desperate need of an overhaul!). I didn’t take any of that into consideration though, and by making the decision I did, I deeply wounded my husband in a way that very well could have ended our marriage.

 

 
Over the next two years I got sober, and discovered what a real relationship with Christ is like (as opposed to the legalistic way I was accustomed to). My heart was changing, and in that change, God gave me a glimpse of what I had done through His eyes. I’ll never forget that moment driving home from church in tears. I felt like Jesus was in the passenger seat with me, it was a presence I had never felt so clearly before. I looked in the rearview mirror and there it was, in an instant, my decision laid before me in all its awfulness. I saw my husband’s hurt for the first time. I have no words to describe it other than sheer mortification over what I had done.

 

 
Over the next year my husband and I talked about what happened for the first time, trying to work through it. Then last year the unexplained medical problems kept coming in waves. We went through thousands in medical bills only to never get a straight answer or diagnosis. During that time, my husband made a decision of his own. He started coming to church and told me he “prayed and something happened”. He had a change of heart and it was more than just a prayer. His whole attitude and demeanor changed. We began communicating with each other in absolute honesty for the first time. Ten years of anger and resentment over all the unspoken “issues” was laid out. Several weeks went by where my husband and I cried with each other and dealt with these things one by one until healing could take place in each area.

 

 
What’s happened in our marriage, in my heart, and now my husband’s heart, is nothing short of a miracle. Many have prayed for him and I over the years, and now these prayers are being answered. To hear my husband say, “I want to be the spiritual leader of this family” is, well, it’s a dream come true! Four years ago, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) believe I would see him change or hear those words spoken in sincerity. I could only see what my immediate surroundings were dishing out, and what my emotions were screaming at me. It’s a dangerous thing to make life-altering decisions in times like those.

 

 
A couple of months ago I finally received an answer to the medical problems that had caused me and my family so much heartache and stress over the past year. It could all be traced back to that choice I made four years ago. Yes, it was all because of that choice, the choice I made.

 

 
And friends, I can’t tell you how that feels in words. I can’t articulate the pain, guilt, and shame from realizing you’ve caused your own pain in such a way. And not just for me, but for my family. The stress and financial burden, the doctors, the prayer requests, and it all came back to that one choice. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the words, “This is all your fault” hasn’t swept through my head a few million times over the past eight weeks.

 

 
So, where does that leave me now? I guess I am in a place of waiting. A place of mourning, a place of grief as I realize my child and husband have been irreparably damaged by a stupid choice I made four years ago. That our family is forever changed by it. That my day to day life is changed as I continue to suffer the physical symptoms that will not just magically go away.

 

 
During this time of grief and sorrow, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve read how God redeems things, and I’ve tried to take hope in that. But honestly, hope wanes most days because in my humanness I can’t fathom how God could redeem this situation nor do I expect Him to. The sad fact is, some of our choices won’t get “redeemed”. Just because we repent does not mean everything is magically fixed with a God sized band-aide.

 

 
So, I’m here to ask you, to plead with you, please please don’t make choices, big or small, in the heat of emotion or in the depths of desperate circumstances. You may think things (or people’s hearts) will never change, but they can.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but just in the last several months I’ve talked to several women who are making terrible choices based on current circumstances. Oh, I can’t tell you how it breaks my heart. One day I know they will grieve those same choices and gnash their teeth in frustration over playing god in their life, instead of stepping aside and trusting and fully surrendering to His perfect plan.

 

 
So, there’s been a lot of crying and wondering if, when, or how God will fix this, understanding He owes me nothing but taking comfort in the fact that He knows my heart. And despite this I am so thankful for the radical change that has come over my marriage. Wow, it’s more than I can comprehend. God is healing our hurts little by little and drawing us closer together every day.
I know I haven’t been specific about what I “did”, but at this point it’s just too painful to talk about. I only share this because I know some of you are feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances, wondering when God will show up and just “fix” stuff or make life easier for a second. While you’re in that time of waiting and wondering, tune out the noise of the people around you and tune in to the Holy Spirit. As hard is it may seem to do what He’s asking, He knows the future, and whatever He leads you in will be for your greatest good. The heartache and grief of choosing to walk in your own way or listen to the advice of people who are content to tell you only what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear will never be worth it.

