“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” James 1:2
We are innately built to flee from things that hurt. Avoiding pain is a natural defense. Stay away from the edge of the cliff, don’t step into oncoming traffic, watch out for hot stoves, don’t drink poison. It’s a matter of safety and self-preservation. But what about things that gouge holes into your heart, blur your focus and sit on your lungs? Things like failure, rejection, betrayal, … loss.
Just like hot stoves, we learn the sting of pain and then “get better” at avoiding it. Creating standards like: Run from conversations that make you feel small. Disappear when the tension rises. Stay away from brokenness. Get distracted. Don’t trust. Fill the air with pretense. Masks will save you. Don’t open up. Whatever you do, DO NOT share. Don’t care.
Better yet, play it safe, Don’t feel.
Recoiling from it all, we chalk it up to lessons learned and put up guards, warning lights and danger indicators. Pretending we’re put together, we hide, even from God.
I know. That was my plan and I executed it with precision for years.
But there’s a flip side to this protection plan. It has a compoundable cost. It’s never just one or two emotions you bypass. Humans can’t separate the experience of one feeling from all the others. (Brené Brown researched this profoundly in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”). To block out pain you also have to limit joy. To avoid rejection you also have to give up connection. To run from disappointment you’ll leave achievement in the dust. You can’t avoid one without loosing the other.
This is what I mean by dying. To live severed like this is a slow death, one that’s almost undetectable. It begins by silencing you with shame, then diminishing connection with others and finally extinguishing all hope.
Standing on the brink of extinction can change a person. It did me. In that raw and desperate place I took a really long look at my pain. Years of emotional and spiritual abuse had left some gaping wounds, but as I peered into them I noticed a genesis of sorts – it was a place to begin and I called out for a Savior.
At my most vulnerable, my most exposed, my most intense feelings was my most desperate call for Jesus. That messy space of vulnerability then became a place of communion. His brokenness met mine.
Immanuel – God with Us.
Beyond pretense. Away from all the expectations and stipulations faith became real. My brokenness was a place to see His love. My fears became a place to notice His promises. My wounds sealed by His. My pain became a gift of connection.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven authenticity of your faith … may result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7
For God so loved… that He gave.… John 3:16
I’ve been there. The isolated chair amongst rows of pews. Hollow words tapping on my numb heart. Just another Sunday, just another rhythm of handshakes, I’ll-Pray-For-You’s and Amens. I played my part. Did my dues.
But as I waded through the following weekdays I wondered – What is this all really about? A baby miraculously born of a virgin — something to go caroling about? A tragic death and mysterious resurrection to get dressed up for? Is this all for a someday entrance pass through pearly gates?
Sure I wanted my ticket onto Golden Streets where there is no pain and suffering. Who doesn’t want eternity in sweet bliss?
But this is real life and here I am really living it. It hurts. Its confusing. It’s hard.
Before I go on, you should know. I was 6 when someone first shared the Salvation message with me. And it was warm enough that day that I wasn’t wearing my snow boots- so I’m fairly certain that following Christmas was the first time I’d heard of Baby Jesus lying in a hay trough. And you should also know that I then spent the better part of 20 years “practicing” this Christian faith.
But that’s just it… practicing. Cause I was supposed to?
Until one day it all crashed in on me. (You can read about that life-altering moment here.) I had been playing the Christian part. Doing what I thought I was supposed to do, ‘cause well, that’s what good people do. But when I really look back at the go-through-the-motions girl she looks more like a mannequin than I care to admit. I was so afraid of pain, rejection and disappointment that I truly didn’t feel anything at all, not joy, and definitely not hope. Convinced I wasn’t anything special coupled with my fear of pain, I withdrew and disconnected. And you know what – it was killing me. But when I found myself bleeding to death, hemorrhaging hope, I saw it. All of it. The reality of my pain, all the loneliness and strangely, yet not-so- strangely, I also witnessed whole and true love.
God loved and He gave for me.
His gift was far more than a Holiday. Even more than a someday ticket into Heaven.
Immanuel, God With Us.
It is the gift of His presence.
