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I am slowly working through D.A. Carson’s, “For the Love of God,” and today’s reading (like most of the other ones!) is worthy of reflection:
“THE STORY IS TOLD of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the most influential preachers of the twentieth century. When he was dying of cancer, one of his friends and former associates asked him, in effect, ‘How are you managing to bear up? You have been accustomed to preaching several times a week. You have begun important Christian enterprises; your influence has extended through tapes and books to Christians on five continents. And now you have been put on the shelf. You are reduced to sitting quietly, sometimes managing a little editing. I am not so much asking therefore how you are coping with the disease itself. Rather, how are you coping with the stress of being out of the swim of things?’
Lloyd-Jones responded in the words of Luke 10: ‘Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20 – though of course Lloyd-Jones would have cited the King James Version).
The quotation was remarkably apposite. The disciples have just returned from a trainee mission, and marvel that ‘even the demons submit to us in your name’ (10:17). At one level, Jesus encourages them. He assures them that (in some visionary experience?) he has seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven (10:18 ). Apparently Jesus understands this trainee mission by his disciples as a sign, a way-stage, of Satan’s overthrow, accomplished in principle at the cross (cf. Rev. 12:9-12). He tells his disciples that they will witness yet more astonishing things than these (Luke 10:18-19). ‘However,’ he adds (and then come the words quoted by Lloyd-Jones), ‘do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20).
It is so easy to rejoice in success. Our self-identity may become entangled with the fruitfulness of our ministry. Of course, that is dangerous when the success turns sour – but that is not the problem here. Things could not be going better for Jesus’ disciples. And then the danger, of course, is that it is not God who is being worshiped. Our own wonderful acceptance by God himself no longer moves us, but only our apparent success.
This has been the sin of more than a few ‘successful’ pastors, and of no fewer ‘successful’ lay people. While proud of their orthodoxy and while entrusted with a valid mission, they have surreptitiously turned to idolizing something different: success. Few false gods are so deceitful. When faced with such temptations, it is desperately important to rejoice for the best reasons – and there is none better than that our sins are forgiven, and that by God’s own gracious initiative our names have been written in heaven.“
I hope this sends you into your day with a true blessing! No matter our suffering; no matter who judges us abject failures or worthy only of rejection and abandonment; no matter what shelf we have been put onto by our season of life or by misguided or small-minded people … we can rejoice that our names are written in heaven.
Nothing. Else. Matters.
The above quote captures the essence of my day of tears. (The salt is burning my eyeballs so harshly now, that I feel quite sure that I need to find a way to stop crying, not only for my emotional health but my physical health too.)
And so I will end my day with one of my all-time favorite Tim Keller sermons. I hope it is a blessing to you too.
(One side note? Please ignore the description of this sermon on the Redeemer Pres. page because MAN! Does the description make it sound BOR-OR-OR-ING. It is not. It is heart and life-changing!)
What do we do when the Lord breaks our heart? When we feel so utterly ALONE and UNSAFE in this world? TRUST GOD.
I was walking through Walmart the other day with two sweet, happy, obedient little girls in their adorable little outfits and me in my clean, appropriate clothing and shoes … and we walked by a family that FELT SO MUCH like the REAL ME:
A morbidly obese mother with rotten teeth and greasy hair. A child, dirty, in filthy clothing that did not fit, walking barefoot on the gross Walmart floors. Two more kids in tow—one in a diaper (literally, wearing only a diaper), again, dirty; the other an oversized teenager with pants hanging to the floor, baseball cap askew, looking angry while carrying the Pepsi.
It is so strange to me how quickly I default to that view of myself: one in which I live in squalor, fail to care for even the most basic needs of my children, always living as the reject, the failure, the overworked, can’t-ever-get-it-together-to-even-function woman.
I think about this every time I wash out my soap dishes and trash containers in my various rooms of my house. I remember so distinctly when I was living in an apartment in college and I realized that if I wanted to have clean soap dishes and clean trash containers then, periodically, I had to clean them. No one was going to clean them for me. And if I did not clean them, they would simply become filthy. Ditto on the drip pans on a stove. The top of the washing machine and drying machine. Silverware drawers. Under the bed.
