A Response to Suffering from C. S. Lewis, Others, and Myself

If you are reading this, thank you. The subject of suffering is never fun, especially with the recent shooting in Orlando, said to be the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. So thank you for making an intentional choice to read about suffering in a time like this.

I have read many opinions on the shooting in Orlando, and I know how depressing they can be. Everyone is sad, everyone has an opinion, and that is okay, because that is human.

But I want this to be not an opinion, but a response. I want to be a Christian who has more than an opinion, but a response based on wisdom and an appropriate action to take.

I am not here, however, to write about the shooting in Orlando. I was not inspired to write based on the shooting alone, though I was certainly grieved to hear about this violence. If not for another factor, in fact, I would not have mentioned the shooting in Orlando at all.

“Why not?”

I would have said the same thing as everyone else. I would have joined a clamorous sound from the public at large, filled by well-meaning people with words of empathy, sorrow, and prayer. And yes, these words are good. I am glad to see my Twitter and Facebook feeds filled with so many words of kindness to those who are suffering.

Instead, I was inspired to write today by two videos on the suffering of two children. One was a short video on a father’s perspective on the 3-month lifespan of his first child. Be prepared to tear up, fellow stone-hearts, if you watch “99 Balloons.”

The second was a video on a 4-year-old boy’s nearly fatal car accident and the life-saving actions of a woman who held him for 30 minutes before an ambulance arrived. Actually, she held his head, as she would later discover had been crucial because the boy had been internally decapitated.

Both of these videos emphasized joy. The 3-month-old baby died, but the father praised God for the time he’d had with his first child. The 4-year-old boy lived, and the woman who held his head for 30 minutes was deemed a Good Samaritan for her actions.

But I was still filled with sorrow after watching these videos. After watching the second, I sat back from my computer, eyes filled with tears, and began to process my emotions. I prayed, “What am I supposed to do with this, God? How am I supposed to react to suffering? What if that had been one of my own siblings, and how would I have felt?”

This is the purpose of my words today. How should I respond to the pain of little children? How am I meant to respond to the hurt and hatred stemming from a shooting in Orlando? How am I as a Christian called to respond to suffering?

I am not the only human who has ever asked this question. Attempts to answer these disconcerting questions of suffering reach as far back as to St. Augustine in Confessions, to Teresa de Cartegena in Grove of the Infirm, and to C. S. Lewis in several of his works.

But first, a contemporary collection of the world’s response to suffering, the following tweets on an incident of violence in Gaza in 2014:

And the following tweets on the shooting in Orlando:

tweet 1

 

These tweets show that humanity knows there is something wrong in the world. Pain and suffering exist, and we see that every day, some days more than others.

But what is the next step? What is our role in suffering?

It helps to first understand why suffering exists in the first place. Here I turn to the words of C. S. Lewis, who acknowledges suffering in saying:

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.

The Problem of Pain

We all recognize this existence of suffering as Lewis does, but this leads to the question in Joseph Barton’s tweets, as listed above. Suffering exists, but why? How does this correlate with the existence of a supposedly good God?

Lewis writes:

The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest “well pleased.”

The Problem of Pain

Okay, so our comfort is not the reason for our existence…. We exist that God may love us. But how is suffering an expression of God’s love?

It helps to read the words of St. Augustine and Teresa de Cartegena, two medieval Christians who wrote on their personal experiences with suffering–Augustine on his chest pains late in life and de Cartegena on the deafness with which she was born.

Augustine writes:

And You stood in the secret places of my soul, O Lord, in the harshness of Your mercy… and that small slight tie which remained should not be broken but should grow again to full strength and bind me closer even than before.

Confessions

And Teresa de Cartegena writes:

For there is no other path to paradise except through the suffering of anguish and tribulations, and by means of the narrow path we shall find out spacious, everlasting resting place. For it is written, “Strait is the path that leads man to eternal life,”… And if the saints could not get to heaven without passing along this road, how can we sinners expect to follow it without enduring much suffering?

