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Posts Tagged ‘pain’

If there’s anyone out there who seeks suffering, raise your hand. That’s what I thought. The view of suffering put forth so strongly by Peter is one of the reasons “suffering” has been elevated, in some circles, to holiness. I can’t line up with this completely.

I Peter 4:1
SO, SINCE Christ suffered in the flesh for us, for you, arm yourselves with the same thought and purpose [patiently to suffer rather than fail to please God]. For whoever has suffered in the flesh [having the mind of Christ] is done with [intentional] sin [has stopped pleasing himself and the world, and pleases God], . . . [Amplified]

I believe, for those who are suffering now, today, these words are a comfort. There is hope, then, in suffering, there can even be a purpose and reward, in some space/time. The people of Peter’s time were suffering deeply, whether by poverty or by persecution. Times such as those must be endured with a respect for their existence–an acceptance of what is.

There is no doubt in my mind, that a person of faith who has gone through agony of the body, has little energy for anything else. Like the “refiner’s fire,” it will remove every useless thing, every useless thought. Endurance is an energy suck. Hope is the best fuel for sustaining oneself in a flood of pain.

I understand all of this.

But the greater part of me wants to fight suffering, not my own, but that of others. I want healing for them. I want renewal and restoration. I want “manifested hope” through wholeness.

As long as I am strong and healthy, then I have a job to do on behalf of those who are not. I must have the courage of Abraham who negotiated the release of the faithful from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:33pp). I must be bold like Elijah who believed the rain would come (I Kings 18:45) and then later, believed the fire would come (II Kings 1:10), because God is faithful. I must be persistent like the parable of the widow and the judge (Luke 8:1-8).

Because I believe we are called to partner with the Christ to materialize heaven on earth, then wholeness is part of that equation. Can I bear it? Can I believe in the face of pain and sorrow, loss and despair? I must.

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Really, I have been spared a good deal of suffering. Oh, I have known emotional apocalypses and stress, but generally, my body has not known deep pain, depravity, or paucity. And yet, I’m still downright cranky about personal injustice and fairness.

I Peter 2:21b-22a
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, . . .

I’m not exactly sure but it seems that I am fearful that an injustice towards me will diminish me. It’s as though that other person’s opinion will be believed by others and soon, there will be a posse of people corrupting my reputation. But why do I care? If I know that I have done the best I could, if I know I intended well and desired only a good outcome, if I was honest with others and myself and as fair as I could be, what does it matter what other people think? Why do we allow these situations to become a type of “personal suffering.” This is not what is meant in these verses, I’m sure.

No. But I am thinking that sickness and disease, in general, are sufferings extended to both believers and non-believers. Illness is no respecter of persons, and it is only one’s response to afflictions that identifies appropriated grace. In the end, disease, pain, and illness are basically unjust. I really doubt anyone in particular “deserves” to be sick anymore than anyone in particular deserves to be healthy or wealthy or content.

Life is a challenge for everyone.

I tried to teach my children this truth. We all carry some kind of adversity in our lives, whether it’s disabling disease, mental chaos, or other limitations. These are the circumstances of our lives that color our evolution as human. And there are a few givens that are totally out of our control: parents, home, country, race, etc.

Some years ago, a family in our church went from one devastation to another, first the teenaged daughter was in a grotesque one car accident from which she was not supposed to recover. While the girl was in recovery, the mother developed cancer. While the mother was in treatment, the father lost his job. These were lovely people who appeared to have collected much more than their fair share suffering in a span of a couple of years. We cannot know the why. Not really, without our words sounding like so many platitudes.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a wonderful book over twenty years ago, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. I consider this a must read for anyone who has suffered physically or emotionally. And I’m sure there are others who have covered this topic.

So, in response to Peter’s words, I can only say, “I have a long way to go.” I am grateful for the work of the Christ, but I am weak in my body and mind in the face of pain or potential pain. Forgive me.

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Photo by Natdiastok

Wikipedia states, “pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms.” I do that.

James 1:26a, 27c
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, . . . keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Language is a gift that humans have. With it, we can calm a child, paint word pictures, bring joy and laughter, or elicit memory and sorrow; we can also ruin a reputation, fill space with toxicity, hurt someone’s heart, start a fight, or destroy a relationship. Just with words.

Sometimes I think I have a good knack with words, but too often, I misuse my gift.

