The Nobility of Crickets

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Aloneness. A bench. Sunrise. Winter. Beauty. So many metaphors for a heart that longs to hear from Him.

I was sitting with a friend over some amazing enchiladas and creamy jalapeño dip, and doing what we do when we get together – eating Mexican food and catching each other up on our lives and hearts. And inevitably we began talking about our pain. Because, if you are having an honest conversation with someone you love and trust, how can this not come up? Whatever we walk through becomes part of who we are – and if we show up authentically in relationship with another, our pain tags along. Every time.  And it was one of those moments when, as soon as I spoke the words meant for her, I realized that they for me also.

We were talking about the experience of God disappearing on us. Of feeling like He is nowhere near. Of feeling abandoned by Him.

First off, let us not dismiss the holiness of this conversation by feeling like we need to defend God or a particular theology. He is a big boy who isn’t threatened by our honest exploration of His identity and His ways – or our experience of His identity and His ways. Not to fear, accurate theology has a way of surfacing among open and seeking hearts. However, when we are uncomfortable with what we don’t understand, many of us have tendencies to offer pat, dismissive answers. (God is good, all the time…The Bible says so…It’s not about what you feel…If you just had more faith…You should…read more, pray more, work more, etc.) In other words, we sometimes attempt to ease our own surfacing anxiety with people who ask challenging questions, or questions we haven’t wrestled with just yet by shutting them down. The time to break open the Bible and discuss the theology that underlies our experiences will eventually come around – but only if we are open to this part of the process. When someone shares their heart (especially if it is messy), the first response should be compassion. Grace. Maybe a few questions to get the full meaning of what they are saying. The people of God, who are His hands, feet, ears to listen to, and shoulders to cry on here, should be safe places for people to bring their broken hearts… in all their messy glory because…

God cares deeply when our hearts are broken. And He wants us to bring our broken hearts fully to Him. If we hide the places that actually hurt (usually because of shame or fear of rejection – see paragraph above)… the experience can be sort of like having a very painful sore throat, yet when the doctor asks you what the problem is, you tell her it is your knee instead. The complication is that, a sore throat will often, eventually resolve itself. A broken heart…well, those don’t heal nearly as neatly or predictably. Why would we go to a doctor, and yet not seek help for the part of us that is actually wounded? 

We do this with God all the time.

In this evening of being together with my friend, how we were, where we were… letting it be ok to not be ok, to not have all the answers, to have questions and emotions that didn’t fit neatly in a box or that made us sound more put-together than we were… she said,

“When I pray, all I hear is crickets.”

Silence. Aloneness. Doubts about His love. Worries about being in His will or pleasing to Him. Wondering ‘what am I doing wrong’…or ‘what is wrong with me’? What follower of Jesus hasn’t had this heartbreaking, disorienting, at times terrifying experience? And somewhere in the conversation, after relating and empathizing, I said, in words I realize now were not entirely my own,

“What if some of the noblest work of God is found in the crickets?”

I’ve been sitting with this question for a while now.

What if learning to wait on Him, and trust Him in uncertainty is THE work He has called us to? Not a peripheral lesson of the faith, but a central one?

What if learning to be still and silent before Him is the royal road to deep satisfaction in Him? 

What if some seasons of silence actually contain amazing amounts of God-communication to us, but our skills with silence are so underdeveloped, that we have no idea how to understand or process it properly?

What if our incomplete knowledge of Him severely limits our experience of Him? 

What if the most loving thing He can do is to break our destructive theological paradigms by defying them? And what if silence is one way to do that? 

What if the crickets we may hear in certain seasons of our relationship with Him are not a sign of His distance from or displeasure in us, but instead a sign of His nearness, of His desire for us to have More, and of His transforming power at work in the deepest, most tender places in our heart? 

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Eccl. 3:7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak.

 

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And My Answer Is…Yes.

Jesus, my answer to you is yes.

To whatever it is you ask, to whatever it is You want. To wherever You lead, even and especially when I don’t know where we are going. Yes to following You through pain and things I would never choose for myself or my most beloved ones. Yes to the loss of choice and how that terrifies me. Yes to a season of darkness if it means I learn to find Your hand in that very darkness.

Yes to following You into places in my heart that cause me to grimace and wince because of their raw power. Yes to opening up my most private, shameful and personal memories, allowing you to speak to them and change my perception of them. Yes to Your changing my habits and patterns that are so ingrained and hidden, only a serious disruption of “normal” brings them into view. Yes to my paying attention to and cooperating with whatever disruption it takes for you to save me from myself. Yes to letting you pry my hands off of my beloved status quo.

