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.

Advertisements

[Trying to] Embrace the Change

 

[Trying to] Embrace the Change

 

As I sat in the school office watching kids hustle to and fro I asked Him, “Lord, if this is what you want then give me a willing heart, because right now I don’t feel so willing.” But I knew when I saw that sign on the door as I left the school that morning that I needed to fill out an application and at least try.

It’s not that we need the money or that I need to work to make ends meet. After all, I already make a little money here and there from freelance writing. But for some reason, ever since my one and only child left the home for the first time to start first grade in a public school (a change which took many months to embrace), I have been wandering around my house in a daze of bewilderment. Yes, I have school, I have writing, I have housework and yard work, and yes I can walk the dog more, read more, and study more. I can even go to Baskin Robbins by myself. The only problem is I don’t want any of those things. At least not in the way I had thought I would.

My life has revolved around my daughter since the day she was born and now I have this eight hour void of nothingness every day. I don’t know why, exactly, but for the last three weeks I have barely managed to get through even a few pages of a textbook (and am way far behind on my own school work as a result). Today I finally had to admit, among reluctant tears, that I am experiencing something like a post-partum depression. Not that I don’t know God’s truth or am somehow duped into self-degrading thoughts (as I have been many times in the past). It’s just that intense feeling of—loss. Things are changing, like it or not, and right now I’m just trying to survive each day until 3pm when I get to hug my baby girl again.

As much as I had dreamed about typing all day, submitting articles, writing books, being some sort of “authority” in matters such as spiritual freedom and emotional health, God has slowly redirected my focus. He has called me to work as a counselor and more doors have opened for me to work one on one with hurting people in the “real” world, not just in the cyber world; prayer partnering and mentorship, and other ways to be a “lay-counselor” as I finish my education in that field. Some of those people are young women (teens), a ministry I have also dreamt about for many years. Excited to have that opportunity—yes—but the change is still hard to get used to.

Being on the phone and available to others 24/7 is a blessing, though. Seeing how God is changing hearts and paving the way for grace to be known is beyond compare to any writing ministry or church “work” I have ever been a part of. He’s creating a new passion within me, and for the first time in the past two years, that passion does not revolve around being an author or even a writer (though I will still continue to do this blog, so don’t get too excited).

And for the past few years I have prayed for God to allow me to earn some sort of income so that I could bless others as I have been blessed (I’m not in a situation where I can just take my husband’s paycheck and do whatever I want with it). I had thought the answer to that prayer would be through writing, but then I found myself filling out that application to make $8 an hour, a wage I last earned when I worked as a janitor in a hospital over ten years ago. At least for now, as I adjust to the new schedule, the new routine of quiet that is my home now, I need to get out there and get to work. Not to be busy for the sake of being busy, but to allow God to answer my prayers in His way, not my way.

It’s funny how in a matter of hours God can transform a stubborn heart into a yearning one. One that found itself asking to land this minimum wage job and dreaming of the ways this money could be used to minister to others.

But wait, there’s more. Not only did my Unexpected God change my heart on the matter, but He had some other surprises in store like a husband getting a HUGE promotion at work. Only two months ago my husband had suggested, “If you got even a part time, small job, we could really build up our savings fast.” I huffed and ga-fawed (yeah I made that word up) and crossed my arms in defiance, “I have a real job! Just because I don’t earn a steady paycheck like you…” And then I saw that ad for the cafeteria job and filled out the application in a blind moment of complete trust, surrendering my heart to God. It was only after that moment that my husband got his new position at work and told me, “Hey, you don’t even need to get a job, honey. I just want you to stay home.”

And you know what? Now I actually want to go out and be with real people in the real world. I want to take the light of Jesus beyond my computer. I want that minimum wage, four-hour-a-day job. Though I suppose being a “known” author would be glamorous to some extent, the change in hearts God has generously allowed me to be a part of over the past few months is worth far more than any book contract. So, if I don’t get that cafeteria job, I’ll look for another “real job” because I am going to embrace the change. I’m un-crossing my arms and saying, “Ok, Lord. Where you tell me to go is where I’ll go.”

If you’re on the fence of surrender I’ll help you make the decision a bit faster. Trust God’s will and timing in all things, and trust that He can and will change your heart if you only ask Him to. One prayer is never denied an answer, and that is, “Lord, give me a heart that is willing.”

The Radical Question/A Radical Idea by David Platt

radicalcover The Radical Question–A Radical Idea by David Platt is a small book, what I might describe as a gift book, that basically highlights the key messages from his full length books: Radical, and Radical Together. Reading this book(-let) was quick and easy yet full of deep meaning. I found myself highlighting nearly every line. In short, I loved this book and am inspired to go purchase the other full length books to gain a greater insight into David Platt’s message.

The radical question David poses? “What is Jesus worth to you?” Is He worth denying self and sacrificing the comforts of the American dream to reach the world with His message of life? Just what kind of radical devotion do we really have? Or is our  Christian life more about adding a little bit of Jesus into our personal agendas of health, wealth, and happiness?

And David’s radical idea? What would it look like if churches stopped spending millions of dollars on bigger better buildings and started redirecting those funds to meet the needs of countless millions in poverty around the world? Of course, his reasons and explanations go much deeper than that, but overall it is a question too important to ignore.

One pointed example he brings to light: the front of a Christian magazine proclaims in large letters how a church spends 23 million dollars on a new building. Then in smaller letters on the front page, that same church is praised for sending five thousand dollars to a third world country. I mean, wow. Five thousand dollars versus 23 million? Where is the church’s focus?

More than just preaching a message, David Platt and his congregation practice their words with tangible action. For instance, they cut 83% of their worship budget to use those resources overseas–spreading the gospel and meeting the needs of the poor, sick, and helpless. They realized that having the newest best technology, most talented singers/performers, or fancy productions was not nearly as important as meeting the needs of the world. What a radical idea!

