Just Be Held

Continued from here.

Once you replace asking God why with asking whether you will trust Him with even this, your perspective shifts. Casting Crowns’ song Just Be Held captures this beautifully:

 

Soak in the beauty of the lyrics. Let this song become a how-to manual for how to survive long-term suffering:

If your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still. But if your eyes are on the cross, you’ll know I always have, and I always will.”

Your feelings will follow wherever you fix your gaze. If you fix your gaze on the storm, you’ll experience more anger, fear, anxiety, and despair. However, if you fix your gaze on the cross, you’ll experience God’s tenderness as He carries you through the storm. You’ll realize that you are not alone in the storm … that your Father is walking through the storm with you.

Lift your hands. Lift your eyes. In the storm is where you’ll find Me. And where you are, I’ll hold your heart. I’ll hold your heart. Come to Me. Find your rest in the arms of the God who won’t let go.”

Your God won’t let go, not even for a moment. The more powerful the storm is, the closer He’s holding you. The Bible says that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and near to those crushed in spirit. Let the words of these more modern translations of Ps. 31:18 wash over you:

If your heart is broken, you’ll find GOD right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” (The Message)

“The LORD is there to rescue all
who are discouraged
and have given up hope.” (Contemporary English Version)

“The LORD is near to those who are discouraged;
he saves those who have lost all hope.” (Good News Translation)

“The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain,
and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.” (The Passion Translation)

“When someone is hurting or brokenhearted, the Eternal moves in close
and revives him in his pain.” (The Voice)

Your God is not missing in action during your ongoing season of gut-wrenching pain. He’s right there with you, holding you close and already working this situation – even THIS – for good.

[Graphic: YouTube video of Casting Crowns’ Just Be Held]

 

Letting Go of Asking Why

Continued from here.

Since I made the life decision to stop asking God why, my suffering has become simpler – not easier, but simpler. When I ask God to give me answers that I am incapable of understanding, I grow confused. In that confusion, I question whether God really loves me. This places me in a tug-of-war with the Source of my comfort. I pull Him closer as I seek comfort and healing but, at the same time, I push Him away in my frustration and anger at not understanding why. Push and pull. Push and pull.

Since I stopped asking God why, I have removed the barrier that drives me to push Him away, enabling me to hold Him close as I pour out my soul to Him. The suffering is not lessened, but it’s also not compounded by conflicting feelings toward the only One with the power to strengthen me as I walk through places I don’t want to go.

My go-to song has become Twila Paris’, Do I Trust You?:

The question is not whether I understand why God is allowing me to suffer. There’s no answer in that moment that’s going to make me welcome the pain. Instead, my question is whether I trust Him. Will I trust Him when I’m wrongfully terminated from my job? Will I trust Him when I’ve prayed for my loved one 1,000 times but he’s still suffering? Will I trust Him when I’ve done everything I know to do, but I see nothing changing in my circumstances? Will I trust Him when absolutely nothing about my situation makes sense?

I have resolved that my answer is yes, not because I feel like trusting God but because I choose to trust Him. I sing along with Twila Paris at the top of my lungs until I push through my resistance and sense God’s comfort infusing me with peace that surpasses all understanding:

I will trust You, Lord, when I don’t know why.
I will trust You, Lord, til the day I day.
I will trust You, Lord, when I’m blind with pain.
You were God before, and You’ll never change.
I will trust You.
I will trust You.
I will trust You, Lord.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: YouTube video of Twila Paris’ Do I Trust You?.]

 

What’s Wrong with Asking God Why?

Continued from here.

What’s wrong with asking God why? It focuses your thoughts on the problem rather than on the Solution. It also presumes that you have the capacity to understand God, which none of us can do. This is why God’s reaction to Job’s demand to know why was to turn the tables on Job, challenging Him to answer God’s questions, as if a human could ever understand the ways of God. There’s no answer that, in our humanity, will make us say, “Sure, God. I welcome this pain and suffering. That’s the way I want my life to go.”

And yet, we can experience peace as we transition from asking God why to inviting Him in and trusting that He’s going to take care of us. Interestingly, I have learned this lesson best through two Christian comedians. Check out this poignant testimony from Christian comedian Anthony Griffith, who lost his three-year-old daughter to cancer:

I don’t recall the name of the second Christian comedian, so I don’t know who to credit. (If you know the name, please post it in the comments.) Like Anthony Griffith, his young daughter also had cancer. He shared that the doctors drilled a hole in her chest so that medication could be administered quickly. When his daughter awoke with a high fever in the middle of the night, he drove her to the hospital, where she knew that needles and more pain awaited her. She sobbed, begging her father to explain why she must go through the pain.