Yes to You loving me enough that sometimes You tell me “no.” Yes to letting You break my heart if it will save me from the damage that some of the things I love do to me. Yes to letting go of things that are less so you can give me more.  Yes to releasing that which has been holding me tighter than I have been holding it.

Yes to walking in to the unknown and to following You down paths where no one can go with me. Yes to a heart sickening loneliness if it teaches me to learn to love and relate to You more authentically and healthily. Yes to Your plans for me, even as it means the death of my dreams for me. Yes to not running from fear of You when You choose to flex Your muscles, to exercise Your sovereignty, to call attention to the fact that I am helpless before You. Yes to laying down my desires and my control tendencies, to opening my hands and being willing for them to stay empty for as long as You want. Because yes, I believe You want to eventually fill them with more than I had before. And Yes to You taking as long as You want to accomplish Your purposes in my life, even as I think I’ll die waiting for You.

Yes to You stripping away my illusions of how I think the world works in exchange for You teaching me the truth of how it actually works. Yes to the grief that comes along with seeing truth for the first time and realizing how long I’ve lived with lies. Yes to following You to places of repentance and an accurate self-view that can be so devastating.

Yes to Your request to physically occupy more space in my heart that I have given away to idols and taken for myself. Yes to not just allowing You to take up space, but to my inviting You in, willingly and wholeheartedly. Yes to learning and re-learning how to love you in a way that actually honors You, rather than in a way that is convenient for me.

Yes to resting in You and to letting You lead. Yes to slowing down even as my heart pushes me to speed up. Yes to letting You be You, even when it is so bewildering, confusing and doubt-inducing. Yes to Your heart for me and yes to trusting You with my heart. Yes to the lifelong process of acknowledging, with my head, mouth and life that You are indeed God and that you are indeed good.

My answer to you is yes. May it always be yes.

(originally published 5/18/13)

Embracing The Bright Sadness (Jesus pt. 98)

“Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness…” Richard Rohr.

It is an interesting tension that older followers of Jesus are asked to hold. In one hand there should be hope and joy. It is the positive sunny perspective on life that gets us out of bed in the morning, looking forward to tomorrow.  It reflects our trust in and belief that Jesus is indeed more powerful

Clouds and sun, all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

Clouds and sun at the same time… all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

than this world and that He is indeed making all things new, restoring, rebuilding and blessing. Our tomorrows can be better than our todays – this is part of the birthright of children of the King, of those who have been saved and now have the Savior living inside of them. Our faith should allow us to smile.

Yet,  in the other hand we hold a sadness and a darkness that comes with living in a broken world where sin has had its way. It means we don’t pretend all is ok. Because, sometimes, things most definitely are not all ok. This awakening to the presence of pain can be a weight that at times threatens to topple us over in its direction.  As we age, most of us bump into a most sobering, and at times, depressing reality – that this life can really, really hurt. That sometimes things don’t always work out well or even good. Sometimes evil wins and we lose. Sometimes we can’t stop the suffering, especially of those we love. Sometimes life descends into a nosedive of despair that can be difficult to pull out of without medication, unhealthy coping mechanisms of some kind, or a very, very deep and complicated work of the heart and faith. (Phil. 2:2) And not everyone has the time, inclination or stomach for the heart work or faith that surviving such a nosedive into pain requires.

People who have walked with Jesus for a while are able to embrace both sides of this. Joy, while at the same time, sad. Light and dark co-existing side by side in our hearts. Grabbing hold of the two truths at the same time, “It will all be ok. It won’t all be ok.”  As Richard Rohr puts it, “…a kind of bright sadness…”. I suspect you’ve met people like this. They have a weight to them. A gravity. An internal spaciousness about them that allows them to hold two such full and complex experiences at the same time, negating neither, and embracing both. A bright sadness. St John of the Cross, author of the term, “dark night of the soul”,  called this mystery a “luminous darkness”.

And because of the internal and theological stretching required to hold all this, these people are able to hold more of Jesus in the created space.

As a younger believer, I never would have guessed this. Maturity in Christ means being familiar with sadness. Sadness is not a bad friend to have either. It can open doors – to heart things, to spiritual truth, to intimacy with Jesus, to great depth and wisdom. It can be a companion who knows things and shares them with us.

