A Little Context For Me

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"But They Are All Dead!" - Laments of Deferred Hope

“But they are all dead!” I wailed as yet another friend pointed me to Hebrews 11 in an attempt to encourage me during a season of great frustration of singleness.

“Of course, they are all dead they lived during Bible times.” She said looking rather befuddled.

“No, I mean they all died before anything God promised them happened – even Moses died right before he got to step foot in the Promise Land.” I whined. “You know what that’s like? That’s like sitting in the parking lot while your friends spend the day in Disney World. Way to go, God, what an awesome way to treat your chosen hero. Guess that’s as good as it gets when you are serving God.”

It was at this point my friend decided to abandon any attempts at consoling and backed away slowly. She later confessed that she was pretty certain that it was going to lightening the next time I opened my mouth, and she didn’t have any intentions of being anywhere near the strike zone. (I hear that quite frequently believe it or not.)

Now for those of you who have lived a beautifully blessed life, I am sure that my laments sound a little melodramatic and bordering on blasphemous, but follow me on this one. You really need to understand, maybe not for yourself, but at some point in your life you are going to have a friend who feels this way. And if you have ever felt like this towards God, we have group meetings at my house on the second Tuesday of the fifth week next month.

Nothing hurts more than waiting on a dream. Solomon even said so, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but the fulfillment of a desire is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12). I prefer Stephen King’s paraphrase from the Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man (or woman) insane.”

The only thing worse than hope is hope that is rooted in a God given desire. Whether it is the dream of marriage, a thriving ministry, publishing that next book, or having a home to call your own, all of it hurts when it seems like it is happening for everyone but you. And it isn’t just the not having that kills you, it is the way you begin to feel like everyone else is looking at you, that subtle shift in how they treat you, and the unspoken accusation of why aren’t you good enough to receive God’s blessings.

So you work the steps. You go over your life with a fine tooth comb and you begin looking for some sin that would explain why God is withholding his love. You pray, you fast, you confess even the most minor infractions, and you cry in frustrated pain and in anger. You volunteer more at church, you start tithing 11% instead of 10, and you begin wondering if you should sponsor a child in Africa to show just how good you really are. And every morning you wake up expecting a miracle, you decree God’s provision and blessing over your life while you brush teeth, and all you have to show for it are toothpaste splatters on the mirror.

That is when the bitterness creeps in. It starts out as disillusionment and frustration, but you know deep down in your heart that anger is starting to take over. Oh, you fight it down, push it away, and do your best to deny that you are capable of such an unholy emotion, but you are beginning to feel like ticking time bomb. Soon all your prayers are boiled down to one word, “Why?”

“Why, God, why me?”

Now this is the part where I am supposed to offer you some holy answer and sacred words of wisdom. They will magically appear on your screen after you close your eyes, chant the Lord’s Prayer, and commit to sending me ten bucks.

Didn’t work? Yeah, I will have to work on that. Really, what did you expect?

The truth is I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows why some prayers get answered and others don’t. I can’t understand why God has allowed so many charlatans to achieve levels of great success and experience such blessing and leaves the rest of us out in the cold. I don’t know why he healed your friend who uses drugs and let my dad die, or why didn’t give my ex a holy zap and save our marriage when I prayed for that while warded off his blows. None it makes sense to me, and if I told you I did I would be lying.

But here is what I do know: God is sovereign, and that means he gets to call all the shots, even the ones I don’t understand. God loves me and he loves you, even when we don’t deserve it. Love will do what is best for us, even when it means disappointment and hurt. Hurt and disappointment does not mean our story is over. It just might mean that we have to be willing to let him write a new one, one we never imagined being the story of our lives.

No one in Hebrews 11 saw the fulfillment of the promise that God gave to them. They all died long before it happened, but they had enough faith to believe that in pursuing the promise they were exactly where God called them to be. They pressed onward even when it all seemed pointless, believing that God was faithful, and even though they didn’t see it happen their kids, their grandkids, and everyone who came after did.

