Is God Punishing Me?

I’ve heard it from more than one bereaved parent.  

I’ve thought it myself.  

“Is God punishing me?”  

Have I done something so terrible that it falls outside the grace and mercy of the God Who sent His Son and so I must pay for it with my own child?

My heart strains to make sense of things that don’t make sense and I sometimes reach for any explanation no matter how far-fetched or theologically inaccurate.

Because truly, child loss is sometimes only the beginning of the pain and sorrow and ongoing drama and trial.   Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, many, many things have gone wrong.

Many,  many things have been hard.  

After Dominic left, life just piled on like that childhood game where one person held the ball and everyone else tried to get it.

I woke up every day expecting another blow and it nearly always came.

I remember begging God to simply make it stop!

He didn’t.

So I began to wonder if I was being punished.  What other explanation could there be?  If God was allowing all these hard things, it must be because I owed Him something.  I hadn’t done enough or wasn’t doing enough.  My spiritual discipline was lagging behind.

Somewhere, somehow I was falling down in my faith.  

But those thoughts weren’t placed in my head by God.  They were fiery darts of the enemy of my soul trying his best to make me doubt and turn away from the Source of my hope.  

God is not punishing me.  

He made provision for all the punishment required when He sent His Son as a complete, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

My Heavenly Father is a good and loving God Who did not leave it to me (or you, or anyone else) to square that debt.  Because it is impossible for us to do it.  Even all the pain I’ve borne is insufficient to pay it.

Jesus paid it ALL.  The debt is no longer outstanding.  

john3-16-17

Now, I may very well (and often do!) have to reap the natural consequences of my own or other peoples’ sin. 

But that is very different than thinking God is doing me harm for the purpose of punishment.  

We live in a fallen world where things do not work as God originally intended.  Human hearts are callous at best and evil at worst and we do things to one another that should never be done.  Sickness, disease and accidents happen.

Sometimes all these things happen at once.  

God can and does intervene.  Sometimes He doesn’t.  I don’t know why in one case and not in another.  That is His wisdom and purpose and beyond my understanding.

But I know that He is not punishing me nor is He punishing you.  

Jesus Himself suffered greatly in His earthly life, yet never sinned.  

That made His sacrifice the perfect, complete and utterly final payment for my own sin debt.   Having received the gift of redemption by His blood, my life is free to be offered back to God as a gift of worship, reverence and faithful obedience.  

But it is not required as payment for sin.  

Neither was my son’s.  

i made you and i will carry you

 

 

 

Absolutely More Than I Can Handle

We’ve allowed a lot of common sayings to rise to the level of Scripture in everyday language and that’s unfortunate.

Because many of them are just plain wrong.

And some of them are dangerous.

One of those I consider dangerous is this:  “God will not give you more than you can handle”.

Why is it dangerous you ask?

For lots of reasons.  It implies that I am capable of “handling” my own life, my own problems, my own future.  If I find myself unable to handle something then I must be defective.  My faith must not be strong enough.  It becomes all about me.

None of that is true.

Without Christ and His strength, even many ordinary challenges would pin me to the ground under their weight. 

I most certainly would not be standing under the burden of child loss!

heals the broken hearted

This oft-quoted saying also leads a heart to embrace the idea that everything that happens is the result of God’s direct intervention in my life.  The Bible clearly teaches that we live in a fallen world where natural forces (weather, gravity, disease and old age) impact us in ways God did not intend when He created it perfect and good and placed man in the Garden.  We also know that other people’s sinful choices (drunk driving, murder, foolish behavior) can, sadly, result in bad outcomes for us and those we love.

Could God intervene?  Of course! 

But does He?  Not always.

I do not believe for one minute that He sends those things to taunt me, teach me or punish me.  He did not take my son’s life so that I would be a better Christian.  In fact, I don’t believe He TOOK my son’s life at all.

And finally, it is absolutely, undeniably counter to what Jesus Himself experienced and promised those who follow Him will experience.

 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  ~Jesus

John 16:33 NIV

We need to be honest about how hard life can be.

