Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Constant Companion

Most of us have something we always turn to when we're hurting, or troubled, or frightened. For some, it's writing, or dancing, or drawing. For others, it's running, or basketball, or lifting weights. We all need that one thing that gets us through lonely nights, and the chaotic days.

Since I figured out how to put letters together to form words, and words together to form thoughts, my one thing has usually been writing. A pen and paper has been my release, my therapy. It's how I've dealt with many pains in this world. It's how I've expressed my dreams and fantasies, and my fears and anger.

And when writing fails me, and that emptiness threatens to defeat me, I turn to painting. I toss random colors on a canvas, attempting to express that which I cannot find the words to express.

And when that still fails, I walk. I envelope myself in the emptiness. I revel in the knowledge that no one truly sees me. My words and images - those I could not put to paper, flutter throughout my mind, entwining with the darkness whispering around my heart.

Two years ago this month, this is precisely what happened. The fear and pain in my heart was too great for words... too great for pictures. And so I walked the empty streets, prepared to enjoy the loneliness. But I was met with comforting arms that allowed those unshed tears to find a way to fall.

This helped to bring focus to my writing, and my painting. It helped to bring a purpose to it all - a purpose I felt was needed. But by giving it a purpose, it lost the ability to be my constant companion. When the emptiness and pain and loneliness slithered in, I was left with nothing. My constant companion was gone. And soon, that which brought the purpose was also gone.

But the purpose remained - God.

But what good is the purpose without the passion? What good is it to write about God if I can no longer feel Him? I seek Him now in Church and Bible Study. I seek Him in my studies for my next post, or in my quest to find a new image to paint. But He's no where to be found. No matter how hard I search, I've lost Him. I've lost my passion. I've lost my constant companion.

And though my pen still hits the paper, and my brush still strokes over the canvas, it no longer eases the pain or emptiness engulfing my heart. I sometimes wish I could abandon this purpose - go back in time a couple years ago. I am so lost, drowning in the darkness. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Where was God?

The memories - for the most part - are like little snippets of another life. They flash here and there, never a full story...

Being thrown against a wall
Being pulled down the stairs by my hair, struggling to stay on my feet
Hands on either side of my face, slamming the back of my head repeatedly into a wall
Being pulled out of bed by my hair
Backhanded across the face
Punched in the face, the stomach, the chest
Thrown to the ground, kicks coming from every direction, to my stomach, arms, legs, face, back
My face being shoved into my own vomit before being forced to clean it up
Thrown out the door in the middle of a blizzard, wearing only jeans and a t-shirt, the door locked behind me
The "peacemaker" paddle causing welts and bruises and torn flesh

God is Always With Us - a Constant Comfort...

I grew up going to Church somewhat regularly. And I remember always being taught as a child that God is always with us. God will comfort us. God loves us.

Of course, my parents also told me they love me. They would always be there for me.

In the mind of a child, this was a quite easy equation. Parents = evil. Parents' words = God's Words. Therefore, God = evil.

Where Was God?

If God is always with us, where was He during the events noted above? Where is He while millions of children are abused and broken by those who are supposed to care for them? Either...

God is indeed just evil
God is testing us
God is indifferent to our suffering
God is punishing us
God is concerned with preparing our Eternal Home, and until then is simply letting our lives play out

As I've gotten older, and struggled with the why's and where's of God, I've come to realize God is good. So, the last option is the only one that really work.
But, it's more than God just letting our lives play out...

Where Should God Have Been? 

God should have been in the heart of the pastor I turned to for help as a child - the one whom, instead of helping get us out of the home, told us to respect our parents.

God should have been in the hearts of the neighbors who heard the screams of a child. He should have been in the hearts of the teachers who saw the bruises, and "child protective services" who simply sent a therapist into the home.

God should have been in the hearts of the counselors who were faced with a sobbing, unloved child; and with the friends who were turned to in the middle of the night.

God Should Be in All of Us!

This doesn't just apply to abused children - it applies to everything and everyone. When someone is crying, we should be God's shoulder. When someone is in need of God's embrace, we should be His arms.