This probably sounds so SIMPLE and so OBVIOUS to most of you. You grew up with a relatively intact family and you either saw your parents “keeping up” the home or (more likely), you were trained on how to do so and one of your duties as a member of your family was to regularly clean. Dust. Vacuum. Scrub. Do laundry. There was a pace to it in your life. A routine.
But I don’t remember such a “normal” routine in my own life. A part of it might have been our constant (literally annual) moving to a new state, a new home. I think we got “clean houses” by moving into them. And then when we left them (dirty), it wasn’t really our concern anymore.
I also think that my mother’s genuine (undiagnosed at the time—after all, it was only the 1970′s) bipolar disease (that she was doing her best to self-medicate with Scotch) lent itself to HUGE swings of deep, dark, catatonic depression and HUGE swings of (MANIC) open-all-the-windows-put-Helen-Reddy-on-the-record-player-break-out-the-Murphy’s-Oil CLEANING MARATHONS. (My sister and I still can’t bear the smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap.)
So where does that all leave me? Do I use my past as an excuse for my present? NO NO NO. A thousand times NO. I am an adult. My childhood influenced me, but it does NOT control me. The Spirit of God lives in me. I have been born again. I have resources by God’s means of grace to help me in my hour of need.
And I am growing. I am. I know that my Redeemer lives and He is helping me to live in this state of “already-but-not-yet.” I’m already beautiful and beloved. (Even though I often feel ugly and rejected.) I DO have a home—with Fred and the girls, in my church, with my extended family (whom I ADORE by the way) and for sure in Heaven to come. (This is true even though at times, I feel attacked, alone, and abandoned.)
On certain days, I take my eyes off of the cross and look instead at my pants size and say to myself, “See! It’s REALLY TRUE. You ARE the 300 lb Pepsi drinking homeless person. That’s the REAL YOU, Tara. That defines you. You keep trying to ACT a different way, but deep down, you are an unproductive, unloving, lazy member of society and your family and church would be better off without you.”
WHOA THERE! Where is THAT coming from? Certainly NOT the Lord! He is my Advocate. He does not attack and belittle me. Certainly NOT my church home—even though I have had hurts and conflicts just like every person who has real relationships in every church—as a general rule, I have shepherd-overseers who would lay down their lives for me, their sheep, and I have friends who are NOT forced to be hired-hand friends, but instead who grant me actual, real love. And Oh! My husband forgives not just my “way back then when I was a teenager” BIG BIG SINS, but he is learning how to bear with me in my CURRENT struggles with CURRENT sins.
So that leaves three sources of such condemning voices in my life:
1. Satan. Yes. He hates me and he hates God. So of course he would spew such worthless talk my way. Every mistake I make. Every selfish action. My propensity to overreact. My unbelief. My hypocrisy. Oh, yes. Satan is my enemy and he delights in reminding me what a fool and failure I actually am.
2. The world. Absolutely, the world. Judged by how I look, how much money I have, what kind of car I drive, how I have leveraged my J.D. and M.B.A. to the MAX to be living the “good life” of the power woman who jets from fancy hotels to boardrooms on the top of the Sears tower with people waiting on me hand and foot. (Can you say WOW! That is SO not my live-in-Montana-homeschooling-two-kids-with-my-Golden-Retriever-dog-and-my-husband-working-for-a-nonprofit-making-about-the-salary-he-made-in-grad-school-as-an-R.A.)
3. My flesh. Now we’re getting down to it. My flesh. My heart. Something deep down inside of me that continues to SCREAM “BAD!” when I consider the true me. Could be influenced by childhood memories. But come on! I’m 45 years old At some point, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and stop blaming others (especially our parents!). No. This voice comes from a place that is deeper than any parental rejection, condemnation, or abandonment. It is touched by bosses, church leaders, coworkers, other mothers, even friends—real friends!—and even my husband (at times) who simply by their lives lived in front of me are constant reminders of how far I have to go in this life. Just how much I DON’T fit in because I am so drastically FAILING to live up to even an iota of what I claim to believe. Oh! how alone I feel! Oh. How alone I actually am.