You see, they changed the world by chasing the dreams God had given them and doing so transcended their finite existence. They ceased to be individuals and became a part of the fabric of history. Each of them is remembered not for what they received, but for what they gave – to you, to me, and to everyone who dares to receive the promise of salvation to this day.

And isn’t that what we were called to? To give it all away, including our lives, so that the world might witness his glory and not our own? Sometimes the only thing we have to lay on that altar is our hopes the ones he gave to us. Maybe he will provide a ram caught in the thorns of life, or maybe he will resurrect in a new and unexpected way. I don’t know, but I do know that he is the God of redemption and that includes disappointed hopes and dreams.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The God of I

“I love ______, and God is love so this can’t be wrong.”

“I need ______ in my life to be happy, and God wants us to be happy.”

“I want to be true to who God made me to be.”

“I was born this way, who are you to say that God made a mistake?”

“I feel like God wants me to do this.”

“I know in my heart this is God’s plan for my life.”

“I made the right decision, and only God can judge me.”

“I have prayed it through, and this is the right thing for me.”

“I believe that this is what God wants for me. Why else would I feel this way?”

And so goes the theology of our day. I want, I need, I think, I feel - all of these phrases, an introduction to the carefully crafted theology of “I”. Oh sure, we toss God’s name in there so it sounds as if we might actually be speaking of him, but let’s be real shall we?

Look, I am not throwing stones here. I have said these things myself, and did so quite convincingly. I was in love. I could not be happy without this person in my life, and surely a God of love would understand if I bent, or broke, the rules so that I could have love in my life.

After all, those rules were written so long ago and to different culture. The people back then weren’t as enlightened as we are now. They didn’t understand the things we now know are true about relationships and human sexuality. If they knew what we know now, God certainly would have written something different, something more lenient, and more loving than the self-denial that being true to his word would require of me.

And I could believe everything I told myself, as long as I never stopped to think about what I was really saying because if I did, I undermined every reason to believe in God in the first place. The truth is I was telling myself that I was smarter than God, I was wiser than him, and I was more loving than he ever professed to be. My thoughts were higher and more rational than any thought he had deigned to share with humanity, and his words were cruel when compared to grace I offered myself. I had the power to stop my pain, and I could heal my heart more effectively than he ever would, all I had to do was have enough faith.

But that faith was never in him, it was strictly in myself.

I had become my own god. I had elevated my will above his, and I had called him a liar with my thoughts and deeds. Not that I would voice such a thing, for who could condone such arrogance, such hubris? Not I or any other rational human being, but when I dressed it up as a service – a debt I owed to my heart, to my sense of self, then I could celebrate my accomplishments and bask in the approval of my peers.

Sin never creeps into our lives because we label it a sin. It comes wrapped in all things beautiful and delicious. It appeals to our pride, our vanity, but even more it appeals to the needs of our hearts and seems soothing against ragged places of loneliness and pain. For a moment there is the sweet seduction of knowing what it is to have our appetites satisfied, but it is only for a moment. Then we are confronted with how powerless we, or anyone else, really are to satisfy the demands of our hearts. Pride would seek to lash us onward, to try again, to love someone new, and to immerse ourselves in pools of self-help and self-healing, when the truth is we need to acknowledge that nothing we create of ourselves will ever be any lasting value.

Facing the truth is violent and painful task. It is bloody act to cut out the part of your heart that would betray you for a seconds worth of peace and self-aggrandizement. Pride writhes with wretched anguish when displaced by humility, and mercy stings when you realize how undeserving you are of such a gift. Nor does the love you worshipped above the God of love die swift and painless death, instead lingers in the recesses of you heart waiting for a moment of weakness to rise up displace this new God you have enthroned upon what was once its domain.

