Doubt Is Not Denial: Journaling My Way Home

When I was asked several months ago to speak to a group of hospice care workers, I titled the presentation “Lifting the Veil on Grief”.

One of the topics I covered was how experiencing the death of a loved one-especially out-of-order or untimely death- can cause even the staunchest believer to doubt.

And the first thing I said was, “Doubt in the face of overwhelming sorrow and hard circumstances is absolutely normal.  But doubt is NOT disbelief.”

So often friends, family, clergy, social workers and others want to steer hearts away from doubt because they are afraid that entertaining questions or expressing disappointment in God will always lead to someone losing faith.

That is untrue.

When my son ran ahead to Heaven, I reexamined everything I believed.

But I did not “lose” my faith.

I never once doubted that God was still working, was still loving and was still in control.

But I most certainly had to drag out every single thing I thought I knew about how He worked, loved and superintended the world and examine it in light of my experience of burying my son.  It took a long time to work through all the pat answers I had been offered and myself doled out to others for years that didn’t fit with my new reality.

One of the ways I did that was to journal my questions, complaints, anger and disappointment.  I wrote it out.

Many of the Psalms are precisely that-David and others crying out to God, begging Him for understanding and for a sliver of hope.  As the Psalmist breathed out his doubts and fears, the Spirit of God breathed fresh life into his soul.

i wait for the lord

My journals are filled with strong words and strong feelings.  They are also filled with, what I believe, God spoke to my heart in response.  Sometimes it was in the form of a Bible verse, sometimes a memory, sometimes song lyrics or a prayer.  And sometimes the pages are simply a record of how my Shepherd gently led me through a particular hard moment or day or week.

So if you are struggling with doubt-let yourself off the hook. 

You can’t deny it. 

And you don’t have to. 

You’re in good company.

Grab a notebook and pen and start writing.  Just begin.  Don’t edit yourself in fear someone may read it one day.  God knows anyway.

When you’re done spilling, sit quietly in the Presence of your Shepherd.  Listen to what He may be speaking to your broken heart.

I have done this for decades through many hard things- child loss being the hardest.

The Lord is faithful to meet me right where I am and fill me with His Spirit.

He’s never leaves me without hope when I turn my heart toward Him.

but the lord stood with me and gave me strength

 

Refuse to Hide: Lament As Worship

We usually think of worship as songs of joy and happiness extolling the virtues of God and Christ.  

While that is most certainly a form of worship, it is absolutely not the only one.  

Biblical lament is an honest, vulnerable expression of pain, a crying out to God in faith as we are suffering.
― Cindee Snider Re

Worship is also the broken whimper of a scared and wounded child, crawling into the lap of her Abba Father.  

There is no less adoration in this ultimate act of confident trust than in the most eloquent declaration of theological truth in word or song.  

Lament is worship.  

Christian lament is not simply complaint. Yes, it stares clear-eyed at awfulness and even wonders if God has gone…Yet at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn’t giving up, it’s giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.”
― Josh Larsen

Bringing my brokenness to God as an offering, trusting Him to receive it, to keep it and to begin to weave even this into the tapestry of my life is perhaps the ultimate act of worship.  

you keep track of all my tears

When I refuse to pretend, refuse to hide, refuse to run away and look for an answer somewhere else, I affirm that He is my God, and there is no other beside Him.  

A lament is an act of worship, a faith statement of trust, in the face of difficulty. It’s a wonderfully honest way to acknowledge our trouble to God as we also acknowledge our hope is in him.
― Linda Evans Shepherd

lamenting is a painful process

 

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
― Nicholas Wolterstorff

A Shepherd’s Heart

If you’ve read even a few of my posts you know that I have a small flock/herd of sheep and goats. 

I have learned firsthand why God called His most capable leaders from among shepherds.  It’s a tough job and often a thankless job.

But it molds a heart of love and compassion in ways no other work can do.  

The Twenty-third Psalm isn’t just words to me, it’s my life:

One  night, as I went to close the gate to the goat pen, I noticed an older doe was missing-I didn’t have to do a head count, I just looked at the herd and could tell someone wasn’t there.

Sure enough, Bella hadn’t made it back from afternoon foraging.

I hollered out to my son and, flashlights in hand, we went looking for her.  We were pretty certain she must have been knocked down and was unable to get up.  Goats can get kind of pushy if there is a particularly tasty bit of browse and often butt one another.

After exploring all the usual places, he going one way and me another, he found her.

Yep, down and helpless.

In the edge of the woods.

Where, if we left her, she would be dead come morning.

So he carried her back to the pen (not an easy task with a full-grown goat!).

Why? Because that’s what shepherds DO.

welcome home goats

They tend the herd and flock. They don’t rest until every one is accounted for.

And it’s what God calls HIS shepherds to do as well: know the flock, feed the flock, go out in the dark and the briers and find the missing one.

