Partnering in Suffering

  Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

I hung up the phone and cried. I wasn’t guilty of my friend’s accusations, and my heart was broken.

At one time or another, we’ve all been unjustly accused, betrayed, abandoned, blamed, rejected, or used. Sometimes the pain seems unbearable. The world seems unjust. Our suffering seems pointless. and we often feel alone.

At times the world seems unjust

and our suffering seems pointless.

We can’t understand others’ anger because we know our words and actions were motivated by love but somehow met by misinterpretation. The result is agonizing. “What’s the point?” we may think.

God’s word promises a purpose in our suffering: to partner in Jesus’ sufferings. In other words, when we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.  “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13 ESV

When we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.

Think of it like running a marathon at the side of a friend as an encourager and co-participant. This is one of the greatest purposes of our suffering–standing with Jesus in His suffering. What a privilege!

Jesus experienced pain beyond comprehension and gave His life for me. My perspective as co-sufferer with Jesus changes my attitude when I understand I suffer out of love for and in partnership with Him.

What about you?

Seven Signs Bitterness Has Become Boss

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The people I admire most don’t return anger with anger.

I recently watched a friend come under horrific false accusations. They calmly and respectfully laid down healthy boundaries, but they refused to retaliate in anger. The attacks continued for a long period of time and even increased in vitriol. Remarkably, my friend persisted in prayer for his attacker, refused to speak negatively about them, and successfully defeated bitterness.

The Bible is clear about how Christians are to handle bitterness. We’re to refuse to let it have power in our lives. And we don’t have to be rocket scientists to know when it has a stranglehold on our hearts.

 

  1. We talk negatively about the other person. We may try to hide our attitude with a false agenda, but people can see bitterness, even when we’re blind to it. We get annoyed just thinking something positive about the other person. We like it when other people make snide or critical remarks about people we hold bitterness toward. Take the time to be honest with yourself. You’re not hiding anything from God.
  2. We constantly compare ourselves to the other person and get jealous. We see what other people have or how other people are treated and we think, “Hey, I deserve that!”
  3. We avoid “them.” You know what I’m talking about. Moving to the other side of the church. Dodging down another aisle at the store. Not talking to that relative any more. Not going to that group any more. We find ourselves enjoying people less and less.
  4. We’re annoyed when something good happens to “them.” Something inside us wants them to suffer because we think they’ve gotten something we deserve.
  5. We take things personally that aren’t about us. We make assumptions about things without facts. People are against us. People are talking about us. Things aren’t fair. Someone is trying to irritate us.
  6. We complain a LOT about the same things and overgeneralize perceived or actual negative experiences. We develop “tunnel vision” about a person and can only see them from our single, bitter perspective. We hold on to negative perceptions because we’ve rationalized away the positives.
  7. We think the person (or the world) owes us. We feel like we’ve been wronged, we’re owed an apology, and life is unfair.

 

So what’s the answer to bitterness?

Hopefully, we will have the honesty and integrity to see when we’ve given in to sin, repent, and take action to change our heart. Sometimes we may need prompting from the Word or from a loving, brave friend. But left ignored, bitterness will destroy us from the inside out.

Jesus gives the simple (NOT easy) solution for bitterness.

1 Peter 2:23: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Jesus didn’t see himself responsible for responding to abuse and attacks. The word revile is a strong word that literally means to “lambaste” in the manner of attacking and abusing someone. Jesus chose to trust God to make things right. He remained silent.

In the face of abuse, Jesus chose to react with peace, verbally and physically, while trusting God to judge.

Easy? Absolutely not.

Possible? Absolutely, through the power of the Holy Spirit and our conscious choice to lay down what we falsely believe are our so-called “rights.”

He left vengeance in God’s hands. He did not become bitter. He prayed for his enemies’ repentance and best interests (Luke 23:34).

 

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

Tell Someone You Care

A geriatrician holds the hand of an elderly woman with arthritis.

The chronically ill walk a fine line between honesty and duplicity.

Loving, well-intentioned friends and acquaintances frequently ask us how we’re doing. But “How are you?” is typically used as a social greeting in the same category as “Good to see you.” and “How are the kids?”

Most people who ask the question “How are you?” don’t have the time or interest, at least at that moment, for people to talk about how they’re truly feeling.