His very presence in the midst of our chaos and pain. His very presence in the celebrations and the utter devastations of our lives. He is in the here and now. Bringing not just eternal life, but abundant life. Not a life full of feel-goods and material blessings. No, He didn’t promise us a lifetime of jaunts down easy street or even a treasure chest of wealth and provision. He didn’t promise us the glamorous life.
He promised us a real life. A life of vulnerability that gains courage. One of pain that finds true love. One of grief that awakens pure joy ~ Life.
His gift… is a life that matters in this moment and on through eternity, all through the gift of His presence.
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given…
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Thank you everyone for participating in this giveaway! It was so very fun to chat about how you study the word!! I pray your Holidays are filled with tender moments with the One sent to dwell with you.
Watch below to see who won!!
The room was dark as I tip toed out. I didn’t want to wake anyone, more so, I didn’t want to be seen. If only they could hear the raging debate inside my head. In my socks, I slipped down the hall to the stairwell and descended down the steps. It was eerily cold but I was determined — food could no longer fix this. Busyness didn’t silence the raging confusion. Not even my friends could settle it and there wasn’t a single preacher on the planet I trusted with these questions.
So I pressed on in the dim security light to study room 6.
The plain industrial carpet and single square laminate table accompanied by one black plastic chair spoke something about the 80’s. I stood there for a moment surveying the room, the stale silence amplified my fears but in a way, I liked the solitude. The battle I faced could only be settled in a one on one.
Just me and the Word.
I had heard enough. My childhood had been filled with Bible stories and I’d memorized John 3:16. I knew how to pray and when to raise my hands in worship. I could speak all the lingo and had played all the games.
But for what? A wounded soul? A broken family? I didn’t know who to listen to anymore, or what to believe.
Things had been said, values shifted, leaving my doctrine wadded into scraps and my theology in a tailspin. I was frantic for truth.
Whirling in the wake of mere mens words, I turned to the only place I knew. Despite my doubt and confusion, beyond my pain, I knew one thing – if the lies I’d been listening to had any truth to them they would be found here in His word. One of two things would happen here – the lie would be confirmed or the truth found out. Either way, I was going to know before my first class.
Flustered and angry I sat down at that laminate table and turned to the concordance in the back.
It was a rather simple question really, What does the Bible really say about ____? But what happened next blew my heart wide open. As I read scripture after scripture on that particular topic I not only found the surface answer, but I found a place to ground my soul.
I had been stuck in a wasteland, a desert of doubt, left to starve and shrivel up. The passages of scripture I read that day radiated off the page, shining light into the depths of my struggle. It was a divine experience, as if someone had taken my parched soul and planted it right next to a mountain spring of crisp water. I didn’t just find answers, I found manna.
Jesus experienced something very similar while drying up in the desert himself. In the midst of the trial He quoted Moses. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Jesus was starving, it had been forty days of nothing but water. I don’t know anyone who can go forty days without anything, not even juice, but the Son of God survived.
That word He quoted in that moment was something Moses had said a thousand years before. Moses had taken an entire nation into the wilderness. They left behind crops that grew fruit and grains, fields that fed livestock. Now they were out in the middle of no-mans land with nothing but goats milk and wild turkey. These people were starving.
But God showed up. Every single morning. Fresh manna (bread) miraculously appeared near their wilderness camp every day. Basket after Basket filled to the brim. It held them together, it gave them energy and no doubt reminded them that they were covered by the Lord God Almighty. It was more than bread, it was God’s presence. Moses witnessed every saving act, he shared every rhema word. The man knew what he was talking about. God spoke and Israel lived. (see Deut. 8:2-5)
God provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, He sustained them by His word. And later, that very God-inspired word of Moses provided hope and assurance for Jesus when He needed it most, in the wilderness.
His word provides for you too. The Word is alive and active for us today. Everything you need to live fully and freely in Him is found in that leather bound book. Yes, YOU, go ahead, test Him in this. His Word will fill up those desperate places you can’t even describe, it will answer your hardest questions, more so it will ground you in the midst of those doubt storms. And it will light the steps in front of you as you wonder where to go from here.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1,14
(psst: come back tomorrow where we’ll talk about HOW to study the Word- and maybe you’ll win a Journaling Bible!!)