WHOA AGAIN! This spiral down is a) not helpful; and b) not Christianly.
Let’s have a little reminder, shall we? Preach it to us, Pastor D. Martyn-Llyod Jones!
“We must take ourselves in hand and talk TO ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us!
Most of our unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we are listening to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves. Grace calls us to DO something regarding our situation, our temperament, our struggles. To run to Christ, lay hold of Christ with saving faith, and to SPEAK TRUTH, biblical truth, to the lies and thoughts and struggles that rattle around inside of us.
You wake up in the morning and the first thought you have is of your FAILURES?! The problems of yesterday? Your horrible inadequacies? The drag that your life has become?
Someone is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.
RESIST! RESPOND! Rather than allow this self to talk to you, YOU start talking to YOURSELF. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. Your soul has been depressing you? Crushing you? So you stand up and say, ‘SELF! Listen for a moment! I will speak to you.’
Because the main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself.
Take yourself in hand.
Preach to yourself.
You must turn on yourself,
and say to yourself, ‘HOPE THOU IN GOD!’
(Instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.)
And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.
THEN … defy yourself. Defy other people. Defy the devil. Defy the whole world and say with the Psalmist, “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God!”
Yes. Yes. It is true! SO TRUE! I am not the 300 lb, greasy haired, Pepsi drinking, toothless woman walking around Walmart with dirty children. I’m not. I’m FAR FAR (FAR!) WORSE. My sin goes so much deeper than outward behaviors and looks. My unbelief rots my soul more than soda rots my teeth. I am that big of a mess times about a ZILLION—but I am loved by God with an eternal love and I have an inheritance that will never spoil or blemish or fade; kept in Heaven! By God Himself.
And so. Today I am desperate because of two thoughts that NEARLY refuse to leave my mind:
- I am utterly alone in the world. There is no safe place for me. There never will be a safe place for me. I have no home. Just when I think that maybe, just maybe, there is a small band of brothers and sisters who are for me? I am struck again by this one, lonely, terrifying, thought: I am alone.
- The people I love—SO DEARLY LOVE—in this world would be far, far better off if I could just disappear. Without sinning, of course, but run away or be run over or in whatever manner that would not bring blame back on me … get as far AWAY as possible as quickly as possible from the people I love! Because their lives would be immeasurably better without me.
Dark thoughts, to be sure.
But that’s where I am at.
Yes, Fred led our family in beautiful devotions this morning.
Yes, Judy T, we read through and meditated on yours and Ron’s gift of Psalm 88 for us this morning. (Thanks for that, btw!)
But life still hurts. Unbearably hurts. Acid ripping through my chest wall hurts.
It’s hard to breathe.
It’s hard to not give up.
It’s hard to pray.
It’s hard to believe truth more than feelings.
And it’s really, really hard to let anyone in.
It feels like the option of LOVING just opens me up to even more PAIN.
Ah. Yes. Now we’re getting down to the nut of it, aren’t we.
Because it does.
Love opens me up to even more pain.
To quote CS Lewis:
“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”
That’s the deal.
Now I just have to figure out if I want to take it.
- To suffer with my elder brother, Christ?
- To bear the agony and grief of my sister in Christ as she mourns the loss of her beloved?
- To weep and grieve with my single friend, my miserably married friend, my infertile friend, my exhausted by so many littles friend?
- To be judged, maligned, belittled, not just not defended–but outright attacked? AND. STILL. LOVE.
Yeah. That’s a tough one. It’s hard to tell my three enemies to SHHH! It’s hard to remember that JESUS has deprived this world of its power to ultimately harm me. (Because right now–I. Cannot. Breathe! the pain is so great.)
So I weep. I pray. I sit silently and stare. I tell my husband and my sister that I might need help. I reach out to someone I thought was trustworthy. I’m beaten back again with greater shock and greater pain. Oh oh oh. This is the day, the pain, that the Lord has ordained for me.
Please God, please.
Remember your bruised reed this evening.
Lift up my tear-soaked face and turn me to You.