Willingly walking through the doors of sadness holds the potential to lead us to the doors of joy we are looking for, are wired for. But it is not a happy clappy, Hallmark card blurb, easy Sunday School kind of joy. Instead, it leads to the deeper kind that gets us out of bed in the morning when just that takes all we’ve got… knowing that even in the midst of pain, it is still worth it all. The kind of joy that says to despair, “I’m not afraid of you because you have something to teach me about Jesus, about truth, about me…and I’m willing to sit with you, walk with you for a while, in order to learn your precious secrets.” (Eccl. 7:4) Walking through deep sadness leads to the kind of joy that doesn’t blot out darkness, but overcomes it. A greater joy. The joy Jesus promises us.

The path to joy may meander first on the path of sadness. Sometimes for a long time. Being able to hold joy most fully requires that we first learn to hold sadness. And this is a most stretching thing to do. Which is why it is almost always older people who are able do it. It takes a long time and a lot of life to learn to do it properly.

Over the years, I’ve found that Jesus loves the simplicity of a child’s faith, the primary colors, the basic foundational vocabulary, the straight lines, the innocent faith and reckless trust. And I’ve also found that Jesus loves the deep and multilayered complexity of an adult’s faith that involves a lot of blurred edges, uncomfortable uncertainty, endless shades of gray and more questions than answers.

Jesus invites us to know Him from both places if we want.

But we have to be willing to go there with Him. The journey isn’t a short or easy one.

Jn. 17:13 …but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Phil. 2:12…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Phil 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Eccl. 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Meditations On Pain

After the last few years we’ve had, with loss and disappointment piled on top of grief, sadness, shock and lots of spiritual banging our heads against a wall…I’ve been thinking a lot about pain. About what it does in us. About how God uses it and how we respond to it. Here are some of those thoughts:

Pain reveals what is in our hearts. Pain not only squeezes our bodies to their limits, it squeezes our hearts too. And when pressure is applied to our hearts, just like when a tube of toothpaste is squeezed, whatever is on the inside comes squirting out. Bitterness? Optimism? A tendency to hide or deny? Pain numbing behaviors?  A love for others and Jesus? Willingness to endure? A love of easy outs? Self-discipline? Joy? Relational patterns of hiding, using, blaming…or healthy communication and expression of emotion? As Solomon said, our hearts are indeed deep waters. (Pr. 20:5) And what is in there, is complex. It takes an awful lot to get what is hidden in there to show itself. But once we get a glimpse of what it is…then we have a starting point of where Jesus might want to do something in us. And if we are willing to pay attention to what comes out of us during the darkness, and deal with it honestly…well…this has the potential to be a very good thing for us.

Pain is unique to each of us. What hurts me may not hurt you to the same extent. Loss of a job may be a bump in the road for one and the end of the world for another. A three-year old loses a beloved stuffed animal that is her best friend. A wife loses her husband of years to a terrible accident. Both are in pain. It isn’t fair to compare and rank it because it is so unique to each one of us. (Pr. 14:10) Let me clarify – I don’t think all pain is equal. Some pain is definitely more…well…painful. But what I am saying is that I think everyone should be allowed expression of their pain, whatever it is. Each individual has value and each person should be allowed to feel and process their hurt as it is for them, not as someone else thinks it should be. And the rest of us should offer compassion – or a graceful distance so that the person can work their way to recovery.

Pain has a work to do. Nothing opens a heart, revealing what is inside quite like pain. Nothing opens us up to the possibility of change, asking for and accepting help like pain. Nothing opens our hearts to the realization that the truth of a situation might be much different than we’d ever imagined quite like pain. Nothing opens us up to the realization of the pettiness of what occupies so much of our time and affection like pain. (I Pet 4:1) Nothing drives us to the place where we need Jesus and want Him more than anything else like pain. If we don’t run from it, numb it or insist it can’t be God’s will for us, pain has the potential to do something beautiful and deep within us. (Rom. 5:3)

How God views pain and how we view pain is so very different.  It is an amazing experience to take off in a plane when it is overcast and rainy and ascend through and over the precipitation to what is above. Because the topside view of a cloud is so amazingly different than the underside view. I suspect the experience of how we view pain (from down below) and how God views it (from up above) is a similar one to a plane ride. We hurt and think, “Ow! This is so horrible! This can’t be God’s will for me.” Or, “I’ve got to avoid this, ease it, minimize it, deny it or medicate it.” Or, “God, how could you let this happen? If this is Your plan for me, I’ll handle things on my own from here on, thank you very much.” And maybe God sees us experience pain and He sees…the potential it holds…for soul-deep healing, for awakening to spiritual truth, for greater reliance on and intimacy with Himself. Maybe He leans forward a bit, catching His breath, knowing that the potential fruit of pain is eternal, while pain itself is temporary. Maybe He grabs a hold of our hands, speaking to us and granting us greater dose of His presence and love – hoping we will slow down long enough to notice.