Not to rest satisfied that they will somehow find their own way home.

I am thankful for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Perfect Shepherd.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

We who follow Him are called to be shepherds of our own flock-the persons He places under our watchcare, the ones He brings across our path that need love, compassion, a healing touch and a guiding hand.

It’s a tough job. 

Often a thankless job. 

But it’s our job.  

feed my shee[

Repost: Not What I Had Planned

I don’t get to choose.

I don’t get to plan the way life is going to be.

Oh, I bring out the calendar and mark down the days:  birthdays, holidays, special events and obligations.

calender

But then one dark morning a knock stops the clock and makes the world spin faster all at once.

I’m suspended and plunged under in the same breath.

Read the rest here:  Not What I Had Planned

Can I Get A Witness?

What, exactly, is the value of believers in Jesus plastering an “Everything is fine” mask across our faces?

Are we afraid that if we allow someone to see our pain we are letting God down?

And how could that be?

Did not Christ Himself beg the Father in the Garden to take the cup from Him?

jesus in the garden

Yet we smile and wave and chat our way through encounters with people around us, pretending, pretending, pretending that life is easy when it most certainly is not.

all broken trees

Denying the dark and refusing to acknowledge the depth of our pain diminishes the value of the comfort of Christ.

When David wrote that, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me” he understood both the desperate need for and the great assurance of Christ’s Presence.

When we allow others to see our broken hearts, we also bear testimony to the sustaining grace of Jesus.

heals the broken hearted

And we extend an invitation for them to meet this Savior that gives strength and comfort even in the darkest hours and hardest journeys.

walk with the broken toby mac

 

 

Out of the Depths I Cry

So many times I feel like this violet, clinging to a tiny foothold in a treacherous world-only enough strength for today, only enough bravery for today, only enough mental and emotional reserve for today.

But I know as surely as the sun rises, that tomorrow God will be present to give me what I need for THAT day too.

violet in crevice of rock

Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD,
O LORD, hear my voice,
Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in His word I put my hope. 
My soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

~Psalm 130-selected NIV

Count Your Blessings?

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS by Johnson Oatman, Jr.

I grew up singing this hymn.  It has a catchy tune and a good message-if the most trying thing you have had to endure is ordinary disappointment.

But if you’ve been devastated by the storms of life, hope dashed to bits on the rock of despair, heart shattered into a million pieces by loss-well then, the advice seems rather infantile and useless, however good-intentioned.

It is useless, if what I’m trying to do (or what someone else is trying to do for me) is pile up blessings on one side and losses on the other and make the scales balance or better yet-tip toward the blessing side.

Because there is NO way to balance losing my son with any earthly blessing.

I have my other children.  Yes, but I had them when I still had him.  I have my health (sort of).  Yes, but I had it when I still had him.  I have a home, freedom, food-yes, yes, yes.  But all that I had when I still had him.

So you see, I can’t make it balance out.  No one can.

But there is a kernel of truth in this hymn.  And it’s not in trying to pile up one side and weigh it against the other.

No.

The truth lies in two things:  First, when I learn to count blessings I change my heart’s focus from what I’ve lost (and cannot regain this side of heaven) to what I still have.  It helps me live forward instead of trying (without success) to live in the past.  It whispers hope and courage instead of shouting death and despair.

Second, counting blessings forces me to see God’s faithful love even in the midst of terrible loss.  It reminds me of Who He is, what He has done and what He continues to do.  It brings to mind and burns into my spirit the truth that God never fails, His Word is true and He will finish what He started.

The Psalmist begins many of his songs with something like this:  “Where are You God?”  “Why have You forgotten me, God?”  “When will you answer my plea, God?”

He lays out his case, his worries, his broken heart before the Lord, begging for mercy, for action, for some kind of observable help.

And then there’s a turn in the song, it’s like a switch is flipped in the Psalmist’s heart-he remembers…

He remembers Who God is, what He has done in the past, how His faithful love has sustained him and continues to sustain him.

Nothing has changed except the Psalmist started counting blessings.  The pile of blessings didn’t outweigh the pile of troubles but it bore testimony to God’s gracious goodness even in the midst of trouble.

That spoke hope and courage to the Psalmist’s heart.

And it speaks hope and courage to mine.

How long, O Eternal One? How long will You forget me? Forever?
    How long will You look the other way?

How long must I agonize,
    grieving Your absence in my heart every day?
How long will You let my enemies win?

Turn back; respond to me, O Eternal, my True God!
    Put the spark of life in my eyes, or I’m dead.
My enemies will boast they have beaten me;
    my foes will celebrate that I have stumbled.

But I trust in Your faithful love;
    my heart leaps at the thought of imminent deliverance by You.
I will sing to the Eternal,
    for He is always generous with me.

Psalm 13 VOICE