Tag: pain

scarred love

 

There have been several major tragic events in the UK in the past few weeks, involving significant loss of life and injury, and my heart goes out to all who have been bereaved or injured.

Recognising and honouring the incredible acts of selfless generosity and heroism that have been shown in response to these events is one way in which we can respond with hope and resilience in the face of tragedy. Responses in these extreme circumstances are of hope not hate, of kindness not cruelty, of love not loathing, of heroism not hesitation. These responses (to me) reveal glimpses of the intended qualities of the One who created human nature.

There are different levels of human culpability in these horrendous events (by which I mean that I am not wishing to prejudge the outcome of any inquiry, trial, etc). We have to accept that if humans had not acted in certain ways these tragedies may have been avoided or far less tragic. We also recognise that there is a pernicious quality to the evil side of life.

 

So what do we do?

Scream

Rage

Weep

Sit in dumbfounded silence

wpid-20140217_131122.jpg

All of these and more. I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about how we feel as a first step towards being honest with one another. What emotions are we feeling? Why do we feel these things?

One response to these sorts of event is regret expressed as ‘if only’. If only’ regrets can be corrosive. They can eat away at our ability to confront the impact of what has happened and begin the long process of coming come to terms with it and how we feel about it. But I can’t help feeling a deep sense of ‘if only’ regret on behalf of the victims. All suffering and death is a vile reminder that things are not as they should be, but somehow when the victims are those we would deem to be ‘innocent’ that exacerbates our sense of outrage and indignation that it should maraud savagely into our relatively well-ordered society. So we wonder whether it could have been prevented?

‘If only’ also looks for someone to blame: someone should have done something differently. Often that ‘someone’ is someone who is not known to us. It is much more difficult to cope with when ‘if only’ points the finger of blame and someone closer to home, or even to us. The ‘if only’ blame requires someone to resign or to be convicted or to apologise. And while collectively we may feel better when that happens we transfer the blame to that person / organisation and we distance ourselves from it. But the regret remains.

If you want to blame someone, by all means blame God. If you want to complain about the injustice then give him your best shot. He can cope with the raging lashing-out of hurting people.

Writing this post today I remembered writing a lament to God a few years ago for those who died when a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. I was surprised to find that this was 18th July 2014 – how was it so long ago and how had I forgotten all about it?

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

One of the consequences of our global news social media world is that, while we feel the impact of each new tragedy more keenly because we see footage from camera phones from those who were there and we hear eyewitness accounts almost as they happen, we move onto the next one fairly rapidly with an almost macabre fascination. I could easily change the words above to reflect the most recent events. And in a few weeks’ time perhaps (please God no) there will be new events to replace those…

But when you are screaming at God when these things happen, ask him where he was and is.

God is not indifferent to our suffering.

At the risk of being insensitive to those who are suffering in ways far beyond anything I can imagine I do believe that part of the answer to that is that he is with us, he is in the pain, he feels the impact, he is screaming the screams of anguish. Why? Because he loves each one of us with love that goes far beyond that of any parent or child. He loves us because he made us lovingly. When his beloved ones are damaged, ruined, destroyed, and defiled his love – even though it remains undiminished – becomes a scarred love.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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lamentation

teardropWhat do you do when you hear tragic news?

This morning we have heard of the apparent shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger aircraft, and while the perpetrator is not yet known, we can neglect to remember that there are many other victims of the on-going conflict in Ukraine; and Israel and the Palestinian territories have been in conflict for over a week – hundreds have died there already through the air attacks and now Israel has mounted a ground offensive.

So what do you do?

Do you give the situations a good tutting and devour the news stories for more details?

Do you speculate about what is happening and decide who is in the right and who is the pantomime villain that everyone ought to boo?

Do you offer up prayers for those who are victims, the families of those who have died, and pray for peace?

Do you rend your garments and sit in a pile of ashes? That is one of the biblical responses to tragedy – to enact your grief in such a way that it is obvious so that others can join you.

Do you lament? Lamenting is also a biblical response to tragedy and inhumanity (isn’t ‘inhumanity’ an interesting word – suggesting that we are innately good and not to be makes us ‘inhumane’? There could be a bloggage there, but I digress…). Where was I?

Oh yes, lament. Lamenting is a way of crying out to God – reaching out with raw emotion and screaming against the events. It is an expression of our inadequacy and impotence in the face of evil and horrendous happenings. It is a guttural screech of pain that articulates the inarticulate emotions within.