Because right now, at this moment, the Covenanters’ baptismal prayer is feeling just a little too accurate:
“This life really is nothing but a constant death.”
It really is.
But Sunday’s A Comin’!
Ah! Now I know what I’m going to listen to! (Thank You, Lord!) A sermon I have listened to many, many times over the course of years and years—Rev. Dr. E.V. Hill’s sermon at his (beloved!) wife’s funeral:
“A sign of Christian maturity is that when the Lord rains down blessing? We bless him! But when he takes blessing away? When he breaks your heart? When he doesn’t give you what you asked for? Bless him!“
Yes, Pastor E.V. Hill. Tonight? I will BLESS HIM. I do bless him.
He is worthy of my praise.
Thank you, sir.
Amen and Amen.
Your exhausted but grateful sister in Christ,
Two of my dearest friends are facing similar “peacemaking opportunity” (i.e. CONFLICT) situations this week, although each is in a different context. One is in the church. The other is in a business situation. But both are the same issue: they have been informed that someone “out there” is upset with them and is talking to others about them behind their backs.
Of all of the peacemaking scenarios, I think I dread this one the most.
It is so tempting to really freak out and lose perspective when we have to go to church or go to work knowing that someone we are sharing fellowship with, taking communion with, or just doing our career duties with, is angry or annoyed enough with us to talk to others, but not to talk with us. How do you respond when you can’t respond because you have no idea who it is or what you have done?
Three things come readily to mind and I have shared them with both of my friends:
1. Recognize that this is an opportunity for growth for everyone involved: you, the person who is mad with you, and the person who TOLD YOU that someone is mad with you. We can all use timely reminders of what the Bible actually says about conflict and how we are called to respond. The Peacemaker Ministries Website is chock-full of great resources and, of course, Ken Sande’s book, “The Peacemaker,” is one of those books we need to read and re-read often.
2. Try not to freak out and overreact. I know that when this situation has happened in my own life, I can be tempted to doubt EVERYONE—even real friends who (when I’m rational) I know would never do this to me. For example, we talk a lot about this very scenario in our church’s homeschool co-op. It’s right there in our mission statement and organizing documents—and we teach the children every week that when we have a problem with one another, we will and we must work it out. Rather than talking about the other person to others, we talk to the person directly. And even when things get hard—we are members of the same church! So that means we have taken membership vows to one another and we never give up on each other. In fact—if we get REALLY STUCK, maybe we are afraid to go and speak with someone, maybe the whole “difficult conversation idea” is just too hard for us? Well. Then we know that we can take someone along with us to help us—often a church leader or other lay leader because they are all trained in biblical peacemaking and they are all ready and equipped to help us.
Still. Even knowing all of that truth, it can be hard in the actual moment when we know there is someone “out there” who is not only unhappy with us, they are talking to OTHERS about us behind our back. Oh oh oh. That is such an unpleasant thing to bear, but bear it we must. We must put to death unedifying thoughts of trying to GUESS who it is (“Maybe it’s so and so!” or “Maybe it’s HER!). Such speculation is not only unhelpful, it can be destructive in its own way when we start to question and doubt and fear.
A more God-glorifying, loving-of-neighbor, NOT FREAKING OUT response would be to REST in the Lord. PRAY that the conflict will come to light in a way that it can be resolved. Keep your heart FIXED on the Lord Jesus Christ; rejoice in your union with Christ; your eternal home in heaven with him one day; his love and salvation and brotherhood and friendship that NEVER gossips about you; ALWAYS protects you; CONTINUALLY thinks the best of you; NEVER stands back and points a finger and judges you (!!), but instead, warmly comes to your side and asks you for a cup of water; asks if he may share a meal with you … whoever you are, however annoying / immature / blind / in need of not only repentance but just GROWING UP you are. Jesus calls us his friends. Keep that eternal perspective of how Jesus views you—and you will have what you need to walk through even this confusing, distasteful, disappointing, annoying, frightening situation you are facing today.