The father knew in that moment that there was no way an adult could explain to a young child why she had to endure the pain necessary to save her life. All he could do was ask her to trust him. And then he understood – Just as a young child does not have the capacity to understand why she must endure the pain of a hospital to save her life from cancer, no human has the capacity to understand why we must endure the sufferings that God allows into our lives. Like the young child, we find our comfort when we stop asking why and, instead, trust that our Father loves us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: YouTube video of Anthony Griffith’s testimony.]

 

God Doesn’t Want to be Explained Away

Continued from here.

I am currently reading Lysa TerKeurst’s excellent book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. While I have enjoyed everything I have read by TerKeurst, this book is in a league of its own because it’s so real, raw, and authentic. She wrote the book while she and her husband were separated due to his ongoing affair, and she did not know at the time that God would restore, heal, and reconcile them in the future. (They renewed their vows in December.)

Of course, TerKeurst questioned why God allowed her husband to be seduced by another woman and why their many counseling sessions had not seemingly born fruit. For someone who built her ministry on being a Proverbs 31 wife, this kind of attack on her marriage had to be particularly devasting. One of the things she learned through this extremely painful season, which she writes about in her book, is this:

God does not want to be explained away. He wants to be invited in. ~ Lysa TerKeurst

When we place God on the witness stand and cross-examine Him, we put him in an adversarial position that He never intended. He doesn’t want the barrier of a witness stand erected between you and Him. Instead, He wants you to invite Him in to hold and carry you as you suffer and struggle. He wants to be your safe place to curl up and cry when nothing in your life is making sense. And He wants you to trust that He is working this – even THIS – for good. He wants you to trust His character and His heart when you cannot trust what you see.

I know this is tough to do. I’ve lived it. I wanted God to provide me with answers for why he let a helpless little girl be sold to the highest bidder as her body was exploited by one evil person after another. I wanted Him to explain why He didn’t step in and rescue me from the hands of those evil people for three more years after I received Jesus as my Savior at age 8. Why, God? Why? My healing didn’t come from receiving some magical explanation that enabled me to see how much sense my suffering made in the grand scheme of things. It came when I invited God in to heal my shattered heart by taking the dust of my brokenness and crafting it into something new.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. Courtesy Amazon.]

Why, God? Why?

whyA couple of people in my life, whom I love dearly, have been enduring long seasons of perseverance. That’s a Christian-sanitized way of saying they have been suffering from such gut-wrenching, I-don’t-know-if-I-can-survive-this agony for so long that they both have questioned their ability to endure even one more day of misery. I’ve been there. I know from personal experience that they only way out of the pain is through it, holding onto God with both hands and trusting that He will bring good out of situations that appear to be anything but good.

When we are neck-deep in the muck and mire of gut-wrenching pain, it’s human to ask God why. “Why is God allowing this to happen in my life? Why isn’t He intervening? Does He not love me? Am I being punished for something I did in the past? Why would a good God allow such evil to prevail in my life?” As someone who battled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, an eating disorder, self-injury, and a whole host of other aftereffects from severe childhood trauma, I understand the drive to call God on the carpet like Job did and demand to know why He allowed such suffering into my life. It’s human to question why when we hurt, particularly when our pain persists long past our breaking point.

I have found that asking God why makes the suffering worse, and so I have made a life decision never to ask Him why. I know that sounds crazy, but since I gave up asking God why, I find my life challenges to be easier to navigate. This week, I’ll do my best to explain this.

As for how I first came up with the idea to stop asking God why … I got this from Joyce Meyer’s TV show, Enjoying Everyday Life. She shared the story of a preacher who lost his wife to illness. They were either high school or college sweethearts, and he didn’t know how to live without her. He told God two things after she passed away: (1) Help me remember that other people are watching my reaction. I am fully dependent upon You to help me do this right. (2) I will never ask You why.