It's easy to turn someone away - we're too busy, too tired, too something. But that is not what God wants from us.

We're here to be like Christ. 
We're here to be the comfort and strength someone hurting needs.
We're here to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unloved, and build up the torn down.
We are here for God's presence and comfort to be visible to all.

Friday, August 15, 2014

No Problem is Too Small (Big isn't always better)

You make too much money...
We're looking to make a difference...
We want to do something bigger...

How many of you have experienced (or known someone to experience) a situation like those listed below?

Your spouse lost his/her job, and it's difficult to make ends meet on one income. You try to get help (rental assistance, monetary assistance, medical insurance assistance), but are told "sorry, you make too much."

Or, you've been receiving assistance, and finally get a job to get back on your feet. And then are immediately informed your assistance is now cut off because "sorry, you make too much."

These programs are meant to help those in need - but the downfall is that they stop once you hit a certain limit, even if that limit is not enough for a family to successfully survive on.

This teaches that if your problem isn't big, you won't be helped.

We want to do BIG things!

We often see this same thinking when it comes to helping others in need in our day to day lives. We send our donations oversees because these people have bigger problems than the homeless guy down the street. We give our money to large charities rather than buying a meal for the poverty stricken family next door. We donate our time to large soup kitchens, shelters, and the like instead of offering the single mother across the road some help with household chores or with caring for the children.

We want to do big things. We want to know we've made a difference. Helping just one person? That's easy. Someone else can do it. We want the big things! We want to help those "more" in need. We want to help with the "bigger" issues. We don't want to go visit the person who's just ill in the hospital - we want to visit the one who will pass away soon. That will make a bigger impact on a family, and on society.

Jesus washed feet

Jesus did some miraculous things in His time on Earth. He raised people from the dead, cured the sick, fed multitudes... and, of course, died and was resurrected.

But Jesus did not reserve Himself for the big things. He held small children. He comforted the sick. He washed the feet of His disciples.

Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.

After Jesus did the miraculous - fed five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish - He told His disciples to “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”(John 6:12).  

Why should a man, capable of feeding thousands with so little, be so considered with the crumbs? Maybe because it is not just the big things in life that are important. Maybe it was to show us that we need to draw our attention away from the big things, and take care of the smaller things. 

No problem is too great for God

We hear and read that statement a lot - "No problem is too great for God." It's a comfort to hear such a truth. But, I think we also need to remember that there is no problem too SMALL for God. 

And, there shouldn't be for us either. 

God bless!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

We Only Pray For Those We Deem Worthy!

I read something earlier today that has really ruffled my feathers. Simply, it was a blog post saying we should not be saying "rest in peace" (R.I.P. - Are They Really Resting In Peace). Now granted, most of what is said in that article isn't necessarily false. We are told not everyone will get into heaven. What I had a problem with was saying we should not be saying "rest in peace" to everyone.

Christian Fundamentals

There are many things we're told to do and not do as Christians. But two in particular I want to stress are:

  1. We are to love and pray for everyone. This includes friends and enemies; believers and non-believers. We aren't allowed to pick and choose who we choose to love, or for whom we choose to pray. 
    But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)
  2. Only God can see into the hearts of man. Yes, we tend to assume a lot. We see someone living a godless life, we assume they are godless. We hear someone confess they are a Christian, we assume they are Christian. But we cannot truly see what is in their hearts. 
    So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts... (Luke 16:15)

Rest in Peace

These three words (or five if you go with the lengthy version "may he rest in peace") is essentially a prayer. We say these words to prayerfully request the person's soul goes to Heaven. We, as Christians, should want all people to go there. We should be praying for the souls of all - friends and enemies. Those who stand by us and those who persecute us. Those who believe in the Lord, and those who don't yet.

As I said before, we aren't supposed to be picking and choosing who to pray for. Yes, I may not think someone is a Christian. He's a sinner. He has perhaps even actively stated there is no God. Is this not more reason to pray for his soul?

And, as I also stated before, I can't truly see into his heart. True, someone who would state aloud "there is no God!" quite probably is not Christian. But I do not with 100% certainty know this to be true. And I cannot know with 100% certainty if this person's soul is saved. All I can do is pray for him.

