On Being Sick

From my 2010 Journal. I don’t like being sick. Period. Other than hypochondriacs, I guess nobody does. It’s debilitating, annoying, and restricting. I don’t get sick very often, but when I do, I want the world to know about it. On the other hand, I like to be left alone to my misery, not hovered and fussed over. But I do like for people to know that I hurt and where. Somehow it helps to verbalize it. Why is that I wonder?

Some people are very private about their health (we were all shocked to hear of a friend’s death recently because she had told no one about her cancer); others blab every detail whether you want to hear about it not. What makes the difference? Wounding? (They crave the attention and sympathy to prove their worth.) Temperament? (Melancholics are more prone to complain, I suspect, than Sanguines.) Vows? (I have a friend who grew up with a mom who constantly verbalized her aches and pains, and she determined to do the opposite. This friend is a most gracious and pleasant person to be around in spite of her debilitating disease and chronic pain.)

Saying the words aloud is like putting around me cardboard shields of protection. People can still get into my space if needed, but it gives me more privacy or space from intrusion. I suspect this is an introvert thing. I seek to protect my energy, whereas a Sanguine craves the attention because people energize them.

So . . . if I don’t say the words and tell people how I’m feeling, they don’t know to give me space. And my dear, extrovert husband—all he wants to do is pay even more attention to me when I’m miserable—because, of course, that’s what he wants when he’s ill!

sickHow do you respond when you’re sick or in pain and why?

Response to Grief

It intrigues me why some people grow bitter and some grow sweeter while facing a personal tragedy. What makes the difference?

rachel (white) berry

I Samuel 29 records the story of when David and his men return to their city of Ziglag and discover it has been destroyed and all their women and children taken into captivity.

Understandably, David was greatly distressed, and he wept “till there was no more strength in him.” BUT “David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord His God.” And then he sought the Lord through Abiathar the priest and asked the Lord for direction.

The response of David’s men is in stark contrast. They experienced the same bitter grief, but they turned on David and wanted to stone him.

It reminds of when the children of Israel blamed Moses for their plight in the wilderness.

It reminds me of Americans who blame their President when they lose a son in war.

It reminds me of MKs (missionary kids) who blame their Mission for their boarding school experience.

In our grief, we tend to make illogical accusations and decisions. It’s much easier to blame others instead of taking responsibility for our own emotions and choices. Blame is a way to discharge pain. It wasn’t David’s fault for what happened to his followers’ wives. It wasn’t the President who shot the bullet. It wasn’t the Mission that cruelly punished the child.

Grief brings out what’s already in our hearts. Who are you blaming for your pain?

 

What If?

What if we could see our whole life at a glance from, say, age 10 onward, along with consequences for various choices we make? For example, you could see the results of choosing to attend College A or College B. Or what Husband A would be like in old age versus Husband B. Or how many kids you’d have if you chose Husband C? Or what career choices would lead you down which path and what state or country you’d choose to live in? Or what you’d look like or feel like according to various eating habits you maintain.

ChessInteresting thought: God CAN see it all—in an instant. He sees the end results of the poor and better choices I make right now. He has so much good planned for me, but I don’t see it. I can only see the here and now—what’s in front of my face. No wonder I need to trust God for every choice. I take comfort in the fact that He can weave even my poor choices into an outcome that brings Him glory.

We are not victims of our circumstances. We have choices to make regarding how we respond to our circumstances. Yes, there are consequences if I choose to attend College A and marry Husband B and eat Diet C, but I still get to choose how I make Decision D. I have concluded that I want to make wise choices based on peaceful emotions.

What keeps us from making better choices? Fear? Anger? Hopelessness? Regarding not wanting to change our habits, author John Assaraf observed this typical scenario: Baby throws a toy out of the crib and then cries. Mom retrieves the toy and returns it. Baby does it again. Why? His conclusion:

We would rather master disappointment than seek fulfillment.

It’s getting close to New Year’s resolution time. Do I like the trajectory of my life or do I need to make Decision D to change the outcome?

How God Sees Me

Remember that Gideon fellow and the fleece? (Judges 6:12) When we first meet him, he is sitting under an oak tree where there is a wine press and a rock when an angel of the Lord visits him and declares: The Lord is with you, you mighty man of courage.

Warrior

What a joke! Gideon was petrified! He responds with: If? Why? Where? Didn’t?