3. If you do have the opportunity to meet with the other person (and I hope you do!), prepare in advance to listen with compassion and care. If you’re anything like me, you will probably be, in the flesh, a little frustrated, hurt, and even angry at the other person for not just coming to you directly. But people are people! And people are flawed. You are flawed. The other person is flawed. You are both desperate for the Savior and both beloved by the Savior. Remember how much you have been forgiven as you head into this difficult conversation! Ask God to help you to make a full confession when that is appropriate. Be quick to lavish forgiveness on the other person and cover over a multitude of sins with pure grace.
Oh, and one last thin to consider …
When you are blindsided (I sometimes call it “suckerpunched”) by someone you thought you had a pretty good relationship with. (Maybe you weren’t besstest of friends, but as far as you knew, there were no open conflicts brewing between the two of you. You respected her. She seemed to respect and even enjoy you. Maybe it was a boss/employee relationship that seemed to be going OK for you … and then … *** BOOOOOOOM! *** CRASH!!! *** without any warning, you are called into “the meeting” or sent “the email” (calling you into “the meeting”). Maybe you naively even looked FORWARD to the meeting because it was with people you love and admire and enjoy and you assumed something GOOD was happening.
- Maybe you are fired on the spot / kicked out of the fellowship group / removed from leadership. (Yeah. Wow. That’s going to have to be the subject of another blog, I think.)
- Maybe it’s less serious, but it sure is unpleasant! You learn that you have been doing things that annoy and irritate people and it MUST STOP. Maybe it’s your tone of voice; your use of technology; how much/little you speak up; how many office birthdays you celebrate … who knows? Certainly not you! Because your managers/the people in the conversation tell you it’s about people “out there” (who? we’re not going to say) / (how many? we’re not going to say).
- Perhaps there are serious wrongs and offenses that need serious attention and change. Could be. And boy! You’d better get on that, of course.
Whatever the situation, I want to sign off this post by reminding you that it’s OK to cry in these types of situations. Well. Probably best to cry PRIOR TO these types of situations—alone or with a trusted friend; probably best to not lose it in front of these people who are merely the communicators of the nameless faceless criticism.
But it is always a shock when we are attacked. ESPECIALLY when we are attacked by Christians. So cry a little. Weep, wail, mourn, grieve, lament … and then, trust God and love people—even if, for a short season, our love for the person causes us actual physical and emotional pain because it is layered with betrayal and grief and some of us may be tempted to pull far, far away from love in general. Don’t do it.
Don’t give up on love just because you are being hurt by people who claim to love you.
Grow wiser? Yes! Love more appropriately? Yes! Rethink your relationships with these specific people? You bet!
But DON’T give up on love!
Pain is the price we pay for love.
And love is worth it.
And with that, I’m signing off for the day! I hope your weekend is a restful, happy one! We are all counting down the days until the 2015 Peacemaker Conference, which is right around the corner (September 24-26 in Denver). Hope to see you there!
A classic tale (and a great encouragement to keep doing the right thing!) from the consummate storyteller, Ken Sande:
“When John’s wife, Karen, divorced him and moved in with her high school sweetheart, John was devastated, especially when his church refused to do anything to try to save their marriage. But he drew on God’s grace and resisted the temptation to give in to self-pity or bitterness. He refused to criticize Karen, especially in front of their children. He bent over backwards to accommodate their every-changing visitation schedule. Most of all, he continued to pray for Karen, and whenever they talked with each other, he asked God to help him speak to her with genuine love and gentleness.
After about a year, Karen and her boyfriend were fighting continually. As she compared his behavior to John’s unfailing kindness in the face of her betrayal, she began to realize what a terrible mistake she had made. With great trepidation she asked John if there was any chance they could get together again. To her amazement, he said yes and suggested that they start counseling with the pastor at his new church. Eight months later, their children had the joy of seeing their parents renewing their vows and reuniting their family.
Whether Karen came back to him or not, John’s decision to keep doing what was right honored God. His behavior was also a powerful witness to his children about the love and forgiveness of Christ. And he later learned that his example had helped some other divorced people to respond to their ex-spouses graciously, even though none of them came back.
