Remembering the Cross When We Hurt

In our hurts, pain, broken-heartedness, loneliness, etc., we can feel rather isolated—even abandoned by God. However, feelings do not necessarily reflect reality. When we are going through grief or depression, I dare to say our feelings rarely reflect reality. During these times our feelings will often scream that we are forsaken, God has left us to writhe and die in our pain and misery—alone. But this is not the case at all, although our feelings will defiantly say otherwise.

One of the things that has always amazed me about the Gospel message is God has always “played by the rules.” Although He is God and sinless, He came into our fallen world as a Man, and experienced fully the effects of a world ravaged by sin. Being God, could He not have changed the rules for Himself?   Could He not have bypassed human experience in a fallen and broken world? But He did not, because He is a God of truth and faithfulness. Therefore, He experienced poverty, loneliness, rejection, racism, betrayal, grief, sorrow, pain, stress, disappointment, injustice, etc.

The writer of Hebrews states:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ 4:14-16

Some time ago I wrote the following song:

He Is Still Worthy of Praise

Even when storms rob us of sunshine,

    And our laughter turns to cries;

Even when our nights are the darkest,

    And there are no stars in our skies…

Bridge:

We look to Christ,

    The Holy One who cares;

In brokenness,

    We worship Him through tears…

Chorus 1:

(For) He is still worthy of praise;

He is still worthy of honor;

He is still worthy of worship;

He is still worthy of all!

(Repeat)

Even when our minds are afflicted,

    And questions scream with rage;

And our hearts are so deeply wounded,

    Feeling forsaken in some cage…

Bridge:

We look to Christ,

    And bend our knees in dust.

In spite of pain,

    We sing to Him with trust…

(repeat Chorus 1)

Through loneliness and friendlessness,

Through deep darkness and through sickness;

Through failure and tears, through raging fears;

Through broken dreams, and angry screams …

Through temptations, and frustrations;

Through broken-hearts, and worlds torn apart;

Through death of loved ones, when grief overcomes –

Through all the loss, we remember His Cross!

Even when we face disappointments,

    When dreams are smashed on rocks,

And we watch them sink under waters,

    As our hearts are crushed on the docks.

Bridge:

We bow our souls,

    And cannot even speak.

We want to run,

    We want to die,

    Yet to our God we cry … and we seek …

(repeat Chorus 1)

Chorus 2:

God You are worthy of praise;

You are still worthy of honor;

You are still worthy of worship;

Jesus, You’re worthy of all!

You are still worthy of praise;

You are still worthy of honor;

You are still worthy of worship;

Jesus, You’re worthy of all!

… Through all the loss, we remember Your Cross …

Jesus, You’re worthy of praise.

(Words & music by Geno Pyse)

Indeed, when we are going through hurts and loss, may we remember the cross. You are loved, and you are not forgotten. Your pain serves a greater purpose, if you will but continue to trust even though nothing seems to make sense.

The UN-selfish Need for Self-care

In my last post, “Stranger In a Strange Land,” it would appear I despised every moment of being a pastor, but this is not the case. There were times of joy, times of seeing the Lord move in certain situations, and friendships made. There were also lessons learned that seminary did not prepare me for.

One of the lessons I have learned is the need for self-care. Typically “self” comes with negative connotations of selfishness or self-centeredness; however, there is the part of “self” that represents our personhood, that God created in His image. This part of our being ought to be taken care of.

Self-care is important, whether you are a pastor or not. It is not selfish to take necessary times to rest/relax, to say “No,” time to grieve losses, to spend with family and friends, and to spend in healthy, reflective solitude.

Our society, as well as church culture, views busyness as a virtue—a true mark of spirituality. Rest and relaxation are considered frivolous and lazy, as though God’s kingdom is dependent on us and will collapse if we dare take time to rest! I once read of a pastor who was going to take some time off. A lady quipped, “The devil never takes a day off.” The pastor wisely responded, “The devil is not my example to follow.”

Certainly the Bible condemns slothfulness and being unproductive. However, what does Jesus say? Religion often produces restless activity. Jesus bids the people:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:27-30 (ESV)

There are times Jesus sends us out to minister to others. However, He also calls us to rest.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:30-31

Everything we do is to be in relationship with Christ:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. ~ John 15:4

Jesus does not call us to busyness, lighting the candles at both ends. He calls us to abide in Him. Our lives can only bear fruit by abiding in Him, otherwise we are simply spinning our wheels and wasting precious fuel.

There are many times it is not only okay, but one must say, “no.” There are individuals who will either suck the very life out of you, or else constantly have you on the go. Certainly there are occasions you must allow the lives of others to intrude (e.g., emergencies, hospitalization or loss of a loved one, someone talking about suicide, etc.). However, there are many non-emergencies that can wait until another day. For example, you get a call from a friend one night and they tell you their spouse was in an collision and is in intensive care. This is a time to drop everything to be with your friend in a crisis. Another day a friend calls because they have been having “bad dreams.” Depending on the situation, this might be appropriate to schedule time for coffee over the weekend. Still, someone might want you to get involved because their sibling is having marital problems. I would say in most cases, this would be an appropriate time to say, “no.”