We need to stop saying foolish things that make hurting hearts hurt harder.

We need to admit that God allows much more than we can handle alone.

And then turn to the One that can help us handle the load.

do not want you to be uninformed

Christmas Drama

We’ve whitewashed everything about this scene:  beatific Mary gazing serenely at a cleaned up baby cozy in a cleaned up manger towered over by Joseph and surrounded by adoring shepherds and freshly groomed, sweet smelling animals.

It was nothing like that.

Birth is pain and sweat and effort.

And messy.  So, so messy.

I like to think more clearly about what that night was like.  It helps my heart to know that even while God was being birthed as a man into the world He created, He didn’t hide the hard.

The world was a mess on the first Christmas night, but Jesus came. He came wearing a name of endless hope and promise: ‘God with us.’ God is with us when the money runs out, with us when the bad news comes, with us when the holiday isn’t happy, and with us when everyone else disappears. The question this Christmas is not, ‘Will Jesus show up?’ The question is, ‘Will I receive Him, even if He’s all I have?’

Today is a good day to give yourself permission to be the real you in front of the real God. You don’t have to hide your hurt or sin away. He comes to heal, to save, and to rescue. Let earth receive her king.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

There’s no evidence that Mary was spared labor pains or all the usual difficulty of bringing forth life.

And poor Joseph!  In a culture where women helped women he was alone and lonely with his young bride in a place hardly appropriate for birthing a baby much less for protecting her modesty and reputation.  He was unwitting midwife to the most important birth in history.

I’ve often wondered whether Mary and Joseph were relieved to see the shepherds who confirmed again the truth that their Son was Savior or if they were thinking the visit might have been better timed a few days later when things were tidier and the idea of parenthood had settled in.

Drama. 

All of it.

But the biggest drama that night was this:  Darkness was overcome.  Once and for all.  Never to reign again.

When He created the heavens and the earth, God declared, “Let there be light!” Physical light entered time and space.  Darkness was pushed back and limits set on its power and dominion.

Yet sin marred the light of God’s love, provision and perfect creation.

And from that moment on, darkness crept forward through the actions of men whose hearts were hard and by the designs of the evil one who has no heart but only destruction in his bosom.

But God….

He would not leave us this way.  He did not allow the darkness to win.

We were not abandoned.

We are not abandoned.

Emmanuel is here.

And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

manger empty

Repost: When You Think You Can’t Hold On-Let Go

So many ways to be reminded of how hard it is to hold on in these days and weeks around Christmas.

If your heart is barely able to beat, the pressure to be “hap-hap-happy” can send you over the edge.

If your home is empty of cheerful voices, the constant barrage of commercials touting family togetherness can leave you feeling oh, so lonely.

Read the rest here:  When You Think You Can’t Hold On

Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Think about Scrooge.  When was his heart able to make the turn and embrace the joy that Christmas represents?  It took one long night and four strange visitors to take him down a path where he understood his own strength was woefully inadequate to accomplish anything.  It was finally the spectre of death-death of relationships, death of a child and the certainty of his own lonely demise that shook him from slumber and awakened him to real life and love and joy.

scrooge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Now consider the story of the first Christmas.  Two poor sojourners in desperate need of a place to stay and, even more important, a place to birth a baby. 

But not just any baby.  No, this was the Promised One, Immanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Light of the World.  Yet He made His appearance in the dark, in a stable and unnoticed.

I don’t know if Mary felt hope-filled or hopeless as she labored without the company of other women to encourage and guide her.  But I can imagine there were moments if not hours, of something like hopelessness.

Yet it ended with her holding the God of the universe in her hands.

jesus-christmas

What about Israel?  Four hundred long years since Jehovah had shut the mouths of prophets and allowed the Apple of His Eye to wallow in the darkness they had begged for by turning away from the God Who loved them.  Prophesies were still handed down like good luck tokens but many who heard them had long ago decided they didn’t matter.

It was dark in the world of Judea.

So, so very dark.

Hopelessness prevailed.