I was intrigued by the concept of removing my questioning of why from my seasons of suffering. This week, I’ll share how freeing it is to let go of the quest to understand and replace it with trust in a loving God who works out everything, even this, for good.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulders and asking, “Why?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Not to Engage in Fear or Despair

on_the_fenceContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I said that fear and despair are choices. This can be difficult to believe because the magnetic pull feels unavoidable. However, Jesus experienced the same pull but did not sin. Jesus is our example for how to choose not to give in to fear and despair.

In my last couple of blog entries, I talked about three guardrails that Jesus erected to protect himself from going over the edge of the cliff, which are thinking about the needs of others, setting your mind to obey God, and earnestly praying. These are three specific tasks that fall under the umbrella of fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD is what will enable you to resist the temptation to go over the cliff into fear (anxiety & worry) and despair (depression & hopelessness).

How can we “unchoose” fear and despair? The good news is that if you “unchoose” the fear, then you won’t have to worry about the despair: if you choose God’s safety net while you are still freefalling, you won’t hit the waters of despair. We “unchoose” fear by choosing trust. Each time you are tempted to worry, replace the worry with thankgiving and prayer:

God, I’m tempted to worry about how I am going to pay this bill, but you said in your word not to worry about this because you will take care of my needs. I am choosing to seek you first and trust that you will provide for my needs. Thank you for the many ways you have provided for me in the past. You were faithful before, and you will be faithful again. I trust you.”

You cannot worry and trust at the same time. If you will flood your mind with Scripture that reassures you that God will take care of the fear-inducing situation, you will put up a guardrail that will prevent you from going over the cliff.

Climbing out of the “hell well” is harder because with fear, you replace an unhealthy action (worry) with a healthy one (meditation on Scripture) whereas once you sink into despair, the temptation is inactivity. Set your mind to take action, even though you don’t feel like doing anything, and begin the process of climbing out. As you flood your mind with applicable Scripture, God will empower you to climb out, and He will restore you to a place of safety, security, and trust.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulders and saying, “I’m on the fence.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Setting up Guardrails to Protect Us from Fear and Despair

cliffs_of_moherContinued from here.

As I meditated on the concept of at what point “normal” stress (temptation to fear) gives way to fear and despair (sin), God gave me an interesting metaphor. When I was in Ireland, I visited the Cliffs of Moher, pictured here. In the metaphor God gave me, I saw the continuum of stress to fear and despair as sliding off the Cliffs of Moher.

As we experience stress, we find ourselves drawn closer to the edge of the cliff. That’s not sin – that’s temptation, and Jesus himself experienced this. Sin, which Jesus did not experience, comes into play when we allow ourselves to be pulled over the edge of the cliff. This happens when we allow our stress to slide into fear, such as when we engage in worry or anxiety. (Yes, worry and anxiety are choices.) Fear is the freefall over the side of the cliff. When we repent of our fear and choose to trust God, we fall into His safety net, and He restores us to a place of safety.

If we don’t repent of our fear, we eventually plunge into the waters of despair, which includes depression and hopelessness. (I call this going down the “hell well.”) Once we reach a place of despair, it can become even more challenging to repent. God can certainly pull us out of this place, but it’s harder to repent from a “hell well” because being in despair causes us to become very self-absorbed. Remember how Jesus thought about others as his first step in fighting the temptation to fear.

All of us, even Jesus, are vulnerable to experiencing stress when we face fear-inducing circumstances. As a magnet draws a metal object, the temptation to fear pulls us closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. It’s not sin to be caught in the pull of the magnet – after all, Jesus found himself in the same pull that we do. However, unlike us, Jesus never went over the side of the cliff. That’s because he set up guardrails by considering the needs of others, setting his mind to obey God no matter the cost, and earnestly praying. We can set up the same guardrails and avoid going over the cliff, no matter how fear-inducing our circumstances may be.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Photograph of the Cliffs of Moher. Courtesy Cliffs of Moher.]

 

How Can We Avoid Sliding from Stress into Fear?

prayerContinued from here.

All of us have experienced both stress and fear in our lives. Jesus joined us in experiencing stress but not fear. What can we learn from Jesus’ example to avoid sliding down the slippery slope from stress into fear?

When faced with the most stressful situation of his life, the first thing Jesus did was withdraw to a quiet place and encourage his closest friends to pray:

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-40).

Interestingly, he did not ask them to pray for him but to “keep watch” while he prayed. They failed to do so, and he chastised them, not for letting him down but because they were vulnerable to falling into temptation. When we are stressed, we need to think about others and not just ourselves.