No one said it would be easy or without cost to worship this God of the Bible and the God of truth. Even he said there pain, but he promised it would be worth it and either he is a God of his word worthy of our worship or he isn’t. There is no in between and there is no compromise or justification in him. He will not share our hearts with another god, not even the god of I or the god of love for ourselves. For the love he offers is greater than any we can conjure of own will. The question is who do we really worship more, the true God of Love or the love we have that it only sustained by I?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Adult Content

At least once a week I have a conversation that goes like this, “I love Jesus. I consider myself to be a Christian. I know that the Bible says that it is wrong, but I believe that God understands why I ___(fill in the blank  with personal pet sin)___.” Now, if you are one of those people who work those phrases into conversations with other Christians and don’t want to get your feelings hurt, you might just want to back away slowly. However, if you are ready for some raw, ugly truth and you think you are adult enough to handle it, keep reading.

Let’s begin with the first statement, “I love Jesus.” No, no you don’t. You love the idea of Jesus and a Jesus who does not conform to Biblical standards. You love the Jesus you made in your image, the passive, cowardly Jesus who has no backbone, who is devoid of holiness and isn’t all that into justice.
A Jesus without these attributes is easier to love. He has no feelings to hurt, no holiness to offend and no sense of justice to violate. You can prop him in the corner of the room and take comfort in knowing that nothing you do wounds his heart or injures your relationship. A Jesus like this never makes you feel guilty for what you have done or who you have been. In short, he is just another accessory to help you feel good about yourself, and nothing more.

And this attitude leads to a lot of confusion, hurt feelings on your part, and frustration with this faith we call Christianity, because the first thing you do when you get in a jam is start praying to the image of Jesus you created. You will cry to him, beg him, and demand of him that he fix whatever issues you are facing in your life, and when he does nothing you resent the fact that he failed you.

But, really, what else did you expect? You denied him the power and the right to be life changing force in your world the minute you stripped him of his true identity. You rejected his holiness, you told him he had no right to be hurt by your actions, and you flat out refused to allow any room for him to be a just God when you said that all he was allowed to be was love, acceptance, and tolerance for you decisions.

You see, God has a funny way of giving you exactly what you asked for. The problem was you weren’t smart enough to know what it is you requested. You asked for a god who was too small to move against you and your sinful desires and a god that powerless is too weak to move against the other evils of this world. Congratulations on winning such a useless prize. I hope you enjoyed it.

The second statement: “I consider myself to be a Christian.” Good for you, I consider myself to be an octopus, and yet nothing about me conforms to the definition of this beast. Are you still sure you are a Christian or is that just lie you tell yourself so you can sleep at night?

Third statement: “I know the Bible says it is wrong, but I believe that God understands.” Okay, I will give you this one, God does understand. He understands that you are lazy, selfish, and undisciplined enough to think that giving up whatever you are hanging onto would cost you more than the agony he endured on the cross. He understands that you have placed your desires above his and in doing so declared that you are smarter, wiser, and more enlightened than he is. He gets it he really does, because you are not the first being to say this to him. Just check out Ezekiel 28 and see how that worked out for the first one to say such things to him.

But that kind of Jesus sounds so judgmental, and the guilt! Surely a God who loves me doesn’t want to me to feel guilty all the time. God wants me to feel good about myself because he loves me, and he accepts me as I am. Such are the counter arguments, I am told.

What people don’t realize they are telling me when they make those statements is that they have never been in love and maybe they have never experienced love. Love, real love, never leaves you as it finds you, and it does not condone or support you hurting yourself. Real love is bold enough to call you out on your self-destructive behavior, and it will risk hurting your feelings, even losing you for a season, if that is what takes to make you realize what you are doing to yourself – and God’s love is real! It is bold and full of courage, and love like that inspires us to a courage to face ourselves as we could not do on our own.

When our love for God does not inspire us to place absolute trust in him, when we think that our excuses for sin are greater than his command, and when we act as if God should be content to allow us to continue as we are and never seek something greater for ourselves than we can create without him, then we are not acting in love, we are not acting in faith, but rather we are lying to ourselves and to the world. Love changes us. If there is no change, then we have not known love no matter how much we may protest, and if you have not known love than you have not known God.

Just Feeling A Little Bipolar, That's All

I debated about writing this out, and we will see if I have the stamina to stay put long enough to do it. Inviting people into this area of my life is always a risk, and something I have kept closely guarded. Letting the world know that you have a mental illness is like handing them a loaded gun to shoot down any good thing you love or will ever attempt. It makes everything you do or say suspect as it is possibly the result of nothing more than a sick mind, and on days like today that is far more evident to me than I would like it to be.

