Leaving the Judgment Seat for the Ash Heap

The post below is from a Wednesday night devotional I gave recently at our church. Because it was the same day that I wrote my last blog post, similar thoughts were on my mind when I wrote the devotional. It isn’t really part two, but it is a related entry into this blog. You might say it deals more generally with being a friend to those who are hurting and does not focus only on chronic pain. I hope it is an encouragement to you!

1/30/19 – Wednesday Night Devotional

I’ve been reading through Job as part of my preparation for this current sermon series.  But since the series focuses on Job’s questions, we don’t get to deal much with his friends, other than noticing when their insensitivity causes him to ask even more despairing questions. Job isn’t the happiest of topics, but I think it is a vitally important book.  I also read C.S. Lewis’ book A Grief Observed, today.  It took me about an hour.  I tell you that because it is well worth your time, but it is a little like Job; it is painfully honest.  I was also working on a blog today for my chronic pain support ministry.  The post was directed toward those who support those in chronic pain.  So, all this to say, that pain and grief have been on my mind, not the cheeriest subjects, but practically I want to say something today about what makes a good friend and what doesn’t to those who are suffering. 

Job’s friends do him no good in his misery after the first seven days.  When they begin to talk, they push him closer to the edge of despair.  They might be the original inspiration for the phrase, “With friends like you, who needs enemies.”  But it too easy to paint them as bad friends and pretend that we are not just like them in some ways.  They weren’t actually bad friends in some important ways. 

First of all, they came to Job in his need.  Many “friends” would avoid Job at all costs.  But they interrupted their busy lives and they traveled to Job.  Apparently, they were willing to leave their families and concerns behind to be with Job indefinitely.  They sit with him a week before they say anything of substance.  Most of us would get impatient with silence after ten minutes. 

When they speak, they make two horrible errors.  One is an instinct gone awry.  The other is caused by bad theology.  The instinct is to want to fix someone.  They see Job in horrible suffering.  They cannot just let that be.  They think they can fix Job with their good advice.  They lose the perspective of the ash heap and instead now assume the perspective of a benevolent judge.  We know what is wrong, Job, and if you will but listen to us, all will be well.  Their quest to fix Job becomes more important than Job himself. 

Their bad theology comes from the prevailing thought of the day.  If something terrible has happened to you, then it can only be because you deserved it.  They think Job is hiding a big secret and that if he would only come clean, then God would restore his fortunes.  They are so convinced of this that they can consider no other options.  Their fix-it instinct combined with bad theology leads to alienating Job and almost does what losing everything and suffering terrible pain could not do…sever Job’s relationship with God. 

I’m sure no one here has ever made one of these errors!  I had a good friend

Image result for be compassionate not judgmental

who grieved the loss of his dog like it was his child.  Even allowing for the fact that he had no children, I felt like the pity party had gone on long enough.  So, I wrote him a long e-mail about how his affections were misplaced and revealed he really loved his dog more than God, or something to that effect!  I was trying to fix him.  I was presumptuous with what I thought I knew about his relationship with God relative to his dog.  I was wrong. 

We are better friends from the ash heap instead of the judgment seat.  Jesus left the judgment seat for a cross and told his friends, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13).  Job’s friends started out that way but lost their way.  Let’s be a friend to those who are hurting that resembles Jesus more than Job’s friends. 

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Loving Those in Chronic Pain

My ministry normally focuses on saying an encouraging, faith-building word (hopefully) to those struggling with chronic pain. I don’t often address those outside that circle, but I want to do so today. My intended audience, today, are those of you who love someone in chronic pain. There are a few things I want to say to you that hopefully will be beneficial to all involved.

First of all, we (those of us dealing with chronic pain) are not different than you. Everyone has pain in life and pain comes in many forms. Do forgive us if sometimes our “you can’t possibly understand” attitude comes off as elitist, as if we belong in a special category of suffering. Pain, of all kinds, is always deeply personal and no good comes out of trying to “one-up” each other over the kind of pain we are dealing with, like two old war veterans dueling by showing off old battle scars!

