Why Have You Forsaken Me?

cross

Around three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NET)

From my 2016 Journal. A victim often asks the question, “Where were You, God, when the abuse happened?” In my experience, God seldom answers the “why” question immediately. Generally, there’s an emotion (often anger) standing in the way, behind the “why” that needs to be addressed first.

I believe it was Jesus’ humanity speaking when He asked, “Why have You, Abba Father, forsaken Me?” In my opinion, contrary to many preachers and songs that claim that the Father turned His back on His Son, God had NOT forsaken Him. Never! But in this moment of extreme physical torture, head throbbing from thirst, body in tatters, fighting to breathe, bruised and battered, His back on fire as it rubbed against the wood, three hours felt like an eternity. One minute would be more than the average man could handle. Minute by minute agony, waiting for the end to come. Wishing it to just be over.

Jesus had intimate communion with His Papa all along. He’d wrestled with His own will just twelve hours earlier and submitted to His Father’s plan. But in one’s pain, it’s hard to focus, to think, to use logic. The focus is all on the removal of pain.

“Where are You, Father? I can’t feel You near. I can’t see You or hear You.”

The abused take it a step further: “You could have chosen to stop it and You didn’t; what kind of a cruel God are You, anyway?”

Jesus’ anguished cry could not include sin or blasphemy or lies. “Why have You forsaken Me? It FEELS like You have.”

Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. The words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” are only the first few words of verse one. The rest says, “I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.” (Note the word seems.)

Verse 19 declares, “But you, O LORD, do not remain far away! You are my source of strength! Hurry and help me!”

Jesus knew the whole Messianic Psalm by heart. It’s a Psalm of agony and truth, but it ends in triumph. Jesus knew this had to be His lot in order to fulfill prophecy.  He did not have the physical strength to quote the entire Psalm, but He could begin it, and those Jews who heard it would immediately recognize its source and be able to fill in the rest.

The abuse victim cries out, “Where were You, God? Why did You forsake me?”

And the Father gently replies, “I was there all along.”

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely. Ps. 90:12

From my 2016 Journal. I hear of causes, movements, meetings and appeals for help that I could join. But I have limited resources, time, dollars, and energy. Each money appeal, request or event that crosses my path has to be filtered through these considerations. And I must check in with the Commander-in-Chief before I move on it—even if it’s a good and worthy cause.

A friend recently sent out an appeal on Facebook to gather items to be donated to a local charity. The words I heard in my head were “I should do that in order to fulfill God’s heart for serving the poor and needy.” It makes no logical sense to admit I feel guilty for not doing it, so I know it’s trigger-based.

Guilt and shame and “enough” are nailed to the cross, so what is in my heart that wants to hold onto this “should”?

VISUAL: Shoulds are a heavy burden to carry—like an unwieldy, large sack of potatoes. If I don’t carry it, I think, who will? Since the potatoes are my responsibility, I can’t hand them over to Jesus. For example, He can’t diet or exercise for me or walk a casserole dish over to my sick next-door neighbor. That job is mine to carry out.

“True,” Jesus says. “There are certain things you were created to carry, not Me. So here’s what you can do. Put the sack down and empty all the potatoes out onto a tarp and let’s sort them together. First, throw away the bad ones (the lies). Now sort the rest into types, colors, sizes, or any way that makes sense to you.”

So first I sort them by kind—russets, red, fingerlings, etc. Seeing different colors and sizes is easier from there.

“Today we’re going to make a stew,” He says. “We don’t need a whole sack full of potatoes. Nor do we need every kind. Only pick up what you need for right now this morning. This afternoon you’ll need a different kind.”

Whew! This feels much more manageable now.

After seeing this visual, I was able to slow my thought processes down. I cleaned house thoroughly, ran to the grocery store, got the car washed, and filled up the gas tank—all with a feeling of peace. Next I drove almost three hours through heavy traffic to attend a funeral and drove home at night. Only in the last half hour did I begin to feel tired. Thank You, Lord, for teaching me to set down my potato sack! Maybe tomorrow I’ll find time to go through my closet for gently-used clothing to donate to the homeless shelter.

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Who Am I Displeasing?

