Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shattered Blessings


I am overwhelmed at how blessed I am.

Shall I tell you some of the many ways I have been blessed in the past few years?

My father died of a heart attack on the same day I found out my husband had been unfaithful to me for all seven years of our marriage.

I went through a divorce after four more long painful years of praying desperately for God to keep it from happening.

I had to give up the ministry I had with my husband on the mission field of Nepal and lost all the work and relationships I had invested in there for years.

I had to move out of my dream house into an apartment in a bad neighborhood.

I had to go back to work after being a full time mom for all of my children’s lives.

I had to endure the stigma of being the “bad guy” because I divorced my husband.

I've had to live was the ongoing stigma of being a divorced single mom.

My mother and my Baptist pastor step-dad both died on the same day in a murder/suicide after refusing to speak to me for several years prior to their deaths.  

After my divorce, after seven years of commitment to a local church, it was determined I “did not have the right vision” to continue to serve.

That was just a few months ago.

I responded to loss of my beloved mission field of Nepal (and to the fire for missions in my heart that just wouldn’t go out) by finding another missions ministry to serve with, another country to work in, another people to love.  After four years of working with this ministry, I find I am again, shall we say, “incompatible.”  (There is no appropriate way to further explain publically the pain I feel over this situation, so I will leave it there.)

That was just last week, right after returning from my latest trip overseas.

Wait.

I thought you said blessings. 

Are you being sarcastic and bitter?  Are you ranting against the hypocrites of the world?  Are you trying to publically expose people you are mad at or having a passive-aggressive online pity party in order to get sympathy?

Nope. 

I’ve done plenty of ranting over the years, don’t get me wrong.  (Not to mention last week.) And cussing and fussing and crying and raging interspersed with periods of checking out emotionally and lying in bed staring dully at the walls. 

And plenty of asking why.  Stuff along the lines of, “Why me, God?  Why me?  I’m not a bad person.  I only wanted to serve You.  I only wanted to be a wife, to be a mom, and to be a missionary.  And when those dreams fell apart, instead of getting angry and bitter, I picked up the pieces, glued them back together and went on.  And then they got jerked out of my hands and smashed again. And again.

I could understand why this kind of pain would keep coming to me if I was living in sin.  If I had given You the middle finger after getting screwed by my (fill in the blank) Christian parents, Christian husband, numerous Christian pastors, leaders, counselors, etc,  and gone off to find selfish pleasure somewhere, abandoned my faith, forgotten my responsibility to my kids, left the church, ignored missions and rejected You, it would have made sense.

But I didn’t do any of those things.  I keep trying to do what was right even when I had been done wrong.  And You continually reward this effort by letting more pain come into my life?  Really?  I haven’t hit the life time pain quota yet?

Why did you let me get into these relationships with people, churches, and ministries where You knew I would get so deeply hurt?  I was seeking Your will.  I was asking for direction.  You could have stopped me. You could have stopped them. You could have ‘shut doors’. ”

And, of course it gets personal when there is a person perpetrating the pain.  And my questions start going something like, “How can You let him treat me this way?  How can You let a so-called Christian (parent, husband, pastor, leader) get by with this?  Why isn’t someone holding him/her accountable?  You see how many people he/she is hurting in Your name- why don’t You stop him? Are You not my defender? Are You not all powerful?  Are You not the righteous Judge?”

Here’s the deal.  If you ask those questions long enough and if somewhere in the swirling morass of your pain you actually have a miniscule part of you that wants a real answer and not just pain relief… 

Look out.

When you start invoking God’s justice, look out.

You are going to get an answer from God Himself, and it is not going to be what you expect.  Because if you pound on God’s chest with your fists and scream long enough, He will eventually oblige you.  He will wrap His hands firmly around your wrists and force you to look into His eyes.

And then there is no looking away, no pulling away, no changing your mind about the whole thing.  You pushed through the outer courts of your offense into God’s bedroom after visiting hours were over, busted down the door and demanded an immediate answer to your innermost pain. 

And why did you do this?  What is that innermost pain?  Regardless of what happened to you (yes, I know you've been through crap too), I believe it is this- You believed in God’s love for you, and although your circumstances deny that reality, you won’t give up on that belief.

And that’s why He’s going to answer you.

You see, I speak from experience.  I do still believe God loves me in spite of all the things that have happened to me. And so, in the face of this very paradox, I have thrown my tantrums and demanded that God meet my gaze and speak to me.