We have some say in what we do with our pain. I know that sometimes, our pain is so great or our resources to manage it are so stressed that sometimes, we just react. We don’t really have the option to respond. But sometimes we do. God gives us the dignity to allow us to choose much in our lives. When pain comes, as it does for all of us, we have some choice what we will do in response. We can run. Avoid. Numb. Medicate. Deny. Minimize. Descend into despair. Pretend it isn’t happening or doesn’t matter. Create two lives – one we present to the outside world and the reality we live with in our inner worlds. Blame. Grow bitter. Or. We can let our pain turn our hearts to our Healer. Open us up to relationship with others. Invite us to grow from the inside out and find, with Jesus, we are capable of so much more than we ever thought possible. Show us the depth of His love by meeting us deep in the mess. Our responses can be as varied as we are. But the one constant between us all is the choice – what will we allow our pain to do to us? What will we allow our pain to do in us?

The Role Of Despair In The Life Of A Believer (Jesus pt. 68)

Despair – 1. (n) The complete loss or absence of hope. 2, To be overcome with a sense of futility or defeat. 3 (v) To lose or be without hope.

What powerful words in the definition. “Complete” “Loss” “Absence” “Overcome” “Futility” “Defeat” “Without hope”.

Let’s get honest here for a moment…followers of Jesus experience despair. I have struggled with it. I know many others who have. Life doesn’t go the way we planned, hoped, thought it should. We extrapolate from our circumstances something of how we think God must feel about us. And if we think He isn’t trustworthy, isn’t loving, isn’t good – if we think we aren’t loved – despair rises. It, life, feels hopeless.

In addition to the crushing weight of the feeling of “This will never change. This will never work out. This is evidence of His lack of love for me. This is making me wish He would take me home now.”,  I have also struggled with “Christians shouldn’t feel this way. Jesus must be so disappointed in me. I can’t tell anyone else how I really feel because it is so deeply unspiritual.”

But it exists. And followers of Jesus experience it. Therefore I must conclude that despair has a work to do in the life of a believer. Here are some thoughts on it.

Despair isn’t the enemy. Instead, it can function like a light on the dashboard, warning that there is trouble under the hood. It provides information – that all is not well and I must give my heart and soul some attention. Maybe even actively seek help from others who can ‘see’ reality more clearly, from a place where vision isn’t blurred by despair.

Despair can act like an emotional winter, stopping my outer world for while and slowing me down both physically and spiritually. It can look very discouraging on the outside, but inside, like the roots of a tree during the cold dark months, it can prompt some very deep, very long-lasting growth. Dealing with some of the issues that stir despair – fear, insecurity, doubt, worry, theological issues, woundedness – when I invite Jesus to speak to them and He does, I am not the same afterwards. When spring rolls back around, as it always does, the platform on which new growth emerges is wider, stronger and more solid.

Despair can demand expression, a chance to speak into my life. Pretending it isn’t there or ignoring it only prolongs the pain. It is sort of like when my husband and I have a disagreement. (It happens.) And we postpone our conversation to reconcile it. Those are some long, cold nights. It feels the same with my heart when I ignore something that it wants to talk with me about.

Despair can force an honesty and willingness to engage Jesus out of me. Because it hurts so much, it has the capacity to remove the filter I often put over my words, that leads me to say the things I think are acceptable and “right” in church circles. This is a fancy way of saying that I will often try to lie about the condition of my heart if I can get away with it. The pain of despair can lead me to stop playing games and bring my darkness into the light so Jesus can speak to it and heal it.

And despair creates in me a longing for His coming, for Him to re-create this world where there is no more pain, tears or hopelessness. Despair can drive me to realize that my only hope doesn’t come from this world. It can drive me, wounded and weeping into the arms of my Savior, who makes all things right with His presence. I am learning that whatever brings me into His presence can be a blessing to me.

Where Jesus is, there is always hope. He holds the power in His hands to change things. Heal things. Raise them from the dead. External things and life’s circumstances – sometimes. When we encounter Him, He doesn’t always fix what is broken on the outside, but He always changes our hearts. And when that happens, when our hearts are renewed and strengthened and we see the world for how it really is, we have the strength to withstand the pain that comes our way. We have the ability to find Him and His joy in the midst of terrible darkness. We may fall, but in the falling, we find there is ground beneath us. Solid ground that holds. Despair can lead us to discover that He is truly enough. That He is love. That He is capable of redeeming even the worst of our fears and pain. These are truths that are only theoretical till proven true in our lives through the crucible of despair.