Grove of the Infirm

These authors claim that pain is necessary to bind us closer to God, to grow us and to help us to love Him more. And this is likewise Lewis’s claim:

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

The Problem of Pain

This ties in with Scripture, as well, which reminds us of God’s wisdom and sovereignty in suffering (Isaiah 55:8-9) and His constant working for ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Scripture even reminds us of God’s righteously willing violence to occur for His glory, something difficult and even offensive for us to compute, as this seems cruel for a holy God.

But look back to Lewis’s words in The Problem of Pain:

Man does not exist for his own sake.

We exist not for our own comfort, but for the glory of God (Isaiah 43:7). And it is this Christ-centered understanding which leads to an answer as to how we as Christians ought to respond to suffering.

1. Trust.

Trust that God knows what is best (Isaiah 55:8-9) and has an ultimate plan for our good and His glory in mind (Romans 8:28).

Also, trust in His eternal plan. God’s decisive act of intervening in our broken world was committed on the cross, and He is composing a crescendo of grace into Himself for those who love Him. By this, I mean that God is directing our current and daily sanctification (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10) and has designated a future place in heaven for those who love Him here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).

As Lewis writes in his allegorical use of Aslan for God:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

2. Remember.

Recall what God has done in the past, and remember what He has promised He will do.

Aslan would advise:

[R]emember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.

The Silver Chair

And finally:

3. Act in love.

Do not be swayed by hatred or empathy alone, by merely opinionated words. Stand your ground on who God is and what He has said.

And in that stance, do not just sit in sadness, though we are called to weep with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Rather, be observant of the suffering around you with a prayerfully tender heart, and then do something, anything, as long as you are wisely led by the Spirit and reacting in love.

Isn’t this what Jesus did? Didn’t he serve those who were suffering in incredibly practical and intentional ways? He spoke, he touched, he wept, he walked, he served with every fibre of His being in love.

Isn’t this what He has called us to do?

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Paul in Galatians 5:13)

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. (David in 1 Chronicles 28:9)

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (Jesus in John 14:23)

So what now? What does this mean for us in simple terms?

Here’s the answer: look at Jesus. Follow His lead. Speak in grace, act in love, and be filled by the Spirit as you do.

That’s it. There’s the short answer to a long blog post I had no intention to write until a few hours ago as I sat at my computer and grew overwhelmed at the thought of suffering.

To be honest, maybe this was more of an exercise for myself, an attempt to decipher suffering and God’s role in it, along with mine. Maybe I was hurting for those who have hurt and wanted to understand how I should feel and what I should do.

Well, now I know. I will look to Jesus, the best role model I have, and look for ways to get my hands dirty in the suffering around me, whether that means praying for families of the victims of a shooting in Orlando or making dinner for a tired mama who is worn to the point of exhaustion. Either way, I am capable of doing more than mourn, and no matter how I serve, I can do something in the midst of suffering.

And that “something” is exactly what Jesus has called me to do.

 

When the Journey Is Wild

Credit to V-Nom (http://v-nom.deviantart.com/art/Journey-380667105)

Credit to V-Nom

Spring break.

Those two words are so pleasant to the ear of a stressed student.  Those words also mean that this girl finally feels guiltless in sitting down for an hour or two to meditate on Scripture, comprise a few meaningful thoughts, and craft a little message about life, without the urgent call to work through a mountain of homework.

I can safely say that this has been the most stressful semester I’ve yet experienced.  I know it could be much, much wilder, but the busyness has still had some significant effects.

I don’t need to go into every detail, especially because I’m not that busy, but here are a few of the things that have added to the craziness of this semester:

  • Sixteen hours of college courses (six of those for honors students, four for a Spanish course I’ve seriously considered dropping, and the other six for English undergrads);
  • A now year-plus internship for a local Christian student ministry;
  • A twice-daily, thirty-minute commute with a kind, but talkative carpooling mate;
  • The conviction as a believer to spend time with and to disciple younger Christians around me;
  • And the continuation of living at home with a large family, calling for my responsibility to help with chores and to hang out with younger siblings who yearn to do so.

Now, I should add two postscripts for the list above.  One, everything in that list is good.  I love the impact that college has had on me, the growth and knowledge I have gained from my internship, the relational training I have earned from my carpooling experience, the joy I gain from helping younger believers to grow, and the family with whom I am blessed to live.  All of these things together have been used for my good in transforming me into a more zealous woman for the glory of God (Rom. 8:28).