And when He does, I am undone.  The pain of that gaze is the sweetest agony, simultaneously most terrible and most welcome.  It relieves the fear that He won’t look at me at the same time it feels like it is killing me- because the fear I feel in God’s Holy Presence is better than the greater fear of being ignored by Him. At that moment of anguishing intimacy, God never speaks to me about what someone else did.  He doesn’t even have to speak.  He only looks into MY soul, and I see it reflected in His eyes, from His point of view back to me.

Because I am the one who busted down His door.  I’m the one who is here looking into His eyes, not anyone else.  There is no one else’s heart in this room to reveal but mine.

And here is where I begin to see things from a different point of view.  I say begin, because I can still only claim to have seen through a glass darkly, but at that moment of illumination in the eyes of my Creator I see just how dark my vision has been and catch a glimmer of the light piercing my sinful consciousness.

 Here is where it begins:  I see my self-righteous attitude of entitlement in the echo of my questions.  “God, I’ve been “good,” so You owe me good in return.  I deserve better.  I’m not like those people who used a dysfunctional family or a bad marriage as an excuse to live sinfully and selfishly.  I stayed in church.  I homeschooled my kids.  I didn’t even seek a second marriage but solaced myself with Christian service instead.  

I should have sufficiently earned Your guarantee that things would work out well for me because of all these brownie points.  And didn’t those right choices mean I was under the umbrella of Your protection from getting hurt again?”

Can somebody say filthy rags?  How about Pharisee?

I’m ashamed that the next thing that dawns on me as I look into God’s eyes that nothing less than such terrible emotional agony could drive me to this point of busting down God’s door and demanding His attention.  Because until I got into this much pain… I didn’t care enough to come here.  I only came because I had a terrible need for emotional relief, not because I love God enough to come of my own pain-free will.

I didn’t knock gently, come in quietly and put my head on His chest to be with Him for the sake of bringing Him pleasure.

So basically I’m seeking God selfishly as pain relief and a fixer of problems. 

But then, it dawns.  It was my pain that brought me here.  And, I’M HERE.  I’m in God’s Presence. Nothing else matters but Him right now WHICH IS THE WAY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALL ALONG.

Because as long as everything was going well- life, relationships, church and ministry- I didn’t (oh God, forgive me!) have time to seek His face. Instead I jumped out of bed, said a quick prayer, checked Facebook, made coffee and went charging into my day. And because these were all good things I was busy with- homeschooling, church work, missions work in Africa, relationships with Christian friends, talking with them about God… I was substituting good things for the best thing. 

And it wasn’t until the good things, and my dreams to do good things, hit the fan and got chopped up and bloody and splattered all over the walls that in my despair I turned my full attention to the Best Thing. He was standing in the middle of the room all this time, waiting for me.

So that means… all those bad things that happened… the betrayal, the lies, the loss, the shame, the grief… and the rinse repeat cycle...

…the loss of the good things I desired (and thought I deserved and had earned by being good)- a good relationship with parents that loved me, a godly marriage, a ministry in missions at my husband’s side, a position of service in a healthy local church, a “second chance” opportunity to serve overseas…

The many shattered dreams…

They have driven me into face to face encounters with God that I might never have entered into otherwise.

And these face to face encounters with God have revealed my sin:

My pride in my goodness and my performance

My sense of entitlement

My idolatry of relationships with people other than God, my willingness to be satisfied with lesser relationships than my one with Him as long as things are going well.

I have been given the opportunity to repent and put those things on the altar.

Therefore, how can I not call these events blessings?  They have brought me face to face with God, again and again, in encounters of Divine intimacy and purging many never experience.

Because when you see God, really see Him, even for a moment, EVERYTHING it took to get you there is worth it, no matter how painful.

Yes.  I am incredibly blessed.

(In the spiritual grieving journey I have been on this week, I have found a great deal of challenging applicable truth in the book "Shattered Dreams" by Larry Crab, and am super grateful to my friend who listened to God and gave it to me.  I am also indebted to the few select friends who have been witnesses to my cussing and fussing and crying and raging, and who have pulled me out of the bed (virtually and literally) when I stayed too long staring at the wall.  I'm extra grateful for the grace that has been extended to me by my children. Mostly though, I'm grateful to God who makes sure I have just enough human support at these times, but not so much that I forget what the whole point is- to come to Him.)