 

 
As I continue to grieve this loss, I am holding on, if only by the tips of my fingers, that hope is out there somewhere, and God will someday turn this pile of ashes into something meaningful, even if it seems impossible as to how that would come about.

 

 
This post isn’t filled with Scriptures or Christianese, just a simple message from my heart to yours. Choices matter, in our lives and the lives of those we love most. Our choices will affect others. Seek God’s counsel above all else, trust Him, and for crying out loud, listen to Him! Don’t turn back, friends, don’t even look back. Press on, follow Him, and don’t force your will upon His. He’s God, He actually knows what He’s doing. He wants what’s best for you. What I am experiencing now is something God wanted to protect me from. The pain my husband is experiencing is something God wanted to protect him from. The questions and confusion and hurt this has caused my little daughter, is something God wanted to protect her from. . He knew the second I made that choice the ramifications, even though years would pass in the interim. How I wish I had trusted Him!

 

 
And if you’re currently where I’m at, grieving the losses of your choices and watching those around you hurt because of what you’ve done, take heart, Hope is there, it’s just hard to see through the fog of shame and remorse. Eventually the fog lifts. No matter what, don’t give up on your faith making a bad situation even worse. The best thing you can do for your family now is to surrender to Christ 100%, learn from this, and trust Him to bring something good out of it, as He promises to all who love Him and surrender to Him (Romans 8:28).

 

 
Plugging this story into my website is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, it’s embarrassing to some degree, and painful to open up to others in such a deep and personal way, but I am learning, albeit slowly, to trust God in all things, even in something as mundane as a blog post. So, with that being said, I would love to hear your stories of redemption and hope, if nothing more than to encourage me in my sorrow (yes, it’s true, I don’t always have it all together!). Please share your experiences in the comments or email me @ RebeccaAarup@mail.com

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

            A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”

            As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”

            Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.

            Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.

            Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).

            I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.

            Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”

            Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”

            Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.

A Special Prayer Request

Dear friends,

 

In the two years I’ve had this blog, I have never done this before, but today I am asking for your prayer. With a subject like spiritual warfare being the topic of focus for me, it is no surprise that the year has been wrought with more obstacles than I care to recall. In spite of that, choosing God’s word—the truth—has allowed me to continue to experience a spiritual freedom amid the difficulties.

 

Over the past two months, though, my health has deteriorated significantly, to the point where even doing basic things like grocery shopping is an overwhelming task. It’s been frustrating, to say the least, because I pay careful attention to my diet and physical activity. In fact, despite feeling so ill, I have continued to work out nearly every day and stay disciplined with my diet.

 

I had not been to a doctor in over a year, but after the fatigue, sickness, and chest pains increased, I relented and made the trip to see my primary care physician. While I haven’t been given all the details yet (mainly the “why”), I found out that I have a major Vitamin D deficiency. I had no idea that something so “simple” could cause so many problems! But because I have a heart arrhythmia as well as arthritis, the lack of vitamin D was making those issues worse, causing the constant chest pain (and at the age of 30, feeling like you’re having a heart attack every day is pretty scary) and bone pain/muscle fatigue. Come to find out, a Vitamin D deficiency can exasperate pre-existing conditions, and even cause heart failure (eek!). Anyways, I am now on treatment for the next several months (massive doses of Vitamin D that has its own icky side effects) but the process is long. It could take two months to a year to get back to “normal”.

