God’s Compassion is Painful

Broken Heart

 

 

Why does Jesus have to be so compassionate?

It’s not that I don’t want Him to be.  I do; I know that I do.  I wouldn’t want Him to be any other way.  Neither would you.  I don’t think that I want a cold, impersonal Savior, really.  But, sometimes, that compassion hurts.  Sometimes, that compassion is painful.

I went to bed a bit stirred up last night.  My oldest boy spoke so openly and honestly with me in the evening about his fears and nervousness for the upcoming weeks as he quickly approaches Boot Camp.  He also spoke much to me about how much he misses his father.  First time he has been that open about his ache.  He’s scared.  And I’m scared for him, although I know that the potential and opportunities are immense for him, in choosing the Navy route.  But it is going to be anything but easy.  He has some unique physical/mental challenges to overcome.  He can do it, I’m sure of it.  But still.

Unable to sleep, and wanting to quiet my mind, I did what I do occasionally–I listened to a sermon.  Many times, that helps me fall asleep–not necessarily because I wish to be bored to sleep (although that certainly has worked in my favor at times), but often because it just gets my mind to switch gears.

Not so, last night.

The sermon I played was centered, primarily, on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which was this past weekend.  I didn’t know that when I clicked “Play”; the passage in the subject line didn’t indicate that it would be–it was not your typical “Sanctity Sunday” passage.  Had I known it was on that topic, I probably would not clicked-not because I don’t think Sanctity of Human Life is important, I do.  But it is also a bit difficult to listen to–it’s not a topic I, right or wrong, give deep thought to, for many reasons.  However, once it got going, it was like a train wreck–I couldn’t seem to make myself shut it down.  And so, there it was–that topic, with an emphasis on the compassion of Jesus, our need to be compassionate, and a call to act in some way.

But what got me was the compassion of Jesus.

I didn’t sleep much.

Then, this morning, in my inbox was an email from a new friend, walking through a hell that I am all-too-familiar with.  It is a gift and privilege to walk with her–it is always an honor and gift to be granted the chance to sit with someone in their pain, always–but it so aches as well; like a scab ripped off.

God must see and know.  Exodus 2:25  Not only does He see and know; He is also compassionate.  Psalm 147:3:

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.

The compassion of God, O, my soul, can be a painful thing, though.

Let me explain:

Several years ago, I tripped while walking (physical grace I do not possess, in any way, shape or form).  That trip resulted in a shattered leg and several pins, screws and a plate.  The pain was intense as I sat on the ground trying to figure out what to do next.  It was increasingly intense sitting in the waiting room alone for 4 hours until it was finally my turn.  It was excruciating during the x-rays and examination and prior to surgery.  But, you know what?  After the surgery, during the healing, the pain was intense as well.  The actual healing and the “binding up” of the wounds after surgery was painful–in some ways, more painful than the original breakage itself.

Sometimes, I find the same thing to be true with compassion.

Maybe I’m an odd duck.  I know I’m an odd duck.  But it is truth.

I can be hard-hearted, cold and cynical.  I pride myself on stoicism–always have, and not the good kind of pride, either, if there is such a thing as good pride.  I obsess over what others think—I despise the idea of anyone seeing me as weak.  As being not strong.  I get immense pride (the ugly kind, this I know for sure–the ugly kind) when people say things like “You are so strong!”  I even crave such words!  It feeds into that inner pull to say “Why, yes I am.  I am strong.  I don’t need anyone or anything.”  Not even God.

But, that is not truth.  I need God.  I need His salvation, His justification.  I need His grace.  And, as much as I hate the need–despise it even, I need His mercy–His compassion.

I can give out compassion all day long (that sounds callous, but I can’t find any other words).  But I can’t take it.

When someone speaks compassionate words to me, I cringe.  When someone looks me in the eyes with compassion, it burns like fire–I look away.  And on the rare occasion that someone dares to hug me not in greeting, but with a hint of a “compassionate-feel” to it, well, I can’t describe it other than to say it hurts, deeply.  It slays me.  It’s painful.  Always has been.

And, when the God of all compassion turns His eyes upon me through words in scripture, through the intimacy of time spent in prayer before Him, through music, and through actions of others, I tend to run.

Give me something to debate theologically or doctrine-wise and I’m great.  Give me spiritual disciplines to march to, and I’m good to go.  Give me a need to fill–a bathroom to clean, a yard to rake, a “mission” to do and I do it efficiently.  Voicing my doubts?  Yeah, I can even do that fairly well now.  But compassion from God?  Not so much.