But God saw Gideon differently than Gideon saw himself. When the Lord declares it so, it is so!

How does God see me? What name has He given me that I cannot see or agree with? (Beautiful? Precious? Loved? Pure? Forgiven? Gifted? Full of worth?)

Gideon protests: But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hands of Midian.

It’s true that God had given the Israelites into the hands of the Midianites, but Gideon’s doubts and questions led him to a false conclusion. It FELT like God had forsaken them, but the truth was God had not forsaken Israel. He was disciplining them for the purpose of training and turning their hearts toward Him.

When we feel emotions that are not fruits of the Spirit, we are prone to believe lies.

Show me, Lord, how You see me, and give me courage to believe You with the eyes of faith. I want to cooperate with the Spirit of the Living God. Reveal to me, Lord, where my faith is weak and my doubts are strong. I want to be a mighty warrior for your kingdom.

Shenandoah

ShenandoahFrom My 2008 Journal. I recently watched Shenandoah—an old Civil War movie starring Jimmy Stewart who plays a widower Charlie Anderson, father of six sons and a daughter. Charlie’s attitude toward the War is non-involvement—“It’s not my war,” he declares—until it affects him directly. When his youngest son is captured by enemy soldiers, it suddenly becomes his issue and he goes out to find and rescue him. He and his sons never do join the fight, but the War affects Charlie profoundly as he loses three family members.

I’ve been pondering his statement, “It’s not my war,” and then “Now it’s my/our issue” when it touches him directly.

I can relate to that. I can hear about wars and floods and tornadoes and murders and causes for this or that, and I remain unmoved . . . until it touches me and my life personally. And then suddenly it’s important to me.

Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt that I don’t respond to news with more feelings of compassion, with prayer, or with a desire to jump in and help. But I recognize that I’m not called to do everything—I’m only responsible for the things God tells me to do.

So am I saying it’s okay to be nonchalant, uncaring, or unfeeling about the sufferings of people around the world? Well . . . yes and no. I’d be an emotional wreck if I could feel everyone else’s pain all the time. Perhaps it’s a blessing and a gift that I’m not able to. I have to trust God to give me the passions that He wants me to have. I was not created to take on the cares of the world, but I know Someone Who can.

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “We aren’t called to pray for every request with the same intensity. . . . God will not give any of us every prayer burden. [What a relief!] Ask the Lord to bring to your mind what He wants you to pray for. Sometimes when I ask, nothing comes to mind. Maybe He’s just calling me to silence.”

What kind of news touches your heart?

Jesus, the Gentle

When two people meet, there is an exchange of energy. There are life-givers who release energy into your soul, and others who receive energy from you. (Blessing the Spirit, by Gunter and Burk, p. 7)

Hug

From my 2007 Journal. I have experienced a gentle touch and an encouraging word from a friend. It feels good, comforts, calms, soothes, draws me in, relaxes, releases tension. It’s lightweight. Jesus’ touch is like that. You want more. You want to stay there where it’s smooth and soft.

In my grief today Jesus told me, “I’m a gentle lover.”

The opposite does not feel good. Harsh, hard, repelling, forceful, pushy, annoying, irritating, pesky, jangling, heavy, recoiling, repulsive, hurts, makes you steel your nerves. That’s what hate-filled words feel like. They are a physical force and a spiritual attack.

Jesus the Gentle. Lover of my soul. I want to be more like Him.

He Restoreth My Soul

From my 2007 Journal. I seem to be in a rut, a slump, a feeling of monotony, sameness. Where’s the excitement in life? I long for fellowship without the work of making it happen. I want things to get stirred up a bit!

Jesus whispers in my ear, “Come on an adventure with Me.”

I’m intrigued.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“Trust Me,” He replies. “I have all the necessary supplies for the journey. You’re dressed just fine. If the weather changes, I brought rain gear. Will you come?”

Of course! How could I resist such an invitation?!

I see a valley spread out before me, and a long, long line of tables filled with a feast fit for a king. When I get closer, I see both sides filled with people—hungry, poor, ragged. They’re so absorbed in their meal, they hardly acknowledge me. I’m disappointed.

food

“I thought this feast was just for You and me,” I say. It feels like a trick. “Now I suppose You expect me to help feed the ones without arms, wash their feet, wipe their runny noses . . .” I’m tired just thinking about it. I feel peevish.