 

My request is simply this: please pray that God touch my mind with His healing hand, because throughout all of this my concentration and productivity have been completely sapped. As a freelance writer, I only make money when I am writing, and I haven’t been able to write anything for publication in over six weeks. I have barely managed to keep up with this blog, and the material that I need to prepare for my life groups. I know God’s approval of me doesn’t depend on my performance (thank GOD!) but it’s hard not to feel discouraged (I know, I’ve gone back to my Deadly D’s list many times over the past weeks!) because of the lack of progress I’ve made with the projects I’ve been working on. Normally, I don’t like to bring attention to my personal physical issues, but right now I need you and your prayers more than ever. I’ll be a guest on a radio show later this month, and I really need to be mentally alert and attentive to the questions, so I can wisely give an answer for the reason of the hope and new life I’ve been given through Christ.

 

“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, and persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”~2 Corinthians 12:10

 

Thank you so much for your faithful support of this blog and for being committed to the truth of God’s word.

 

In Christ,

Rebecca Aarup

 

PS-

A special thanks to my friends Cheryl Lutz, Nancy Falcheck, and Melissa Fastrup, who have faithfully lifted me up in prayer and encouraged me through all of this. Your support and friendship is priceless and I am especially grateful that you never passed off my problems as “no big deal” but recognized the difficulty and acknowledged the struggle I’ve faced. Few things are more discouraging than, in the face of your pain, being told “it could always be worse!” None of you have ever treated me that way, and I thank you for that!

 

So, what is YOUR word?

psalm143“What will you do?”

As I’ve heard sermons, read books, and sat through lectures throughout the year, I’ve heard the voice of the Spirit resounding loud and clear, “So, what will you do about it?” God has strategically batted that ball back to my side of the net over and over—spurning me to embrace an active faith, and it makes me uncomfortable. But then I remember a prayer I uttered, albeit not well-thought through at the time, for God to make me uncomfortable. Really, that prayer should be right at the top of the list of “things you don’t ask God”, right behind praying for patience or a spirit of forgiveness. Well, I’ve learned my lesson—God answers prayers for sure, especially the character building ones.

At the start of 2012 a friend of mine posted a blog about a challenge (read it here: MY One Word), a challenge to ask God about what “word” to focus on for the following year. That sounded neat, so I gave it a go. I cheerfully got on my knees and asked God what my special word for the coming 2012 year would be, I anxiously listened, hoping to hear prosperity, success, purpose, or anything along those lines. Instead, after a few moments of silence, I heard “perseverance”.

“Um, Lord, really? I mean…really?” Some of my friends were getting words like “go” and “action” and I got perseverance? I didn’t like it; I wanted to take back the prayer. What was God thinking, anyways? I had always been somewhat known for starting things and losing interest over time, eventually abandoning the project or idea. But looking back on 2012, I can see how God used the trials of one of the most difficult years I have faced to break my pride, provide me with ultimate spiritual freedom, as well as teaching me self-discipline and yes, perseverance.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to start a new year, because even though it’s just another day on the calendar, somehow turning the page and writing a new number (2013) just feels like a fresh start. I’m looking towards 2013 with great expectation—expectation in God’s revealed will (HIS Word) and not my own clever ideas. I still haven’t prayed about the new word for next year, but I’m not as scared about it as I was last year. Looking back I know that no matter what, God knows what He is doing and I can really, in fact, trust Him in all things, even the hard, painful, and uncomfortable things. That no matter what the situation, His character is constant, even if I’m not feeling like it is.

His character is constant, yes, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this year. My character? Not so much. Which is why the prayer, “Lord, change me” has been cried out more times than I can accurately recall.

So, mingled in with words like illness, death, betrayal, loneliness, slander, hatred, consequences, loss, depression, despair, relapse, and uncertainty have been the words of truth—healing, restoration, freedom, hope, peace, purpose, fulfillment, grace, mercy, understanding, and love. All of the awfulness has actually taught me how to be an optimist of sorts. An optimist in God, not in myself. An optimist in His character, not in my ability.

I’ve asked, He has answered, and none of His responses were as expected. Through all of this I am learning that maybe, just maybe, He really does know better than I do.

