Then and Now: Trial by Fire

It’s not a cozy, warm-yourself-up fire in my safe fireplace.  

It’s a raging, too-hot-to-survive inferno, blazing away and uncontrollable.  

Losing my son is refining me, burning off the excess, drawing out the inner woman.

April 14, 2014

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. IN ALL THIS YOU GREATLY REJOICE, THOUGH NOW FOR A LITTLE WHILE YOU MAY HAVE HAD TO SUFFER GRIEF IN ALL KINDS OF TRIALS, –These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV

 My heart is broken open wide, Father.  

Fill it with love, compassion, grace, peace, hope and mercy-but never seal it shut-let what You fill it with spill out

“These three remain-faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love.”

April 29, 2016

I’m still in the fire.

I don’t know if I am used to the heat or if it has burned down to a cooler flame but it is more bearable to be here.

God has answered my whispered prayer:

He has filled and is filling my heart.

He has not allowed grief to make it hard.

“But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection

It is tempting to forget that there were three long days and nights between the crucifixion and the resurrection beause the way we observe this season rushes us past the pain to embrace the promise.

But it’s not hard for me to imagine how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus was dead.  It was neither what they expected nor what they prayed for.

There were many points in the story when things could have gone a different way:

  • When taken by the religious leaders-surely, they thought, He will explain Himself, they will let Him go.
  • When taken before Pilate-Rome will refuse to get involved with our spiritual squabbles, Pilate won’t authorize His death.
  • When presented to the crowd-no Jew would rather have a wicked murderer released instead of a humble, healing Rabbi.

At every turn, every expectation they had for a “happy ending” was dashed to the ground.

But here they were:  Jesus was dead.  His body was taken hurriedly to a tomb.  And they were hiding, praying-fearful they might be next.

There is a popular church saying:  “It’s Friday….but Sunday’s coming!”

Meant to be comforting and encouraging, it can also be confusing and condemning.

Because there are many people who will live their lives on this earth between Friday and Sunday.  They will live out their years, wondering just what Jesus is doing, why He didn’t act in ways they expected and exactly when they will receive the fullness of His promises for abundant life.

Here I am: my son is dead.  It is certainly not what I expected.  It’s not how I thought God would honor my prayers of safety and long life for my children.

Yes, I live on the other side of the Resurrection-I know the end of the disciples’ vigil-I am convinced of the empty tomb, the ascended Lord and my Great High Priest’s intercession at the right hand of the Father.

But what I long for I cannot hold.  What I hope for I cannot touch.  What I know to be true I cannot see.

I live in the space between “it looks like everything has gone horribly wrong” and “Hallelujah!”.

It is painful.  It is hard.  And it will last for a lifetime, not just a few days.

I am thankful for the resurrection, and I live each day longing for Christ’s return.  But my heart hurts in the meantime, my arms ache to hold the child I love.

So be patient with me if I  cry harder when singing the hymns of heaven.  And be gentle when reminding me of my hope in Christ.

I am living between pain and promise and waiting desperately for Sunday.

There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! As the psalmist said, “He laid them low, one and all; he walked all over them.” When Scripture says that “he walked all over them,” it’s obvious that he couldn’t at the same time be walked on. When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!

I Corinthians 15:25-27 MSG

denial

To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.  

Dying, Jesus honored His mother’s courage by acknowledging her pain. She was losing the Son she loved and it hurt in a way that only mothers can comprehend.  He didn’t tell her that it would “be alright” or that “the ending is ultimately victorious”.

Instead, He looked upon her trembling figure and saw her broken heart.

He made what practical provision He could by telling John to care for her. He knew it would not undo her sorrow.

Some in the church preach that pain and suffering are anomalies–that they are aberrations in the “victorious Christian life”.

And we place great emphasis on the idea that even though we may have trouble in this life–“We know the REST of the story! Jesus WINS!

Yes. He. does.

But some of our earthly stories-the ones we are living right now- do not have tidy, happy endings:

Some are burned in the fire.

Some die of cancer.

Some fall headlong into mental illness.

And some bury their children.

What to do when you are confronted by undeniable pain in your own or someone else’s life?

Acknowledge it.

Look with mercy on the broken heart.

Allow suffering to flow from the cracks unchecked and unjudged.

Be still and be love.

Offer practical aid without strings attached.  Be mindful of what is actually helpful even if it doesn’t make sense to you.  Come alongside for the long haul.

There is no greater gift to the one who is suffering than a faithful friend who refuses to be frightened away.

Loving burden-bearers help those of us living with no-happy-ending earthly stories cling more securely to the hope of ultimate victory in Christ.  

And by doing so, declare the power of the cross.  

For the message of the cross is foolishness [absurd and illogical] to those who are perishing and spiritually dead [because they reject it], but to us who are being saved [by God’s grace] it is [the manifestation of] the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:18 AMP

Sparrows DO Fall

I have never subscribed to the theory that the Christian life is free of pain and suffering.

But there are some who do.

Christian bookstores are filled with titles touting the path to joy and happiness, the way to wealth and material success.

And some of the claims of these authors and preachers rest on Jesus’ own words in the Sermon on the Mount:

But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33 KJV

They interpret this verse to mean that if your heart is set on God and His Kingdom, then He will give you the things that will make you happy and healthy.

I would argue that they have it all wrong.

My own experience and that of many other faithful followers of Jesus makes plain that loving Christ does not protect you from the evil in this world.  It doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer, that you won’t lose your job, or that you won’t suffer persecution from the enemies of God.

And it doesn’t spare you from burying your child.  

Just a few chapters later, Jesus instructs His disciples as they go out to minister and encourages them with these words:

” Are not two little sparrows sold for a [a]copper coin? And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered [for the Father is sovereign and has complete knowledge]. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” 

Matthew 10:29-31 AMP

More than one song has been written to include the phrase, “His eye is on the sparrow”–meant to bring comfort in moments of fear.

And it is true.  His eye IS on the sparrow.

But read the whole verse: “not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” 

God knows when a sparrow falls, but He doesn’t always stop it from happening.

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

Isaiah 55:8-9

Since Dominic died, I have found an unusual number of bird’s nests knocked down from trees by the wind.

Intact and beautiful, but empty.

I’ve wondered about whether God is trying to encourage me, or simply reinforce the truth that I now carry in my heart:  

Even though He is watching, sparrows do fall.  

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