The second thing Jesus did was make the determination to obey God, no matter the cost:

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:41-43).

Note that his willingness to obey God, no matter the cost, led to supernatural strengthening.

The third thing Jesus did after experiencing supernatural strengthening was to engage in even more earnest prayer:

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).

Jesus did not take a Xanax, get drunk, or engage in other ways to escape the temptation to fear. Instead, he faced his fear head-on through prayer. The greater the stress (temptation to fear), the more earnestly he prayed … so much so that his body experienced a physical reaction. This wasn’t a simple five-minute prayer in his head. He threw everything he had – heart, mind, and soul – into his earnest prayer. He set his heart, mind, and soul on following God no matter the cost, and as his determination collided with his temptation to fear, his body expressed the collision through sweating blood. If we want to walk in victory over our fear, we must throw everything we have into the fight as we ask God to help us push through the stress into obedience.

What was the end result? When the people came to arrest Jesus, he was not fearful. Instead, he was so filled with God’s power that when he first spoke to his captors, they “drew back and fell to the ground!”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying next to large emoticon hands in prayer. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Stress as the Gateway to Fear

screamContinued from here.

As I previously mentioned, I used to have a severe anxiety disorder. It was so severe that I experienced panic attacks every 8-12 weeks in which my body would shake uncontrollably for 5-15 minutes as I hyperventilated. After the panic attack ended, my body would relax, and I would sleep very well because my body had released the pent-up anxiety. But the next day, my stress would build again until my body could not endure it any longer, and the process would repeat itself 2-3 months later.

I have no question that God doesn’t want His children living that way. According to Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick in their movie, Facing the Giants , the Bible tells us 365 times not to fear, which is one “do not fear” verse for every day of the year! God clearly knows our tendency to fear and encourages us repeatedly not to do so.

Jesus was without sin and did not fear. He provided a powerful example of following God to the cross, where he clearly did not want to go. And yet he was certainly not without stress, as was evidenced by his body sweating blood as he anguished over obeying God. So the line for where we cross over from experiencing normal human emotions of stress to sin must fall somewhere between feeling stressed about the future, which Jesus himself experienced, and experiencing fear, which Jesus did not experience. As someone who experiences a lot of stress (enough to give my massage therapist quite the workout!), I find it encouraging to know that I’m not engaging in sin when I experience stress.

I wonder if perhaps stress is actually the temptation to fear. We know that Jesus was tempted but did not sin, so perhaps stress is the gateway to fear that we must resist. And the more tempted we are to fear, the greater the toll on our bodies, from Jesus’ sweating blood to my ongoing knots in my shoulders. Rather than being a negative thing, might stress actually be part of the process of walking in victory over fear?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking stressed beside a “Scream” emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Are Stress and Worry Sins?

I am working my way through Chris Tiegreen’s excellent book, Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God’s Heart. I was fascinated by this observation about God and have been meditating on it for a while now:

Clearly, the Bible portrays God as extremely emotional. I find it encouraging that two emotions are never assigned to him: those that fall under the category of fear (anxiety, worry, stress) and those that fall under the category of despair (discouragement, apathy, depression, hopelessness). We should give these feelings no place in our hearts. They are not in line with God’s emotions.”

I do not disagree with Tiegreen’s assessment about emotions expressed by God in the Bible, and I fully agree that we need to “starve” any emotion that falls under the categories of fear and despair by not “feeding” them with our thoughts. That being said, the Bible portrays Jesus as experiencing emotions related to stress: a person does not sweat blood without feeling a stress-related emotion. The Bible says that Jesus was in anguish, which Merriam-Webster defines as “extreme pain, distress, or anxiety.” And yet Jesus did not sin:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
‘He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth’” (1 Pet. 2:21-22).

As someone with a history of severe anxiety who has people in her life who continue to wrestle with anxiety, I’m very interested in learning from Jesus’ example. Is feeling stress a sin? What about worry? At what point do we cross over from experiencing normal human emotions, as Jesus did, to sin as we move down the continuum from stress to anxiety and despair? What can we learn from Jesus about how to process normal human emotions of stress so that we don’t cross over into debilitating anxiety and despair? These are the questions that I will be pondering this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God’s Heart. Courtesy Amazon.]