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Palm 143:10

What theme has God brought to your year? What “lesson” have you learned through trials or blessings? Post your comment here or join the discussion on facebook.

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profilepic3Rebecca Aarup is an author and freelance writer. She is also a health columnist for The Christian Online Magazine, a contributing writer for Encourage 365, creater of S.E.R.V.A.N.T. Sisters women’s ministry (online), and has written devotionals/studies/articles for a variety of publications. She just released a new Bible Study The Word: Six Lessons from Psalm 119 which is available as a free download on her website or in print form from Amazon. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Arizona with her husband Chris and 5 year old, Samantha.  You can read more from Rebecca by subscribing to her blog (it’s free) and following her on twitter and facebook.

Yes, He Does

**Originally Published on Encourage 365, December 2012**

 

Yes, He Does

“[Jesus] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” John 1:14 (MSG)

It was God who made the first move, not me, not you, not mankind. Just like He did in the Garden of Eden as God Himself walked through the thick brush of foliage to find His children. “Where are you, my son, Adam? Where are you my daughter, Eve?” God made the first move to seek out His beloved while at the same time His beloved were running the other way.

Jesus became flesh, He became human not only to save the world from sin, but to show us that He does care, He does understand, He does empathize.

Imagine being the King of all kings and coming down to this sinful planet, all the riches of the world at your disposal and yet you are essentially homeless. You choose a life of servant humility so no one can say you don’t understand. Of course He understands. He felt loneliness, injustice, persecution, rejection, loss, and grief. He knows, He hears, He cares, and He understands. Yes, He does. He lived it, walked it, breathed it, and yet persevered without doubt. He knew His heavenly Father was always moving toward Him and us. He demonstrated that truth through His life, by coming to us as flesh and blood, walking among us, serving us, and loving us, and finally, dying for us.

“We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to Him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)

Hunched over the toilet, tears streaming down my face, uncontrollable wretching—probably the worst physical reaction I have ever had to stress. I found myself on my knees in the bathroom asking God if he really understood. “Really, God? Really? You’re up there, you can do whatever you want, and yet you allow this…this nonsense. Do you even know what I’m going through?”

In one day I had lost a beloved pet of nearly twelve years, quite unexpectedly. My five-year old wept, unable to comprehend why her beloved kitty was not coming home–how she was fine one day and just—gone—the next. And just moments before finding out about my cat, we received notice of a lawsuit against us; a dispute with a previous landlord that had been ongoing for over a year. They had summoned us to court by sending the order to a previous address (an action that is legal in my state), despite having our new address, so we were unaware of the order to appear in court. They sued us for damages well documented on our move-in sheet (in other words, the damages were there before we moved in). This lawsuit, barring a miracle, will ruin us financially (not that we were doing that well to begin with!)  Just when our family was beginning to recover from a financially difficult year, a bombshell blows. Unable to find work, the burden rests on my unbelieving husband. He asks me why my God would allow such unfairness to continue in our lives and I had no good answers.

But then…

As the pastor preached on John 1, he prayed that our eyes would be newly opened to truth despite the familiarity of the passage. Surely God moved toward me in that moment and revealed Himself again. He didn’t change my circumstances, but He did allow me to accept them rather than fight them.

Something awaits me in this mess. I don’t know what, exactly, but I know God is not sitting “up there” with His arms crossed, laughing His head off at our plight. Probably a thousand different reasons could be drawn up as to why this is all happening once again around Christmas (which seems to be a theme in my family—December disasters is how my husband refers to it.) But one thing was certain to me as I listened to my pastor, God is here, He is moving toward me. Toward me? I am overwhelmed with mercy and grace. All of a sudden I don’t need to know the why, how, or what. God ordains my steps, and now I ask Him, “Where do I go now? What is my next move? Give me wisdom to know and faith to believe you’re in control.”

