*Note: my computer tells me this was not posted as scheduled last week. If it is a repeat, I apologize; but I am scheduling it again in case it never posted as planned. Thank you.
You know how sometimes you feel God’s presence? And other times you just feel like there’s a wall between the two of you?
I’ve always been taught that feelings follow faith. That my relationship with God is not dependent on how I feel on a particular day, but on the truth of what Jesus did for me at the Cross. That’s a great thing, because my feelings can be like a roller coaster from day to day, depending on how I slept, what I ate, whether I’m feeling overwhelmed by demands on my time and energy.
Our church had a special worship night Wednesday. Don and I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes early, to find the lot almost full. We walked into the church to find the seating rearranged to give an “in the round” feeling. There was a spirit of anticipation, of eagerness to meet God, in the house.
The music was great, with mic’d vocalists scattered among the congregants. Bill Hayden, Pastor of the Villages Chapel, shared an anointed message of God’s power and grace. For the past 15 years he has lived with pacemakers. Recently, a parasitic infection from a well known restaurant led to a crisis because of which Pastor Bill required an immediate heart transplant.
Amazingly, God provided that transplant. Pastor Bill reported that the doctors were all amazed at how quickly everything moved.
God is always at work. One of our worship song says “even when I don’t feel it He’s working. Even when I don’t see it He’s working.” We are told to walk by faith. We don’t always feel God’s presence but he is always present and at work.
And what a joy when we do feel it, see it. I felt it Wednesday night–the power, the faithfulness, the goodness of God. Bless his holy name!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV
The game was close, the players intense. Suddenly a Viking went down, the ball spiraling out of his hands. A Saint picked it up and, in the melee around the player on the ground, ran a clean run into the end zone for a TD! Wow, no obstacles in his way. He grabbed the opportunity and ran with it, literally!
That TD was taken away from the Saints because the knee of the Viking who initially carried the ball was on the ground before the ball left his hands, taking it out of play.
Nevertheless, I was impressed with the Saint who took advantage of the opportunity at hand.
How often do we take advantage of such opportunities to live or share our faith? When a ball is fumbled, do we grab it and run with it, regardless of the outcome?
And what about when I’m the one doing the fumbling? Irritable, moody, feeling overwhelmed with the day to day tasks of life? Do I look for ways to work through those feelings or allow them to overtake and overrun me?
In my last post I wrote about looking for my word for the year. I thought it might be GAZE – to gaze on my God and take in His presence, His peace, His character. I’ve tweaked it a bit, to LEAN. I choose to lean on, and into, Jesus in the ups and downs and sleepless nights and writing pressures and joys and challenges that make up the patterns of my life. So if you see me grouchy, out of sorts, or needing encouragement, feel free to remind me to LEAN.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
There it sat, a stark white bench, alone on the inner edge of the school playground, next to the basketball and tether ball courts.
My third-grade Kids’ Club students and I were talking about honoring others, prior to hearing the story of David and Jonathan’s friendship. Jonathan honored David by putting his friend’s needs–for safety and protection from Jonathan’s father Saul–above his own. I asked the kids when they, or someone else, had honored them. They told me about the “lonely bench”.
If someone is lonely, feeling isolated, they can sit on that bench. The school has taught students to watch for children who feel lonely, and to reach out to include them. I heard about times when my kids invited children on the lonely bench to play with them. One told of a time when he sat on the lonely bench and another child invited him to play, and how good it felt to be included.
I love this idea. It’s awesome that some children are vulnerable enough to admit when they feel lonely or left out, by sitting on that bench. (One girl called it the friendship bench. Either works!)
What if we adults could be this open, this vulnerable. Instead of putting on a brave front, of masking our fears, insecurities, and/or loneliness, we had “lonely benches” at our churches, universities, community centers? And what if those in leadership fostered a culture in which we looked for and reached out to those on lonely benches, and allowed others to reach into our lives when we were the ones on the benches?
CS Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
How about such a bench in our homes? So that husband or wife or child or sibling or parent could sit in that one place, indicating we felt lonely, needed some extra conversation, hugs, presence, time. How would this deepen our friendships within our marriages and families? Our communication and openness to each other?
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
Eccesiastes 4:9-10 NIV
And while a lonely or friendship bench is a small thing towards increasing compassion and understanding between people, it is a step. Would having such a bench help those who think they’re worthless to feel more special? To feel included? To pass on to others the kindness they experienced from one who invited them to play, who sat and listened to them?
I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.
Secrets. Deadly. C.S. Lewis lost his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer. But he didn’t hide his grief, writing about it in A GRIEF OBSERVED. His wisdom is meaningful because it comes out of his own life experience.
Our culture tends to think of pain as a negative, as something to sweep under the proverbial rug.
“How are you?” “I’m fine thanks. And you?”
We may not want to take someone else’s time to share the truth of our journey, the faith crisis we’re in, the pain of loss, a wayward child, bankruptcy, or challenges within a community, a ministry, a marriage.
But secrets divide us. They raise barriers. Don’t go past this point. No more questions. Change the subject.