His gaze is intense.  It sears.

But, just like my broken leg (and your sprained ankle, or dislocated shoulder, or toothache, or heart attack, or whatever injury/illness you have faced in your life) had to be painfully healed through the “binding up” that came with pins/screws/plates/staples and a series of casts, so do the things of the soul–the painful things.  The ugly things.  The dark things.  The back-road/dark paneled, noisy air-conditioned rooms/dank bathrooms/despairing things.  The broken marriages.  The jail sentences.  The death of loved ones.  The wayward child.  The painful things.

Even our own, ugly sin.

God heals through the death of His son for the forgiveness of our sins.  We see that so plainly in Romans 6:23 and Psalms 78:38-39.  So plainly.

And He heals through His compassion.  He sees and knows.  And binds up the things that are broken.  Painful, yes.  Necessary, yes.

I don’t often look full-on at Jesus.  I take side-ways glances–I find them safer, less painful.  But someone I once knew said something along these lines one day:  “When we want to run away from Him, that is probably the time we are most in need of running to Him.”

I have found this to be truth, even when running to Him has been painful.  Is painful.  Is painful today.  Every hesitant, stumbling, lurching step.  His saving grace, love and compassion, while painful, is the healing surgery I need on my soul.

Only He can cut out the cancer.  I can’t do it.  I wish I could.

And neither can you.

 

 

Unspeakable

Unspeakable

There are some things that are……..unspeakable.

You have unspeakable things in your life’s story.  Things that are so painful, they cannot be uttered.  Things that are so slashing that there really are no words for them.  You have things you are deeply ashamed about, things that-if dwelled upon–can send you reeling in seconds, things that just hurt.  That ache.

I do, too.

We sometimes refer to these things as being “unspeakable” because to give voice to them lies in the nearly unbearable category.  To put them to words is an extremely rare event, and one that seems dangerous to us.

If we do so, it is a sacred moment.  A hallowed moment.  Even in the searing-ness of it all.

There are other things, as well, that are………….unspeakable.

We don’t always describe them as unspeakable.  We may even be much more apt to try to put this “something” into words.  We are certainly inclined to try to do so.  But often we cannot.  Often, there are not words to adequately describe these moments that are unspeakable.

They are moments of joy.

Joy is not happiness.  We can capture happiness in a picture, or in a few words, “I’m so happy to see you!”  “I was so excited to read that book!”  “It was a thrilling ride!”  But joy?  Joy is something quite different.

In this Advent season, we set our souls to Joy, on this third Sunday.  We—or I—look at it sideways, actually, like so many other things.  Afraid, as always, to look at it full on.  To look joy in the eyes.  Because, joy comes not as an object but in the form of a person–a tiny human, veiled deity, sleeping in a manger.  A person I can barely gaze upon.

Unspeakable.

Joy is not dependent upon circumstances.  It just isn’t.  Just tonight, at our church’s Christmas musical, a dear gentleman who is dying of the ugly that is cancer, greeted people from his wheelchair–weakly yet in joy.  And, maybe that is how we, too, should be found.  Weak, in joy.  Weak, because of the hard things of this life:  cancer, abuse, poverty, crime, grief.  Weak because of our sin.  Weak because of our shame.   Weak because of our abject neediness–our very dependence upon the very God.

It’s the joy that comes in the form of a weak, dependent baby.  Our Savior, once a child.  Always our God.  Once needy Himself; a helpless babe, yet clothed in majesty and all things strong.

Our own abject neediness goes against the grain of who I am.  It grates against my fiber like nails on a chalkboard.  And yet, I can’t deny that some of the most intense moments of joy in my life have been when I’ve been the weakest.  Holding a newborn baby, after giving birth.  On an isolated and lonely beach, staring at the ocean and thinking “Maybe God is real.  Maybe He knows my name.”  On my face in a darkened sanctuary at 3:30 am, with my ex-husband in prison and my children deeply hurting and nowhere to turn.

Those moments of joy simply cannot be described, and some certainly cannot be explained.  They just can’t.

And that’s why they are unspeakable.

Sometimes joy is so unspeakable, that it hurts.  Our English language is inadequate in this situation, but the Chinese have a word that expresses it perfectly:  “tung-kuai”, which means “painful joy”.

