If you have lived a blessed life where the greatest challenge to your faith has been disappointment and not destruction then I am so, so happy for you. Really.
Some of us have dragged our broken hearts through the church doors out of habit with little hope we might find the genuine comfort we need to survive inside.
Because experience taught us that while it is perfectly acceptable to raise a hand and ask for prayer one or two weeks in a row, it better not become a predictable pattern. Patience with unsolvable and messy ongoing situations runs thin as leaders turn the discussion toward “victory in Jesus”.
But that isn’t what Christ came for-not that we don’t have ultimate and even some temporal victory through Him.
He came for the broken and breathless. He came in the flesh because our flesh is weak and life is hard and bad things happen.
We’ve got to do a better job welcoming and ministering to hurting hearts.
We have to.
I am a shepherd. My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.
And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.
But most of us are far removed from the daily reminder of pastoral life that was commonly accessible to the authors and readers of the Bible thousands of years ago. So it’s no surprise that we tend to forget the connection between a shepherd’s life and a pastor’s calling.
The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.
Somewhere in the pursuit of truth and light, the Protestant reformation embraced at least one of the very practices it sought to discard.
I absolutely believe that by the time Martin Luther tacked his theses to the door the church needed reforming.
Men’s traditions and human “wisdom” had adulterated the pure truth and freedom of Christ’s Good News. No longer a source of liberation, it had been transformed by those in power into a form of bondage.
But humans are a stubborn and prideful lot and it wasn’t long before the liberators became slave drivers.
“Sola Scriptura” didn’t allow for any deviation from the accepted interpretation of those Scriptures. And the interpretation often went past the text and included making absolute assertions about how God works in the world.
Men began to once again place God in a box.
My intentions are not always yours,
and I do not go about things as you do.
9 My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you,
just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth.
Isaiah 55:8-9 VOICE
So much of the “faith” handed down today through Sunday School lessons and sermons is one that simply doesn’t leave room for mystery or for doubt or, honestly, for many of the actual Bible stories if you read them straight from the Book and not get them second hand from a loose retelling .
Jesus Himself-the exact representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3)-didn’t greet skeptics with absolute proof. He pointed to the work He was doing, the truth He was telling and the miracles He performed but He left it to the audience to decide if that qualified Him as the Christ.
Yet we treat those who bring questions to the table of grace at best as immature and at worst as apostates or faithless wannabes.
How far we have fallen from Paul’s declaration: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Worse, we often condemn those who want desperately to come trembling to their church to seek other people and spaces outside the community of faith where their questions will be tolerated.
I love how Philip Yancey spoke of this in a recent blog titled, “A Time To Doubt”:
Jesus had the opportunity to subdue doubts for all time. He could have appeared with a choir of angels on Pilate’s porch the Monday after his resurrection and triumphantly declared, “I’m back!” Or, he could have staged a spectacular display before thousands in the Roman Forum. Instead, he limited his appearances to small groups of people who had already demonstrated some faith in him—which tells me something about the kind of uncoerced faith that God values.
In one of those small gatherings, the apostle who would earn the nickname “doubting Thomas” confronted Jesus. I love that scene, for two reasons. First, it shows the gentle way Jesus treated a doubter, when he had a perfect chance to scold him or pile on the guilt. Listen to Jesus’ approach: “What proof do you need, Thomas? Want to touch my wounds? Shall I eat something for you?”
Second, I note the poignant fact that the other disciples, who had already encountered the risen Jesus, included Thomas in their midst. To them, Thomas was a heretic: he defiantly refused to believe in the Resurrection, the cornerstone of Christian faith. Even so, they welcomed him to join them behind closed doors. Had they not, Thomas may never have met the resurrected Jesus.
Perhaps that gives a model for how the church should handle doubters now. Can we provide a safe, welcoming place for those who need more light?
Philip Yancey, “A Time to Doubt”
I know so, so many people who suffer greatly-often through no fault of their own and sometimes due to the fault and sin of others-who struggle to square their experience with all the declarations they’ve heard about “how God works”.
I know others who have crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” on the long list of “what good Christians do and God rewards” and are living a life of desperation and sadness because life hasn’t turned out anything like what they thought they were promised.
