October 22, 2017

The Invasion Of Life

So last Wednesday night I had to ask Chaplain Mike to take my Thursday posts as I had no internet service, and I didn’t feel well enough to drive to a coffee shop, even if I could find one at nine o’clock that was still open and would stay open for two or three hours. This was just another in a long series of fun and games I’ve been going through for some months now. It was just another circumstance that added to my level of …

Stress.

I’ve shared with you about my health here. I’m getting better. My doctor told me that my heart is solid; that, in his words, I “cannot die of a heart attack for the next 40 to 50 years.” The chest pains I’ve been having? They could be caused by muscle spasms. The periods of incredible weakness? That is stumping him, unless both are caused by …

Stress.

Then there was the situation with my computer. I would be writing, oh, an iMonk essay, and my computer would refuse to allow me to type any more words. It would freeze for minutes when I wanted to switch to a different window. It finally got to the point where to write an essay for iMonk became an exercise of faith similar to that which Joshua faced when walking around Jericho. But you all stepped up and provided enough for me to get a new computer to keep this site going, thus relieving that aspect of my …

Stress.

As I write this a little before midnight on Wednesday night, I have been texting back and forth with my sister. She had first called to let me know our mom was rushed to the hospital with chest pains and symptoms of dehydration. I’ve been trying to find out what is going on. Mom is still in ER, and Dad lost his cell phone, so I’m not sure I will hear anymore tonight. But that hasn’t lessened any of the …

Stress.

There is the ongoing situation with my son. A book project that is dragging on and on. Bills with the words “Disconnect Notice” stamped across the front. Replacing my car that was totaled as someone hit me from behind as I was pulling into my doctor’s office.

Stress.

Stress.

Stress.

Stress.

I heard someone once say that what we now call stress our grandparents would have called “life.” That these things happen, you bear up under them, and soldier on. Perhaps they were much heartier stock then. Or perhaps our problems are much worse than theirs. Or maybe we have just forgotten that it rains on the just and the unjust, and sometimes that rain makes things all muddy and brings forth skinny worms that muck up the sidewalks. Maybe we have become a society so used to having our way that when we don’t get it we cry “Unfair!” and need to have an army of medical, legal, and psychological helpers to be sure our situation is made right before the evening news.

There is a Christian version of this, of course. It’s called by many names. Spiritual warfare. Deliverance. Rebuking the devil. Getting what we deserve. Sometimes it leads to the “faith game.” You know, “If you just had more faith, none of these things would happen to you.” It is as if we can find that tightrope to walk, we will be held aloft from all problem. Keep your eyes on the prize, we’re told. The prize of heaven. Get your eyes off of the prize for even a moment and—whoops!—down you go. For many Christians any signs of stress mean you are not walking in God’s “perfect will.” And, of course, it is up to you to get yourself up out of the pit you’ve fallen into and climb back on that tightrope. People are counting on you, you know. There’s no time to be wallowing in the mire of life.

Life. It’s what happens each day. Good days, bad days, average days, boring days. They all make up life as we know it. Much of what happens will produce stress in some form or another. Do we really think it strange that we should go through hard times as Christians? What makes us exempt from life just because we have confessed Jesus as the Christ who takes away our sins? Life happens to all who live. Go breathe on a mirror. Did it fog over? Then you are alive and should expect birds to poop on you just like they do everyone else. Attending Sunday school on a regular basis does not earn you a “Get Out Of Life” card. Loved ones will die. Banks will foreclose. Jobs will be lost. And you may—just may—develop a horrible disease and suffer the rest of your life.

Suffer. The worst cuss word a Christian can hear. We do everything in our power to avoid suffering. When God calls us to walk on the path of faith, do we really think it is going to be a stroll on a grassy lane with butterflies and bluebells? More likely it will be dark and twisting and lonely. It will be a path where others who are standing in a cool, dry, shady spot will tell us just what we’re doing wrong. Repeatedly. Out loud. And with the sweetest Christian lingo imaginable. For many Christians, suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure with you just as assuredly as financial prosperity is God’s sign of his favor. Thus, to show you are suffering—to admit you are sick or behind in the bills or are struggling in any way—is tantamount to admitting you are not a very good Christian.

And to this I cry bull. What does the invasion of Life into my individual life have to do with wheter or not I am walking with Jesus? I’m alive. For instance, people run into other people’s cars all of the time. I don’t think this was to teach me some grand lesson or was a demonic attack. I think it was because someone wasn’t paying attention to the big ol’ Buick that was stopped with its turn signal on in front of him. I don’t think my mom is in the hospital because it is God’s way of “getting her attention.” I think it’s because she hasn’t been taking care of herself like my sister and I, along with our dad, have been encouraging her to do. I don’t think my computer died so the devil could prevent iMonk from being published for a day or two. I think that, even though it was an Apple, it was an electronic device, and all electronic devices are evil.

Life happens. It’s happening a lot to me right now. Maybe I don’t have enough faith, but I know I have more right now than I did a year ago. I am learning and growing to know that God really can take care of us in anything. And he doesn’t need my help grunting and straining to produce mountain-moving faith. My faith may always remain the size of a mustard seed, yet according to Jesus it doesn’t have to be any larger than that to move a mountain.

So I will bear with the stress that life brings, and I will thank the Lord for the stress, for that proves I am still alive. And, most days, that beats the alternative.

Comments

  1. I’m about where you are, Jeff. Standing with you, bruh.

  2. “O Lord Jesus Christ, many and various are the things to which a man may feel himself drawn, but one thing there is to which no man ever felt himself drawn in any way, that is, to suffering and humiliation. This we men think we ought to shun as far as possible, and in any case that we must be compelled to it. But Thou, our Savior and Redeemer, Thou who wast humbled yet without compulsion, and least of all compelled to that humiliation in the imitation of which man discovers his highest honor; ah, that the picture of Thee in thy humiliation might be so vivid to us that we may feel ourselves drawn unto Thee in lowliness, unto Thee who from on high wilt draw all unto Thyself” (Søren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity, p. 150).

  3. Jeff-

    I’m far from where I want to be in life……. Loved one recovering from mental illness. My Mom is still pancreatic cancer free. My sister is afraid of losing her job due to the economy. Meanwhile I’m stuck in a job that I’ve spent years trying to change. Dragging my butt out of bed day after day to fight some of the worst traffic in the US to go to a job I wish I could have left is hard. For me life has been day to day….

    My one request is that you do not go down the hyper-Calvinist/reformed path in trying to find answers to life. There’s a lot of deep theology in the phrase, “s#!t happens”. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t pull a John Piper or Mark Driscoll on us. I and other people here after what we went through to get to this point will not have the stomach to hear “an answer” for everything.

    I say that in love and with concern.

    • Eagle, we Catholics prefer the much classier version of that bit of thelolgy…..

      “MERDE OCCURETH!”

      🙂

    • The Previous Dan says:

      As a Christian I believe that there is a reason for everything that happens. I just don’t believe we can always know what that reason is. At least not on this side of things.

      • Dan-

        Okay, when that Baptist Sunday school teacher rapes, and molests that 9 year old over a 2 year period What is the theological reason behind that? If there is a reason, where God allows a kid ot be molested for some purpose, than I better get comfortable to being agnostic becuase i will not worship a God that sick.

        • The Previous Dan says:

          One person is born into wealth and privilege. Another is born into poverty and pain. 100 years from now does it matter? No. Why? You can’t envy the one and pity the other because both will be equally dead. They have become equal in pleasure and pain. They don’t care what happened in life. You don’t believe me? Ask them and see if they say differently. Oh wait, they can’t answer. They’re equally dead. They’re equally gone.

          If there is no God and this life is all there is then death becomes the great equalizing absurdity. You’re free to choose to believe that. But then neither pleasure/pain, good/evil, happiness/sadness matters much. It is all for nothing because we are only here briefly and we all die too soon.

          But if there is a God then what happens here matters, but not nearly as much as what happens in the next life. Everything will be judged and all accounts will be settled. We will have justice (and Mercy, thank God). I don’t say this flippantly as someone who hasn’t experienced pain. I’ve had my share and that includes an experience similar to the one you described. But I have chosen to believe that God has something better for me when I leave this place. All this is just preparation. Sometimes it has been wonderful, sometimes it has been so painful that I have begged God for death. I don’t understand it all. It is called faith.

