Scripture Journal Challenge: Worn Out and Weary? Jesus Understands.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired.

Not just physically tired-although there are plenty of days when chores done in the Alabama sun beat my body down.

I’m soul weary.

My heart cries out, “No more! I can’t carry a single other burden! I’m buckling under the load!”

Jesus understands.

He knows that this world is a harsh place for tender hearts. He recognizes that other people heap heavy weights on already laboring souls. He understands that work and worry and even well-doing wear us to a nub.

And He offers a way of escape.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden andoverburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will [a]ease and relieve and [b]refresh [c]your souls.]


29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest ([d]relief and ease and refreshment and [e]recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.


30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, [f]good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne. ~Jesus

Matthew 11: 28-30 AMPC

The Pharisees and Sadducees (religious leaders at the time Jesus walked the earth) had overloaded people with rules, rules, rules and obscured the truth of Who God is and what He really wanted from them. They focused solely on outward compliance with man-made additions to God’s law and blinded themselves to the inward attitudes that should be a hallmark of God’s people.

Like us, they wanted boxes to check off.

They wanted lists to maintain.

Above all, they wanted to measure themselves against a standard that made them look good, often at the expense of others.

More importantly, their holier-than-thou lifestyle made regular folks feel like they fell so far short and were so far from the heart of God they didn’t dare ask Him for help.

Jesus said, “Enough!”

He said, “I don’t despise your weakness. I don’t dismiss your pain. Let Me help you take that off and give you a perfectly fitted burden. Yoke your life to Mine and we’ll carry it together.”

The most caring teamster carved the wooden yoke that joined his two oxen precisely to fit their unique shape. He checked it often to see if it was causing pain and he made adjustments when necessary. He yoked well-suited animals one to the other so that the burden was distributed evenly.

Any ill-fitting addition to a creature being asked to do a job makes that job oh, so much more difficult. It wears sore spots and tender places. It guarantees that you won’t get full cooperation nor highest performance.

We have many burdens to bear in this life. Some are of our own making, some are thrust upon us by others. Some are just a function of the fact we live in a world tainted by sin.

Jesus promises that the burden He asks us to bear He will make bearable when we bring it to Him.

Are you weak and heavy laden?

Are you struggling under a load that threatens to undo you?

Have you yoked your life to Christ and asked Him to help you?

Come.

He’s waiting for you.

QUESTIONS:

  • There are all kinds of burdens in this life. What feels heavy to you right now?
  • Have you offered it to Jesus? Have you asked Him to help you bear it?
  • Is it hard for you to lean on Jesus? Why or why not?
  • Do you ever try to hide your weakness or weariness from others?
  • The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were focused more on rules and less on relationship. What’s your faith heritage? Have you been in churches where there was a strong focus on rules? How did that impact your understanding of God?

PRAYER:

Father God, I can be like the Pharisees and make up lists of rules I think I need to follow to gain Your approval or at least to make myself look good in the eyes of others.

That’s not helpful for me or anyone else. Give me courage to tear those up.

Teach me Your gentle ways, Jesus. Help me lean into Your love and to yoke my heart to yours.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: When I Can’t Trace His Hand I Trust His Heart

No matter how much we love someone, we will eventually fail them somehow.

I know I recite my failure as a mother quite often-usually when I’m tired, weak, stressed and especially burdened with this grief I haul around like a bag of bricks every day.

So it’s hard for me to comprehend the unfailing, faithful, never-ending, compassionate love of God.

But it’s true whether I can wrap my mind around it or not: God’s love never fails.

That’s the message Jeremiah was tasked to deliver to Israel in the midst of some very awful circumstances.

They had really messed up. And they were going to reap the consequences of their sin.

It was going to hurt.

But God had not abandoned them. He had not forgotten them. He had not stopped loving them.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

Lamentations 3:31-33 NIV

The God I serve and Israel served is a compassionate God.

He is so very compassionate (which means to suffer alongside) that He chose to send His Son to take our sins, to receive our punishment, to pay the penalty and redeem us for Himself.

Grief is part of this life.

Before Jesus lived on earth, suffered, died and was resurrected, grief was part of the ongoing penalty of sin.