Have you been there? I have. In my last three posts I’ve written about being part of an inner city ministry for ten years, years that included times of significant joy and reward as we helped people through times of personal crisis, led children’s clubs and adult Bible studies, a teen choir, food and clothing distribution, and started a school in the ghetto. Joy as some committed their lives to Jesus Christ and started to walk a new path, making different, more positive choices than many around them.
But those years also included times of pain, with a controlling leader who told us not to talk to family or friends about doubts or issues with his leadership. So, along with others, I held a lot inside. I kept secrets. Was I fine? Definitely not. Did I tell anyone? Not for years.
So being with other women who were part of that organization two weeks ago was extremely meaningful. We shared honestly and openly, asking and answering questions and also sharing about our current lives. Although I know there was and is more to share, we spoke the secrets aloud. And it was healing.
Someone said when people speak about their joy, people listen and affirm. But when we speak our pain, people lean in. All of us have experienced pain, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. And pain spoken loses some of its power, while pain held in spreads like a cancer.
Obviously we need to be wise. Sharing everything with everyone is neither prudent nor effective. But we do need safe places where we can be authentic with a few trusted individuals.
When we speak of our pain (within appropriate boundaries), others want to hear. They may be experiencing something similar, and they want to know how we overcame. What gave us the strength to move through the pain to new understanding, to finding hope again?
Perhaps we can begin to welcome pain as a gift to help us grow or warn us of needed changes. The child who places her hand on a hot stove learns not to do that. The pain of betrayal may caution us against trusting too quickly, about delving more deeply into a person’s integrity before getting too involved.
The pain of distance from God may remind us that we need to spend regular time with him, enjoying this most important of all relationships.
None of us wants pain. Few of us invite it. And God doesn’t send it. But he can use it in our lives as it reminds us …
that God is our comfort as we move toward rather than away from him. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (I Peter 5:7)
to serve others–God comforts us so that we can pass that comfort along to others in need (II Corinthians 1:3-5)
to patiently endure–“My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71) and
to rely on God–“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life” (I John 5:12).
Out of pain and problems have come the sweetest songs, and the most gripping stories.
Those are reasons to be thankful for pain’s impact in our lives.
May God guide you as you open your heart’s secrets to him, our ultimate Counselor; and to trusted confidantes, so that you may be healed.
Thirty-eight years! It’s that long since I’ve seen some of the colleagues with whom I worked in the Los Angeles ghetto for ten years.
After a painful breakup/firing/split, I left not only the ministry but the city, eventually returning to my roots in Northern California.
This breakup impacted me in ways I imagined divorce felt like. It hurt! Misunderstandings and controlling leadership prevented my former friends from communicating with me. I felt isolated, cast off, forgotten.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I knew nothing about setting up a corporation. But I worked with a man who had the vision for an inner city ministry, and I handled the details. With many calls to City and State, we were established as a nonprofit organization. I worked closely with the President on the corporation’s implementation, guidelines, fundraising, and communication. I coached foreign workers on applying for the appropriate work visas and, on one occasion, spoke directly with the immigration official at the Vancouver airport who was not going to allow a young woman to board her flight to LA. But after my lengthy conversation with the officer, Nancy arrived to minister with us later that day.
I taught children and teens and lived with other staff women in the LA ghetto. We lived and ministered together and chose to be part of the community we served. We suffered together when someone we loved was hurt, killed, or when our own lives were threatened. This was my second family. And now we were separated for many reasons.
Over the years it took me to heal from the impact of a controlling leader and unrealistic expectations, I prayed that God would somehow bring back some of those friendships. He has done that with some of the most significant peer relationships I had, and I am deeply grateful for the ability to clarify, question, and grow together as we talked in depth about how God used the ministry, and even the control, to teach and build us.
Unfortunately I’m not alone in my experience of burnout.
Others have gone through similar experiences. Controlling leadership that steps into the place God rightly inhabits, and its resulting burnout, can cause someone to lose faith, not only in a specific ministry or leader, but in God himself.
So how do we heal?
We cry. We rest. We look for those areas of personality or conflict that we own, and learn to release those we do not. Some of us write. With time, we learn to forgive.
We seek out people who are ‘safe’; those with whom we can be real who will love without judgment, listen without trying to “fix,” help us laugh and cry with us and accept us where we are at that moment.
We may seek help from friends, pastors, or professional counselors. We breathe out the pain and breathe in, increased understanding.
We look for ways we can encourage others with the strength and comfort God has given us, knowing He wastes nothing, including our hurt.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
II Corinthians 1:3-5, NLT
And sometimes we reach out at some point and there is a positive response that allows bridges to be built and relationships to jump-start, wobbly at first, then growing stronger as the cords deepen.
So next weekend I’m flying to Los Angeles for a reunion with some of the women with whom I worked on staff, most of whom I haven’t seen in 38 years! Will I laugh? Cry? Probably both, as we remember the good times and the ways God used the ministry, and perhaps grieve over some of the boulders and stones along the way.
Knowing this reunion is happening 38 years after I left Los Angeles gives me great hope that God is still in the business of reconciliation.
Can’t wait to tell you more about our time together!