He doesn’t want us to toss aside our pain as if it doesn’t compare to what He did for us, He is not trying to give us some divine guilt trip. Instead, He offers His presence among us to comfort and heal us. We learn faith as we experience these things. It hurts and that is ok. He knows and He pursues us in our grief. I can almost hear Him saying the same thing to me as He did to Adam and Eve, “Child, where are you? I am here, I want to help you. Come to Me; rest in Me; find peace in Me. I understand, yes, I do.”

 

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian

No one is exempt from suffering, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally. It matters not if a person is a Christian—everyone experiences suffering to some degree. No doubt suffering has been written about, studied, debated, and discussed for generations. Over time one may begin to wonder if there can possibly be anything new to say about it.  But Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian does exactly that. This may be one of the most important books a Christian could read in today’s publishing market. My view on suffering was challenged throughout this book, and by the end of it, I found myself deeply affected in a spiritually transforming way.

Glorious Ruin discusses at length two key issues: The Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross. Throughout the text Tchividjian explains the origins of both, as well as key differences between the two.

Glorious Ruin is brimming with powerful truth which provokes pause and careful contemplation in the reader. With brutal honesty, the belief system of the majority of modern Christians is challenged to go well beyond what is generally understood about suffering. Tchividjian also challenges the ideologies permeating from the Prosperity Gospel, Scientism, and Nihilism as well as skillfully working through the New Age “self-transformation” movement. He exposes the fallacy of Karma, and how most every Christian is tainted with the idea that “what goes around comes around”–whether they realize it or not.

“We communicate that God exists for our benefit, happiness, self-fulfillment, and personal transformation. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, and God isn’t necessarily opposed to them, but God in Christ cannot be reduced to a means to our selfish ends. He is the end Himself!” (pg. 47)

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A tremendous amount of detail goes into studying the effects of moralizing and minimalizing suffering, namely within the Church community. We may think we are not guilty of such attitudes, but this book challenges thinking and promotes deep introspection on such issues. If we’re honest, we’ll admit we are at least tempted to rationalize suffering, or explain it, using the word of God. We tend to, at least subconsciously, feel the need to defend God’s allowance of certain tragedies. Glorious Ruin is not another book to offer reasons why a person suffers, it simply points to the Gospel repeatedly as not needing a defense or an explanation.

“The Gospel is not ultimately a defense from pain and suffering; rather, it is the message of God’s rescue through pain.” (pg. 38)

Unlike many Christian resources currently available, it’s clear Glorious Ruin was not written to promote a certain doctrine or theology, but focuses solely on the Gospel as it is written in the Bible, especially through the life and words of Jesus.

“What God pressed deeply into me is that there is no true, lasting hope outside of Him. Specifically, there is no true, lasting hope outside of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about an explanation of what happened on Calvary—I’m talking about Calvary itself.” (pg. 150)

Perhaps one of the most poignant messages of the entire book deals with our inherent need to have things explained. Our natural tendencies are predisposed to asking the Why and How of our circumstances. The following quote hit home for me, personally.

“Explanations…are a substitute for trust, a red herring at best. God is interested in something much more powerful than anything information could ever produce. He is interested in faith.” (pg. 152)

I like to keep my personal “opinions” out of book reviews, keeping to the factual content of the book and letting the reader decide if its right for them, but this case proved impossible for me. I cannot withhold the deep impact this book had on my life and how the truth it contains applies to every living soul on the planet. If you think you know everything about suffering already, I plead with you to read this book. If you live a comfortable life, relatively free of what you consider suffering, I plead with you to read this book anyways—if not for yourself, for the people who walk in to your life who have suffered in ways you may not be able to relate to.

One thing you will not find in Glorious Ruin is an attempt to trivialize pain, or compare one person’s experience to another. Tchividjian rightly acknowledges that we all suffer in unique ways and God has a plan to set us free through that suffering, no matter what its form. Simply put, Glorious Ruin is a must-read Christian resource.

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian is published through David C. Cook and is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2012.

(I received this book for review purposes only and was not required to give a positive review.)

Tullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. Tchividjian is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored many books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything.