Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Strength For Today With Great Hope for Tomorrow!

Some of us are of that age when we had opportunity to sit in quiet solitude on a river bank, shoreline or perhaps just out in the back field at some point, and ponder life. I had a little brook, but soon found out that it flowed into a river that led to the ocean…. That was my playground. There I began to learn the good and the bad, the how-to’s and how-not-to’s  of life, and what it meant to be responsible for not only what was there before me, but also how things affected not only the present but the future.

The river soon became a barrier to be challenged, the ocean a place to be explored, and all things in between, opened doors of opportunity to see new things, meet new people and finally become foundational in setting down roots, starting a family and establishing new traditions while undertaking life in its living, as an adult. I sometimes wonder if I was truly ready. As I look back, I see lots of things that remind me that I was so young, so na├»ve, so full of the typical hype that says, “Here I come world, there is nothing I can’t accomplish!” I guess life has its way of protecting us, while shoving us out into the turmoil that life can become.  If we really knew what we could and would face, we might not take those steps that are needed to test life, to attempt even the simplest, so that we can mature and grow into adulthood.

I grew up, as most have, facing challenges that had I known about in their entirety, their depth of complexity for family and community, I might have retreated deep into some safe haven of withdrawal from life. I can admit that now, knowing how life can sometimes deal us blows that don’t always make us stronger. We have all heard that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… well, while there is a modicum of truth there; overburdened lives do break. We tend to play the secure game with the outside world. We are happy in public, generally satisfied with life in the workplace and seem content with family life around the house. We often learn to hide deep pain for a time, while masquerading as the everyday person who has not a care in the world. Oh sure, we can spout off sometimes about life, but scarcely ever do we really pour out the sludge that clogs our joys, until it has devoured that joy and eaten into the very energy to live life to its fullest. It is pain unreleased, confusion with life that has not been resolved and it is depression, an open wound festering and putrid. We ask so many questions including, “How did this happen?”, “Why couldn't life just be easier?” and the worst for some, “Why did God let this happen?”

Now this all sounds pretty tragic I am sure. And it is! I have not only tasted of this cup, but in some ways I still struggle at times with the state of confusion with life that drains my energy and incapacitates my ability to find joy in the day to day stuff of life. People have looked at me and said, “You are so lucky!” or I wish I could live your life… you have had it so easy…. everything just came your way!” I HAVE lived a blessed life in many ways. Most do and they are not always capable of realizing it, or they do not take time to look around and see the blessings that surround them. But life has been more complicated than simple, more a struggle than an easy path filled with unending joys.

Recently, while in hospital, I had to give background information about my life for diagnostic purposes. Medical staff soon found sketchy overviews of my life’s journey in my case file and information about where I had been. Word seemed to be spreading that I was different from their day to day patient and people sought me out to chat and one nurse even asked me to give her a 2 minute lecture on Theology. I found out that she was searching and she wanted to know what I would tell her that was most important about God. Through tears she related the experience in Church in her youth and how it affected her view of who God was. I pray that I gave her hope and a vision that the Church is not God, no matter how many people worship “Church” while dismissing God and “the Christ” altogether.

Should it be understood then that life for me has been untenable? Not at all. But, I might have taken that other road in life and quite easily slipped among the stones while retreating into some abyss of darkness and total despair. I had helping hands; people who cared about my mental and spiritual health, as well as a desire to see what I might be capable of, if given a chance. It is curious how things work out sometimes. Why does one person get noticed when there is nothing notable about their life? In fact they may be radical, or worse still extroverted in an attempt to hide shyness, while someone else, who seems far more capable and talented, may be overlooked? We could look at Biblical examples such as Moses, David, Jeremiah and Peter. Any one of these individuals, seen as heroes of the faith, could be examined within the context of their lives and we would soon see their shortcomings, their weaknesses and how God used them, with all their faults, to accomplish His plan. No matter their failures and pain… they somehow saw something more than just the moment, a greater good to be realized and lived through the moments of disappointment and discouragement, to finally see His blessings in their lives.

A long time ago I learned that I could not control everything in life. Some things I can and some things I can’t. It may be that we are no longer fully in tune with our spiritual lives, or we may have become so self-confident that we have a tendency to relax and rely on our own self-sufficiency; feeling that we are able to control the efforts as well as the outcomes alone. I have had occasion to have fallen into that abyss! In ministry it is easy to get used to caring, sharing and being the epicenter for plans and answers not realizing what is happening. Without a full dependency upon God for all things, we go astray… we don’t have to look far into God’s Word to find examples. Jesus himself leaned on The Father to get him through the darkness of human depression that he would face on the cross. So we can’t make it through the tough times or the easy times without God!