We may mean it when we say those words, but hearing a literal answer to the literal question is usually not our intent when we ask, right?

Which can feel disheartening to the chronically ill person, since at any moment in time we’re probably not feeling fine. In fact, we’ve learned to push through our pain if we want to interact with family and friends.

Feeling “fine” is often a memory the chronically ill grieve.

In many ways, our lives are not like the lives of our healthy friends and family. We do not have the same choices. Illness may have taken a toll on our finances and career. I may have eroded family relationships. Living with chronic illness means dealing with feelings and circumstances that healthy people are often unaware of. Talking about how we truly feel can sound like complaining, and if we tell people how we really feel every time we feel that way (which is often awful and exhausted every day), we run the risk of sounding like ungrateful, unspiritual wimps and whiners.

So we choose something polite to say, which is usually “Fine.” And we smile and push away resentment for the question. Especially if we’ve been saying “fine” for years when we’re really not so very NOT fine. Besides, if we’re or a social event, we’ve come to enjoy the event and the people. We don’t want to be defined by our illness.

If we’re lucky, we have friends who know what living with illness looks like for us. They probe beneath the surface because they want to help lift the burden, whatever it may be for us. They understand that compassion is an expression of love. They understand that suffering and pain are not to be borne alone.

I appreciate one dear woman who sits near me at church on Sundays. I don’t know her well. She always asks me the dreaded “How are you?” question. Then she tilts her head and follows it with one word: “Really? How are you really?”

The simple question “Really?” tells me she cares about more than a superficial answer.

I don’t go into detail, but I’m always honest when I answer. “It’s been a rough week. My walking has been pretty rough.” “I’m having increasing cramping and pain in my legs.” “My fatigue has really put me down this week.”

She always takes my hands and promises to pray. In less than a minute she has reached out and helped bear a burden.

I’m grateful for this woman who cares enough to ask me for more than a polite answer. It’s not necessary for everyone to do what she does every time they approach someone with chronic illness or who may be suffering in other ways, but it means a lot to know that people will pause and ask about our pain.

Last summer I went to our local zoo with my son’s family, who had come to visit. I knew I couldn’t walk the zoo, so I rented a motorized scooter. Even though I was using a scooter, I was exhausted after several hours and needed to find a place to cool off and rest. I drove the scooter toward the front of the zoo and pulled off under a tree to rest. People passed by me by the hundreds as they headed toward the exit. After I’d been sitting for about thirty minutes or so, a young black man approached me with a concerned look on his face.

“Ma’am, can I help you with anything? Are you all right? Can I get you something? Do you need assistance?”

I reassured him that I was waiting for my family and thanked him. But for more than a year, I’ve pondered what drove that one person to approach me and ask if I needed help. What gave this young man eyes of compassion when hundreds of other people never considered that a lone, obviously exhausted handicapped woman who appeared to be looking for someone might need help?

Do we see the crowd, or do we look for those in need in a crowd?

Who’s in need in your crowd? How can you help the sick and hurting in your community? Perhaps you could bring a meal, grocery shop, do yard work, run to the post office, watch their favorite TV show/athletic event with them, fix their car, help with home maintenance (no one in this house can change light bulbs), purchase their favorite fruit or flowers, or simply stop by for a visit.

Ask God to place one or two people in your life to occasionally look in the eye and ask “Really? You know, it’s easy to look good on the outside and still hurt like crazy on the inside.”

In body, soul, or spirit.

Who has asked you about how you are? What has it meant to you? Who have you helped to encourage and how?

 

One woman who

Encouraging Ourselves Through Truth Talk

vineandbranchesLately I’ve been focuing on the the truth that Jesus is the vine and I am a branch. This means that I’m connected directly to Him. My life flows from Him. My nourishment comes from Him. I can’t do anything that isn’t connected in some way to Him.

I have to admit that I don’t always feel spiritually connected. I need encouragement. Aches and pains, financial challenges, relationship heartaches, and other frustrations can infect my attitude before I have a chance to figure out what day it is (sometimes that takes ALL day). One of the key aspects of practicing my “vine life” has been remaining in conversation with Jesus. To do this I literally envision Him standing beside me (because He IS with me) and telling me all the things He’s said to me in His Word that apply to my life in that moment or in my hurts and challenges.

