I think that maybe, that’s what I need, God.
To recalibrate my mind. My soul.
But I can’t seem to do it. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I am failing.
He makes it sound so easy. He makes it sound so cross-stitch. He makes it sound so memorizable.
But it’s not.
Well, it is memorizable. But it’s not so easy.
To deliberately and systematically and with great determination fight against the pull to conform to this world takes a great deal of energy. At least, it seems that way. The world gets so in the way. I get in the way. I am in the way.
And then, Paul goes on to provide a sort of laundry-list of what marks a true Christ follower. Stuff like “ Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And much more. Rejoice. Be patient. Be constant. Be all the things that I wish I was. Do all the things that I say I’m going to do. Be hospitable. Abhor the evil. Do not seek vengeance, Overcome evil with good. Love with brotherly love.
But, God, I am failing. At all of those things.
Sin is easy, God. This list from Paul is not. Sin is the easy route. I like to pride–ugly, constant pride–myself on not ever taking the easy road in life, as sort of a ‘badge of courage”, but that’s not really true. I do take the easy road. So often. I take it in the form of cynicism. Of bitterness. Of building a fort around both my mind and soul–impenetrable. Granite. I feel nothing God.
Nothing but blinding cold out here on the beach. At 5:17 am. Goodness, it is bitter cold. Much colder than I thought it would be. I wanted the idea of “church on the beach” during this last full day here at the condo. I suppose I wanted some “kum-by-yah” moment, as ridiculous as that sounds. I wanted to see the sunrise this morning. I wanted to see evidence of you. I wanted to be able to echo Thomas in seeing that evidence. But my soul, it is cold out here. Shockingly so, the wind off the ocean. And dark. This wasn’t what I expected.
But maybe this is what I need. Maybe this is what I deserve.
Not the beauty of the sunrise. Not the stereotypical “O, look, I see God in the sunrise” experience. Maybe what I need–maybe what I deserve–is the shock of the cold out here. I’m huddled under a stolen blanket to protect my laptop (I most certainly should not have this down here–I didn’t think that through. God? Do you protect laptops?) from ocean spray and blowing sand, but it’s still so cold. This plastic chair I also stole from our deck to bring down here offers little protection as well. My fingers burn from the cold. My nose is runny. My ears are numb. And my eyes are full of tears–not because I’m sad. I’m not. If anything, I’m sinfully angry.
Ok, maybe there is some sadness, as well. Complete honesty and all that, I suppose. But that’s not why there are tears. No, these tears are because this crazy cold wind keeps forcing the tears out. I can barely see to type.
The cold is shocking.
When a heart is experiencing an attack and stops beating, the paramedics grab the defibrillator to shock it back into rhythm.
God, shock my soul back into rhythm, here on this beach.
Recalibrate my soul to the gospel, God. I don’t need a tune-up. I don’t need a jump-start. I don’t need a vacation.
I need a shock. A life-giving shock.
Recalibrate my soul, o God.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.