Suffering as a Great Teacher

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“Many of us are tempted to think that if we suffer, the only important thing is to be relieved of our pain.  We want to flee it at all costs.  But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently.  We become willing to to let it teach us.   We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or a curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfillment.  Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of the One who can heal.”  –Henri Nouwen Turn My Mourning into Dancing

Pain?  Well, it sucks.  Physical/Emotional/Mental/Spiritual?  The whole family of unwanted visitors kinda sucks to have to greet at the doorstep of your heart and soul.  Once they show up, our instinct is to bid our time until they leave.  They are an obstacle to be avoided, a distraction to be waited out . . . rid ourselves of pain as soon as humanly possible.

Aren’t we Americans?  Aren’t we entitled to lives of life, liberty and the pursuit of all things happy?  We are consumers in this great mythology of the American Dream.  We consume attention, affection, influence and power . . . we in no way want to be denied.   We desire a life where we have needs and the world exists to meet them.  We are the fuzzy center of the world’s great resources, our satisfaction depends on it.  Mourning makes us poor, nothing American about that I don’t think.  Through pain-avoidance, we seek the easy victories, “growth without crisis, healing without pain” (Nouwen).  In pain avoidance, we may be ignoring one of life’s greatest teachers.  Suffering may have the marrow of life your bones need.

The big-boy lesson is not whether unkind things happen to us, but rather what does our ‘adulting’ look like for how we respond.  How do we relate to life’s circumstances?  If we can’t negotiate the terms of our suffering, then how do we choose to walk in them?  Do we rebel against the process, seek to avoid the pain, hole up and bid our time til the storm passes or look for the easy button?  Or do we submit to the process for the learning that it may bring?  Can we find the humility to recognize our limitations and our smallness in a cosmos that is vast and yet personal?

The questions in my suffering often are:  What did I do wrong?  What’s the matter with me?  I become uberly self-critical, unkind towards myself and I lose the space of gratitude for the things I do have.  I could ask the question:  What can I learn in this?  How can this circumstance be a great teacher in my life?   Functionally I can greet the guest of Suffering differently and from a different place.  Not as a victim or an accuser of myself, but as a constant learner of wisdom and as one who is forever on a quest for a deeper experience of humanity.

Living graciously, gratefully and open to the learnings of life’s circumstances, I become free in my suffering and not a slave of it’s all encompassing powers.  The freedom of resurrection doesn’t come by avoiding the cross, it comes from the courage to embrace the cross differently.  The humility makes us small, but as we yield to the Great Teacher of Suffering, she makes us into something more beautiful and more free.  Don’t run from it, embrace it.

What you look at, You become

looking-glass-721“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” -Matthew 6:22-23

Part of Jesus’ genius teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is the stuff I’ve long believed to be secrets to the universe and humankind. It is against our nature typically, which is what makes the teaching genius.  Part of our design is that we are receptors of sights, sounds, smells and personal experiences that affect us and develops our inner world.  Our outer world directly influences our inner world.  What comes in is what goes out.  What we look at and pay attention to, becomes us.  We are products of our gaze and desire, it is those things that we worship.  So what are you looking at?  It is that thing that you worship and are becoming.

This past US election got me wired up, wrapped up, stressed out, anxiety driven and despondent.  The rhetoric, the hatred, the lowest forms of dialogue, the 24/7 frantic news streams, Facebook preaching, Twitter sewage etc.  It all fascinated me from a historic and culture perspective how we got here as a nation but it’s turned into its own animal.  The anxiety of the drama has become too expansive for me, as I’ve taken it in it has become me.  I’m turning off my gaze into these melodramas and debates, they don’t have the life I’m looking for and I don’t want that crap in my heart.  What I look at and pay attention to, I become.

I need to look at goodness, hope, generosity of spirit, kindness, mercy, freedom and love of neighbor.  Those are the things I want to become so those are the things I’m looking at and looking for today.  Join me.

If Mortals Die, will they Live Again?

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“If mortals die, will they live again?  All the days of my hard service, I will wait for my release to come.  You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.” -Job 14:14-15

I was first introduced to this set of verses from the ancient Scriptures from my good friend, Mark Palmer, who had verse 14 tattooed in Hebrew around his wrist like a bracelet.  “If mortals die, will they live again?”   For him, it reminded him of his place in life when he woke in the morning.  That he was mortal and God was God.  This gave context to his life.  Humility and Reverence gave his life structure.  When his wife died at the age of 26 with stomach cancer, this piece of Hebrew poetry from Job drove him deeper in understanding of his place in this dramatic cosmos we call life and then death.  He contemplated if mortals die, will they live again?

Not more than 2 years later, he himself contracted colon cancer.  As his body emaciated from the tumors and the results of poisonous chemotherapy, the hebrew tattoo morphed in it’s shape but it still cried out in full depth, “If mortals die, will they live again?”  Still grieving his young bride, he faced his own oncoming death at the age of 30.  Our last time together, about a week before he passed, he stared at that tattoo and said something like, ‘Marshall, this has real meaning.’  If mortals die, will they live again?  March 27, 2006, Palmer as a mortal died, challenging all of us left, does he live again?

You can go through all of your life and never ask this question.  You can graduate with degrees, you can work jobs, earn paychecks, pay bills, attend parties, seek happiness, raise families, complain, value temporary things, spend your life earning $ to ‘comfortably’ retire so you can collect shells on the beach, never experience contentment, lust for more etc. etc.   Dear mortal, in the end, is this a big enough idea?

If mortals die, will they live again?  The answer to this question gives your life context and meaning.  To this day, it still haunts me.  God is God, I am mortal.  We are not equals.  Though I don’t understand Him completely, I know my place. He alone holds all wisdom and blessing, I yield myself to it today.

May this question haunt you, too.  If mortals die, will they live again?

peace, Chris

 

Capable of Loving the ‘Other’

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” Les Miserables

Our world is amuck with physical and verbal violence towards the ‘others’.  The news cycles and headlines are intended to keep the drama going of one group vs. another.  They profit off of our dissent.  Anti-democrat, Anti-republican, Anti-muslim, Anti-christian, Anti-western world, Anti-left, Anti-right, Anti-immigrant, Anti-nationalist, Anti-globalist, Anti-police, Anti-minority, Anti-gun, Anti-gun control . . . you name the explosive issue, the media exploits the divisions as a kind of control over their profits.  What is lost is the best of humanity.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m for peace and I live under a command and a calling to love my neighbor as myself. All of my neighbors.  All of my ‘others’.  Those who love me and those who hate me, I cannot get out from under the command to love my neighbor.  All of them.  I have a calling to love my enemies, to bless and not to curse.  I don’t have a choice.  If I claim to follow Him, but hate another, I am a liar.  The ancient Scriptures don’t leave any wiggle room there.  It breaks my heart to live amongst the violence of our actions and our words, this is not the way it was intended to be.  We can be more than this, but it requires living out of a different center.

The reality is I nor we are capable of this kind of love.  It is God initiated.  I John 4:7-10 outlines the possibilities of our capabilities:

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” 

 So I am getting more intentional with my time, attention and influences.  I am outlining the sources that I am giving time and attention to that give input to my heart, mind and soul which lead to my behavior.  I want peace so I need to be filled with peace.  I want love for all so I need to be receiving the kind of love that is capable of loving all, including my enemies.  If I want to see the ‘other’ and love them, I need to see them as the face of God.

This life is short, it won’t last long.  Peace and love is a worthy cause in a world of violence, it’s the best intention of humanity.  Let’s be good neighbors to one another today.

peace, Chris