However, something profound has happened to those of us in chronic pain. We eventually lose our sense of remembering what it was like to not be in pain. I think this is what we aim to express when we saying something like, “You don’t understand what I am going through.” That sentiment is born out of the frustration of how difficult it is to relate what we really feel, not just the sensation of constant pain, but the nearly inexpressible ways that our fight with pain has impacted everything else.

Also, please forgive us when we inadvertently diminish your pain. When your back hurts, it isn’t somehow lessened because mine has hurt every day for the last few years. I mean that sincerely. If anything, I should be growing in empathy for any kind of suffering of those close to me. It is a knee-jerk reaction, that my first thought is about myself when I hear about your pain instead of showing concern for you. I noticed that the “we” fell out of my writing in this paragraph and the “I” became prominent. I know I cannot speak for all those with chronic pain when discussing my failings, but I have a suspicion that most fellow spoonies can relate.

Job on the ash heap

We do love those who share this painful journey with us. Truthfully, we couldn’t do it without you. I do hope you will believe us when we tell you we are hurting. It is by nature hard to tell people that you love “no” and a burden to disappoint others. So, please know that when we tell you that we can’t do something that we have measured that decision before we declared it.

And above all, please do not try to fix us by encouraging us to be mentally tougher, or trying the latest remedy you read on the internet, or heard from your hair stylist. There is no magic cure for those who are chronically ill. We have spent countless hours with doctors and other medical professionals trying to get our lives as manageable as possible. We probably have tried various diets (and some may have helped). We have learned how to be resourceful and seek out information that we need. You are very, very unlikely to possess the key to our better health, no matter how well giving up diet sodas worked out for Aunt Suzie.

We don’t need to be fixed, but we do need your love and support. We need you to believe us and listen to us. Every once in a while, we may just need to vent or cry a bit about how difficult our life has become. If you want to help, join us on the ash heap and cry with us a while. We won’t stay in that state forever. We know how to pick up ourselves up and carry on. We’ve been doing it for a while now.

Sometimes this is all we need to know!

We love you and we want to support you. We need your love and support. If we never had to deal with chronic pain, that would still be true. It isn’t truer because of chronic pain, but we may be more aware of the need we have for each other. And in that, there may be a blessing. Let’s be sure we don’t waste it!

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“Being” Over “Doing”

I’ve already heard from some of my local friends that the gyms are packed with folks determined (for now) to make 2019 a healthier and more fit year. I also have a gym membership and I confess I haven’t been since November. I do have my own goals of losing weight (an annual ritual) and I would like to get back into the gym, but I haven’t made any resolutions to that effect.

Having chronic pain may rule out too much physical activity and your energy is dedicated to just surviving each day. If you have a disease like me (ankylosing spondylitis), exercise can help you manage symptoms and slow down the progress of the disease. For others, anything beyond just getting out of bed and moving minimally throughout the day is just out of the question.

Whatever your goals or resolutions, be kind to yourself this year! Americans place too much value on doing instead of being. Our attitude on how we value ourselves and others can be summed up by the phrase “what have you done for me lately?” Just recently, I realized that some acute stress was piling up, and through prayer, I discovered that all the stress was related to feeling pressure to get things done. I was reminded that my value is in not what I do or don’t do, but who I am. Those who love me, see me for who I am, and not just what they expect from me. The stress levels went down.

When a baby is born, her parents love her before she has done anything. If a tragic disability takes away that child’s ability to do anything in her future, the parents love her still. God loves us like parents who fawn over their newborn. And when we are not able to do everything that we expect of ourselves, not to mention what others expect, God does not love us any less!

I am not saying that God places no expectations upon those who follow them for how they live their lives. But these expectations are usually related again to who a person is, what their character reveals, not simply what they do. If you are a dishonest person, then that is certainly a concern to God. However, if a disease robs you of your production at home, in the workplace, or even in church ministries, you do not cease to be who you are.

Make some resolutions if that suits you. But maybe you should also resolve to value yourself for who you are and not simply what you do. That might take some pressure off and 2019 might pass by with less stress and more peace!

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Christmas With Chronic Pain

Merry Christmas! I don’t intend to write a long blog, as this is a time for family for us all. I did want to share a brief devotional I wrote for a support group on Facebook. I am just going to copy and paste it here. I do think it is meaningful, because if we believe the story of God coming to us in Christ to embrace all the suffering of humanity and to give us victory over even death, then we have much to find merriness even in the midst of pain. So, Merry Christmas…the devotional is below.