So Israel was punished when she turned from her true Husband and ran after idols and foreign gods.

Now, the penalty has been paid. Yet grief remains.

Our enemy the devil works evil in the world. People’s sinful choices result in death and destruction. The whole earth groans under the general burden of sin which means genes mutate, disease runs rampant and our bodies fail.

God does not always intervene.

But He always comes alongside.

He always offers comfort and promises that grief doesn’t last forever.

He takes those evil things, the broken things, the painful things and the hard things and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry that will eventually reveal His faithfulness, goodness, love and glory.

QUESTIONS:

  • I’ve written before about whether or not grief and loss is a punishment from God. Yet these verses plainly state, “though He brings grief”. How do you explain them to your own heart? Have you thought through and developed a consistent theology that both acknowledges the truth that in the OT God DID bring grief (punishment) on His people for their sins and that in the NT God, through Christ, has taken all the punishment for every sin? (For more on this, read this post: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/15/is-god-punishing-me/)
  • Have you ever felt God was suffering alongside you? Do you think God suffers at all?
  • Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Most of His followers would have firsthand knowledge of the sacrifices a good shepherd makes for his sheep. That’s not something many of us know much about these days. Can you paint your own word picture of unfailing love?
  • Have you confronted the question of why evil exists, why pain is persistent, why death and destruction still reign? Are you afraid to go there? Why or why not?
  • I used to embroider quite a bit and really love the Corrie Ten Boom poem cited above because I understand it well. The top side of my work was lovely (most of the time!) but the underside was awful! Do you have confidence that God is weaving ALL the things in your life into a tapestry that will eventually reveal how even the dark and ugly experiences, feelings and heartache work together to make a beautiful piece of art? (See Ephesians 2:10)

PRAYER:

Father God, Thank you that I live this side of Calvary!

Thank You that although this life is filled with sorrow and pain I can rest assured that if I’ve received Your gift of forgiveness through Christ You are not punishing me for some forgotten sin. Thank You for your unfailing, faithful, compassionate love.

Help me to remember in the darkest moments, the most desolate path, the deepest pit You are there. Over and over and over You remind my heart that I am not alone. When I can’t comprehend how You might weave the next dark thread into the tapestry of my life, help me trust You anyway.

You are the Master Weaver. You are the Potter. Give me a willing heart to yield to Your work in my life.

Amen

I

Scripture Journal Challenge: When My Heart Needs a Reminder

This time last year I was on the front end of a very lonely, very frightening three and a half weeks.

Each morning began with a sixty minute drive in Los Angeles rush hour traffic toward the downtown courthouse. My husband and I parked and then walked through metal detectors and past guards down a long, long hall to the courtroom.

Every day was one more eight hour shift listening to lawyers, witnesses and a judge as the events of several years were laid out first by one side and then the other. Questions aimed to elicit unflattering responses hit my husband hard.

The opposing counsel even printed out a couple of my blog posts trying to frame both my husband and his family as intolerant fundamentalist evangelicals who certainly didn’t understand how things were done in the progressive West.

Our fate was in the hands of total strangers and the whole time I couldn’t utter a single word.

I was not allowed to nod my head, smile or frown or even cry when I watched my husband recount our son’s death and the toll it took on him as he returned to the workplace and tried to do routine tasks while being challenged repeatedly by a surly , vindictive and manipulative employee.

Trust me, no television courtroom drama can prepare a heart for the kind of stress, uncertainty, mental anguish and overwhelming fear that a real encounter with the justice system evokes.

Sitting alone (my husband was sitting with his attorneys) I could only spend time writing out scripture, taking notes and trying to guess how all this was impacting the twelve jurors sitting mere feet away. Only nine were required by California law to agree in order to reach a verdict which just added to the uncertainty.

I felt oh, so weary, scared and forgotten.

One of the scripture passages I wrote over and over was today’s verses.

27 Why, then, do you, Jacob, inheritors of God’s promise,

    you, Israel, chosen of God—

Why do you say, “My troubled path is hidden from the Eternal;

    God has lost all interest in My cause”?

28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,

The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.

    His wisdom is beyond understanding.

29 God strengthens the weary

    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.