That is all any of us can and should be doing - pray for everyone. Pray while they're alive that they are able to find Christ. And pray when they die a request that their soul may rest in peace.

God bless!

Christ Suffered, Therefore We Must Also Suffer... huh?!?

There is one question that has been asked repeatedly throughout the generations by Christians (and by non-Christians trying to discredit Christianity).

Why does God allow suffering? 

This question often plagues us, especially when we're going through our own suffering, or when we witness a grand-scale tragedy. The suffering we see makes us doubt the great love and compassion of our Lord, and so we try to find an answer to this age old question. We know there must be a reason He allows it - there has to be a reason. Otherwise, we're all just pawns, and our suffering has no purpose, and life has no real purpose.

We turn to our Bibles. We turn to our Church. We turn to theologians who've also battled with this question. We turn to our Pastors, Priests, Preachers, teachers, ministers, elders, friends. We turn to God. And we find answers that calm our souls, or at least make sense.

It's part of God's plan. It's a test from God. 

These are two of the most common reasons I've heard. I've addressed these before in previous posts. But to summarize - I do not believe God's plan for us on Earth includes making us suffer. And I do not believe God causes or lets us suffer to test our faithfulness. Both of these make God seem a cruel master who doesn't already know the existence and strength of our faith.

Christ suffered, and therefore so must we.

This is the most recent one I've heard. It's worded differently, by different people, but basically amounts to this: Christ suffered on the cross for us, and therefore we must endure suffering as well so that we can be more Christlike.

There are some major flaws (in my opinion) to this. First and foremost - it takes away from the wonderful gift of salvation we have received through Christ's death and resurrection. We have eternal life - a life free from suffering, with our Lord - because of what was done for us. We don't need to suffer to receive that. The suffering was already done. The debts are paid.

Additionally, it implies our suffering is because of Christ's suffering. This is flawed right from the start because suffering was occurring long before Christ came to Earth. And well, it reminds me of something I heard as a child... "I beat you because I was beaten." Basically, it's saying that Christ wants revenge - He had to suffer, and therefore, so shall we.

Suffering brings us closer to God.

This is often a subset of the other rationalizations. It's hooked to them in some way:
  • "God has a plan for our suffering, therefore we must have more faith in Him and His plan, which will bring us closer to Him."
  • "By testing our faithfulness with suffering, we're brought closer to God." 
  • "Christ suffered, so we also suffer in order to make us more like Christ, bringing us closer to God." 
Basically - God is abusing and hurting and tormenting us so that we love and trust Him more. Or, God is allowing us to be hurt and abused and tormented so that we turn to Him out of love and trust.

Am I the only one who sees the flaw in that reasoning? A child who is beaten by a parent does not learn to love and trust that parent more. And more-so, a parent who watches and allows her child to be beaten is not loved and trusted more. In fact, it is worse. The parent who lets it happen often causes more damage to a child's ability to love and trust than the parent actually doing the abusing.

So why does God allow suffering? 

I don't know. I know only my own opinion on the matter, and that is that God never promised us a life free from hardship. He only promises that eventually, when we are with Him, that we will have a life free from suffering.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:4)
And, I also know that even in the hardest moments of our life, even when we don't feel His presence, He is there with us to comfort us.

Can good come from suffering? 

Yes. Of course. Suffering gives us the opportunity to grow in love for each other. It gives us the opportunity to pray together. It does give us the opportunity to grow in faith towards God. It gives us the opportunity to personally grow in strength.  (Oddly enough - these opportunities are always there, through suffering and through times of joy. God is here to help us take advantage of these opportunities at all times.)

While I don't believe God simply allows us to suffer with the intention of us getting closer to God, or more Christlike, this does not mean I don't believe suffering can't have the potential of creating good. And, I do believe God has a hand in that.

Your suffering can have purpose. But don't assume it's God testing you or trying to strengthen you. Just know God is there beside you to give you comfort and strength, and some day our times of suffering will be over. Until then, we can only do what we can to help ease the suffering of those around us.