As John showed, doing what is right–even in the face of unjust treatment–is always the safest path to walk.” (from Chapter 12 of The Peacemaker)
And a few of my favorite passages of Scripture to meditate on (over & over again!) when I am struggling to do the right thing:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” (2 Peter 1:3-9)
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly … Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 2:18-19, 3:8-9)
“When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73:21-28 ESV)
I am so grateful for the entire PCA Discipleship Ministries team (PCA = my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America)! Their prayerful, sacrificial and wise ministry creates wonderful, biblical, Christ-centered resources and events for our denomination and I thank God for them every day.
This year, the PCA women’s ministry is releasing a series videos to help connect women to key doctrines and Women’s Ministry topics. Each video is paired with questions for your own personal reflection and to encourage conversation and connection among your women’s ministry too. I encourage you to check them all out! I was so honored to get to participate:
To access the other videos and the discussion questions for the PCA Women’s Ministry Connection series, click here. With videos by Melissa Kruger, Susan Hunt, Ellen Dykas, Courtney Doctor (and many more!), you definitely do not want to miss this series. (Oh! How I admire and deeply appreciate these women.)
Sending my love and praying for peace—
I am truly enjoying Jerry Bridges’ new book:
Here is a quote from the final pages to give you just a taste of its wisdom:
“The foundation of daily experiential fellowship among believers is found in Paul’s statement that “in Christ … each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). I belong to you and you belong to me, and we each belong to and have “ownership” in every other believer in the world. This mutual belonging to one another is the thread that ties together all the seemingly diverse elements of fellowship.
As we recognize and apply the fact that we belong to each other, we will genuinely love and care for one another. We will seek to build up one another through spiritual sharing, and we will meet each other’s material needs. We will enjoy one another in times of social fellowship, and we will suffer with one another in times of trial. All of these many facets of fellowship are rooted in the concept that we belong to one another.”
Amen! And thank you, Pastor Bridges.
Apart from a miracle, a good relationship with this person is just never going to happen. That’s OK. Grieve it. And LET. IT. GO.
I once received an email from a friend whose dear friend, an adult Christian woman, was “distraught” and “destroyed” over how her parents treat her. She was “terrified” of this relationship.
Knowing that some of us have these difficult relationships in our lives, I thought I would redact some of the content of my response with the hope that it might be a blessing to you too …
Perhaps a starting place would be to consider:
Why does the fact that your parents are so incredibly cruel to you “destroy you” and lead you to the point of “not being able to take it”?
Why does it matter so incredibly much?
Yes, our parents love is important and it does affect us when they treat us horribly. But … everyone has suffering to bear in life and apparently, her parents’ treatment of her is a major “cross” that God has ordained for her to bear.
So what is her only hope? The Lord. The Triune God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ: Who God is and all that He has already done for her in Christ.
But like all of us … in her deep pain, maybe even in the shock of the moment when people she has wanted to love (and be loved by) have hurt her again … she may be forgetting eternity. The pain of today so often blinds us to the Hope of tomorrow (and a million tomorrows once we are Home).
Sometimes, when we are distraught beyond words, that is a clear indication that we are grieving. We need to lament. Throw ourselves into the arms of the One Person who knows our suffering and knows so much more! And Who will never let us down. Never abandon us. Never give up on us.
So your friend may need to weep. Maybe you can hold her as she sobs and help her by your compassionate, steady presence (and multiple handfuls of Kleenex).
At an appropriate time, it may also be that your friend’s strong emotional reaction to this situation has its roots in her demands (James 4:1-3) and her responding in these ways not because of how her parents are treating her, but because of her heart regarding how her parents are treating her. She’s not getting what she wants (demands/”needs”) regarding a very important thing to her. How does she respond? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control? Praise the Lord! It’s probably not an idol! Anger, rage, bitterness, malice, slander, filthy language from her lips? Uh-oh. Careful. Our legitimate grief sometimes turns a corner into sinful, judgmental, vengeance and demands for “justice” that seed into bitterness in our hearts.
When that happens, we may have what your friend describes as “anger issues with God” and we may find ourselves graceless and loveless toward the people who are hurting us (in your case, your friend’s attitude towards her parents).