I should also add the fact that this list is nothing compared to that of so many other people in my life.  I’ve never had to pay for housing on my own (besides paying for my portion of the bills, as I do now), nor serve as the primary model in child-rearing and care-taking in a family, nor hold a full-time career; and I can’t imagine the stress of those things and more.  It makes me glad to not have those things on my list—at least, not yet.

Even so, my small list of responsibilities is taking a toll.  But I have no right to complain.  I know what I ought to do to alleviate this stress as I walk on this wild journey of life and academia, internships and human relations.

I need to have daily communion with the Ultimate Guide on this journey.

Credit to Sawuinhaff (http://sawuinhaff.deviantart.com/art/Journey-294938480)

Credit to Sawuinhaff

This communion is precisely what I need, and it is what I have not been doing as often or as intimately as I would like.  It seems that every evening (my preferred time for communion), there is either a paper to write or an assigned text to read, and so I place my time of focused prayer and meditative Scripture-reading on the back-burner.  And the following morning, when I could catch up on communion, I am either so tired that I press the snooze button or so busy that I work on more homework before heading to school.

But most often, I skip this quiet time because I lack the motivation to do so or because I feel guilty for having missed so many days already.  And even on the days when I do have communion with Christ, I am rushed and thinking of other things to do, the meant-to-be sweet and rejuvenating moments of reflection thus tainted by a tangled mind.  When this occurs, I am left feeling more tired and stressed than before, regretful of having attempted at all when my time of meditation was paltry and paper-thin.

This trend of either skipping or rushing through a quiet time with Jesus is an unwise one for me to have implemented.  Rather than moping about it, however, I want to change.  I want to consider how to become more disciplined in this area of my life and, in doing so, to rely on the power of God, rather than my own.

I have to rely on God’s power in this.  If I tried to rely on my own abilities in my drive for sanctification, I would be completely lost and helpless, living as a gasping trout on a bustling sidewalk in the city, a flower wilting on a mussy, wooden table, a dove in the church with two white, broken wings—unable to support others when I myself am unsupported and evaporating under the frailty of my own fruitless human independence.  I cannot walk this journey on my own, and I cannot find the motivation to daily dwell with Christ by my own means, but I can be like a child holding the hand of the guide on the path toward a higher home.

Let’s consider these ideas.  I’d like to reflect on my own experience, but also on the importance of communion with Christ and the journey to sanctification for all believers.  As we consider this, I’d like to back up my thoughts with two references: Psalm 43 and a video game called Journey.

First: this journey is a blessing, not a curse.

Credit to Sawuinhaff (http://sawuinhaff.deviantart.com/art/Journey-294938480)

Credit to Sawuinhaff

Life may feel crazy right now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.  In fact, it is often through these crazy and difficult times that God teaches us to rely on Him and to trust Him with our future.  If life always felt smooth and steady and easy to handle, we would never learn to draw our strength and sustenance from the sovereign, immutable God who has everything under control and in place for His glory.  Therefore, it is in these times that we learn to say, “You are God my stronghold” (Ps. 43:2), and to humbly admit that we need a Helper—a Helper who is constantly present, ready, and willing to vindicate and to rescue (Ps. 43:1).

So what do we do from here?  We have established that when life feels crazy, we feel needy, and we must shift our neediness to open dependence on God.  But how does this relate to communion with Christ?  Well, one way to admit our need for and dependence on God is to come to Him and to draw what we need from His Word and from conversation with Him.  It is good for us to have this time at least once a day so that our hearts and minds will be focused on things above (Col. 3:1-2) and so that we can anchor ourselves in truth in preparation for the wild and uncertain hours ahead.  This needs not happen only once in the course of the day’s events, of course, but at least once is good.  I, for one, am able to note a radical difference in my mind, heart, and stress levels when I have focused communion with God, as opposed to the days when I do not.

It should also be noted that while the journey to sanctification is difficult, it is so worthwhile.  To preface the reasons for it being so, I need to explain the source from which the pictures above have been taken: a video game called Journey.