Yes, that’s it,  Painful joy.  Joy found in weakness.  Joy in the midst of pain.  Joy that is pain.  Joy that cries out for the coming Messiah–the one who has come and the one who is here with us and the one that will return someday.  Soon, please.

And, so.  And so we see in Isaiah again, in 61:10, what is and what is to come:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

There are no words to capture the joy of salvation.  There are no words to wrap around being covered with the robe of righteousness.

These things–they are unspeakable.

15 Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

2nd Corinthians 9:15

A Hard Day Redeemed

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4:00 am or so this morning:  Wide awake.

Wide awake, crushed by the very stale, old hauntings of defeat that occasionally visit me in the middle of the night.  Too familiar strains of “I can’t do this” bounced around in my brain.  No reason in particular.  Nothing I can put a finger on.  I think that’s why I refer to them as old and stale.  Familiar, but not in a cozy sweater familiar-ness.  No, much more of a “Panic and Fear” familiar-ness.  My arch-enemy.

Difficult-to-read letters from a prison cell 3 hours from here.  No heat in our house–heater won’t come on.  A stressful and dreaded business trip to the west coast this week.  A 2-page long to-do list before leaving for LA.  Bills.  Decisions.  Parenting.  Health issues.  A son with a broken car and no way to get to work.  And, an awakening at 4:00 am.

I didn’t want to get out of bed.  And I didn’t.

I didn’t get up, I didn’t study or pray.  I didn’t start my day or prepare my heart for worship.  In fact, I wasn’t going to go.  No, for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t seem to get my mind and soul to a place where I could walk out the door and be with my church family.

I was defeated.  Life-1  (or, Enemy-1)  Shelly-0

Things have been going well.  So much so.  God is faithful, faithful, faithful.  Steadfast.  And, I am standing fast.  In Him.  But, there are still difficult days.  Hard days.  Not often, at all–not always, but sometimes.  Rarely.  Occasionally.  And, this morning was one of those mornings.

I lay in that bed trying to still the pounding of my heart and the shaking of my hands.  No tears.  No praying.  Just a swirl of panic and fear and racing thoughts.  For nearly 5 hours straight.

It was not pretty.

Until, at 9:55, when there was a knock on my door.  Worship service starts at 10:00.

Now, normally on a Sunday morning, I am the one urging everyone to get moving.  To wake up.  To get to church.  They go, but, not without some prodding.  They are teenagers.  And, if I don’t prod, chances are they will sleep right through.

This morning, I decided we weren’t going.  I wasn’t going to prod anyone, not even myself to go.  I had a thousand reasons not to.  The to-do list.  I had no “official responsibilities” this morning.  The panic.  The fear.  The pull to hide.  But then there was a knock on my door.  It was my sophomore.  He asked me, “Mom, are we going to church?  Everyone’s ready.  Can I ride with you?

In those moments, my first instinct was to tell him “I’m not going.”  Everything within me pounded those words in my head.  But what I heard come out of my mouth was this:  “Ok, I’ll be out in a second.”  And I dragged my weary body out of bed, proceeding to hurriedly get ready.

I threw on a skirt, ran a brush through my hair, brushed my teeth, pulled on my boots and we were out the door before I could think about what I was doing.  We parked a ways from the building–that’s what happens when you are late–and walked quickly to the side entrance.  You know the one–the “band entrance” that conveniently avoids any interaction.  Worship had started.  The band was playing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”.  We climbed to our “spot” in the balcony; our little bubble of isolation.

And, finally, my heart began to settle.  The panic began to ease.

It didn’t happen spontaneously or quickly.  No, it wasn’t until about 1/2 way through the sermon that I became aware that I was actually listening to the sermon and not to the voices inside of my head reciting my to-do list, or relieving past horrors, or looking for solutions to the heating issue, or replaying words in a letter from prison.  All of that slowly faded, as my mind centered on the scripture that was being spoken of from the pulpit.  The passage was this:

Philippians 3:10-16

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

What does this look like, in this hard life?  What was Paul getting at in this letter?

I know Him and the power of His resurrection, when I share in His sufferings.

I must press on.  I must.  Because Christ Jesus has made me His own.  His own–through adoption.  His own.  Known, seen, loved, died for.

Things haunt me.  They haunt me, relentlessly.  How in the world do I forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead?  I don’t know how to do that, apart from God.  I can’t do that, without God’s help.  I can’t do that, on my own.  I’ve tried.  I’ve failed.