(As an aside—your friend describes herself as being “miserable” and “terrified” of her parents. Sometimes, angry and miserable people are actually scared people–and in this case, that sure seems to be possible.)
So what is the solution? Well. Of course. Just like all of us, your friend can’t just choose to “be joyful.” Sometimes we need to lament. Grieve. Even Jesus wept! So I encourage you to be there for her. Love her. Let her make your shoulder wet with her tears as she cries out over her deep suffering in this fallen world. Point her to Jesus–remind her that he knows her pain and he cares. Help her to worship God rightly–because if any of her heart issues are actually idolatrous demands, the only way to displace wrong worship is right worship of God. (I know you know that this is the entire section on “Idolatry” in my video series/standard retreat.)
Re: her “terror” at her parents … you know I write on this topic a lot because just as Dr. Ed Welch describes himself in his wonderful book, Running Scared, I, too, am a “fear specialist.” So maybe perusing some of my old posts on fear would be of help to her. Or would you consider going through with her Ed Welch’s workbook, “When I Am Afraid?” This might be very encouraging and helpful to her. But whatever you do, keep pointing her to God! (I know you do!) Because the only way to get rid of that level of fear is to replace it with a bigger fear—the fear of God.
As she worships God rightly and remembers Christ and reminds herself that God is with her and for her, only then will she be standing on such a firm rock that she will be able to say with confidence, “God is sovereign over even my tragic family situation. I would not choose this for myself, but I know that God is always good. I know that He loves me. And He will give me the grace to wisely and lovingly and mercifully interact with my parents.”
Just like us all, she must begin by running to Christ–the real Christ. Our resurrected Lord and King! Apart from Christ, there is no hope. None at all. Then … to persevere, she will need to be nourished by the feast of God’s grace by willingly and joyfully submitting to the authority of a local church so that she is regularly strengthened by the means of God’s grace: the preaching and study of the Word, the sacraments, corporate prayer and worship, accountability, oversight, etc. etc.
There are way too many enemies that lead us away from Christ (our flesh, the world, Satan). We need the regular, faithful ministry of the Body if we are to remain in the faith and grow in sanctification and conformity to Christ.
Not to say that any of this is easy … I don’t mean to imply that I know what her previous conversations with her parents have been like … but if I were to venture a guess, I would presume that they have been her trying to lovingly develop a real (sincere, open and honest, genuine) relationship with her parents. And probably, she has (rightly) thought that they could never have a true friendship and experience genuine love if all of the past hurts and offenses were not brought up and dealt with through repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Of course she’s right on many levels—true love and friendship requires that we tear down those walls and root out those hurts and angry demands for vengeance or punishment. (This is a lot of what my pastor and I do in our marital mediation cases.)
However, I can’t imagine that these conversations have been anything other than depressing, discouraging, and probably very, very ugly. Why? Well … for one thing, it seems as though your friend (like all of us) has some aspects of her life that are not secure in Christ. Rather than needing Christ alone; she believes that she needs her parents’ love and her parents to treat her well. This means she is living (at least in part) for a good relationship with her parents. To the extent she is investing her hope, confidence and emotions in a good relationship with her parents—rather than in Christ alone—she really seems to be manifesting a heart of wrong (idolatrous) worship. (“If only my parents would love me and stop being so mean to me, then I would be happy.” Really? I don’t think so! That’s not how God created us. We were created to worship God—not people. Not even our parents.)
In addition, it sure doesn’t sound like her parents are very godly, Spirit-directed, biblically astute, wise, generous, loving, mature people. But boy your friend really wants to have a great relationship with parents who are all of those things. But here’s the thing that I really, really, really encourage your friend to just embrace … it’s never going to happen.
Ok, Ok, I’m not God, so of course, I can’t say for sure. But barring a miracle, your friend is never going to have a loving relationship with her parents. It’s just not the family situation God (in his perfect, loving, mercy and care) has apparently ordained for her.
From her parents’ perspective, “everything is her fault.” Yup. “They are never going to hear what she says.” Sure sounds like it. Is this sad? Absolutely! Should she grieve this? You bet. But I truly encourage you to help her to let it go. Grieve but stop pining away for something that is never going to happen.