Conversing with God is one of the best ways to encourage yourself. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10.) This means that I sit quietly as Jesus tells me who I REALLY am. Who He REALLY is to me. What my REAL purpose is in life and on this particular day. What I am responsible for (obedience, loving God and others, trust, repentance) and what He is responsible for (loving and taking care of me).

The more we converse and stay connected to the vine, the more encouraged we become because we focus on truth and Jesus.

For more help on transforming your self talk, check out The Silent Seduction of Self Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God. and to hear more from me and author Wanda Sanchez on the topic of encouraging yourself, tune in to the Freedomgirls Sisterhood blogtalk podcast with host Dawn Damon Monday nights at 8:00ET.

 

When It’s Love and Not Throwing Someone Under the Bus

 

volkswagen-158463_960_720People sometimes use the phrase “throw someone under the bus” when referring to holding friends or loved ones accountable for their actions. I’ve recently heard the term used in circumstances where churches have been reluctant to require legal or other consequences for the immoral or illegal activity of their leadership.

I’ve also heard the phrase used by Christians who don’t want to hurt friends or those they love by causing them to experience the consequences of their actions (lying, cheating, stealing, immorality, abuse, etc).

But what is accountability anyway? Most people think of the word in terms of negative confrontation and discipline. But accountability is a necessity for believers. It’s simply a willingnesss to be transparent and open to questioning, challenging, admonishing, and confession, in order to receive encouragement and growth.  The purpose is to help one another grow spiritually.
Scripture is clear that as Christians we are to hold one another accountable.

  • Galatians 6:1-2 states that as Christians we are to go to those who are caught in transgressions (sins) and gently restore them. This verse refers to this as lifting a burden from them–an act of kindness toward them–as well as fulfilling God’s law or expectations for us. The word restoration implies action on their part, fixing what was broken. In order to be restored, we must first admit that something was broken–something inside and about us.

    Holding one another accountable for our sins is an act of love. 

  • Matthew 18:15-17 tells us that personal disputes should be resolved face-to-face. If those attempts fail, we should enlist the mediation of Christian friends, and if that’s not successful, we should consult the church or its leaders. In other words, we can’t simply sit back and say, “Confrontation is too hard.” “I don’t feel comfortable doing this.” Restoration is part of family life for Christians.
  • James 5:16 says to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” We need one another–to hold each other up so we don’t stumble and get tripped up by sin. Accountability means that we question, challenge, admonish, confess, and encourage each other for love’s sake, not for ourselves.

Not long ago an extended family member came to live in our home. Our relationship had always been strained. I
struggled with the idea of telling them there would be a need for boundaries in our home. No one had ever laid down
boundaries with my loved one before, and I didn’t expect our conversation to be positive. But my desire was
that they grow beyond their constant criticism of others, I would implement consequences if they criticized other
family members, our church, people they didn’t approve of, or our family’s personal choices. I expected the same
standard of conduct expected of other family members. Much to my surprise, after several pouting session, this
loved one complied. The entire balance of our relationship shifted as a result.

“Throwing someone under the bus” is an act of abandonment. Confronting someone in love is an act of mercy done on their behalf. Never in a spirit of pride. Never for one’s personal good. Always for the spiritual benefit of the other and in a spirit of humility and grace.

I thank God for the people who’ve come to me in this place in my life. They snatched me out of the path of the real giant busses that have nearly crushed my soul. I was simply too oblivious to see them.

Thank God for accountability and love and relationships and love that cares enough not to leave us where we are. Just like Jesus.

One-for-All Love

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I was doing my devotions this morning and was so blessed, I just had to write a blog.

I’ve always understand that God lives in me. I’ve understood that I’m made in the image of God.

I’ve understood that I’m joint-heir with Jesus and that the same Holy Spirit that empower Jesus empowers me.

But this morning I was reading John 17. There I saw that God and Jesus shared the very likeness so that Jesus could accomplish God’s plan in the world. John 17:11 states that Jesus is no longer in the world, but we, His children are. He desires that we BE ONE, just as Jesus as God are one.

Our unity as brothers and sisters should reflect the unity and love of the Father and the Son.

To put it in very simple terms my actions and words should convey “One for all, and all for one” love.

