Friday, January 28, 2011

Forsaking Fathers

On vacation over the summer, I was powerfully struck by my last night on our cruise ship. My friend and I had spent the week with the handful of other single people our age on the boat, and two of them had very incredible stories of their past. Joe and Matt (not their real names) were recovering addicts, from some heavy drugs, drinking, sex. They were incredibly crude, and crass. While they had recovered from one addiction, they simply replaced it with another. They were still fascinating people to talk to - eventually I'll try to explain why my friend and I hung out with them all week.

As a recovering alcoholic, Matt had made a habit of buying all the underage teens on the boat drinks, while he indulged in TONS of coffee and cigarettes. The last night, the teens had circled around us, rowdy because most of them were at least tipsy. One 17-year-old was bragging to us and the gathering crowd how he had slept with 3 girls on that ship already, and his mission at college the next year was to sleep with every single girl on campus. He even demanded that my friend and I sleep with him. Obviously we refused, and this sparked an indignant outrage. He eventually left after trying very hard to pick a fight, and Joe made a comment that I don't think I'll ever forget. Joe asked me what kids like this made me feel.

"Frustrated, annoyed. I really wanted to smack some sense into the kid," I said.

Joe quietly responded, "Kids like this used to make me angry, or I'd pity them. But now, I can only feel compassion. You've got to think, if they're acting out in such dramatic ways as this, they've been hurt in deep, serious ways." And this came from Joe, who the entire rest of the trip had been heavily drinking and trying to sleep with various women himself.

With that perspective, I find it difficult to be angry at kids who lash out. They lash out because there is something deep, hurting desperately inside them. And the louder and more dramatically they cry out or abuse others, it only illuminates the depth of their own pain. We cry out, and try to fill this hole that exists in place of the loving relationships we are missing, even as we fervently deny that anything is missing. We are in control. We don't need anyone else, they'll just hurt us.

We have different ways we reject or accept love, essentially. For our different reasons, we have difficulty loving one another. Maybe we were abused, emotionally or physically. Maybe we lost someone important whom we loved and they loved us, and we've never recovered. We are all hurt people.

Each of us knows loneliness in our hearts. We've all felt that sense of abandonment, that we were missing the fellowship that made us whole. Even God knows this sense of loneliness - and remember we were created in His image. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2) God was lonely, and He created us to have someone to love. He craved a relationship with us.

What about that sense of betrayal each of us have felt? When we are forsaken by those who should love us, especially people who should love us unconditionally? God knows how even this feels. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Jesus died alone on the cross, without his Father, and completely innocent and undeserving of any of his abuse or unlove. Maybe part of Jesus' death on the cross was so that he would intimately know the depths of sorrow and hurt of a father who turned his back on him. Jesus was perfect in that he had no sin, but he was also perfect in that he didn't allow this forsaken-ness to stop him from being our Savior. In fact, it makes him a more compassionate and perfect savior because this hurt brings him even closer to us. Despite this brokenness he experienced, he is still capable of love. He IS love.

"Whoever does not love does no know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8)

Like us, Jesus experienced what it was like to be unloved, left behind, and abused by a loved one. Jesus is perfect, there's no way he deserved any of it. And yet his Father left him forsaken. If the most innocent of us was forsaken by God Himself, then why do we still think if we are forsaken we must deserve it?

The truth is, we fail to realize that when we are hurt or forsaken by those that we love, it is not because we are unworthy of their love. Was Jesus unworthy of God's love?

If we are ever going to begin to heal, we must accept that we are worthy of love, even and especially with, our flaws. We don't have to be perfect to receive love. Jesus was perfect, and yet plenty of people hated him, had him crucified, and even his Father left him alone on the cross. Being perfect does not mean you are loved more.

If you can't accept that there is a God, friends, family, out there that love you unconditionally, you will never be able to give that love to anyone else, including God. You must accept a relationship with God.