Credit to Spyders (http://spyders.deviantart.com/art/Journey-292263844)

Credit to Spyders

In each of these pictures, you may see one or two red characters with long red scarves who are looking toward a looming mountain, a large distance separating themselves from the geographical feature.  In Journey, this mountain is the characters’ destination.  It is not revealed exactly why they are traveling to this mountain, but from several murals shown along the way, it is made clear that they are the last of their kind to go on this pilgrimage.  They are traveling on the same path as those who came before to reach their final destination—their last and perfect home.

These characters face many obstacles along the way.  Monsters, fierce elements of nature, and physical weariness are just a few, and the game does a stupendous job of making the player feel the strain and exhaustion of this journey.  Yet the game exudes the stunning worth of the journey, as well, depicted through the joy of fellowship between the two red characters and the beauty of the scenery around them.  It is a journey of strife, yes, but it is also a journey of great growth and awe.  It is a multifaceted experience, one which the characters will smile upon when the mountain is beneath their travel-worn and tired feet.

Journey, then, can be taken as an analogy for the slow, arduous, and beautiful trip which you and I are taking toward sanctification today.  And the journey is certainly worth all our effort.

Second: it is necessary to rely on God as we walk this path.

The white-cloaked angelic creature (source: gophoto.us)

Credit to moth-eatn

I have a choice in this.  I could mope about my lack of discipline in communing with Christ.  I could stay in a place of regret and say over and over along with the psalmist, “Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” (Ps. 43:2).  It would be easy for me to stay in this place, and it is where I have dwelt for far too long.

But no more!  No more moping or whining or grief or regret.  It is time for pursuit.  It is time for me to move on and to ask God for His aid—for me to ask Him to grant me motivation and development in time management skills.  So I choose to present my weakness to the Father and to ask in humility, “Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” (Ps. 43:3).  I choose to admit that I cannot do this on my own.

This is key, I think, for every Christian to come to admit.  If we cannot admit that we desperately need help, we will definitely not experience full and lasting satisfaction.  There is real peace that comes in recognizing one’s incapability and Christ’s complete power, in understanding our utter weakness and His omnipotent strength.  God is our Helper on this journey to the mountain (Psalm 121), and we must come to realize that we cannot reach the mountain by our own means, but by His grace alone.

This element of recognizing our need for help and guidance from God is present in Journey.  For example, in the picture above, it is obvious that the two creatures are different.  One is red, and the other white, and the white creature is taller than the red.  These white, angelic beings appear numerous times to the characters in red, most often when the red creatures reach various temples and sit down before stone altars.  When the red characters sit, the white creatures appear and impart visions, sharing important pieces of the red creatures’ history, explaining what happened to their people and hinting as to why they are now being called to travel to the mountain.  These visions are presented as murals, as seen below:

The act of the creatures’ sitting down at the altar to gain help, advice, and guidance for the journey ahead points to our need as Christians to do the same.  We, too, ought to “go to the altar of God, to God, [our] joy and [our] delight” (Ps. 43:4) if we are to find the strength we need.  Reliance upon our Heavenly Helper is key to moving forward with passion and purpose on this journey.

Third: it is good to form ties with those traveling to the same destination.

Credit to Ailovc (http://ailovc.deviantart.com/art/Journey-340727318)

Credit to Ailovc

Not only do we need to rely on God for sustenance and support, but we should also teach, rely on, and learn from fellow travelers who are likewise walking (or have walked) on the path to the mountain ahead.  Let’s focus on these varying kinds of travelers.

There are those who walk behind.  These are younger believers in the position for you to teach, perhaps being new in faith, lacking in maturity or discipline, or in need of a mentor.  You can build relationships with these Christians in order to help them to grow and to become the strong men and women they need to be.  God employs us as examples and heralds in these relationships, using us to encourage these ripening travelers to keep walking ahead and to show them that the journey is possible and that discipline is good.  You can show the fruit of communion to these walkers, and you can put what you’ve gained from this communion to good use.  You can share what you’ve learned on the portions of road they have yet to travel.

There are those who walk beside.  These are the believers who walk alongside you and can be relied upon, possibly being in similar situations in life, sharing similar levels of maturity, or in need of an accountability partner.  You can form ties with these Christians so as to draw joy and strength from fellowship as you both move forward to greater maturity, bringing each other to more intimate communion with God and walking along together to sanctification.