If you pay attention when you read the Bible, you see that Jesus only ever says positive things about the Father. The Father only ever says positive things about the Son.

I’ve known very few people like this in my life–people who always believe the best first about others, who refuse to listen to gossip, who don’t speculate about what they don’t know, who don’t thrive on the type of voyeurism that has become part of our media culture and mentality.

The truly mind-boggling thing is that God’s very image is manifested in His Son, which is manifested in us (John 17:21).

Through our unity and love, we have the same power to glorify God as Jesus.

Okay people, can I get an Amen! or a Hallelujah!? Today, you can choose to love people in a way that glorifies God here on earth with the same power as Jesus Christ. Nothing prevents you from exercising that power but your own self-choice. I can choose.

As God’s children, we have POWER to change the world. Today. Wherever we are.

Think about that today before you speak.

Before you spend your money.

Before you ignore that prompting.

Before you say “yes” to that urge.

Before you dishonor your body. Or your spouse/future spouse. Or your friend. Or the person you see as your enemy. Or your employer.

“So that the world may that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).

 

 

The Judge in All of Us

gavel

I made my way through the crowd milling in the church foyer toward my good friend. She saw me coming and waved me to her side Tall and sleek in a camel blazer and  brown slacks, she looked as stunning as ever.

I heaved an inward sigh.

I’d called and left messages. Texted. Offered to bring soup, but no response. 

But I understood. Cancer explains so many things, including being too sick to pick up the phone.

We chatted briefly about her illness and mine. Our conversation drifted to the indignities and realities of sickness.

Not being able to go to the bathroom. Not being to stop going to the bathroom.

Nausea. Headaches. Chronic pain.

Fatigue so deep you cry at the thought of putting on your pajamas.

Brain fog so intense you’re not sure you can find your bedroom.

We were laughing as we made our way toward the auditorium–two sisters who understood one another’s private worlds.

She stopped briefly and looked into my eyes. “I have to apologize to you, Shelly. I had no idea what you were going through a few years back when we were working together. I judged you when you were in pain and needed a break, and I let you know it. I was filled with pride toward people who were suffering. I didn’t have a clue what it felt like to be ill all the time. Please forgive me.”

Of course I forgave her. I’d forgiven her long ago. And I never, ever, ever wanted her to suffer with cancer, something I’d always feared for her because of her family history.  I’d trusted her heart and understood that she’d been acting out of ignorance of what she didn’t understand and judged anyway–just like we all do. That didn’t mean I hadn’t been hurt and felt judged.

We all judge people and circumstances we don’t understand or can’t relate to.

People who disagree with us or dislike us, people who are different from us, people whose values we dislike, people we don’t understand.

Take for instance, the guy standing on the corner in the snow asking for money. I tell myself he’s a scammer. I’m doing him and society a favor by not handing him a few bucks or a warm fast-food hamburger. Judgment without knowledge.*

Or what about my brother or sister in Christ who worships differently than I do? Or holds a different view of drinking or vacationing or educating their children or fill-in-the-blank?  What scripts do I write that demean their value as children of God?

One of the greatest gifts of my life is my deep friendship with a dear woman of God who is unlike me in more ways than I can count. Our backgrounds are as contrasting as black and white. We are not the same race. She is a hippie pretending to be an adult. She has taught me to see people who are different from me through new eyes and with fresh compassion. She has given me the desire to ask, “What brought you here?”  “What pain do you carry?” “What things have made your heart cry out for God?”

But rather than express curiosity and seek commonality, we typically gravitate toward pride and judgment.

If we listen to our self-talk, we’ll find we judge others 24/7.

Our kids, our spouses.

Neighbors, friends, co-workers.

Relatives and their relatives, neighbors, and friends. But he antidote for negative self-talk and judgment of others is actually quite simple. We’re to love others as we would want to be loved.

Our church family.

Politicians. Politicians. Politicians.

The answer for our judgmental hearts is as easy and as difficult as loving others as we want to be loved.

In other words, treating others as we would want to be treated.

If we were homeless and standing on a cold street corner.

If we had cancer, a mental illness, chronic illness or needed a second chance.

If we were considered an enemy or an adversary.

With humility, grace, and dignity.

Like Jesus, with freedom in forgiveness and lavish love.

Evaluate your self-talk. Are you loving others as you would want to be loved?