I can say that fortunately I am a part of a church much like this: extremely outward focused. But many churches could use a prod in that direction, and these books by David Platt are a great place to start. Bravo, Mr. Platt, for speaking up and challenging the church to think about what the world would look like if we did unite in radical devotion to Jesus.

(I received this book from Waterbrook/Multnomah for review purposes only and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions here were strictly my own.)

Pruned to Bloom

Once upon a time there was an old grape branch; it had been growing in the vineyard for a long time. One day a new branch was planted in the next row. The younger branch grew, developed more branches, and bore fruit.

Taking courage one hot summer day, the young branch looked up at the old branch and said in a squeaky voice, “It must be great to have people travel from miles around just to taste the sweetness of your fruit.”

The old branch nodded.

Feeling encouraged, the young branch continued, “I have been talking with the other branches in the garden, and they say yours is the sweetest fruit.”

The old branch smiled.

“When I grow up, I want to be just like you! How can I have sweet fruit like yours? I’ll do anything you say.”

As the old branch looked down on the young branch, he remembered the day when, as a young branch himself, he had asked an old branch the same question. In his baritone voice, he gave the young branch the same answer he had received years earlier: “Be willing.”

The young branch mused in frustration, Be willing? I tell him I’ll do whatever it takes to have sweet fruit, and all he can say is “Be willing”? Then he turned to another branch and began carrying on what he felt was a meaningful conversation.

Each day there was constant chatter in the vineyard as the branches shared the latest gossip and wasted the hours away by comparing the sweetness of their fruit. The young branch knew there was no other place he’d rather live.

One cool autumn morning, the young branch was awakened by the sound of the old brown, weathered gate opening. As he looked at the end of the row, in stepped the gardener. Normally when the gardener came to visit, the vines would clap their leaves together and shout with delight. But something unusual was taking place that day. A hush swept over the garden. The young branch glanced over at the old branch, who didn’t seem to be disturbed; so the young branch directed his attention back to the end of the row.

The gardener stopped by the first branch in the row; the young branch was sure he had come to compliment his friend on her fine growth. But watching intently, he saw the gardener bend on one knee, reach into his back pocket, pull out what looked like sharp scissors, and move toward his friend.

Instinctively the branch at the end of the row pulled her leaves back, and the young branch hear her plead, “No, no, why are you doing this to me? Haven’t I been sweet? Didn’t I bring honor to the garden? Please, please, don’t do this to me!”

Before the young branch could blink, his friend lay on the ground except for the nub. The young branch turned to the old branch and asked in a low, fearful voice, “What’s happening? Why did the gardener do that?”

The old branch did not respond.

The young branch strained to understand and then blurted out, “Oh, I get it! We thought the gardener liked that branch, but he really didn’t like her.”

The old branch responded, “No, that’s not true. In fact, what you just saw the gardener do proves he loves that branch.”
“Oh. I knew that. Let me try again. We thought that branch’s fruit was sweet, but it really wasn’t sweet.”

“That branch’s fruit was sweet.”

“Okay, okay; I know the real reason. That branch did something wrong, so the gardener is punishing her; he’s just not telling us why.”

The old branch answered. “The branch is not being punished. Listen carefully-your friend is being pruned. Not because she was trying to do things wrong, but because she was trying to do things right. Not because her fruit was not sweet, but because the gardener wants it to be even sweeter.”

“But that doesn’t seem fair!” protested the young branch. “Just look at her. She’s been cut down to the nub. Now all the people who come to taste the sweetness of her fruit will laugh and judge the branch.”

“Only those outside the garden who don’t understand will laugh and judge the branch.”

“Only those outside the garden who don’t understand? That branch didn’t understand! Did you hear her say, ‘Why are you doing this to me?'”

The old branch was quiet for a long time and then responded slowly, “Unfortunately, what you’re saying is true. It’s one thing when people outside the garden don’t understand, but when those inside the garden-especially the ones being pruned-don’t understand, it causes a lot of confusion, disappointment, and pain. Those branches down at the end of the row will have to listen to your friend murmur and complain until she blooms again.”

The young branch proclaimed, “Well, you don’t have to worry about being pruned. You have the sweetest fruit int he garden!”

“I want to be pruned.”

“You what? It must hurt, and you’re going to look funny.”

The old branch chuckled and replied, I must admit it’s quite uncomfortable. You see, my young friend, I know I look good to you, but I have a fungus growing on my underside that no one can see. if it remains, it will deminish the quality and quantity of my fruit. No, when the gardener comes to prune me, I won’t pull my leaves back. I’ll lift myself high in the air to make his job easier.”

Trembling, the young branch responded, “I don’t understand.”

With compassion the old branch replied, “Did you see that branch the gardener just tore off and threw over the fence? It didn’t belong in this garden at all and will be burned in a fire.”

“Wow!” exclaimed the young branch.

“When the gardener comes to prune you, remember that the gardener only prunes the branches that belong to him, which makes it an honor. He doesn’t prune you because you’re trying to do things wrong, but because you’re trying to do things right. It’s not because you’re not sweet, but because he wants you to be sweeter. And always remember, my young friend, the very fact that you’re being pruned means you will bloom again.”

Just then the gardener stopped by the old branch, and the young branch saw the old branch raise his leaves high in the air. He heard a snip, and the old branch lay on the ground except for the nub. Then the gardener turned to the young branch. His leaves were shaking, and tears rolled down his side, but with every ounce of strength he raised his leaves high in the air. He looked up into the gardener’s face and said, “Kind and gentle gardener, I’m willing.”

P. Bunny Wilson, (Becoming God’s true Woman)