I want to begin my meditation from Heb. 2:9:

9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

None of us chose our suffering, but Jesus chose his for all of us. I need to remember that when my pain seems unending. No, my pain is chronic, but it is not eternal.

He chose to taste death for everyone. Maybe Jesus didn’t have chronic pain from disease, but he embraced pain and suffering and even death for the salvation of us all. None of us have suffered as Jesus did on the cross and he suffered that way so that our suffering would one day come to an end. As you think about Jesus as a baby in a manger, remember he was there because he chose to be, knowing full well what that choice would bring him. Jesus is “Immanuel”, God with us, and that means a lot to those who are hurting.

How does knowing that Jesus chose to embrace suffering and death help you deal with your own suffering?

How is Jesus Immanuel today? How is he with us?

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Chronic Pain — Hot Links 12/11/18

I’ve been away from my blog for a while.  It wasn’t a planned break, just the result of an unusually busy time colliding with holiday trips and such.  Anyway, I hope that you had a good Thanksgiving and are ready for Christmas…oh, and 2019 is around the corner!

But I’ve been doing some reading and I want to share with you.  Here are some of the latest links relevant to chronic pain and faith:  

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The God Who Reverses Our Pain

Jesus gives a memorable parable in Luke 16 and it is striking that it is the only parable where a character is given a name.  Normally, Jesus’ parables included a simple description of a character, a Samaritan, a son, a father, a farmer, etc.  So, it is striking to read about “Lazarus” in Luke 16 and he appears opposite another unnamed character simply described as a “rich man.”

Later in the parable, both Lazarus and the rich man have reached their afterlife and they find themselves in opposite circumstances to each other and to what they were accustomed to in life.

The rich man is in torment and experiences an unquenchable thirst.  He looks across a gulf and sees Lazarus by Abraham’s side and begs for Lazarus to dip his finger in the water and be allowed to place it upon the rich man’s tongue.  Lazarus is not permitted to relieve the rich man because of the chasm between them, but also because their opposite circumstances reflect divine judgment.  Abraham tells the rich man, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”  rich man and lazarus

Lazarus had suffered greatly in life.  He was infested by sores on his body and had suffered such humiliation that even dogs licked his sores.  All of this is happening in full view of the rich man who enjoys his life of luxury without a second thought for Lazarus.  The message of Jesus’ parable is not hard to discern.  To ignore the suffering of others while indulging in luxury is a damnable offense.  If we will not take pity on others, then we will not experience pity in the life to come.

There’s another aspect of this parable, though, I believe is important.  It is concerning what God does for Lazarus.  Though it is a parable, there have always been a lot of Lazarus’ in the world.  Lazarus is someone who likely suffered from some kind of chronic condition, and in his world compromised health meant poverty, and poverty meant a life of begging.  And there may have been many times that Lazarus wondered if God cared about him and why God had allowed these things to happen to him.  God might have seemed disturbingly silent when he cried out to God for help.

And yet here is Lazarus at Abraham’s side being comforted for eternity.  Lazarus is enjoying a glorious new reality that far outweighs his suffering for the few years he was on earth.  Suffering is never easy.  Pain is still pain.  In the midst of it, it seems never-ending.  The story of Lazarus is a good reminder that pain is not eternal, at least, it doesn’t have to be.  God will remedy all that was wrong in our lives in the life to come.  God didn’t forget Lazarus even when everyone else did.  He knew his name and knows yours too.  welcome home

I am not saying that suffering is an automatic ticket to heaven.  By the way, being a rich man (or woman) is not an automatic ticket to hell (thank God!).  Eternal life is a gift given through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial offering of himself on our behalf.

I don’t know what you believe about Jesus, but what I hope is that if you are a person that is suffering in this life due to chronic pain, illness, and other agonies, that you realize that there is a God who comforts.  We have a God who restores.  Even in this life, the one who suffered more than all (Jesus) will walk with you.  But let’s not forget that none of us have to suffer forever.  Our God reverses our plight and gives us a glory that will one day make us forget our pain.  As the apostle Paul once wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

 

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Chronic Pain Hot-Links 11/7

For this week’s hot-links, I wanted to share a blog that is specifically for those who are loving/supporting someone with chronic illness.  Let’s look a great blog with many compassionate and helpful posts.  https://calledtowatch.com/.

