Due to Difficulties Beyond Our Control

When He Answers…

Life is—challenging.

Is that even a fair word? It wears a euphemistic suit and tie. I’m subbing a gentler word for the gritty truth. I know it.

T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34b NIV

Isn’t that the truth? And when I get caught up in the stuff of life contained in a day, I can get overwhelmed.

Teaching resources don’t create themselves, do they? Sure, I can restate the directions again. And again. And again. The catalog I needed 15 minutes ago is here—somewhere—in a pile of books or papers, but which one? The dishwasher we bought one year and seven months ago—doesn’t really need repair now, does it? The car we hoped to buy—was sold how many minutes ago? I said the wrong thing—again? I’ve got a splitting headache.

Some days are jam-packed with trouble, aren’t they? Sometimes it’s minor, and sometimes it’s the devastating kind. And, choices will be made. The list of knee-jerk reactions is emotional. I can quickly default to frustration, discontent, envy, anger, or something on the negative side of the spectrum. (I’m actually hesitant to list anger as a negative simply because there is necessary and right expression of anger. Not only should we expect anger to surface when evil is on the loose, but the strength of that emotion may be “just the right size” for the situation.) All kinds of disappointment will happen in life. We will be moved by it.

There’s another path stretching out from the exact same points in time. In my experience, a pause, a breath, is required before I respond. (Notice I wrote respond, rather than react.) When I take a moment to breathe, I’m able to take my eyes off of the “thing” and look to the ultimate reality: I’m in pretty deep, but there is One who will help.

In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me. Psalm 86:7 HSC

David wrote this psalm, and I think this line is my favorite. I want this perspective! It’s bursting with three things: heaviness, action, and expectation.

The Weight of the World

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Lewis points out the obvious: trouble is. Charmed lives are tainted with it. Average lives are riddled with it. Jesus said we would have it (John 16:33b). When we live a day without it, we might forget to be thankful. Live a few hours or days with it, and we beg for mercy!

Trouble can be defined in too many ways. I know this: my trouble and yours may look nothing alike. It’s tailored to our exact shoe size, as far as I can tell. We share common themes, but my unmet expectations or pain threshold is unique to me. Yours is directly related to who you are and how you’re wired.  A broken dishwasher and a friend’s chronic pain are disproportionate, if I’m honest, and it would be wrong to equate them. Both are legitimate troubles. Neither is trivial to God, and we shouldn’t dismiss either one. The reality is: my inconvenience is hard, and my friend’s pain is also hard (to a much greater degree). The situations call for different kinds of responses, and I humbly and wholeheartedly acknowledge those differences!

Life will be hard at certain points, and it will be weightier than we can bear in some way.

“For Every Action…”

In Psalm 86, David acts. He responds to the trouble in a specific way: he decides he will “call out” to God. In my mind, that’s a quick, solid, determined choice to size up the problem and ask for help. I notice that he experiences something troubling, and he has a clear response in mind.

Our enemy has another agenda in mind.

The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel. ~ C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

It’s dangerous to respond in an emotional, reflexive way to a situation. There is precious little chance for clear thinking. I think the enemy of our souls counts on that stimulus-response connection to be short and undisciplined. Lewis points out an obvious character flaw: the “feeling without acting” cycle will continue, and it will yield weak, lethargic action or no action at all. The strong defense against this result has to be a good offense.

I know the pitfall is waiting; I can choose a better path. The best way to handle my responses to the difficulties in life is to know they are difficult in the first place. So, I’ve begun to plan several good responsive options for when the pressure intensifies. My first, most critical, action is to call out to the One who can make a difference in whatever challenge I face. (Notice I didn’t say squelch the emotions? I know better. A friend told me that attempting to squelch emotion only magnifies it. While that was news to me, it was completely consistent with my experience.) I have the intention of pausing the emotions, but if that’s not possible, they’ll fuel the conversation with God.

The important thing is to get my eyes off of the trouble and onto my God! Every other response after that can be worked out in some kind of plan or in humble spontaneity. The main thing is to come to the One who can really make a difference in the events or how I perceive them.

I Know One Thing for Sure…

…for you will answer me.