DispleasureFrom my 2015 Journal. I grew up in a boarding school where we had nightly devotions together as a group in the girls’ dorm. One particular spinster Auntie (as we called our dorm mothers) got frustrated one night with our continuing chatter and instructed us to all be silent. She began to lead us in a chorus, and I leaned over to the girl next to me and whispered, “Listen.” I wanted her to hear me sing the counter melody.

My punishment for this one-word infraction was to forgo afternoon playtime for a week in order to write out by hand 1,000 (yes, one thousand) times:  “I displease the Lord when I am not quiet in devotions.” You see—I remember the exact words all these years later! The repetition, or perhaps the injustice I felt, kept my anger alive until one day I chose to forgive her.

And then I laughed out loud when Jesus replaced those words to reflect His truth: “I displease Auntie when I am not quiet in devotions, and Jesus loves me even when I’m not quiet in devotions.”

But there’s more to the story. God graciously allowed me as a grownup to reconnect with this Auntie, and I was able to hear her life story and listen to her heart. And, no, I did not recount this incident to her since I felt no malice toward her anymore. That is the power of forgiveness.

 

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Enough Is Enough

His loyal love towers over His faithful followers. (Ps. 103:11b NET)

From my 2016 Journal. There’s a part of me that is unable (unwilling?) to receive/believe God’s love for me. Why? What in me cannot accept it?

EnoughThe word enough comes to mind—I’m always trying to earn God’s love. Where is this insidious lie buried in my heart? Somewhere in childhood perhaps. It was the culture of my boarding school to always strive for perfection. Getting anything less than 100 was unacceptable. But I discover it’s not from the teacher; it’s coming from within. Why? What do I believe about myself if I fall short? That I didn’t try enough, study enough, work hard enough? When I make “less than” I feel . . .

Memory:  A fourth-grade spelling test when I drew a blank over the word earnest. I knew it, I had studied it, but for some reason, my brain shut down when the teacher called out the word. I feel a little angst that the teacher will think less of me when she sees my paper. But so what? Because I will think less of me?

Jesus says, “Look into My eyes.” I imagine I see disappointment, judgment, and condemnation. He kneels beside my desk and asks, “Karen, why are you scared?”

“I want to be at the top.”

“Why?”

“The view at the top is more spectacular than the climb up the mountain.”

“It’s exhilarating to be at the top,” He affirms, “but the effort to get there can be fun too. You’re not going to fall. You’re roped in, anchored to Me. And to the mountain.”

“But what if I make a mistake?” I counter. “What if my pitons don’t hold? What if . . . ?”

And suddenly my visual flips to its side. The mountain is an illusion. I’m not climbing UP; I’m moving FORWARD on a flat plane. There are bumps and small hills on the path for sure, but it’s safe. And Jesus walks beside me.

“Do You really love me?” I query.

“I really do.”

“Then why do I doubt?”

“Why indeed?” Nothing can separate me from His love . . . neither height, nor depth . . .

“Enough” is Satan’s word: you haven’t prayed enough, you don’t love enough, you don’t serve enough, you are not enough.

Jesus is enough. “Enough” was nailed to the cross. “Enough” has been filled and fulfilled.

The question is not, “Have I done enough?” The question is, “Am I connected to Jesus?” While in His presence, “enough” is satisfied.

There’s a song we used to sing: “I want my Lord to be satisfied with me.” I understand the sentiment, but I think the wording is faulty. I don’t have to do anything to satisfy Him. I can simply open all the doors to my heart, release all the guilt and shame and hiding, and let Him in. But I can never do enough to satisfy Him. A child doesn’t need to satisfy a parent. A child simply trusts and obeys.

Jesus paid the price, and the Father is satisfied with Jesus. And that is enough.

Lessons from the Shingles

From my May 2016 Journal. Shingles, Day 9.When I came down with the shingles*, I had no idea what was in store for me in the days to come. But I determined right from the beginning that #1) I would have a positive attitude and #2) I would do my best to learn something from the experience.

With horrible nausea, I made two trips across town to the doctor, throwing up four to five times that day. Even with anti-nausea meds, I was barely functional. Finally the doc switched me to Phenergan. With one dose my life became bearable. I could tolerate the rash, the nonstop headache, the eye pain, and the loss of appetite. I thought of chemo patients and wondered how they tolerated such an assault to their bodies.