30 Young people will get tired;

    strapping young men will stumble and fall.

31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.

    They will soar on wings as eagles.

They will run—never winded, never weary.

    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40: 27-31 VOICE

The nation of Israel was feeling lonely and all alone.

Had God forgotten? Had He abandoned them? Didn’t He care they were at their wit’s end and the limit of endurance?

So Jehovah sends Israel an encouraging Word through Isaiah.

He begins with questions: “Why are you questioning Jehovah’s interest in your cause? Do you think after all we’ve been through He’s forgotten you now? Can anything be hidden from His sight?”

As I sat day after day after day, I had to remind my heart that no matter how it FELT, God was very near. We were not abandoned. Whatever went on in that room with no windows was not hidden from our Shepherd King.

The very next set of questions Isaiah poses is one of my all time favorite verses: “Hey Israel! Do you really not know that God is eternal, everlasting, all-knowing and all-powerful? Haven’t you heard He made the earth and everything in it? Do you imagine He ever gets tired, worn out, too stretched to intervene in the affairs of men? “

This trial wasn’t the first time in my life I needed to be reminded that nothing is hidden from the Lord’s sight. It wasn’t the first time I needed reassurance that God is never too tired or too distracted or somehow limited by my understanding of who He is to reach down and give me a boost.

In the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I’ve had days, weeks and even months when, in my despair and grief, I forgot the truth.

The whole passage comes to a dramatic conclusion that leaves Israel (and me!) with no room for doubt.

Hey-God breathed into Adam and made a living man from dust. Sure, you may be tired and worn out from circumstances or age, but He can breathe life and vigor back into you too. Young folks seem nearly invincible but even they have limits. You just wait (expectantly, in faith, certain that He will show up and keep His promises) on Him. The kind of energy Jehovah will give you won’t run out. You’ll be like an eagle soaring effortlessly on wind currents higher and higher and higher.”

I’m here to tell you that God keeps His promises. His Word is sure.

I look back on those three weeks and stand amazed that I didn’t fall over from exhaustion and stress about five or six days in because except for surviving my son’s death, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was absolutely, positively God’s strength and not my own.

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of my readers are bereaved parents and probably share my testimony of days, weeks, months of utter exhaustion under the load of grief that child loss dumps on a heart. Can you identify a specific moment when you felt God’s strength poured into your spirit? Can you think of an event, holiday or date you just knew you couldn’t face but somehow managed to survive?
  • How can meditating on these verses help your heart hold onto hope?
  • What new insight does including verses 27-28 to this familiar passage give you?
  • Consider looking these verses up in at least three different translations/paraphrases and compare them. Does that help you understand them better? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God, I want to always remember that You are so much more than I can ever imagine or comprehend. Too often I try to circumscribe You by my limited understanding of how you work in the world. But You are too big for any box I try to stuff You into.

When I forget, remind me. When I doubt, strengthen my faith. When I feel alone, make Your Presence undeniably real to me. When I am weary, breathe new life into my spirit.

Thank You for patiently, graciously, mercifully dealing with me. Thank You for your everlasting, faithful love. You are a good, good Father.

Amen

*If you want more details about what happened last year, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/24/heres-the-post-ive-wanted-to-write-but-couldnt/

Scared and Brave: Reaching For Jesus in the Midst of Sorrow

I remember learning lists of synonyms and antonyms as a kid.

Each word was neatly stacked in discrete categories, no overlap.

But that’s not how it is, you know- not in real life.

We live with lots of ambiguity, lots of places where the line between joy and sorrow, hope and despair, brave and scared is fuzzy and hard to find.

Life after child loss is full of seeming contradictions.

I am broken yet God is redeeming those fragments and reassembling a life of beauty and meaning. The cracks are visible but they haven’t disqualified me as a vessel that can hold His love, His grace, His mercy and pour all that out on others.

I’m often scared, but am able to walk into each day brave in the knowledge I don’t walk alone.

My life is filled with joyful moments- high notes- accompanied by the low, slow melancholy melody of loss.

No tidy columns of separate experience here.

I’m learning to live satisfied in this undefined and undefeated space.

Scared and brave, reaching for Jesus, carrying on.