And we offer all that to God and say, “This is wrong and I don’t know what to do but I know it’s wrong and I am angry, distraught and bewildered.”

So here goes: a lament for 18th July 2014

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

plugging away

We had a wonderful day at our church yesterday (Sunday). In the morning service we baptised Simon, who has only recently become a follower of Jesus, and he told us his moving testimony about his life and becoming a believer. We also had Sylvia, who was baptised in 1959 but didn’t have the opportunity to share her story at her baptism, so she shared about God’s faithfulness over all those years. We had Silvia who reaffirmed the promises she made at her baptism a number of years ago and told us of her journey of faith and how God had been with her and spoken to her. And we had Leisa, who is going through all sorts of difficulties but wanted to reaffirm her baptismal promises as a way of declaring that God has been with her throughout. And in the evening we were blessed when John, one of our members, led the service and preached about the cost of following Jesus.

As I said, it was a wonderful day.

Last night I opened a bedroom window to get some fresh air into the room on a muggy night. In the very early morning I was awoken by the local birds who were getting very excited about the fact that the sun was coming up again and were telling everyone about it. I decided to close the window to reduce the volume. As I walked to the window in the gloom of our room I trod on an upturned electrical plug (prongs up).

An Electric Plug

OUCH!

And what was the first thing I thought about this morning? Not the blessings of yesterday but the pain of last night. It may be just me but isn’t it true that pain, hardship, difficulty, troubles or whatever negative experiences we have seem to override the positives for us? It may be just me but many words of encouragement can be drowned out by one word of criticism.

It may be just me, or it may be human nature. If it is I am sure that evolutionary biologists will have an explanation for it – perhaps that we need to deal with negative experiences and events in order to overcome them: we can’t spend all our time laughing and rejoicing if we need to fight off a bear or run from attackers.

And it may not just be one-off events or experiences. Long term pain can drain and debilitate. Lengthy adversity can rob us of satisfaction and peace. Ongoing difficulty can destroy moments of joy. I know that too from my personal experience.

In those moments I have found immense satisfaction and strength from these words:

Pull yourself together. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

No. Actually not those words. Those words are unhelpful and inaccurate. Try these:

But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

That may seem trite, but I have found immense encouragement and strength from God when I am going through tough times. Look at those words in the wider context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians:

…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We don’t know what or who the ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. But it was clearly something significant and dreadful for Paul to describe it in those terms and to plead for God to take it away. God’s response was not to take it away but to reassure Paul that he would have enough grace to cope, and find that God would make up what he lacked.

So whatever difficulties or hardships you face I would encourage you to plead that the Lord would take them away, but be ready for his response that may not be to take them away but instead to give you what you need to cope – even treading on an upturned plug!

Be blessed, be a blessing

the sequel

I had an interesting and helpful conversation with someone this morning following yesterday’s bloggage. They helped me realise that I needed to expand a bit more on what I had written, so consider this the sequel.

I finished yesterday by saying that Jesus offers us life in all its fullness as the Creator’s intended answer to our search for happiness. I realised after this morning’s conversation that it looks like I meant that God was offering us happiness after all. I am sorry if that is the impression I left you with (all I can say in my defence is that it was blogged on a phone on a train).

I am sorry too if you have ever got the impression from me that if you become a Christian your life will be sorted and there will never be any problems. That’s not the message of Jesus. He told us that his followers can expect opposition, even persecution. He told us that we should pick up our cross daily and follow him. He told people not to worry about tomorrow … “each day has enough trouble of its own.” He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” and “don’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.”

There is much more to life than this
There is much more to life than this

‘Life in all its fullness’ is a life lived in God’s presence, filled with God’s Spirit, seeking to live in a way that honours him as a follower of Jesus. As wonderful as that is, and as amazing and positive as that is, fullness of life also includes the pain, grief, difficulties, frustrations, confusion and anxieties that life can throw in our direction. It includes all of life, knowing that God is with us in it. It includes those moments when we can look back and see that God really was in it with us when we wondered if we were alone. It includes those times when we were clinging on to our faith by our fingernails. It is life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life (perhaps it’s a guarantee that life will not be easy) but it is life as it was created to be. It’s not all doom and gloom, there is also brightness, joy, peace, laughter, fun and so much more – don’t read this and think that it’s all bad. God is with us by his Spirit in the light and the dark, in the laughter and the tears, in the joy and the pain.

Be blessed, be a blessing.