A book I read recently on healing mentioned that our perception of pain is related to the highest point of discomfort along with the final outcome of the ordeal (whether negative or positive). During the nausea, I thought I’d die. But as soon as it was under control, I suddenly thought, “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” How interesting is that!

As for lessons learned, so far the only thing I’ve come up with is this:

Before this all started, I heard a question posed on the radio: Who are you? My super-spiritual answer was “a daughter of the King.” But that’s not what my honest answer was. My initial response was related to what I DO: I’m an inner healing prayer minister.

In this last nine days of inactivity, I pondered the question again. I was perfectly content at this point with not being capable of praying with people. My identity this week had nothing to do with ministry. I felt no loss as to who I was. I was too sick to care. Would I have responded, “I’m a sick person”? Is that my identity or my condition?

I am loved. That is enough.

And so I’m grateful:

  • For a husband who’s taken excellent care of me.
  • For the little kindnesses from friends—a meal, a card, a run to the pharmacy, a visit.
  • That my pain has been very manageable.
  • For doctors and nurses and pharmacists and medicine, and a country where such is readily available.
  • For flexibility to cancel appointments without loss of job security.
  • For a comfortable couch, soft pillow, warm blanket, and a kitty for company.
  • That I only have a mild case of the shingles (I’ve heard horror stories).

Day 19, A few observations:

  • Schedules and to-do lists have become irrelevant.
  • Pain management easily takes front and center.
  • Time takes on a different dimension. I’m nearing three weeks of time standing still. One day is like every other—bed to couch, to attempt to do something, to couch. If something gets done, that’s good. If not, oh well!
  • I’m grateful for beauty—the moon, the roses, the trees and grass that I can see through my window, and the sunshine on my face when I sit on the deck for a few minutes.
  • It does no good to try to rush the healing process. You’ll just relapse.
  • Going down is quick. Getting back up takes effort and time.
  • Sleep is necessary.
  • Spiritual disciplines decline in direct proportion to how sick one is. I can gauge my recovery process according to how much I focus on prayer.
  • You can’t teach another person the lessons you’re learning. It will just be information to them until they experience it for themselves. (This is true for everything in life I think.)
  • It’s okay to just be—sometimes that’s all you can do. But it feels quite unproductive—which is my inner default drive—to do, do, do, produce, manage my goals, serve others. It’s hard to serve others when you’re self-focused.
  • Multitasking is no longer an option.

Observation after 5 weeks: I don’t like to talk about illness once I’m through the worst of it. Leave it alone please; let’s move on to something else. You have it far worse than I do. I don’t want to be the center of your focus and attention. Why? Where is that emotion coming from I wonder?

After 7 weeks: Following the shingles, I had laryngitis for four days followed by a full-blown cold, and then I lost a crown while out of town. I’ve had to fight to stay positive, but occasionally I leak! When it’s obvious I don’t feel well and I can’t hide it, people will ask and comment. But when it’s not obvious, I don’t like drawing attention to myself. But expressing it somehow helps me feel better. I watch my friends who have chronic pain who can be matter-of-fact about it—especially if asked—and others who verbalize it constantly, all the while declaring, “. . . but I won’t complain.” When does declaring facts morph into complaint? It starts, I think, in the heart.

So I have to check my attitude periodically. It is easy to get discouraged when the endpoint is unclear. What helps is to refocus, go to the castle of my heart, if even for a moment. It’s like a reset button. I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to fight against cancer or to come to the end of one’s life with no hope of recovery from illness or aging. No wonder people turn crotchety!

So, Lord, help me to pass this test and learn my lessons.

*Shingles: an acute, painful inflammation of the nerve ganglia, with a skin eruption, caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Mine attacked the right side of my temple in the trigeminal nerve and my right eye (where I’ve battled with flare-ups ever since). I’m so thankful for an excellent ophthalmologist.

Shingles 2

Peaches keeping me company

I’m a Recovering Pharisee

You will never understand the heart of a Pharisee unless you realize that he sees the plank in his eye as belonging to others (Erwin Lutzer in Who Are You to Judge?)

eye plank

From my 2016 Journal. I am a recovering Pharisee. I identify more with the law than with grace, with Martha more than Mary, with the big brother rather than the prodigal son, with self-righteousness over God’s righteousness. Had I been at the synagogue the day Jesus healed the crippled woman (Luke 13), I would have been the Pharisee condemning Jesus for working on the Sabbath. Self-righteousness is my continual default. I cringe when I read this verse:

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: (Luke 18:9 NIV)

Thankfully, I’ve come a long, long way in shedding my Pharisaical robes, but I’m not there yet—and won’t be until I get to heaven. Whenever I think that I’m “better than” I’ve crossed the line into self-righteousness.