“Sit down,” He invites. “I’ve reserved a spot just for you.”

“For me? Whom do I get to sit by?” I ask suspiciously. “Am I going to get stuck next to one of those chatty people? Or a silent one? Everyone seems so self-absorbed.”

I sit. He sits beside me.

“What would you like to talk about?” He asks.

“Oh, stuff . . . like how come You made snow cold? Or how’d You dream up a rainbow or a sunset? Did you really have to create fleas and flies and snakes?”

He laughs. I made Him smile, I think.

“Had enough to eat?” He asks. I’ve barely touched my food. I’m too fascinated by His face—the way His eyes twinkle, the lines, the crinkles. He has restored my soul just by being in His presence.

Ho-Hum, another miracle

When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? (Matt. 8:17 NET)

heart blanket

I’ve been mulling over the comment about the disciples having hard hearts after participating in Jesus’ miracle feeding of the 5000. I don’t know why their hearts became hardened, but I wonder if it has to do with their becoming complacent about seeing Jesus’ miracles? Or . . . were they mad that they had to play waiters and busboys when they were already exhausted? Or . . . were they prideful that they were in the inner circle with the Miracle Man? Whatever they were feeling, a hard heart is not receptive to understanding truth.

I feel conviction when I think of the first suggestion: complacency after experiencing God work miracles in people’s lives. When I first began praying with people in M&K Ministry, and watched God reveal truth to people’s hearts, it was fun, exhilarating, liberating, exciting—an emotional rush. People were getting set free of addictions, finding freedom from fear and anger and pain, and discovering that their childhood abuse memories no longer had power over them.

Your first experience with something leaves the greatest emotional impact because of its novelty. When the disciples witnessed Jesus performing miracles for the first time, I bet their eyes bugged out. But after many months of trudging around the countryside, foregoing the comforts of home, being mobbed by the crowds, sometimes too busy to eat or rest, I suspect they became weary of the journey, no longer surprised when the lame walked and the blind saw and the deaf were made able to hear. Ho-hum, another miracle.

It troubles me to think I might start to view God’s miracles taking place in people’s hearts as commonplace. In one sense, I should expect it of course—it should be a commonplace occurrence (why are we so surprised when God answers our prayers?) But what I don’t want to happen is to get a “ho-hum” attitude toward it.

Staying in ministry requires keeping your heart soft and open to learning new truths. 

I Have a Question

Last week I talked about Gideon’s “Ifs.” Here’s another one, but with a twist.

Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, IF the LORD is with us, WHY then has all this happened to us? And WHERE are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’” (Judges 6:13 NASB, emphasis added).

Question mark

My clients often get stuck on the questions “Why?” and “Where?” Why did God allow the abuse? Why didn’t He rescue me? Why doesn’t He care about me? Where was He when it happened? Why didn’t He stop it?

And God seems to remain silent. He knows that answering the why and where questions won’t satisfy the heart because He knows what emotion or pain lies behind them.

When Gideon asks the why question, God does not answer him. Instead God replies: Go in this your might and you shall save Israel . . . Have I not sent you? (14)

In the next verse, Gideon responds with another question: HOW can I deliver Israel when I’m the least of the least?

Again, God doesn’t directly respond to this reasoning.

The problem is, when we ask the wrong questions, we often come to wrong conclusions and make false assumptions and accusations.

Gideon concludes: But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian (13).

When I’m attacked, falsely accused, demanded an answer of, my tendency is to go on the defense, attack back, or try to justify my actions. A better choice is to sidestep and find out what the other person is feeling. God knew that Gideon was feeling fear. Answering his questions wouldn’t satisfy his heart, because those weren’t the right questions. Twice, God sidesteps the questions and answers, “I am the solution, your answer, your source of power and strength” (14, 16).

Next time you’re tempted to ask God why or where, try asking instead: How do I feel that  . . . God allowed the abuse, didn’t answer my prayer, it seemed He wasn’t there, etc.? And then be willing to listen for God’s satisfying answer to your pain.

On a side note, after the pain is gone, sometimes God does indeed answer the client’s WHY questions. I’ve heard answers from Him such as, “Are you willing to let Me use this pain to minister to others?” and “I gave all men choices, and I won’t violate their will; neither will I violate yours.” And the WHERE? He always answers, “I was there with you, feeling your pain.”

What questions do you ask when you’re in pain?

Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!