And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. -- 1 Peter 5:10
Wouldn't it be nice if emotions and feelings came with labels like green beans and cookies? We could just scan the can or peruse the package and know whether this was going to be good for us or make us blow up like a balloon. Or, how about a label to tell us where they came from, like "Made in China?" The label might read, "Fashioned in a Deceitful Heart," or "Dredged up from Dependency." Maybe a warning label would be nice: "Warning: Acting on this Feeling May Cause User to Spiral Out of Control," or "Beware: This Emotion May Be Hazardous to Personal Stability." Since so many feelings can be toxic, maybe the warning labels could contain antidotes: turn, pray, flee.
But, for the person who struggles with sexual brokenness, life is not always nice and it is certainly not packaged for ease of opening. Nor do all the pieces seem to easily go together, if they're even all there. So we decorate the packages and overlook the missing and broken pieces and do our best to assemble the best life we can with whatever went into our basket at checkout. Sometimes it shows; sometimes it doesn't. It depends on our marketing skills and how well we sell ourselves to others . . . and to ourselves. We know "the truth is out there," but we prefer to be in here. We curl up with a little of the truth like a too-small blanket and want for greater comfort and security.
Is it "quiet hope" or "bitter resignation?" Is it waiting or wilting? When rains come, do they wash us clean and set our feet to freedom or could they be the final flood that grows ever deeper to sweep us away?
I remember a little girl who lived down the street from us in a small town when I was a boy. In our fractured and unpredictable world, a good day was defined as a day that nothing bad happened. We looked forward to those. In her little world though, only a few blocks away, a day was defined as good. Her Daddy was determined she know no bad.
We lived in the tornado belt and spring storms ranged from frequent to constant. The dark clouds would come flying over the horizon, billowing miles high, filled with the flashes of lightning, thunder echoing throughout the sky. Birds would flee and dogs would cower as the clouds organized into dangerous whirlwinds, sizing up targets and we would hide in bathtubs under rugs. Soon, the sun would come out and the wet trees would glisten in amazing brilliance and we would ride our bikes in the tiny rivers along the curbs. That was how life was: powerful and menacing one moment; peaceful and contrite the next. Just like at home: blow up and tear up, then make up and clean up.
The Daddy of the little girl down the lane had a curious habit of making sure that everything bad turned out good. After every storm, when the thunder ceased and the lightning faded, he would sneak out into their backyard and hang candy on the tree that grew in the center of the yard, just behind his daughter's bedroom. She never saw him do it, but would see the candy dangling like magic outside her window and run out to get it and forget there had ever been a storm in the first place. He assured her there never would be, not really.
Our trees were always bare after the storms, surrounded by a few broken branches and loosened leaves, but I would usually slip down the street to see if the candy had appeared. I knew it was just her Dad, but I wanted to think that somehow God was doing it.
Of course, I've learned since then that sometimes the storm itself is the "candy," or at least the consequence. It's the result of all the build up, the choices, the things we ignore, the wants we confuse with the needs, the piled-up discarded warning labels, the substituted ingredients, the parts we twisted in hopes they would fit. Finally, a little thunder, a flash of lightning, a growing swirling and and the birds are fleeing and the dogs are cowering . . . and so are we, beneath the weight of our own heaviness, searching in vain for that little soft blanket of truth we used to pull over our heads before we weaved a bigger and expanding replacement from the fabric of false hope. And then . . . thar she blows.
And our tears are like rain. And they overflow. And in our cowardly confusion, knowing we allowed this toxic storm into our lives, we ignore the antidote: turn, pray, flee. Indeed, many times we seek comfort in the darkness of the cloud itself and stir it to a greater intensity.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. -- 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
We can trade our cowardly confusion for the compassion and comfort of Christ.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. -- Matthew 11:28
Really then, what are our excuses for holding on and holding in those burdens that make us so weary that we perfect our storm-creation skills and run for cover when the actions of our hands and hearts grow into chaos? Aren't we among the "all?" Wouldn't we rather "rest?" In Him.
I think sometimes we get so busy counting the costs that we forget to rejoice in the gains. For one, we've not been swept away, we've been swept up. We've not been given the dead limp limbs from a dying weeping willow, but the sweet fruits of grace and mercy dangling deliciously from a strong and mighty tree. We're not tossed about and discarded, we're lifted up and swept high.
Don't think I am putting my head in the clouds and dismissing the damages. I hurt. You hurt. Struggling does that. It takes a portion of us and puts it in opposition to the rest of us, so we feel the pulling until it seems we might just come apart. And then, behold, the One who knit us together in our mothers' wombs offers to restore and redeem and repair.
If we hope. If we do not succumb to the bitterness of resignation. If we can look just above the heap of loss to the horizon of hope.
My struggles have cost me the love of my children, the security of my former career, the respect of those who saw the candy but missed the brittle branches of deception on which they hung and turned away, repelling at the revelation. But, in all these things I have hope. I am not resigned.
The storms that erupt don't just tear away the good, they wash away the bad. The just and the unjust. So much decaying debris has now been swept away it was like a rushing flood crashing through a logjam. Perhaps when our lives get so filled with crud, there is nothing we can do but experience a flood to allow for removal and replacing. A flood of repentance.
I know a lot of people are just trying to hold on. Struggling with sexual brokenness is a form of suffering that often seems deserved not only in the eyes of our observers, but in our own. Why are we so weak? Inquiring minds really really really want to know.
What we should be asking ourselves is why we are so hesitant to ask the Strong Deliverer, the One who never grows weary, never faints, defends the weak, comforts, gives us hope, and offers to lift us up on wings like Eagles, to do so. He will outlast every storm.
So, where are you today? Reaching high in quiet hope? Bent low in bitter resignation? I know your hurt is real. Those storms are not imaginary. And no one runs around behind them hanging treats to make your fear subside. I know the hope is real too. And the reward of our hope is forgiveness, redemption, truth and love and freedom.
The reward of resignation is . . . . bitterness. And inaction. We become stumps, perhaps impervious to the pounding of the storms, but resistant to the sun as well. We stop growing.
Maybe you're somewhere in the middle, a little short of hope, just skirting the border of bitterness. Often it is when we are muddled in the middle that we discover the clarity of Grace to drive us in the better direction.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance. -- Romans 5:1-3
There's the reward: faith . . . peace . . . grace . . . hope . . . perseverance. And there's the choice: rejoice in our sufferings and persevere or resign to them and drown in bitterness.
Resigned to Rejoice,