Some years ago, I went on a silent retreat at All Saints Convent. I had been there before for shorter retreats but never in full silence. I didn’t realize this silence would also mean no one would engage me – not with eyes or touch or anything. It was like I wasn’t there. In my loneliness, I sought out books and wrote in my journal.

But I wonder, were there still too many of those words? Did I really go into the silence?

My daughter asked me the other day if I have ever tried meditation and could I really sit and think of nothing? I said I had, more in the realm of contemplative prayer, but the battle with words was tough. I can do the flowing river routine for about a minute, maybe. No, truth be told, I am still a slave to the automatic typewriter in my head.

I have said some terrible things to people and I’ve said some terrible things about people. It’s all gossip and diarrhea of the mouth.

People always say, “think before you speak” and the joke for me is that I often speak so I can hear what I’m thinking.

On Wednesday, I went to an acupuncturist in hopes of getting some relief from hot flashes. After the treatment, she said the process is a kind of drawing out of heat from the body and often it leaves through body waste. I’d like to dump some of those mean words the same way and flush them down the toilet.

You, out there: you I know and you I don’t know . . . please forgive me.

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How many of us are ashamed of the chains of another person? Sometimes it’s a looking away or denial of the mistake someone has made and “paying for it” through imprisonment. But there are other chains, like mental illness, grief, illness, divorce, unemployment, and poverty.

II Timothy 1:16
May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.

I was ashamed of myself today as I realized I had lost touch with a woman who lost her husband last year. When he died suddenly, I had every intention of reaching out, of staying in touch, of being present to my friend as she went through the grieving process. But I didn’t. And now it has been a year. What caused this lack of attention? I wasn’t ashamed of her pain, per se, but I was uncomfortable. Grief is palpable.

And then I thought of other women I have left to bear the chains of their sorrow, my dearest friend whose brother died suddenly in a car accident. I didn’t know what to say or do and so I did next to nothing. Another friend lost her husband to lung cancer and it was months before I even sat at table with her. She was bitter at the desertions, not unlike Paul who names Phygelus and Hermogenes [vs 15].

I have colleagues whose teen and twenty-something children have gotten caught up in dangerous and illegal circumstances that have put them in prisons and detention centers. I know these mothers sorrow and I know it is hard for them to talk about it. What am I doing to ease their pain?

Another blogger wrote of the isolation that comes from mental illness and how people fear it, not unlike an infectious disease. The very thing that is needed is an unfailing and understanding presence.

I know, I shy away from so many things I do not understand but I am caught short today by my frozen inaction. Even though I am not gifted in removing the chains of others, I can still give a cup of water and hold a hand. A pastor friend of mine once said that people in grief generally need little but someone sitting beside them. Talk is often unnecessary. But I am all about the talk and the words. Silence in a group is outside my comfort zone.

It’s back to phrases like “life is in the being not in the doing” or, we are human “beings” not human “doings.” Corny but all true. But all that “being” needs to be in a place, needs to be with others who are struggling with their current state of “being” and could use a little support, like Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of Moses [Exodus 8:12].

For all of those whose chains I ignored, I ask you to forgive me. May this day be a reminder and a call to be present in the lives of those around me, chains and all.

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There were many deep and wonderful discoveries in the book of Colossians and I thank Paul for the words and prayers that came from it. And yet, I forgot he was imprisoned as he wrote this epistle. Who else have I forgotten in their suffering? Who else have I taken for granted?

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

I found this poem by Laijon Liu and give it as a remembrance to those long suffering, to those whose hearts or bodies have been broken, to those I know and to those I don’t know. With this poem, I say to you that I will remember you in prayer. I will remember your distress, your chains, your cries.

Will you meet me in my death?
O Deliverer of my hope,
Will you free me in my peril?
O Healer of my soul,
Will you cure all my disease?

When I cry, shedding tears
Do you taste my bitterness?
When I strive, struggling to survive
Do you stand by and offer your hand?
When I give up, with shattered dreams
Do you pick up all the pieces?

O Listener of all my prayers,
In silence and thunders I wait for your answer.
O Comforter of my broken heart,
In lonely night I search for your solace.
O Helper of my weakened strength,
In unbearable burden I seek your relief.

O Maker of heavens and earth,
May I call you my God?
Even if I never know your name,
Even if I’ve done some shameful things,
Even if I betrayed you and ran away once.