Take time to grieve. Especially someone in a caretaking profession, one can be so busy trying to take care of others, he fails to take time to grieve his own losses. Instead, he stuffs his feelings and hurts somewhere within. In due time, however, (as I experienced the hard way) these will eventually cause a person to either explode or implode.

Take time to be with your family. Your spouse and children need to know you love them, and that they are valuable to you. When I was the senior pastor of a church, I was told by a lady that sometimes God will have a minister sacrifice his family for the sake of a church. This not true. No where in the New Testament is a person called to sacrifice his family for the sake of ministering to a church. As one pastor correctly advises other pastors, “If you save the whole world but lose your family in the process, you have lost it all.”

Finally, take the time for healthy solitude. Note, there is a difference between this an unhealthy isolation.  Healthy solitude is necessary time to get away from people, noise, and distractions in order to pray, reflect, and listen. Throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus numerous times going off by Himself early in the morning or in the evening to get alone with the Father. If Jesus felt the need to do this, we had better recognize our need!

I suppose there will be some who will not be convinced that self-care is not selfish. Let me ask, how will you be of any use if you are sick? When I was in the pit of my depression, I was of no use to anyone. It was not until I received help from others, then becoming more intentional about self-care, that I began of being more help to my family and others.

Take care of yourself. You are worth it, and your loved ones are worth it! By taking care of you, you can then be better at taking care of those you love and care about.

You Are Not Alone

IMG_1444

Light in the Darkness for Weary Travelers

Depression is a strange terrain. Perhaps you are there now. For me, when I was in the depths of my depression, the feelings of loneliness bit like a frigid Minnesota winter night, although people could be all around me. Like the old Casper, the Friendly Ghost cartoons, I desired to connect with others but could not. At times, I felt as though I was literally invisible.

As such, crazy thoughts would begin to churn in my mind like clothes in a dryer, going round and round. “Why am I here? Does my life really matter? Would anyone really miss me if I was gone? Would anyone even notice?” Oh, believe me, there were plenty of seemingly legitimate reasons why my life did not matter, etc. I have known the sting of betrayal, and the wounds of being forsaken by some.

I felt like screaming when persons would say things like, “I know how you feel,” because they did not know. They had no idea what I was feeling. I knew some meant well, but their words were like salt in an opened wound. I felt as though I was existing in the realm of the dead—not dead, but not living either.

When I was in the depths of my depression, I felt as though I was in a deep pit, surrounded by darkness.  I could not climb out of it. I felt forsaken by people and by God. During this time I experienced a lot of confusion, fear, and anger. Honestly, I just wanted the Lord to kill me and take me home. “I came. I tried. I failed. Kill me now, Lord.”

How does a person get to such a place? There is no single reason for depression. Perhaps you can relate to the feelings of the prophet Elijah:

And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers …. I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” ~ 1 Kings 19:4, 14 (ESV)

Perhaps you are experiencing depression right now. I am not going to criticize you or accuse you of lacking faith. I am not going to tell you I know how you feel, because I do not. I only know how I felt, and it was a hellish experience that I do not wish upon anyone. What I will say is this: I know the loneliness can  be crushing, like a ten ton boulder. Perhaps you are surrounded by a deep darkness. May the words from the prophet Micah be of hope for you:

I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light…. I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7-8 (CEV)

You might be sitting in a “dark night of the soul,” but the light of the Lord has not been extinguished. At a coming hour His radiance will be bursting at dawn. Perhaps God seems but a flickering star a billion miles away—even so, His presence surrounds you, whether you “feel” it or not. And know that you are loved and needed. By your parents, your spouse, your child(ren), your pet(s).

While you might feel alone in this experience, know that there are others experiencing something similar. Elijah felt as though he was alone, but God tells the prophet of seven thousand others, like himself, had not bowed their knees to Baal (see 1 Kings 19:18).

I know the feelings are horrible. You might feel embarrassed for feeling this way, but you are simply feeling your humanity in a fallen world. I know this blog is not a cure for depression; however, I hope you will know that you are not alone. I might not be by your side, but please know I am with you in spirit. Know that God is sending people to you, though even strangers they might be, to give a warm smile. This might seem insignificant, but many of these persons are struggling with similar feelings. Most importantly, God is with you. His presence is not dependent on your faith or feelings. Continue to talk to Him, regardless if He seems absent (He is not). Continue to pour your heart to Him. In due time, as He did with Micah, he will lead you to the light.

I hope God will use this blog to give you strength to fight through another day; and regardless of your feelings, you are not alone.