Experiencing Joy in the Midst of the Painful Circumstances

hospital4_blogContinued from here.

The quote from Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, that I shared in my last blog entry is a hard truth, but it’s one that will transform your life once you embrace it. We want happiness, which comes from God giving us what we want. However, God wants to give us joy, which is not dependent upon our circumstance. You can experience joy even in the midst of devastating circumstances if you will believe that God has provided you with a well of joy and open your eyes to see it. I know because I have experienced it.

Although my childhood was filled with ongoing, severe childhood abuse, my most painful memory is spending five nights in the hospital with my then-15-year-old son as he recovered from major back surgery. I had three months to prepare for this emotionally-draining experience and had numerous people praying us through the experience. I felt every prayer.

In the midst of watching my son suffer as I muddled my way through trying to support him on limited sleep and precious little alone time with God, I experienced joy. While there was nothing enjoyable in the experience, God provided me with wells of joy to get me through the most painful week of my life. I found joy in the Ronald McDonald room on the floor … in the cards and visits from family and friends … in the beauty of sitting in the shade on a bench surrounded by gorgeous flowers. I would not choose to relive that experience, but I certainly experienced much joy during a season of sorrow and pain. I found joy in the midst of the pain because I found God there. Where we find God, we have access to joy, and God is always … ALWAYS … with us.

[Graphic: Photograph of garden in the hospital. Courtesy Grace Daniels. ]

 

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How Can You Believe God is Close When You Don’t Feel His Presence?

Continued from here.

I shared earlier this week that my answer to how close I feel to God at any given moment is a 10 (with 10 being the closest I have ever felt), not because I FEEL His presence all the time but because I know the REALITY is that He is always close to me, no matter how I am feeling. I no longer allow my feelings to drive my reactions. I have learned that my feelings are a byproduct of how I am thinking. If I want to change how I feel, then I need to change how I think.

The World says that “seeing is believing,” but the message of the Bible is that believing is seeing. Hagar provided a great example of this in Gen. 21:14-19:

[Hagar] went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”

God did not have angels rapidly digging a well while speaking with her. Hagar was so distressed and driven by her feelings that she didn’t see the well that was nearby. The reality is that there’s always a well nearby because God is always nearby, but we often don’t see the well because we don’t believe it’s there.

In her book One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, Ann Voskamp words it this way:

Whenever I am blind to joy’s well, isn’t it because I don’t believe in God’s care? That God cares enough about me to always offer me joy’s water, wherever I am, regardless of circumstance. But if I don’t believe God cares, if I don’t want or seek the joy He definitely offers somewhere in this moment—I don’t want God. In His presence is fullness of joy. He is in this moment. The well is always here. God is always here—precisely because he does care…You have to want to see the well before you can drink from it. You have to want to see joy, God in the moment.”

How humbling to realize that when we don’t sense God’s presence in our circumstances, it’s because we are the ones pushing God away.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

God is Close the Brokenhearted

broken_heartContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared a Bible verse for when we are in deep pain:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18)

I spent most of my life brokenhearted. Actually, “shattered-hearted” would be a much better descriptor. I could not fathom how God could possible knit my heart back together when it had been ground into sawdust, but He gave me a new heart instead, one that feels as if it has never been broken. I have not forgotten what it felt like to have a shattered heart. Holding onto the memory of a shattered heart while living with a new heart drives home just how powerful and faithful God is.

A friend told me about her mother losing her brother (my friend’s uncle) in her late teens when he was killed in Vietnam. Her mother, who has been a Christian her entire life, said that God felt so close that she could almost reach out and touch him. She was still in an enormous amount of pain, but the reality of God’s presence provided her with comfort during one of the most painful seasons of her life.

It has been through experiencing the comfort of God in my anguish that I have learned how to comfort others. How do we comfort others? It’s not by distancing ourselves, is it? We comfort others by drawing close to them … by hugging them and holding them close … by reaching out to check in with them to see how they are doing … by listening to them. All aspects of comforting someone involve drawing near to them, not pulling away. So, why do we believe the lie that God pulls away from us when we are at our most broken?

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise us an easy life. Jesus actually promised us just the opposite:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

You are going to experience pain, struggle, and grief in this lifetime. It’s inevitable. What you DON’T have to experience is buying into the lie that God has abandoned you. When you are feeling like God is nowhere to be found, that’s when He has drawn the closest to you.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace inside a broken heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

My Answer for Closeness to God is Always a 10

10Continued from here.

In my last blog entry, I asked you the following question:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the closest you have ever felt to God and 1 being the farthest you have ever felt from God, where would you rank yourself today? Why?”

My answer is always a 10, not because I always FEEL God’s nearness but because His closeness is simply a reality. God made us this promise in both the Old and New Testaments:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5)

I have walked with God long enough to learn that His nearness has absolutely nothing to do with my circumstances. When I am on a “God high” after attending a Christian concert and feel like I just experienced a slice of heaven on earth, He is near. And when I’m so desperate to sense His presence that I open my Bible, place it under my pillow, and rest my head on top of it sobbing – begging for any sign that He hasn’t forgotten me – He is just as near. In fact, God provides reassurance in His Word that He is near when we feel broken and alone:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18)

It doesn’t say that God isn’t near when we are brokenhearted. It’s just the opposite! When our world is falling apart and we question where God is, that’s the very time the Bible assures us that He is close to us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and holding up the number 10. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How Close Do You Feel to God?

questionI’m leading a new small group through my church, and the question we discussed at a recent meeting was this one:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the closest you have ever felt to God and 1 being the farthest you have ever felt from God, where would you rank yourself today? Why?”

Before continuing to read, go ahead and answer that question for yourself, being sure to address the “why” part.

Let’s see if I can guess your response. If God recently came through for you on something big, such as by clearly answering a prayer than has been on your heart for a while, you answered in the 8 to 10 range. You also likely answered in the 8 to 10 range if you recently attended a Christian event that gave you a “God high,” such as a Joyce Meyers conference or a Beth Moore Living Proof Live event. Conversely, if you have been suffering for a while and are struggling to hang on, you likely answered in the 1 to 3 range. And then if your life is somewhere in the middle, with some up and some downs, you answered in the 4 to 7 range.

How did I do with my prediction?

You might be rolling your eyes right now because this seems so obvious. When you see God working powerfully in your life, then He must be close, right? And if you have been begging Him for relief for weeks, months, or years with no relief in sight, He must be far away, right? It may surprise you to learn that this perspective is not biblical, and yet most Christians sadly believe the lie that God’s blessings/enjoyable circumstances = God’s nearness and a lack of them = God’s abandonment. Let’s explore together what the Bible has to say about how close or far God is from you and to what degree, if any, your circumstances factor into it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking quizzical under a question mark. Courtesy Bitmoji.]