Is it any wonder they are trying to figure things out?
Doubt is not denial.
If someone is asking questions, they are still seeking.
John Drummond points out that Jesus consistently made a distinction between doubt and unbelief.“Doubt is can’t believe; unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness.” (quoted by Philip Yancey, A Time to Doubt)
Jesus invited honest questions.
He only chastised the religious leaders who thought they knew it all.
Perhaps we could do the same and make space for those who are walking through a desert place to refresh themselves, renew their hope and restore their faith.
**If anyone is honestly searching, they are welcome to use the “contact” option to send me an email and begin a dialogue. ❤**
Heartache (which is very real, and often outside our control) crushes a spirit.
That’s a fact, reality, truth, cause and effect.
I understand how those who have not been visited with hard, unchangeable, traumatic life circumstances can be tempted to see only the “choice” side of this verse. But those of us who have had our hearts shattered, our worlds destroyed, our lives ripped asunder know that sometimes there is no choice in heartache.
And we should not be guilted into smiling when our hearts are breaking.
I was introduced to praise choruses in my mid-twenties.
I love both.
I used to hear or sing along to them and feel them feed my spirit.
My family sang in choirs, served on worship teams and was rarely absent from church for over twenty years. Music was part of everyday life with a special bonus on Sundays.
Now I find it hard to hear and even harder to sing some hymns I used to love.
One of the most challenging is “It Is Well”-really,ISit well?
Can I sing these words with conviction or am I lying my way through just to keep others from asking questions?
I know the story behind the hymn-at least the part every worship leader or pastor likes to share. Horatio Spafford wrote the words as he passed the very spot where his daughters drowned in an ocean crossing. His life didn’t end on a high note. It’s often introduced as an amazing testimony of victory over grief and death. If I only cling harder to Jesus, I, too, can experience perfect peace in the midst of great trial and suffering.
We sang that hymn in church a couple of weeks ago and I realized that it is a prayer as much as (or instead of) a declaration.
In many ways, after 5 years, it ISwell with my soul.
I’ve reached a place where I can rest easy with unanswered questions and where I have finally received this blow with open arms. I’m not fighting theFACT of my son’s earlier than expected move to Heaven.
On those days, I can sing the chorus as an affirmation of truth.
But I have days (and sometimes weeks) where life and memories and anniversaries and random stress unsettle me again. So then I sing it as a PRAYER like the psalmist who turns his heart to the only One Who can fill it again with grace, peace and hope.
It may not be well rightNOW, but itWILLbe well.
I can trust that He who began a good work in me will complete it.
I can lean on the truth that in Christ every promise of God is “yes” and “amen”.
I know, deep in my bones, that all this heartache will ultimately be redeemed and that whatever I have lost in this life will be gloriously restored in Heaven. ❤
My little congregation is hosting a volunteer team blessing us with a new roof for our leaking sanctuary.
What would have been absolutely impossible if we had to rely totally on our own resources is happening right now!
The week after my daughter’s wedding.
Which means that I am especially exhausted as well as depleted emotionally, mentally and physically.
I’m simply unable to participate like I want to and feel I should.
I’ve brought food up to the church each day but I can’t stay to help serve because my family is still doing leftover wedding tasks. My heart is torn between what I know I have to do and what I would like to do. And it’s impossible to do both.
It’s so much easier for me to extend grace to others in similar situations. I am often the first to say, “Don’t worry about it! We’ve got it covered!”, and mean it. The last thing I want to do for any struggling heart is add to the burden.
Yet here I am, knowing full well that the smart thing, the right thing and really the only thing I can do is accept the same grace from others I’ve extended in the past and I can’t stand it!
I’m pretty sure it’s pride stopping me from admitting my limitations. I’m pretty sure it’s selfish ambition that goads me into trying to finagle a way to be in two places at once. I don’t want to be the one person who didn’t show up all week, meet the volunteers and tell them face-to-face how very much we appreciate them.
How my heart can twist things!
These past six months have been hard ones. Goodness-the past almost two years have been one crisis after another, more travel away from home than in the decade before, more heart-stopping, mind-blowing moments and challenges than any other season since the first year after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
And still I will cling to my pride.