This is the hinge on which the action hangs. The word “for” right there begs me to insert a little question: what for? Why does David cry out to God? He cries out to God because he knows he will receive an answer. It’s a given.

The truth is, no one knows exactly what the answer will be. God knows far more than we can even try to comprehend. He factors the minute details of the want or need, the answer, and the direct results of each. He is supremely wise and knows what we want and what we genuinely need. And he can navigate both with perfection. “Yes” feels like a wonderful response to us. “No” may be a bit hard to take. “Not yet” leaves a shadow of expectant hope.  All of his answers are perfectly wise and flow with the deepest love for each of us. He promises he will answer, and he does.

Always.

I have had prayers answered —most strangely so sometimes—but I think our Heavenly Father’s loving-kindness has been even more evident in what He has refused me. ― Lewis Carroll

These are just some of the thoughts rolling around my head after spending a couple of days trying to solve some problems for our family. Rather than flopping down at the end of the day in exhaustion, I’m learning to be content and wait for a prompting from God. I will ask, but I want my Abba’s presence more than some pile of presents, if you know what I mean.

Thanks for reading along…

~Jennifer


Questions to Think About

How have you found trouble to be both a reality and a profound tool in your life?

How have you responded to the trouble? Have you seen growth in that area over time? Think of a victory in this area and celebrate it.

What kind of sensitive, encouraging advice would you give to a friend facing trouble?

Do you keep a close friend or two so you can share the difficult days or seasons? What does it feel like when someone enters into your difficulties with you? What does it feel like when you are willing to go into someone else’s tough stuff?

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Grace: On Being Determined

This week I learned a precious lesson in the most unconventional, serendipitous way. I received one of those magnificent gems of truth served up on a blue plate peeking out of the marinara on a bed of spaghetti. That’s probably about as clear as crystal. Bear with me as I try to unpack this one. I’m sharing this because I think something genuinely applies to life (not just my own). Here we go—

I can be determined.

I mean, I can be really determined. The doggedly kind.

While persistence and diligence are two beautiful qualities, I need to examine them more closely in my life. My mind and heart can be set in a single, laser-precision focused direction with inflexibility. I paint this phenomenon with colorful words like—intentionality, integrity, focus, single-minded, whole-hearted, all in, loyal, truthful. It looks good, but is there something more to this? I think so.

James openly implores, “Do not be deceived” (1:16). He’s onto something. When I think about these character qualities, persistence and diligence, I can see the ugly caricature lurking, barely concealed, in the shadows. The problem isn’t with the determination but the object of it. An illustration may be helpful.

A little story example out of life—

I recently heard about two people in conflict. One unknowingly offended the other, and what’s more, never intended any offense whatsoever. A seemingly innocuous conversational statement was taken quite personally, and tension mounted too quickly. The escalation was surprising. The follow up conversations, intended to diffuse the conflict, seemed not only fruitless but more like gasoline on the fire. That’s my interpretation of the scenario.

I had a candid response I immediately wished I could stuff back into the box out of which it came.

“Someone is determined to be offended,” I replied, “I remember being a lot like that twenty years ago, before I was a Christian.”

Yes, I said that. And several hours later, the spaghetti and meatball blue plate special was served up with the gem in the middle. (Part of the gem is in learning the problem may not be far, far away in another universe.)

Another story—

Once upon a time a friend walked through terrible heartbreak as a result of others’ decisions and unkindness. What took place was certainly wrong. My emotional response was sadness and anger; I was offended. The problem arose when it was more than appropriately with but for my friend without right-sized perspective. My sense of justice went all “Dorian Gray” on me internally, and I lived in that grudge on behalf of my friend for much too long. Loving support is always right in a “weep with those who weep” kind of way (Romans 12:15), but something went horribly wrong.

The toll? An ugly bent toward my own calibration of integrity and justice, loosening my moorings to the biblical sense of both. Several relationships were wrecked and buried. I nursed friend loyalty into a “cause” that was inappropriate. Misplaced dogged determination has costs. I’m reminded the object and heart behind it all matters. (More small facets of the marinara-covered gem…)

Some comparisons are helpful to me. Maybe to you, too?