This is best exemplified in Journey, as the two red characters journey together to the mountain.  As a result of a function of the gameplay, these characters are forced to stick together, and if one falls back, the other must turn around to help.  In addition, one character can “feed” on the energy offered by the other, so as to be able to run and jump more quickly.  And lastly, the characters often communicate with each other through cheery chirps, seeming to encourage each other and to say, “Come on, let’s keep moving.”

Credit to Shattered-Earth

Credit to Shattered-Earth

This ability for the red characters to turn back to help their companion, to offer energizing support, and to encourage through communication is a wonderful model of a functional and God-glorifying relationship between believers.  This kind of mutual believer-to-believer relationship is one that is good for Christians to have with at least one other person in life, helping to ensure that they will have the diligence and zeal to press on for Christ.

And finally, there are those who walk ahead.  These are more mature believers from whom you can learn, who will likely be older, more mature, or maybe even deceased.  These are the people who can teach you helpful lessons from their experience on the road ahead and are those who will serve as mentors for you, teaching through either living conversation or through words shared from the past (via text, song, or other, more contemporary means).  These are the people who will remind you to look to Christ and to rely on Him for your own personal growth.

This is not to say that you cannot learn from those walking behind or alongside you.  However, I think it is crucial to form ties with all three sets of these believers as you travel, as these ties will provide necessary fellowship, accountability, friendship, and support.  These are the ties that will season you into a more capable traveler.

Fourth: communion is primarily a heart matter.

Credit to Shattered-Earth (http://shattered-earth.deviantart.com/art/Journey-347236785)

Credit to Shattered-Earth

This is important to note because it is often forgotten: our communion with Christ is primarily a matter of the heart, not of time or content or comparison to others.  Yes, how long we spend and what we study in the presence of God is important, and we can certainly learn from the habits of others’ communion, but as I’ve touched on above, what truly matters is the nature of our attitude.  We may be studying the most interesting aspects of theology, the most crucial characteristics of God, or the most enlightening parts of Scripture—and we may be doing this for hours at a time every day—but if we are not coming to God in humility, can we really expect to grow?

When you have a quiet time with Jesus, consider your attitude as you enter His presence.  Come to the altar with the intention to beg for His help and to “praise [Him] with the lyre” (Ps. 43:4).  Come to Christ knowing that you are nothing, that He is everything, and that only He can guide you on the journey to sanctification.

Fifth: we can look forward to the destination.

Credit to Oune (http://oune.deviantart.com/art/My-Journey-300958961)

Credit to Oune

I’ve said it before, but this journey is definitely worth it.  It is a trying and difficult experience, and it’s a little hard to me to believe right now that there are good things ahead, what with the craziness of life at this point.  But I can look at Scripture, and I can see that God is good and powerful and willing to help.  I can see that He loves me, a speck of dust, and that He is working for my growth and sanctification, as well as yours.  I can look at history, too, and see that God has supported every one of His chosen travelers—those who have traveled in the past, those who are currently walking, and those who will soon begin their journey to the mountain.

God is our Ultimate Guide, and the destination draws ever nearer.  So, “[w]hy, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 43:5).  Let’s you and I put our hope in Christ and praise Him together as we walk along.

By the way, the red characters made it to the mountain in Journey.  And you know, I think we’re going to make it, too.


P.S.  Want to read more about communing with Christ when life feels crazy?  Check out the article “Communing with Christ on a Crazy Day” from Desiring God, one of my favorite Christ-centric websites.

P.P.S. One more thing about Journey: there is no dialogue in the entirety of this game.  The only words spoken are the lyrics for “I Was Born for This,” a beautifully lulling song played during the end credits.

Credit to Keikilani (http://keikilani.deviantart.com/art/Journey-293660967)

Credit to Keikilani

This song features gorgeous bits of game play and translated lyrics (as the song is a collection of foreign quotes and poetry), reflecting on the idea of being born for a purpose, walking through the journey of life, and pushing forward in difficult times.  I’d say it’s certainly worth five minutes of your time, but I’ll leave that up to you.  ^~^  Click HERE to watch the video.