So, I explore this thought:  If I choose the God path, does that make me superior to those who choose to resist God? My inner Pharisee says yes. But I know that is arrogance.

I am responsible for my own faith, my own choices, my own reactions and responses. I don’t know another person’s heart—not really. We are each accountable to our own master—be it God or Satan or money or pain. Since I’ve chosen God as my master, then I only answer to Him. It is not my job to judge another person’s choices or motives. I might know and recognize that they’ve chosen a poor master, and I can urge them to reconsider their choice, but they may be bound in chains and may not know that freedom is available to them. Why get upset and rage at them for not opening their eyes—when they are truly blinded by the god of this world and cannot see until the God of Heaven opens their eyes.

Lord, remove all stubbornness, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and feelings of superiority from my heart. Give me the heart of the sinner who beat his breast and begged God for mercy.

 

Am I Not Enough?

From my 2016 Journal. I’m feeling disgruntled today, agitated, pacing, complaining. Jesus invites me to sit with Him for a bit. “I’m weary of working with people whose hearts are closed. Soulmate is a mythical beast.”

“Am I not enough?” Jesus asks.

“Am I not enough?” the Holy Spirit queries.

“Am I not enough?” the Father says.

And my heart cries out “I want You to be. So why am I not satisfied? Why do I cling to the illusion that flawed human beings are capable of meeting the deepest longings and intimate needs of my heart?”

“It’s not fair to expect people to be God to you,” observes Jesus. “That’s idolatry.”

And so I repent.

Be Jesus to others but let go of expecting them to be that to you.

I Have a Question

From my 2011 Journal. My husband says he’s going to inscribe on my tombstone my favorite question: How does this make you feel?! My skill as a counselor is often based on how effective my questions are, so I’ve started taking note of some of God’s questions in the Bible, for He is a master “questioner”! Obviously He didn’t ask them because He didn’t know the answer, but rather so His clients would examine themselves and face whatever they were feeling or believing, or trying to avoid or hide.

To Adam:

            Where are you?

            Who told you that you were naked?

            Have you eaten of the tree?

To Eve:

            What have you done?

To Cain:

            Why are you angry?

            Why are you sad and dejected?

            If you do well, won’t you be accepted?

            Where is your brother?

            What have you done?

To the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

            What is this discussion you’re exchanging between you as you walk along?

To the disciples after the resurrection:

            Why are you disturbed and troubled?

            Why do such doubts and questions arise in your hearts?

To Mary at the tomb:

            Why are you crying?

To Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee:

            Peter, do you love Me?

What question is Jesus asking me today?

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Self-Righteousness 101

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Photo by Delbeautybox from Pexels

From my 2015 Journal. It was time to find a new hairdresser. Mine was located on the other side of town, her prices went up, and I wasn’t always satisfied with her work. I wanted to find someone closer and cheaper and more consistent. So on the recommendation of someone in our neighborhood, I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest salon, appointment at 9 a.m.

I arrived at 8:59 a.m. and the place was locked up tight. Maybe the owner was in the back. No problem. I can wait one minute. Or two or three . . . or four or five. Eventually, a lady sauntered over from the parking lot and unlocked the door. I moved closer. “Did you want to come in?” she mumbled?

Well, duh!

No greeting. No explanation as to why she was late, why she wasn’t there ahead of her clients, place unlocked and ready to receive customers with a smile. Phones were ringing, and off she went while I sat on a chair and waited, apparently no a/c on yet in the July heat. I was hot in more ways than one!

A couple minutes later, another worker moseyed in, put down her purse, opened up her iPad (really!?) and then I calmed down when I realized she was putting on some music for the establishment. Watch watch, wait.

Finally at 9:10 a.m. Miss #1 looks up from her computer and asks, “Are you Karen?” (Hmm. I’m the only one in the shop. Were there others expected? I suppose she could have assumed I was a walk-in. Still no explanation why they’re late.)