This next one is a typical list of new things you have to come to grips with when you have a chronic illness.  It seems a little bleak, but the ending makes it worth it, reminding us that we are not our illness.  https://thoughtcatalog.com/brittney-lindstrom/2017/12/7-things-no-one-tells-you-about-life-after-youre-diagnosed-with-a-chronic-illness/?utm_term=brittney-lindstrom&utm_content=buffer3eff4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

This will be a light week for hot-links.  I read several other articles/posts but just didn’t find a lot worth passing on.  This last one I share because it illustrates the dangers of making people feel like their faith is defective if they are not healed through a season of prayer.  Obviously, that is not what this ministry emphasizes (healing in this life very well may not come, please see Should You Keep Praying For Healing? for my perspective).  This post is a cautionary tale of how faith can become a casualty of the combination of chronic illness and bad theology.  https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/122617868/posts/1228

Since we are light on links this week, I will leave my “devotional” thoughts from last night’s Broken and Mended support group meeting.  In these thoughts, I try to articulate a way for faith not only to survive but to deepen and grow in the midst of chronic pain.

From Broken and Mended Meeting on 11/6/18

It is not a new occurrence that sometimes people give up their faith in the midst of pain or grief.  Maybe they expected that believing in God would lead to an easier life.  Maybe they were exposed to some version of faith that promised health and wealth as long as you believed enough.  People who are exposed to such toxic theology, often feel abandoned by other believers and even God when suffering comes their way.  Or maybe they blame themselves, with the help of others, for their suffering.  If only I believed more…Maybe I’m being punished for not being good enough.

Of course, many people didn’t believe in God in the first place and suffering (personally and generally) is confirmation that there cannot be an all-powerful God and an all-loving God in this universe.  Suffering is definitely a challenge to your faith.  Or maybe we could say, “Suffering will show your faith for what it is.”

All people are welcome here, even people without faith.  People of other faiths are welcome as well.  The faith that this ministry embraces is faith in Jesus Christ, the one who suffered and died for us at the cross.  It is strange that some many “Christian” expressions of faith are so disconnected with the Jesus who suffered and who called upon his people to “pick up your cross and follow me.”  Jesus never promised a suffer-less experience.  He only promised to be with us and was convinced that ultimately that would be enough.

Authentic faith doesn’t need to deny suffering or even misery.  Authentic faith accepts reality.  If we are hurting, then that is reality.  But authentic faith doesn’t try to make the very existence of God dependent on living a life of ease!  God is much bigger than all of us, even the whole human race collectively.  He is intimately concerned about us, but he is also infinitely bigger than us.  God doesn’t cease to be just because you ceased to believe in him.  He wants you to believe in him because he really is there and can help you through your pain.  He can even use the fires of your pain to forge you into a deeper and impactful person.

Allow me to share a passage that helped me to see my painful experiences as meaningful, as something formative.  Rom. 5:1-5:

 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 boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

 I don’t mean to say that there are many days that I wished I just didn’t hurt.  Longing for a pain-free existence is natural and helps us to anticipate a better world to come in God’s kingdom.  But right now, I hurt.  And so, the question is “does my pain mean anything or not?”  If there is no god, then it is meaningless.  It has no redemptive power.  But if there is a God who loves me, who sent his Son to die for me, who is redeeming me, and who has given me a future, then my pain can even be useful in creating a heart for God and a heart for others.  It gives me the power to say that what I am experiencing will not be wasted.  We don’t often feel like glorying in our suffering, but we can in Christ.  Not for suffering’s sake, but for what suffering produces, perseverance, character, and hope.  Hope in God’s love that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Not only does my suffering not cancel out my faith, but it informs, deepens, and shapes my faith.  It makes me a better person, a person who sees the pain in each of you and feel the empathy we share as fellow pain warriors.  Let God make your pain count.  You are going to hurt either way; it is much better to hurt with God than without.

 

 

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