I also met people, while I was in hospital, who were not prepared for what the future held. It is a sad day to be in the company of one whose denial or self-reliance makes them a captive to the hopelessness of life’s turns. I was also able to minister to two clergy who actually fell very ill and were hospitalized only days after visiting me. For those who are now wondering… their illness were totally unrelated to mine and were very serious on their own. As we chatted I was asked about how I felt… not just the physical illness but the spiritual stress of being ill. I told them both of an interaction with a nurse while I was waiting to be transferred to this hospital. A nurse asked me if I was afraid. I told her that we are not the masters of our own destinies and that I had placed myself into God’s hands. We are not always ready and never aware of what can happen suddenly to change our lives or even our immediate plans. Not all things in life are joyful, not all events are what we wanted in life. We rely on He who is greater than all that is, to see us through.

Both of the clergymen, who later fell ill, told me as I talked to them from my bed in ICU, that I had ministered to them far more than they had planned to minister to me. To what degree then are we stuck in our circumstance in life, in fear, in depression, in want and in living less than we had planned? Does God suddenly intervene when His plan is to use you for His purpose? Is there some hope that lifts us when we fall down, short of the mark we have set for ourselves, or perhaps when we have let God down with our folly and sin. Peter sure had a lot to atone for, yet Jesus held out the hand of Grace and Peter was not only re-commissioned, but empowered for greater ministry to come, though he felt lost and in disgrace.

Life is not always a bowl full of cherries. Sometimes long stretches of walking near the edge can become exhausting, debilitating and worst of all we can find our faith failing. But we need to be reminded that though our faith may fail, God’s faithfulness does not! The difficult part is our faith. There is a connection between the two elements… faith and hope. Do you see it? They go hand in hand and when in those moments of hopelessness we maintain faith in God’s faithfulness, we gain a return to balance in life. Though we go to the very ends of the earth, God’s love and grace is there for us. It is new every morning and holds us through the dark night of despair, even when we cannot feel Him present.

So today maybe you are living, it seems, too near the edge. Maybe it is time to look up, not down; to look outward not inward and see what there is that makes your joy sing. Yes living near the edge has its down side too, but when lived with an open heart, a love for life and reliance upon God for the everyday path you take, the edge can hold a beauty and peace that not everyone can understand, but would love to experience. It is all from where we mirror our perspective… from self or God. I pray that your perspective will be mirrored from God and that your days will be blessed even through the darkest of paths. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Challenging A Fear of the Dark

For most of us there have been struggles with a fear of the dark. It would be simple to say that such a fear is only that which takes place after sunset, when darkness has replaced the light of day. But there are many fears of darkness. As the sunset and the darkness of night began to set in, during my childhood, I felt a distinct fear of the dark. My parents used to ask what was wrong. Many were the nights when there were arguments over my going up to bed alone. As the younger sibling I had to go to bed earlier and that meant facing those fears without an ally for support.

On one occasion, that has never left my memory, I asked for someone to escort me up the stairs and down a long hallway to the bathroom. I was told I was now a big boy and had to learn to do it alone. So, off I went and made it alone to the washroom through the dark. You might ask about putting on a light. Well, it is important to know that this was during the 1950’s and our home’s light fixtures upstairs consisted of pull-chain lights that were much too high for me to reach. As I left the bathroom to return downstairs, I started to run toward what little bit of light I could see and ran directly into the corner of a doorway and put a terrible gash in my eyebrow and was quickly covered with blood. My parents heard my cries and came to see what had happened and took me directly to the doctor. I had to have 5 stitches to close the wound. That same night a long cord was run from the pull-chain light, down the stairwell and was in easy access for future use. But, that did not cure my fear of the dark.

I used to lie in bed at night and wonder what was in the closet or just outside the door. I imagined all the negative things that a child’s mind could conjure up and it was not until my Mom asked me to close my eyes and tell me what I saw, that I began in a small way to understand the true meaning of darkness, as far as my fear was concerned. Knowing that I was not afraid in the afternoon with my eyes closed, I  seemed to get a bit of a sense of comfort in hearing that there was nothing to fear when I was alone in the dark. But still for years there lingered a sense of some remnant of that childhood fear.