I need to accept the abundant, overwhelming, free-flowing and never-ending grace of Jesus.
I had a very uncomfortable exchange with someone at church Wednesday night.
We have a light potluck dinner each Wednesday before Bible Study and I’m on kitchen duty. So I was uncovering dishes, adding spoons and getting things ready when conversation erupted around me about a “horrible wreck just up the road.”
I kept silent and tried to focus on the plastic wrap and aluminum foil but couldn’t help hearing the animated relaying of detail after detail until it reached a crescendo ending in someone declaring that, “Well, those people just drive too fast. They don’t even care about themselves.”
You might guess where this is going.
Yep. Couldn’t take it anymore so I said, “Most young people feel invincible. They think it won’t happen to them. If they knew they might really die and all that meant, they wouldn’t do it.”
Which kind of slowed them down but didn’t stop them.
So I asked, “Is the guy OK?” Wanting a simple answer not an account of grisly details.
Instead, the main speaker turned to me and began to share all he could remember in the brief time he had to take notes as he was crawling slowly by the accident scene. (I won’t recount them here to spare hearts but let’s just say for those of us whose child left for Heaven by road accident, it was entirely. too. much.)
I looked at him and said, “That’s enough.” He kept talking.
I looked at him again and said, “That’s enough. My son was killed in an accident.” He kept talking.
I finally raised my voice, called his name and said, “That’s enough! Stop talking!” He turned away like I had lost my mind.
I followed him a couple steps and said, “My son died in an accident. I don’t want to hear those kinds of details. Didn’t you see that I was crying?”
His response: “Well you asked. No, I didn’t see you crying.”
Everyone heard it but no one was listening. Everyone saw it but no one was willing to come alongside and put an arm around me. Everyone knows about my son but knowing hasn’t sunk in deeply enough to grow seeds of compassion.
I was shaking and wanted to leave right then but didn’t.
I’m not so tender now at five years that simply hearing about an accident upsets me. My mind goes immediately to the family and I breathe prayers for abundant grace and mercy. I never want others to feel they can’t share genuine prayer requests or concerns.
But I do not want details. I do not want a blow-by-blow nor anyone’s haughty opinion that it won’t happen to them or theirs because they “take precautions”.
I am utterly undone that after years of gently trying to help the people I worship with understand the tender places in a bereaved parent’s heart, several of them stomped all over mine.
I know words slip out. I don’t want anyone to walk on eggshells around me.
But I do want to be heard.
When I tell you that I need you to stop sharing something with me, please just stop.
Are you going to burst if you don’t let the words out?
But you might well break a bit of my heart if you don’t.
Not because I am angry with God, His people or His Word.
But because my experience is an outlier for Western “Sunshine” Christianity.
I don’t fit in with the folks who smile and wave and pretend that they have all they ever wanted, heaven is a nice place to look forward to, and they are “living their best life now”.
With so much effort being poured into church growth, so much press being given to the benefits of faith, and so much flexing of religious muscle in the public square, the poor in spirit have no one but Jesus to call them blessed anymore.
― Barbara Brown Taylor
My eyes are open to the desperate reality that this world is not as God intended. My heart knows that even though my hope in Christ is a lifeline, it isn’t anesthesia.
My soul is battered and bruised.
My “hallelujah” is definitely broken.
I have a hard time with Sunday School lessons that draw one-liner takeaways from difficult to understand scriptures. I cannot give assent to simple life lessons designed to give congregants a mantra for the coming week.
Life is more complex than that.
And if you listen closely to Jesus’ own words you can hear it.
So sometimes I can’t gather in the halls with folks who insist life is simple, faith erases all pain and the hope of Heaven makes everything alright.
I sit home with my Bible, my selection of honest worship songs and my God.
He has invited me to bring my hurt to Him, so I do.
Growing up in church I was always taught the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers from a couple of perspectives. One, that He experienced and expressed righteous anger-as distinct from most of our own selfish human anger; and two, that doing business in God’s sanctuary was a no-no.
As I got older and began studying Scripture for myself without all the cues provided in Sunday School booklets for how I should be interpreting the verses, I came to a little different understanding of this very familiar passage.