However, when I put verse 16 into play–holding true to what I have attained–it is then that I see that God has not abandoned.  Others have.  Others have, a very few, and it hurts so badly.  But God has not.  And what is it that I have attained?  God’s grace.  His boundless, endless grace.  And mercy–His forgiveness of my grievous sins.  And salvation.  And justification.  And, sanctification.  And, it is not so much that I have done anything to attain these things, but that God has attained them for me.  I simply must hold true to the truth.

And press on.

At the end of service, I was unable to slip out quietly, as had been my plan, because a dear friend joined me at the end of service, wanting to speak to me.  She spoke huge, huge words of encouragement.  Huge words.  Her words were a gift to me.  She doesn’t know that her words have urged me to press on.  To keep going.  The words of Philippians 3 were a gift to me this morning.  The stillness of our church sanctuary was a gift to me.  And, my kid’s unexpected push to attend church this morning was a gift to me.

And so.

So this afternoon I have worked diligently.  I have prepared for the work week and packed for my trip.  I have cleaned house and have contacted someone to look at our heater.  I have called AAA to pick up my son, who is currently stuck on the side of the road with a broken-down vehicle.  I have paid bills and re-adjusted our budget.  I have practiced music with my girl, and laughed with my crew.  I have written words.

And God, once again, has settled my soul.

A day redeemed, because, thank be to God, He has redeemed me.

When the Comet Sings

comet

I was working hard this morning, buried in agendas and spreadsheets and details of a trip I need to take next week for work.  My world had shrunk to just me and my documents and my computer.  I was clicking off tasks left and right, making notes, shooting off emails, highlighting charts.

In the midst of this, at about 7:30 this morning, my phone made that buzzing noise to let me know a text message had arrived.

It was from my boy.

It read “Mom!  You’ve got to check out the comet on Channel One!  It makes music!”

A couple of things about this text:

  • He probably wasn’t supposed to be sending texts during class.
  • He knows I love Channel One.  He does too.  Sigh, a son after my own heart.

Channel One used to be the highlight of my day when I substitute taught at the middle and high schools of our county.  It is a brief, informative news show that is live streamed for the students before they begin their day.  I love it.  My kids are always telling me something interesting they have learned on Channel One, often leading to excellent conversations about culturally relevant issues.

Plus, it is quite nerdy.

I pushed back from my desk and did a search on the comet.  I knew that the European Space Agency had successfully landed a spacecraft landing on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  That was very cool in and of itself.  The unmanned probe that carried the spacecraft was launched in 2004.  Yes, you read that right–2004!  You can see a timeline of it’s journey here (at Channel One).  The “route” afforded the probe a close fly-by of Mars and an asteroid.  It was powered-down in 2011 in order to conserve energy–thus resulting in a 3-year blackout period where scientists basically had no idea of its status.  It powered back up on January 20th of this year, 2014.  And, on November 12th, the probe released the Philae lander, which experienced a successful touch-down on the comet 7 hours later.

Incredible.

(as an aside, it has kind of been fun to watch the Twitter trend #WeCanLandOnACometButWeCan’t  There are some incredibly witty people out there in this world)

I did a bit of research into what my son had told me–that I needed to “hear” the comet’s music.  This is the video I found:

Again, incredible.

And, once again, I am reminded of the God who creates.  And, that He is creative in that creation.

When the comet “sings”, I am called to worship my God who creates, and echo the words of the psalmist in Psalm 8:3-4:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

What is man, indeed?

When the comet “sings”, I am reminded of Isaiah 40:26, where I am commanded to “lift up my eyes and see”:

Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
    and because he is strong in power
    not one is missing.

And, if I believe God can create a comet that “sings” (I’m not dismissing the scientific elements of this “song” as discussed on the official Rosetta blog located here; quite the contrarily I am affirming that these scientific elements exist precisely because they were designed to exist), then I also must believe that God “sings” over me.  No, I am not making some existential jump.  I am saying that the God of scriptures delights in creating, and He delights in me.  He delights in me!  How is that even possible?

I am saying that the words of Zephaniah 3:17 are truth:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Just as the scientists of the European Space Agency have “discovered” this “song” that has existed for years, I have discovered these truths in Zephaniah which have existed for ages:

God is present.

God is a mighty one who has saved me and is continually saving me.

God rejoices over me with gladness.

God quiets me with His love–every single day; He quiets my mind, He quiets my soul.

He exults over me with loud singing.

My soul.  O, my soul.