A young woman is offended by a gentleman’s dialogue because it sounds inappropriate to her ears on her own behalf and others’. There may be something to it. The conversation may contain arguably offensive words or tone. Is it possible to thoughtfully and lovingly evaluate the content with truth and grace? It’s paramount to know the heart of the speaker, in this case, then to evaluate the magnitude of the harm. Is this more like terrorizing hate speech or innocent ignorance on the spectrum? There’s a dramatic difference when intent is factored in.

Someone I know may be treated disingenuously. Is it possible to step back from the emotional, gritty response to size up the wrong; support the vulnerable, targeted friend; and respond with truth and grace there, too? Proper sizing of this situation means I understand the wrong, the hearts of those who have done it, and the harm done. Foolishness is not evil, but it sure can be painful!

We have biblical direction for a slower, methodical process in handling these things that reveals the potential offense and the hearts of both parties in conflict (Matthew 18:15-17). When the heart of the “offender” is found to be unwitting to the truth of the situation and genuinely repentant when brought to it, the response is grace. Regardless, the “offended” has the clear directive in the whole of Scripture to be slow, deliberate, and loving to the end. Even treating the offender as an unbeliever would yield a loving response. Period.

A current world event headline story—

More than two hundred Nigerian girls were abducted from their school dormitory at night by men with evil intent. The innocent who cannot defend themselves should receive strong, galvanized, unwavering support on their behalf. God’s heart for justice calls us to step up to find every girl and free her from her captors! I think we can be determined with laser focus there for as long as it takes. It starts with but is ever so much more than a hashtag:  #returnourgirls! As determined as those men were to take the girls, that’s how persistent and inflexible we should be to find them. Period. Another kind of truth and grace is needed here. Speed is of the essence when lives are endangered, too!

So, what does the gem start to look like as a whole?

I’m trying to size up the moments in my days a little differently the best I can. There is right, and there is wrong. I want to diligently pursue doing and supporting what is right. I hope to persevere unwaveringly when a wrong clearly opposes the heart of God, but I have to respond with the “right sized” determination in proportion to the harm and have the truthful, loving, grace-filled heart of God in the process.

Whew! That’s going to be tough some days! But the duration of the offense has a lot to do with how long I’ll carry a grudge. Lesson learned.

Grace isn’t always weak, dismissing, warm, or fuzzy. If I’m called to respond in grace, it’s super-important that I know what that means for each unique scenario. In conflict, grace decides the fault and charge, evaluates intent, and responds appropriately with biblical accuracy to the heart of the matter and the heart of the wrongdoer. Truth. Grace. Love. All in the right places and proportions.

And my final little tidbit buried deep in sauce: Romans 12:15 and codependency are two separate things. I’m probably just talking to myself there, though. Or not. *grin*

I hope you’ll find a little sparkly gem in this one for yourself.

Be blessed!

~Jennifer

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Questions to Think About…

Have you ever found yourself determined to be offended?

Of the three examples mentioned, which one might the right “size” for your situation?

What does grace look like in the conflict-offense scenario for you?

How can you free yourself from the relational tension rooted in the offense?

What steps will you take today?

What will you do differently to avoid inappropriately long-term conflict or “wrong sized” responses to offenses?

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All Scripture sourced from http://www.biblestudytools.com.
Images sourced from http://www.morguefile.com, but I’m not waiting to post with images for now.

Drop the Rock

Occasionally, our pain lands squarely in the category of “beyond our control.” Events can be products of our conscious decisions, but some are not. It’s possible to blame ourselves in a warped way, but the honest truth is, others’ choices can dramatically and painfully affect us. We know what that feels like, don’t we?

Let’s face it. It’s easier to move with the strong flow of a current rather than be the salmon fighting it with hard-wired instinct. The norm of the culture generally trends hard toward basic things: greed, envy, pride, anger, hate, and pleasure. All these things drive behavior. As I mentioned in my last post, the culture permeates our hearts, minds, and actions over time, if we’re not particularly vigilant. The most attractive presentation drips with the honey-sweet taste of our own brand of justice.

So, where is this going, you ask? John 8.