Not Special, Not Unloved, and Not the Point

IMG_7588.JPG

On Tuesday, I celebrated my twenty-first birthday. But for the latter part of the day, I’d more likely say that I pushed through it rather than celebrated it.

Granted, it was a really great day. I gave a presentation in one of my classes at Texas State University in San Marcos, was picked up from school by my parents to grab lunch, turned in a research paper, and was let out of my second class after only fifteen minutes. Afterward, I went home knowing that I had absolutely no homework to do because I had finished it all beforehand in order to relax on my birthday. So I watched some gaming videos on YouTube, ate tasty turkey dumplings made by my mom, opened presents, ate some delicious applesauce cake (as made by my eldest brother*), and watched more YouTube videos. But at some point during those evening activities, I realized I was feeling pretty low.

Why was I even sad? It was my birthday, for crying out loud! I had a loving and kind family with whom to celebrate and had experienced a good day at school. Yet, still, there was something that pulled me down, and it was this: a feeling of failure.

“I’m twenty-one,” I thought. “At least a quarter of my life is over. What have I done with it? What haven’t I done? What in the world am I doing here?” And then I started to compare myself to everyone from the past who had done great things when they were younger than me. At the age of twenty, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein… Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice… Elizabeth Barrett Browning published her first collection of poetry… Plato became a disciple of Socrates… Sir Isaac Newton started developing CALCULUS…

So yeah. I guess I had my first existential crisis.

I moped around until my dad asked if I wanted to watch a movie or a television show with him, and I mumbled something that implied that I wasn’t really sure. Knowing me better than I know myself, Dad asked what was wrong, and I said, “I’d feel so guilty if I watched a movie…” and divulged my guilt that I wasn’t nearly as accomplished as all the people I mentioned a moment ago. “I’m already twenty-one,” I said, “and there are tons of people who had already converted masses to Christianity, written books, and figured out all these huge things by the time they were my age.” It wasn’t even primarily that which bothered me. It was also that I recognized that I don’t know what I’m good at yet. Like Hiccup from the animated film How to Train Your Dragon, I don’t really know who or what I am at this point in my life. I haven’t discovered my true potential and abilities yet, and on Tuesday night, that was making me really sad.

When I told this to my dad, he said, “Kelly, you can’t do that to yourself. You aren’t those people, and that was a different time.” My mom, who was sitting nearby, said, “And you just turned in a research paper, and you’re going to college on a full scholarship!” I knew they were right. I was still a little disappointed with myself and what I hadn’t done in life, but I decided to watch a few episodes of Bones with my dad anyway and, later, went to bed.

When I woke up the next morning, I realized that the feeling of failure had stayed with me through the night, so I decided to stay in bed for a while and try to think things through. I started praying. “I just don’t feel like I’m doing much or have much worth. I’m just one more human being on this planet—one more person out of billions that will soon perish and fade from memory. I’m just like everyone else, and I’m going to die just like everyone who already has and soon will. I’m not that special, am I?…”

I chewed on that for a while. It was kind of a sad thing to think about. I mean, we’d all like to think we’re special—that we are distinguished or exceptional or extraordinary—but while we each have unique personalities, fingerprints, eyes, voices, and creative abilities, every human is essentially similar in their physical and mental and emotional capabilities. And, not to be too morbid, but each of us has an expiration date. In sum, we are not God, and we are not special.

But we are not unloved. I came to this conclusion almost immediately after the “not that special” train of thought had passed through my mind, and I don’t know if it was something from the Spirit, but, gee, was it helpful. “No,” I thought, “you’re not special. But God is. He loves and created you, and you have worth to Him. He will not abandon you or let you burn when you pass through the fire or allow you to drown when you pass through the waters. Your God is special, and He especially likes you.”

And then some verses that I’ve used for teaching at a youth girls’ church event came to mind:

1 But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life…

10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.

11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.

12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.”

Isaiah 43:1-4, 10-12

No, I’m not that special. And I hate to break it to you, but you’re not, either. But our God is special. He alone is sovereign and infallible and pure and immutable. He is loving and forgiving, and He is capable of bringing you and I and all others through wind, fire, water, and storms. He wants to make us his privileged kids and to grow and discipline us so that we will look and live more like our Daddy—like our perfect and special and totally unique Abba Father. We are loved by God, and that means something. It means it’s not about us; it’s about Jesus.