Miss #2 calls me to her chair. She’s friendly, sweet, asks questions, not too chatty. I like her. But I’m still steamed that she’s not professional enough to arrive on time and respect my schedule.

The price is right, the haircut fine (as far as I can tell), and I like her as a person. (I had no further interaction with Miss #1, the manager.)

So what’s wrong?

I need to tell them how to run a business, I fume inside. How do they expect to maintain customers if they can’t act professionally?

And so I leave the premises and ride around the neighborhood, praying as I go. I don’t want this angry emotion. It’s unprofessional! And so I hand Jesus the ball of fire that is burning in my palm. And He smiles. He knows there’s more. I know there’s more. What is underneath this anger? Is it disappointment? I have no time crunch. Why should I be upset about wasting a few extra minutes in my day?

“It’s because they’re so unprofessional,” I whine to Him. “I wouldn’t do that. I always arrive well ahead of my clients. What would they think of me if I showed up late without an apology like these two ladies did?”

And then, “Oh!” I exclaim in chagrin and embarrassment. “I know what it is. It’s self-righteousness—the ‘I’ syndrome.” Ugh. What an ugly word.

What does self-righteousness look like? I see myself wearing a large, shapeless, colorful but gaudy dress. Not too shabby, I think. It has color, it hides my unsightly curves, it’s functional.

“Would you be willing to let Me have it?” Jesus asks.

“Uh . . . okay, but I’ll be rather unclothed then.”

I pull the garment over my head and hand it to Him. And then wait. And wait.

I know that when I give Jesus something, He often likes to give me something in return. “Well, aren’t You going to hand me robes of righteousness instead to put on?”

“Nope,” He replies.

I’m a little taken aback. Isn’t that what Scripture says?

“I already gave them to you . . .” He softly answers “. . . when you accepted Me into your heart.”

I glance down then at my body and gasp. I am clothed in a dazzling white, sequined wedding gown, “adorned as a bride for her husband.”

Chagrined, I realize I had thrown a gaudy shift over top of my beautiful gown. Not pretty. “I’m so sorry, Jesus. Please forgive me for disrespecting Your gift.”

And so I think back to the ladies at the shop. It no longer matters that they came in a few minutes late and didn’t have the people skills to greet me warmly at the door. Perhaps this is my new mission field.

Postscript: I have since found a phenomenal hair stylist. Her name is Cindy Harris and she has a PhD in hair design (I didn’t know there even was such a thing!) I highly recommend her for all your makeover needs.

Cindy’s Total Image Salon located in Oasis Salon, 745 S Church St, Suite 301 in Murfreesboro, TN.

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Mountaintop Experiences

DSCN3170 wilderness mountain

The Transfiguration (Matthew 17)

One day Peter, James, and John, closest earthly friends of Jesus, climb to the top of a high mountain. They’re dirty, tired, sweaty, hungry, and thirsty. The journey is long and arduous, and they are clueless as to why Jesus is leading them here. It’s nice to be away from the pressing crowds, though, where it’s quiet and they can feel the wind and have time to think about all that’s happened so far. It’s a high mountain, and it takes all their energy to climb, and they wonder when they’ll ever reach their destination. The privileged three might miss their families, but it’s exciting to be singled out to spend quality time with their Rabbi.

And then it happens—Jesus’ transfiguration, meeting biblical heroes Moses and Elijah, the enveloping brilliant light cloud, the very voice of God in their ears. It’s overwhelming, it’s exhilarating, it’s terrifying, it’s unique in history.

But this mountaintop experience is not meant to be the norm—in spite of Peter’s suggestion to create shelters for the three of them. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they are not permitted to share it with anyone—at least for now. This is a “between me and God” holy moment—it’s nobody’s business but theirs. And there’s a purpose for it—maybe to strengthen their faith or to give them courage or enlightenment. Maybe Jesus is bursting with excitement and wants to share His true story experientially with His best friends.

And now it’s time to come down from the mountain. They can’t live there, but it’s now part of their story that shapes how they think and feel. They are different for having experienced it. And when the time is right (after the resurrection and not before), they will be given permission to tell others—it’s a testimony—both theirs as a witness and a verification of who Jesus is.

What mountaintop experience have you had? Did you tell someone, or have you kept it between you and the Lord? Why?