This has been very hard for me. I constantly think I am unworthy and shouldn't receive His love. I close His love for me off because I think I don't really deserve it. "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) The only way me or anyone else will ever heal and stop trying to earn love that is impossible to earn is to let love in. God is love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Impatient patient

I'm beginning to understand why the word patience is basically the word patient. Patients really need patience.

I finally got to go to cardiac rehabilitation (can you already tell how impatient I was to get started??) and it sort of set my whole weekend up on a theme. I was told a couple things that morning. I was not allowed to run for another 2 weeks, and the little running I had been doing and justifying to myself could possibly have been putting my recovery in jeopardy. In fact, a lot of what I have been doing has been putting my recovery in jeopardy. I haven't been sleeping like I know I should. I have been trying to do everything and stretching myself entirely too thin, even for a person not recovering from heart surgery. I have been trying to do so much (work, jail ministry, small group, running, devotionals, recovery) that I haven't been able to do any of it properly. In fact, I may be doing more damage by doing all of these half-way then by not doing them at all. I've been lying to myself for weeks now, telling myself I am recovered. I am not.

As I was leaving cardiac rehab Friday morning, I caught myself praying for patience. The patience to wait to run and to sit through my recovery like I should be. Two things occurred to me as I wait at the stoplight praying for that. One, I have prayed this prayer before. And two, God was answering it already.

I should have known better. I know God doesn't just flip a switch, and all of a sudden I have patience. Yet that's exactly what I wanted. God provides me the opportunity to learn patience, and that he has certainly provided to me.

So I have spent this weekend trying to figure out how I learn patience. Of course, silly me, I sort of vainly hoped that I could learn patience in a single weekend. Can I hurry up and learn how to be patient already?! Ooooh silly me. I think it will take some time before I've got patience figured out entirely. And I'm not convinced I ever really will know everything there is to patience: I'm human and flawed and I want things now. I think it's in our nature to be impatient and it's something the devil plays to. (Hey Jesus, turn that stone to bread! "Man does not live on bread alone" Hey Jesus, I will give you the world right now! Just worship me first. "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only". Luke 4) The devil plays upon on our need for instant gratification. Jesus replies not only with the Word that is specifically applicable, but he is patient for God for those things which the devil tries to offer him.

So I've come to think that being patient is faith that God will deliver what you are waiting for. Closely linked to patience is perseverance, because sometimes God gives you a cup to drink before you have what He has promised you.

As I've been dwelling on how desperate I am to run again, I was thinking about the last half-marathon I completed. I can easily say it was the fastest, most comfortable race I've been in, and it was the only one I had a plan for. All the other races I've been in, I had an ad-hoc, shoot from the hip, how am I feeling today approach. And none of those races turned out as well for me as that last one that I had trained specifically for. I had a goal and a plan.

I'm thinking that patience is a lot like that too. We have the strength to be more patient when we know there is a goal and a plan to get there.

What if anyone could receive a medal for a finishing a race, even if you didn't race it? Would something like that even mean anything to you? You didn't have to do anything to earn it.

Part of what makes running and these races so special is that not everyone has the patience to endure them. And it does take a lot of patience to train for months and years and to persevere through the inevitable challenges. But the benefits far out weigh the challenges.

On today, MLKjr day, I've seen this quote flashed around: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." I think patience is like staying on that step as long as you need to, and not attempting to skip over parts of the staircase. There is no shortcut to faith, or to those things we patiently await. So how do we focus on our goal and be patient while we work towards that? I think Paul lays out some of that for us:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

As James says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17)

I think it's also closely related to what follows in that chapter. I feel like athletes especially like to focus on 4:13, but I think God gives us not only physical strength, but the strength for patience and to be content despite our circumstances.
"I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)

So we focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, what is excellent or praiseworthy. These are things for us to focus on instead of our circumstances, instead of what we are impatient for. We focus on these as we faithfully take things one step at a time. We focus on these as we follow a plan towards our goal, even and especially when our plan calls not for action, but for inaction.