But will you forgive me for all my wrongs?
Will you help me when I reach toward you with my tiny hands?
Will you grant me peace even though we battled all our lives?

People say you set the rules,
But I know you truly love.
When others judge my covers,
You attend my heart and mind.

When my road leads into dark storms,
You will light up my eyesight.
When I fall on hard ground,
You will lift me up to rise.

When I face hardship and scorn,
We will together share our portion.
When I suffer in a hopeless sickbed,
We will together battle in each breath.

When I’m lost alone and lingering,
You will be with me, and guide me home.
One day I’ll die and depart,
But I truly believe
You will lift me up.

O God, our Savior, listen to our prayer.
Fill our hunger, heal our sickness,
Comfort our souls.
If you wish not to answer,
Then please wait for us,
Because we are about to shut our eyes.

–Laijon Liu

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Who am I kidding? I have not suffered for Christ and between you and me, just the idea of it scares the bajeebies out of me. All that comes to mind are the lions , the Christians, and the Roman Colosseum. Not a pretty thought. Or people thrown in prison or crucified. Or Mother Teresa.

Philippians 1:29
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, . . .

The word “suffer” always conjures up extremes.

And not only that, but this verse indicates that it’s a privilege to suffer. The implied implication here is that “not suffering” probably means we’re not doing it right. One author even said it’s because we’re keeping silent and not preaching/telling the gospel message. We’re not suffering because we’re not doing our jobs.

All right, I need to settle down here. I am not suffering, true. And so this message is intended for those who are suffering. Somewhere, in their pain, there is a truth that is intended for comfort: Christ suffered and followers throughout the ages and even today, have suffered. Hold fast to the truth of that because there’s a promise that no one else can receive. That’s hard to believe but we must remember the complete paradoxical nature of our faith. What we presume is the logical way, is not the best way.

I don’t believe I am to seek suffering as a way to test my faith or glob onto some kind of a blessing. But when that day comes, then I will remember that hope rests in the One and my pain can be a gift.

Paul Brand and Philip Yancey wrote a book called Pain, the Gift that Nobody Wants. This is a fascinating book and opens up this idea of pain and what it means both to the body and to the soul. I recommend it.

And I thank God for the words of grace that may be preparing me for that day of pain, that day of suffering. For life is unpredictable and we can never know what tomorrow holds. But I am not to fear the unknown and I am not to fear pain. Forgive me Lord God for giving fear such power in my life.

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Who wants to be held captive? Just the idea of it makes me want to run the other way. Like most people of our culture, this sounds like the opposite of freedom. Ah, it’s another paradox of the faith: captivity is freedom in the realm of Christ.

II Corinthians 10:5
[Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) . . . [Amplified]

I remember visiting a church once and being totally turned off. The message was about the “mind” and all its evils. The mind was the whole problem, he said. The mind caused every sin and every mistake. The mind was to blame. Both Mike and I walked out of there to never return. At that time, we equated the mind with intelligence, creativity, and logic, not evil.

But now, I think I have a clearer understanding of the mind’s role in my faith. The mind is the initiator of all things: both good and bad. The spark of an idea comes from the mind. Christ dwells in the mind as well, but without a whip. The mind must be tamed with love.

To bring the mind into captivity is to harness the thoughts that may initiate the wrong direction, a poorly conceived plan and unintended consequences.

The mind is where resentments can grow unfettered. The mind is where “Pete and Repeat” live: they go over and over the words someone said to me or what I should have said back or worse, reminding me of what I did or said that hurt others. Pete and Repeat live in a cesspool of words and feelings.

There are two possible solutions. One is to use the Jesus duct and to allow that cesspool to drain periodically. If not, it gets so full, eventually, one way or another, that stuff starts building a home in the heart and coming out of the mouth. The second solution is to put those thoughts and words and feelings into captivity first, before they get too powerful, too sullen, too belligerent, too stubborn to remain corralled.

My picture of such a thing is a corral with little delinquents running around, hurting each other with name calling, punching and the like. And there is Jesus walking among them, laying a hand here or there, touching a head, or blowing away the hurt like a mom does for her little baby who fell down. He sits in the middle of the muck and slowly, their curiosity gets the better of them and they come closer and closer, to listen, to touch, to be healed, and to be renewed.

This captivity is a place where broken things are made whole again.

I yield.

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