“In as much as it depends on her” – she is called to live at “peace” with her parents (Romans 12). But she has neither the power nor the authority to change them. And it sounds like she’s been making herself miserable trying to get them to understand her position so that they can be “reconciled.” Again, barring some amazing miracle, I just can’t imagine that this will ever happen in this life. (I will mention that if they are professing Christians and members of a biblically-faithful church, there may be trained mediators and/or ordained leaders who could help. But it sure doesn’t sound like her parents would be open to such a thing.)
Regardless of what her parents do or don’t do, from the security of right worship of God, basking in His grace toward her, trusting in His sovereignty and goodness, your friend can move toward her parents in a new way … needing nothing from them, putting no “good” expectations on them (in fact, expecting them to be cruel and insensitive to her), but blessing them and doing acts of charity and mercy to them anyway.
She is called to love her enemies—who happen to be her parents. (Our closest “enemies” are often are family members—husbands, children, parents—aren’t they?) Not judging them—but instead trusting that either they will suffer the torment of Hell for eternity for their sins OR that Christ’s suffering on the cross and descent into Hell covers their sins. In either case, it is enough. She does not have to poison her heart and soul and mind and life for one more minute over her parents. A) It’s just not worth it; and B) It doesn’t change anything anyway.
Of course I need to point out that being kind and merciful toward “abusive” and mean people can look like different things in different situations. And I do not mean to imply that she is going to be called to sit there for hour after hour while they heap unkind and cruel words on her. She may need to confess her sins to them. She may need to share Christ with them. At times, she may sit through their barrage of meanness.
At other times, it might be OK to (gently, lovingly, humbly, mercifully) say something like, “Mom, Dad, I love you. And I want to have a relationship with you. But right now you are saying some words to me that are not redemptive and I can’t see how this will help us to love God or love one another. So I’m going to go ahead and go now—but I want you to know that I love you and I’m praying for you. OK. Bye-bye.”
But she’s no longer furious at them. She doesn’t leave condemned by their rejection of her. She is not “destroyed.” In fact, she moves on in her day the exact way that she was before their cruelty—secure in God. Secure in Christ. Heart fixed on eternity. Walking her pilgrim days on earth with faith and hope.
(And when she’s too tired or weak to do this, her friends in the Body come alongside of her and carry her for awhile. Just like our home is always open to you my friend.)
I hope this email is even a tiny blessing to you (and to her!). If she’s a visual learner, she could also watch a keynote I did at a Peacemaker Conference a few years ago that I think would be particularly on point to her life situation:
Thanks again for writing! I love you, my friend! So very sorry for your friend’s suffering.
“If our ultimate motivation for service to God is simply because we love people, we will never be able to sustain the call to service that God has given to us because the very people we are called to serve will break our hearts. It is only the grace of Christ that enables us to persevere.” J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church
Just a few scratchings from one of my many listenings of Pastor Tim Keller’s sermon, The Community of Jesus (taken from Luke 6:12-36). This is a sermon that is worth listening to more than once …
Why do we have the law of God?
To find law and be saved? NO.
Exodus shows that is impossible.
God does not give them the law and then save them from slavery.
He saves them and then gives them the law.
So, if God has already saved them from slavery, why did he give them the law?
Because He is going to make us into a people; a true human community. A new human community.
(It’s as though God is saying …) The reason why human community has unraveled everywhere; the reason individuals are at war with individuals and families are at war with families and nations are at war with nations; the reason all of that is happening is because when your relationship with me unraveled, all other relationships unraveled. And when a relationship with me is restored, that restores all other human relationships. And therefore, I am creating a community in which we show the world that if you restore relationship with me, all of the unraveling is woven again together into a fabric.
I’m going to show that when you relate with me you are brought into a new human community …
… So …
The reason there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other other Christians is because the church is not made up of natural friends, but natural enemies.
What binds us together is not common—race, accents, nationality, job, education, etc.
Christians come together not because they form a natural convocation; but because Jesus died for them.
Church is a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.
We need it.
Jesus gives us the power for it.