Everything broken doesn’t have to be completely fixed for me to be completely fine. I can be scared and brave and frail and unbelievably strong all in the same leap of faith.

And I can be hurt but I don’t have to live hurt. I can choose to believe in the epic goodness of God to completely surprise me with breathtakingly awesome possibilities.

Broken is what people are. Beautiful is what God makes them.

Lysa TerKeurst, Provers 31 Ministries

Poured Out But Not Wasted

Even if my lifeblood is to be poured out like wine as a sacrifice of your faith, I have great reason to celebrate with all of you.
~ Philippians 2:17 VOICE

In many ways I feel like this season of my life is a drink offering-poured out on the ground-unrecoverable except as a sacrifice lifted to the throne of grace.

But my story is not only loss and pain, it is also life and love. 

I have to be careful to remember that.

 … you may reformulate your story in terms of sadness and pain. Because you lost a child, or experienced a divorce, or killed someone in a car accident, you will never be happy again. Or even worse, you are never allowed to be happy again.

In all of these cases, we must remember that our stories fall under Christ’s story of redemption. Your life is but a chapter in God’s greater narrative of restoring the world. Your Worst is merely a chapter in your own story. If we allow God to write our stories and to carry us through the season of darkness and despair, he will ensure that redemption constitutes the central progression of our stories.

~Cameron Cole, Therefore I Have Hope

Redemption is the overarching theme of my story, of all history.

It doesn’t mean I have to deny the pain and darkness.  In fact, if I try, I diminish His glory in redeeming what would otherwise be nothing but brokenness and loss.

I can lift those feelings to the throne of grace as a drink offering.

I can pour them out at Christ’s feet and trust that even though in the natural there is no way to recapture and restore what has been lost, in His power and love it is never, ever wasted.

And I heard a voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
~Revelation 21: 3,4
they that wait with hope shall not be ashamed

Why Faking Fine is Unhelpful

For so much of my life, I thought sucking it up and faking away the pain showed true strength. But real strength is identifying a wound and asking God to enter it. We are robbing ourselves of a divine mystery and a divine intimacy when we pretend to have it all together. In fact, we lose an entire vocabulary from our prayers when we silence the reality of our pain. If questions and cries and laments are not cleaned up throughout Scripture, then why are we cleaning them up or removing them completely from our language?
~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Social media is replete with memes, stories and “pass this on and Jesus will bless you” messages that imply if only our faith is strong enough or our hope steadfast enough things will be alright.  

But sometimes they aren’t!

So when I see posts about a survival story and another family spared the awful journey my family must make, I am truly thankful but my heart cries out, “Why him and not MY son?”

It was a long, long time before my first reaction to someone surviving an awful car accident or motorcycle accident (my son died on his motorcycle-instantly) was joy for the family of the one that survived.

I would have a moment of relief for them (that they didn’t have to suffer this pain) but then my mind went to the place I wish I didn’t-why them and not us?

One of the hardest tasks in this journey has been to lay aside the questions I know won’t be answered before Heaven and to learn to live in the now with them tucked away.

I’m better at rejoicing  but I still can’t tolerate talk of “miracles” (even if it really IS a miracle) or “answered prayers” or “prayer works” or someone trying to justify why one person dies and another lives in the same circumstances.

I can tolerate mystery but not men’s attempts to explain away God’s working in the world. 

So I have learned to let it out in the privacy of my own prayer closet or journal and beg God to pour more mercy and grace into my broken heart. Pretending it’s OK doesn’t help me or anyone else.  Lament allows me to exhale my doubts, questions and disappointment and make room to inhale the truth that the Lord is faithful and that He loves me.

I know my Redeemer lives and that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.  

I hang onto that truth, even when my heart begs for more.  

lamenting is a painful process

 

HOLY WEEK 2019: Resurrection, Reality and Reassurance

“The worst conceivable thing has happened, and it has been mended…All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~Julian of Norwich

I’m not sure when I first read this quote, but it came to my mind that awful morning.   And I played it over and over in my head, reassuring my broken heart that indeed, the worst had already happened, and been mended.

Death had died.

Christ was risen-the firstfruits of many brethren.

Read the rest here:  Resurrection: Reality and Reassurance