I’m still disappointed that I haven’t done more with my life and that I’m not more Christ-like or Christ-loving at this point. I wish that I could identify my abilities and purpose, and I would love to know what I’m supposed to do with my life. And, quite selfishly, I wish I didn’t have to be forgotten like so many other human beings have been already. But I’ve got to be okay with that. I have to start praying that I would understand that I’m not the point and that I would be both content with and passionate about God being the only One worth glorifying, worshipping, and remembering.

With that being said, I want this blog to be more focused on Jesus than on what we need to do to be more like Him. Being like Christ and loving Him is important, but will that ever happen if we fail to focus on He who “fill[s] us with joy in [His] presence” (Psalm 16:11)?

As I write this, I am praying that you, brother or sister, will join David in saying what he did in Psalm 16: “Jesus, apart from you I have no good thing. You alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.”

I am also praying that if you, like me, feel that you have wasted portions of your life thus far, you will recognize that you still have today and hopefully many more days ahead of you to focus on Christ and to glorify Him. Maybe you and I could have done more at this point, but that is over. The past is gone. What matters now is that we “[f]orget the former things [and] do not dwell on the past. See, [God is] doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18-19a). He is sanctifying us to be like Him, and He has blessed us with a little more time to worship Him.

So praise be to God! He is special and worth pursuing. I am His kid and His witness, and I will always be, even on the days when I am uncertain of my purpose. I am Christ’s, and because of His grace, I am growing and becoming more inclined to pursue His goodness. Yes, praise be to God for that and more.

 

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*I haven’t mentioned this in a while, but I should note that I am the oldest of nine children. There’s me (21), my sister Rachel (18), six boys (17, 15, 13, 11, 9, and 7), and my younger sister (5). So now you know!

 

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(Cover image found at http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fadsoftheworld.com%2Fmedia%2Fprint%2Fpetits_gateaux_cupcake_boutique_ring&ei=dGeDVMWaL42XyQS_gYKQBQ&bvm=bv.80642063,d.aWw&psig=AFQjCNGM70SriW5vIDQIJ3mRks-nvZQVcQ&ust=1417984140717366)

When You’re Fighting to Walk

Lee and Clementine from the video game "The Walking Dead" (Season One)

Lee and Clementine from the video game “The Walking Dead” (Season One)

A/N: This post contains major spoilers on season one of the video game “The Walking Dead”.  Also, it contains some of my personal testimony, so…bear with me.  My hope is that you’ll get something good out of it. 🙂

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Trials stink.  They really, really do, but you know, I think they’re worth it.  I’d like to tell you why, and I want to shed some light on what to do when you’re fighting to walk through them.

At the end of 2013 and the start of this year, I struggled with depression for about six months.  It wasn’t clinical and I was never suicidal, but it was really hard.  I would lay on my bed for hours with dark thoughts running through my mind, having no desire to stand up.  I had little interest in doing my homework, going to church, being around people…and this sounds weird, but I could feel something like a black hole in my chest.  It sucked away at everything and, although I never considered ending my life, I just didn’t feel like living.  I didn’t see any reason for it.  I was just kind of there, desperate to get out of the cycle and refusing to seek help from Christ.

I now consider those months to have been a trial, one that God put me through for my ultimate good (Rom. 8:28), but I was very different then.  I hated God.  I hated Him for what I thought was His abandonment.  I couldn’t feel Him anymore and I was so angry for that, so I refused to have any contact with Him.  I hoped instead that someone other than God would see the phony smile that I wore in public for what it was, but I don’t think anyone but Him ever did.  Even still, I wanted nothing to do with Christ.

And, yet, I wanted all of Him.  Having been a Christian for almost ten years, I recognized the constant conviction that I felt to resume that contact with God and my need for that.  I knew that I needed to get help from a believer I trusted because I saw that I would never get any better on my own.  So, I did.  I started to get counseling from a minister in my church who has a degree in Christian counseling and, only by the utter grace of Christ, I emerged from that period of depression after many weeks—not unscathed, but definitely refined.

