Do people of faith struggle with pain?

Does faith in God’s sovereignty produce perpetual happiness?

That seems to be the sometimes spoken and often implied belief of Christianity.

“Rejoice in the Lord always!” “In all things, God works for good!” “God has a plan!”

We push away struggles with platitudes, portraying and either/or kind of faith. You either struggle with pain OR are content in the midst of all circumstances. You either question the direction of your life OR have faith God is at work.

These are implied to be mutually exclusive categories in a life of faith.

The Psalms tell a different story. The Psalms are the prayers of people with a both/and kind of faith. They both tell the struggles of their life AND maintain faith in a God who acts on their behalf. They display both honesty about the depth of their pain AND praise for a God who is present with them.

It is a complicated faith that can sometimes make the Psalms difficult to read. But isn’t it more true to life?

For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.

In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. – Psalm 102:3-5

AND

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” –Psalm 102:18-20

I am prone to pushing away my struggles because I know I shouldn’t feel this way or that. There are others who have much bigger difficulties; I “shouldn’t” be struggling with something like this. I know that God is bigger than all this; I “shouldn’t” be so consumed with something like this.

It is never God who asks me to downplay my pain.

Psalm 102
Psalm 102

God wants us. He desires us to come to Him with our true selves. Which means our Father welcomes the prayers of our honest, complicated, and sometimes contradictory hearts. 

God invites the both/and sentiments of a people who both praise Him and don’t understand Him, who both love Him and are angry with Him, who both ache with pain and find contentment in His love.

I believe God is always good. And I believe life can be really hard.

It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

That was my reflection on Psalm 102. Link up with your own thoughts below. Stop back next week when Psalms Journey moves on to Psalm 103.

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Being HERE is not the same as being HAPPY

  april snowstormNo one likes a spring snow storm.

 

Even the most seasoned Minnesotans among us are upset about this week’s weather. Bundling kids in snowpants and boots and mittens to head to the bus stop on APRIL 10 is wrong. Just wrong. We are supposed to be wrapping ourselves in the smells of spring flowers not scarves and coats that have still not been put in storage.

 

This is what it means to live HERE.

 

Here is a place with summers full of amazing beauty and fun. But here is also a place with winters that sometimes linger beyond what we can bear.

 

Being here, living here, means accepting all of it.

 

We spend so much time trying to be happy. But being here is different than being happy.

 

Here is a mixed bag of joy and frustration. Here is family we’ve known forever and friendships just beginning. Here is seasons of transition and seasons of peace. Here is all of it.

 

Here is contentment.

 

Even when the weather makes me want to pack up and move, I won’t. Because here is worth it.

 

Five Minute FridayThis post is linking up with Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday. A weekly prompt with strict instructions: write for 5 minutes and post. No over-editing. No do-overs. An practice of freedom. A way to let go of perfectionism. An exercise for some not often used writing muscles. Read more posts or link up over there. Today’s prompt was: HERE.

Come and Deny, Follow and Rest

  Is there anything in this world that calls us to deny ourselves?

 

We buy what we want, fight for what we don’t have, and clamor to make it to the top. The more we have, the happier we will be, right? Doesn’t true contentment come with the fulfillment of our desires?

 

The problem is, our desires are insatiable. And we exhaust ourselves trying to fill up on them.

 

I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I have never been thin, and have cycled between overweight and average-sized as I have walked through different seasons. When I have been on the larger side of that spectrum, I have looked at pictures of the smaller me and been filled with “if only” thoughts. If only I could be that size again I would be so much happier.

 

But when I was that size did I actually feel happier? No. I wanted to be smaller.

 

When we achieve what we desire, we only become more aware of the next lurking hunger. Contentment often waits just outside our grasp, taunting us to reach further in order to find it.

 

The story is told that when John D. Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men that ever lived, was asked how much money was enough, he replied: "A little bit more."

 

Enter the words of Jesus,

 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24

 

In the context of our me-centric world, this call sounds so radical. And it brings with it a question:

 

Is it worth it?

 

What if following Jesus makes our lives miserable? His demands are too high. It seems like too much.

 

But then I think of something else Jesus said.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." -Matthew 11:28

 

What if we intertwined these verses? This call to come and this call to follow? Would we see the give and take a little differently?

 

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

– Matthew 11:28-30 and Matthew 16:24-26

 

Our souls are lost. Drifting and weary from the burden of looking out for ourselves.

 

There is a peace found in the confidence of letting go. When we trust in a God who became one of us in order to demonstrate the depth of His love.

 

strivingWe can stop striving. And worrying. And clamoring. And pushing others down. And working ourselves to exhaustion as we try to prove that we are good enough.

 

We are loved. We can rest in that and focus our energy on loving others.

 

When we follow Jesus, we can deny ourselves not because we should, but because we want to.

 

Counter-intuitively, the burden of living for Jesus is lighter than the burden of living for ourselves.  This light burden does not mean our life will always be easy. This is not a promise of happiness, but of peace.

 

It is possible to find rest for our souls.

 

Jesus Said Lent Series ButtonA series to honor the Lenten season by reflecting on various teachings of Christ. Let’s think about who He was and what He came to do by talking about the words that came straight from His mouth.