An Adulteress Forgiven
2 At dawn He went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”  CSB

This passage contains rich teaching, plenty of characters to explore, and several angles from which to study it. I could note elements other teachers have highlighted. Questions could be asked of the text to yield deeper thought but fewer answers:

Where is the man who was “caught” with the woman?
Does the intent to “trap Him” play into the context more than I might think?
What *is* Jesus writing?

That’s enough for now. Asking those questions of the text would be natural for me, but I really want to take a closer look at the men holding the rocks. A keen sense of justice brought them to the point of grabbing stones for the woman’s punishment. Every man’s heart was primed to execute justice. The stones had her name on them, every one.

We don’t typically pick up rocks in this country to exact justice (this is when I’m thankful for our Constitution and judicial system). We have other weapons to “serve justice.” What are the “rocks” in our hands? What will we use to punish others for the range of wrongs—from little mistakes to more severe offenses? Silence. Separation. Furious, long lecture. “Word weapons” in our arsenal. Avoiding eye contact. Looks we wish could kill. Property damage. Terribly painful (and punishable by law) is causing physical harm to others. We clutch various “stones” in our angry hands, primed and ready, with someone’s name on it, don’t we?

We don’t live long without experiencing the pain of condemnation in some form. The characters in every story will be unique, but the gist will be the same. We know the scene. In the case of the adulterous woman, the accusation indicates her wrong-doing, something that deserved punishment by God’s Law. Our personal story may include our own poor decisions, or we may be completely innocent (as children, victims of others’ wrong choices, or bystanders). In any case, justice could (or should) be served. When we have the opportunity to see justice done, we have a choice to make.

Note: When justice needs to be done for specific, illegal activity, we may not (possibly should not) have as much choice to influence the flow of that process. Scripture is clear; there is justice and punishment for breaking the law. In the case where we have opportunity, that is the time to think about our response to an offense.

That said, may we never let our keen desire for justice become the emotional hinge on which everything turns. Some relationships offer the opportunity for smaller, less painful wounds. Maybe we could start with those and work toward the more significant offenses. In any case, what will we do? Will we keep the rock in our sweaty palm or drop it?

Jesus diffuses the situation with the adulterous woman simply. He suggests the completely innocent man throw the first stone (v. 7). Did the older, honest men walk away first? Did the impetuous, young men linger until they faced their own denial? We may never know, but we can imagine: Thud. The first rock fell, and a little dust cloud rose from it. The others followed.

The main thing I take away from this slice of the story is the plain, hard truth—I’m not different from the one who has made poor choices (Romans 3:23). I keep hoping this perspective will create a softer, more compassionate heart toward the offender. Sometimes it does, especially when the offense is similar to my own choices. If a gentler response isn’t forthcoming, I want to examine my thoughts and feelings to cultivate one. The other takeaway is this—the only one who could exact real, honest justice isn’t me. This little nugget is tougher to sit with, in my mind.

“Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.” ― Augustine

Augustine isn’t a biblical source, but he was wise. Self-inflicted damage occurs in the unforgiving heart. It is significant and worthy of attention. Dropping the rock from our angry, sweaty grip isn’t weak, and it isn’t the hallmark of a martyr. It can be a beautiful journey to freedom! There’s some incentive right there, but don’t forget the instruction we receive in Colossians 3:

12 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must [forgive].

If we are “God’s chosen ones,” we are commanded to be the salmon swimming upstream in the culture’s current. Be different. Be the church as our God describes: holy, loving, genuinely compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving. We are, after all, forgiven!

So, I turn all of this this over in my mind and think about dysfunctional family relationships, painful moments in friendships, and the devastation caused by strangers. One by one, I want to examine my stockpile of rocks. And, if I’m swallowing arsenic, hoping someone else will feel the effects, I think that’s got to stop.

What do you think? Could we empty our hands and pour out the poison?

Committed to dropping some rocks,

~Jennifer

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Thought Questions:

Do you have a rock with a name on it to think about?
Whose name is on it
? Is it your own name?
Which rock will you commit to loosening your grip on first?
Why should you commit to dropping this particular rock?
What steps will you take to improve the relationship with the one who deserves justice?

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Scripture references from http://www.biblestudytools.com from Crosswalk.com.