That, I think, is the worth in trials.  We are refined as we are tested “in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10) and we can share about God’s grace in our life to others, as I aim to do now, so that Christ receives all the “praise, glory and honor” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Anyway, enough about me!  I think it’s time that I get to the point that I want to make in this post.  What are we supposed to do in the midst of trials?  How did I emerge from that dark, binding depression that held me for months?  How do we force ourselves to walk through depression, death, loss, humiliation, and everything else that is so, so hard?

Allow me to make one of my traditional references to something nerdy (and I’ll try to be more concise than I was in my last post).  In the vast world of entertainment, there are, as far as I know, three primary forms of the popular “The Walking Dead”—the television show, the video game, and the comic books.  I’d like to briefly discuss the video game, which, in its first season, tells the story of Lee, Clementine, and the group that fought to survive with them in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.

Clementine (left) and Lee (right) have a conversation

Here’s some background information:

  • Lee is a thirty-seven-year-old man who, at the start of the game, gets into a car accident in a forest.
  • Clementine (or Clem for short) is an eight-year-old girl who lives near that forest and whose vacationing parents have left her at home with a babysitter.
  • Though being in poor shape after the accident, Lee manages to escape from some zombies by heading to Clem’s house, where he finds Clem and realizes that her babysitter had recently “turned” (into a zombie).
  • Lee and Clem soon leave her house to attempt to find her parents in a far away town—Savannah, Georgia.  Along the way, they meet several people who travel with them on their way to Savannah.

Okay, that should suffice.  Just don’t ask me how the apocalypse started.  That was never really explained, but I’m okay with that because the game is otherwise fantastic.  It fits very well with our topic, too, because it’s all about a shared trial (a.k.a. trying not to get eaten by zombies) and the many ways the survivors deal with that as they fight to survive together.  The game can be pretty dark at times, as some turn to murder, cannibalism, and mental instability, but it is also a story of hope, and a great example of the way that we as Christians can handle trials.

I’ll share two quick ways that the survivors dealt with trials in “The Walking Dead” game.  In one instance, a married couple named Kenny and Katjaa discovered that their young son had been bitten by a zombie and would “turn” in the next few hours.  I truly can’t imagine how awful it would be to know that your only child would be gone so soon.  So, how did they cope?  Sadly, Katjaa chose to commit suicide.

Katjaa and her son, "Duck"

Katjaa and her recently bitten son, “Duck”

Suicide has been a big topic lately, what with the death of Robin Williams, and it is something that has affected my family personally, since my uncle passed away at his own hands last winter.  It’s a horrible thing, and I may write about it another day, but I’ll just say this for now—there is another option.  We can fight to walk by leaning on Christ.

Lee and Clem are a wonderful example of this.  Lee, a man who has never been a father, chose to help Clem find her parents because he recognized that she was alone and needed help.  And Clem, a girl who was at first suspicious of Lee, grew to trust, respect, and rely on him as they traveled together.  Lee taught Clem how to keep herself alive in a dangerous world—how to shoot, hide, run, and protect herself.  He showed her how to make every effort to keep a group together and how to sacrifice for those you care for.  At one point, he selflessly sought to rescue her when she had been kidnapped in Savannah, even after he had been bitten and would soon “turn”.  Clem would never have survived without Lee, the man who grew to love her as a daughter.

Lee and Clementine hug

Lee and Clementine share a hug

Sound familiar?  Does this remind you of the way God rescued, loves, and teaches us?  We need God just as Clem needed Lee, and we, like her, have to lean on the support and wisdom of one who is vastly more experienced than us.  This is how we can handle the trials in our life.  We lean on Jesus, we learn from His example, and we rely on His infinite strength because sometimes, that’s all we can do.

Check out these passages of Scripture.

[Jesus said,] ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

Matt. 11: 28-30

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.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Phil. 4:12-13

I said it before, and I’ll say it again.  It was only by God’s grace that I am no longer struggling with depression.  He changed my heart from one of anger and bitterness to one that yearned for Him, not me.  It was by His works that I finally came back into His yoke and into His arms, not by mine.  He does all the hard work.   I’m just here, living for Him and hoping to encourage you.

When you are fighting to walk through trials, climb into the yoke.  Find the rest you need in Christ.  Climb in, and you will find the strength to keep walking.