It all started about three days ago when I realized that nothing was up to my standards, and I do mean nothing. The sky wasn’t even the right shade of blue, fall is around the corner with its cooler temperatures that I detest, and I kept having to fight the urge to shred all my clothing as I suddenly deemed them all to be nothing but trash. Only some small rational corner of my mind keeps me from doing that now as I know that there are not enough funds to buy new things, and that thought makes me seethe with resentment.

Nothing is exciting enough or calming enough, and I fight the urge to scream. No words, just a gut ripping cry of protest against everything that is so very wrong. I am on the verge of tears every second. I hover there like a person clutching a toilet knowing that if they will just go on vomit they will feel better, but dreading the act so much they cannot allow themselves to do so.

I cannot stop shaking. My whole body is twitching with an undirected energy that refuses to be focused onto anything constructive without an intense effort. I have paced around the yard five times since I began typing this because I thought of half a dozen things I should do. I have accomplished none of them. The thought of doing the daily chores is physically painful, and my mind is running in loops trying to figure out ways to avoid doing what I know I should do.

I keep telling myself that today will be the worst of it and tomorrow I will begin to climb out of this pit. I have to because tomorrow I have to go back to work, be in front of people who are expecting me to behave a certain way. And I will do it. I always do. Years ago I pretty much perfected the art of faking it. I can be jabbering to myself the entire car ride to my place of employment, pondering all sorts of dangerous options for my life, crying with the physical pain of doing what I must, and then slap that smile on as I step out of my car. I will move among the people with my voice only slightly more animated than normal, and the only major shift they will even suspect is the fact I am far more complimentary than usual. Compliments, I discovered, keep most people happy and less confrontational, and the last thing you want out of me when I am in the middle of these episodes is a confrontation.

Oh, don’t worry. I have a leash on the real crazy. I only let it out when I am alone, or with people I trust absolutely. If most of you called me up right now, you would never know that it lurks just below the surface. The only clue you would get is the fact I might throw in a few more inappropriate remarks than I usually do, or my vocabulary is little more “colorful” than usual. I would just suggest that no one back me into a corner, because even I don’t know what I would do then.

I am considered to be “high functioning” with my bipolar because I can see all this. I can tell you what I am feeling, thinking, and I can tell you all the reasons why it is wrong or out of balance. I can still make choices based on what I know, and I can combat most of the rationalizations that my mind keeps spitting out at me in an attempt to vindicate how I feel. I know that greatest danger to myself and those around me is to start believing those lies and allowing myself to act on them.

Not that I always want to. There is a part of me, a deep dark scary part of me that keeps whispering that to believe the rationalizations would be freeing. The scary parts tell me that going into the camper right now and breaking every last plate and dish would feel amazing because I would no longer have to look at those very serviceable items I despise for being so colorless. The scary part tells me that I would only be exercising my rights as an adult to go and buy a fifth of whiskey and guzzling it down with some sour mix. The scary part says go dancing at eight in the morning without my husband who is too busy working, and to take all the credit cards and buy that hot tub I’ve been wanting. The thing is, it doesn’t feel scary. It feels tempting and seductive, full of promise and fun.

So I fight it. I tell myself all the reasons I need to stay the course. Stay here in my home, busy myself with projects, and if they can’t be productive at the very least choose the least destructive. I keep reminding myself of what is important, what will be important tomorrow (or next week), and what I know to be true even if it feels so incredibly fake right now. I fight the irrational anger that comes when I tell the scary part it does not get to dictate my choices, and I pray that this will pass quickly before the scary part becomes too loud and I can no longer hear the truths I keep repeating to myself.

A typical blog post takes me anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to write. This morning it took three hours and multiple circuits of the yard to get this out. I am actually rather impressed, for while writing is one of my typical coping mechanisms it is rarely something I can do at this particular stage of an episode. 

Photo from Photopin