And that is precisely when the angel showed up and the sky was bright with praise:

Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 

~Luke 2:10-11 VOICE

It was all the brighter because it was dark.  It was that much more joyous because hopeless hearts were longing for something to cling to.

shepherds angels

There is no shame in being hopeless and broken.

God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Christmas is the story of Hope entering the world, of Light shining forth in darkness, of Love overcoming death.

A heart has to be looking to find it.

A heart has to be desperate to believe it.

A heart has to be hungry to come to the table of everlasting bread.

Have you been living in the land of deep shadows? I have. I’ve spent long years in that gray and weary country, and sometimes it makes me feel disqualified from Christmas. Most Christmas carols do not talk about daunting shadows or dreary days. They talk about sparkle and shimmer. They talk ho-ho-ho-ing and mistletoeing, and all of that is fine and fun if you’re having a great year. But let’s be honest about the fact that this relentless commercialized happiness is not really what lives at the heart of Christmas.

Christmas is deeper than that.  It reaches into darker places.  Jesus didn’t come to cheer us up.  He came into the shadowlands we call home to set us free.  He came to untangle us from the despair that wraps itself around our joy and peace and purpose.  It seems, then, that hopelessness is the very first qualification for receiving the bright hope of Christmas.  Perhaps you are exactly where you need to be to experience the miracle of Advent after all.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

 

Legacy of Love in Spite of Pain

It’s said that “Hurt people, hurt people”.  

And it’s true-often in my own pain I lash out and hurt others.  Partly because my pain is so huge and so real and so blinding that I don’t always see what I’m doing to others. 

But also, sometimes, (and I hate to admit it!) because misery loves company.  If I’M hurting then someone else better hurt too!

hurt people hurt people

That’s not the high road.  

And it’s not the road Jesus paved with His blood.  

I need to take my brokenness to Him.  Because truth told, He’s really the only one that can minister true healing. 

heals the broken hearted

When I use my pain-even the unfathomably great pain of child loss-as an excuse for bad behavior all I do is spread the hurt. 

It doesn’t take one bit of my own away.  

So I try to be more mindful of when discomfort authors my words and stop them before they pour from my mouth on some unsuspecting victim.  

I want my legacy to be love.  

It’s a daily choice.  

did I offer peace bowl brown

Hidden Manna

I’ve thought often of what good, if any, can come from child loss.  

I do not think for one minute that God “took” my son to teach me a lesson or to mold me in some way.  

But I do believe with my whole heart that God can USE this circumstance to conform me more closely to the image of Christ Jesus. 

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

Romans 8: 26-30 MSG

I also cling firmly to the conviction that there are things I can learn, truths I can understand and depths of love and grace I can fathom that are not available to hearts who have not walked the road of sorrow and trod the path of grief.

There are things I know because I have been forced to travel the Valley of the Shadow of Death that those who are spared will never know.  

I truly believe this is some of the “hidden manna” Jesus promises to those who persevere under trial, who resist the lies and lure of the evil one and who persist in holding onto hope in spite of all evidence that screams, “Let go!”

Let everyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: Everyone who is victorious shall eat of the hidden manna, the secret nourishment from heaven; and I will give to each a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one else knows except the one receiving it.

Revelation 2:17 TLB

My testimony is not flashy.  But it doesn’t have to be.

You won’t find me doing a victory lap around a defeated foe.  

Instead I cling tenaciously to the truth that God’s faithful love endures forever and that death is no longer the last word.

I swallow every bit of strength the Spirit offers me.  

Resurrection, redemption and resurrection are coming. 

And I wait, in hope, and with assurance that my story does not end in ashes.  

The resurrection of Jesus was a hidden event. Jesus didn’t rise from the grave to baffle his opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to those who crucified him that he was right after all. Jesus rose as a sign to those who had loved him and followed him that God’s divine love is stronger than death. To the women and men who had committed themselves to him, he revealed that his mission had been fulfilled. To those who shared in his ministry, he gave the sacred task to call all people into the new life with him.

The world didn’t take notice. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread, and to whom he spoke words of peace were aware of what happened. Still, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the shackles of death.

~Henri Nouwen