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.