Have you ever asked yourself what it is that prompts your personal fears? Perhaps it is the unknown. It may in fact be the feeling of being alone, without support or love. Fear can come in many forms and be both relative and subjective to our condition. In other words it is sometimes, or even most times,  connected to what is taking place in our immediate state of affairs…. our situation in life at present. Have you noticed that during times of absolute joy, while surrounded by family and friends that you love and that have supported and shared with you, that you feel little fear. It is during those moments that we are least likely to feel that we are walking alone or feel deserted, being left to our own resources or strengths. It is during the times that tragedy hits, or when life events turn toward the unbelievably uncertain or perhaps even when temptation is at its worst, that we feel those twinges of fear. It is this fear that we most often feel we must face alone; rather lost in our inability to feel even the presence of God’s love surrounding, supporting and uplifting us.

I have memories of a story, some time ago, of a small child whose parents were in a terrible car accident. The car in which they were driving drove off the road, through a guardrail and over a cliff, landing on a rocky beach. The parents died in the accident, but the child, a little girl, was only badly bruised and was able to get out of the car and sat on a rock on the shore, near the car, for many, many hours until the accident was discovered and the little girl was taken to warmth and safety. When asked how she remained so calm and did not run off and become lost, she calmly stated that a person came to hold her hand and had kept her company while she waited. Can we either accept or understand the idea that we are never alone? We who claim the name of Christ, who endeavor to live lives in tune with what God would want and in so doing worship Him who has given us life not only in eternity, but in fullness, now struggle to do so in the worst of times unless we have love to guide us.

That is a most difficult reality in which to live. Because of sin that surrounds us and the weakness of the flesh, we find ourselves relying on what we are, in relation to our personal strengths and who we identify ourselves as, in terms of family, community and personal reflection. We most often stand on the strength that we are expected to have, and while in some cases these feelings can boost our desire to overcome, many other times they may lead to self-doubt, anxiety and worst of all fear. This fear tries to tell us that we are alone, that no one can or would understand. It is then that our faith can slide and we may cry out; “O God, where are you now?” While this cry may have credence in its inquiry, it does lend itself to the furtherance of our despair if we cannot hear God’s voice in answer to our plea.

It is that darkness that is the worst. It is this darkness that can cloud judgment, confuse the issues or even turn us away from the path that normally we would desire to travel… that toward God and not away from Him. Listening to our hearts rehearse the words of Scripture that tell us, “Fear not, for I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will build you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10) may not even always help us to turn the corner away from fear, and back toward the light of peace unless we have love to surround us... the touch of love that begins to heal the broken spirit.

There is little we can understand about God outside of the Scriptures, books on Biblical study and the revelation of what and who God is to not only those in Scripture, but for us today. Many today ask questions about His relevance to our times and if He really exists for today’s people and spend too much time in the relevance of who they are today and not enough on whom we will be in eternity. Hence the fear comes when our focus on the Giver of Life begins to pale and turns our hearts toward the emptiness of life’s cup and the fertile ground in which more fear grows. It is hard to lean on a God we cannot see, yet it is the only way to realize true faith. Faith is not possible when we try to focus on what we see, it is only possible when we focus on that which we cannot see.

Fear of the dark comes then in many disguises and can follow us throughout our lives. It comes as life changes take place, as we age and note the inescapable mortality that is ours as humanity. It is there as we face everything from unemployment to health issues, to daily life events that harbor thoughts of the great unknown and how it will affect our life and our future. Perhaps the key is not found in our ability to face the fear, but in our ability to remember that we are never alone. As we walk through this life maybe we can practice, during the good times, that ability to see the love that is there before us and be reminded that it does not disappear when our ability to see and feel its presence with us may seem to disappear. It may only be then, after practice, that we will have a partial glimpse of what God is constantly doing in relation to His relationship with us; His presence and love is with us no matter the time or the place… He is always there. Love is always the key; love of others, love of the life we have and most of all, love of God. God looks first at our ability to love in that order, far more than we realize. We must learn to live loved.... loved by God!

Fear of the dark may really be fear of the darkness in our human hearts, found in doubt and a previous experience of being alone in the human context to face fear alone. Take a walk in the other direction over the next few days. Walk towards God, looking for how He has affected your life with all the joys you know in family, friends and surroundings. Take stock of the many blessings and spend little or no time on the disappointments. Be reminded that you breathe because He gave you life and let go of that which may confuse the issue of His love. It will mean walking near the edge of your faith, but it may have an effect on your life, lending a new sense of joy, peace and hope, even when the world may be telling you otherwise.