          • Dan-

            If one is living in the here and now pain, pleasure, happiness, and saddness, etc.. are very real. Your explanation gives little comfort for a person suffering from the scars of a sexual assualt, or in Stage 4 liver cancer. if God is that caring, loving and sometihng better for those who believe. Why dangle it in front of a person in misery? It does little good for the here and now. I don’t understand….

          • The Previous Dan says:

            Yes, the pain and pleasure of the Now is very real. But the Now changes from moment to moment. I don’t feel yesterday’s pain as acutely because it has been supplanted by today’s pleasure or I don’t feel yesterdays pleasure because it has been supplanted by today’s pain. What is coming tends to push out what has been. So if there is only the Now, then everything is futile because ultimately what is coming is death. How much can I enjoy today’s pleasure knowing that everyone’s life (mine included) will end in this pain. So if there is only this life, then you’re right, life sucks and so does God.

            That is why having hope for the future matters. Today’s pain or pleasure becomes less important when the ultimate reward is eternal. I can endure a painful workout when I know the end result is a stronger body. I can endure the dentist drilling when I know the end result is a healthy tooth. I can endure all the crap I have put up with in this life knowing, as Paul says, it is working for me an eternal glory. I have faith that God is good despite the pain of Now because I have chosen to believe His promise for the future.

      • I also believe that there is a reason for everything that happens. But in Christian circles too often “reason” has come to mean “positive and uplifting divine purpose.” That I do not believe. Many times the reason things happen is simply because we live in a broken, fallen, sinful, corrupt and disease-ridden world.

  4. Margaret Catherine says:

    “For many Christians, suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure with you just as assuredly as financial prosperity is God’s sign of his favor. Thus, to show you are suffering—to admit you are sick or behind in the bills or are struggling in any way—is tantamount to admitting you are not a very good Christian.”

    Of all aspects of evangelicalism, this is the one the most alien to my comprehension. Of course we will suffer. We’re not exempt. “Things happen”, and while we can and must bring what good we can out of them – They. Just. Happen. My mother got the flu; kept taking her diabetes medication daily as she’d been doing for decades; destroyed her kidneys and general health; and died two years later. It. Just. Happened. Job could tell us all about it. So could Tobit, over in the Apocrypha. Christ Himself warned us about it time and again. How dare we claim the name Christian and refuse to follow our Lord to the Cross?

  5. I’m sorry that you are having such a tough time Jeff. My husband has spent much of this year telling me how bad stuff happens to good people as he watched his career and income plummet. I have to confess that it was a theological stance I agree with but it was terribly hard to live with and still have hope that life could be more than what appeared to be in front of us. And life is more than what is happening to us but God still cares about the individual and demonstrates His love in all things – it’s just very hard to see it sometimes. So I pray that you will experience God’s love and care throughout this season of your life – enough to enable you to continue the walk of faith with some measure of joy and peace whatever is happening to you. Bless you brother.

  6. In the words of Bill the Cat: Ack.

  7. This is the life God is in. It is also the life in which we are called to love and support each other. Let us know how, brother. We’re not going anywhere.

  8. Oh, Jeff, I’m so sorry. And I’m praying. And a gentle reminder that we can pray harder and more specifically if we know some of what’s going on. You’ve got the right outlook; all electronic devices are evil. Seriously, stay strong, OK? We’re praying; you’re never alone with all of us iMonks hanging around.

  9. Jeff, I don’t think you are going to get the platitudes from us I-Monks. Your current expereinces are not punishment from God, nor a test of faith. Not a sign that you need to tithe more, read your Bible more, or repent of some buried sin. What it IS the fact that we all suffer in different times. places, and ways because we live in a fallen world. PERIOD.

    About 10 years ago, I had a four year period when anything that could go wrong~DID, and in big ways. I joke now that it was sadly funny that a friend who was a quadraplegic felt sorry for ME. I got depressed and resigned, wondering every morning what was going to get fouled up today! I know I got through on the prayers of friends and family, because I was often too tired and ticked off to pray very well. So, know that you do have a large group praying for you….you probably won’t see the effects or feel the difference until this time of trial is over (at least I didn’t) but know that it is going on. And be gentle to yourself…sometimes the little “treats”, like a new book to read or stopping at the end of the day for ice cream instead of dinner, made the difference between dispair and hanging in there for one more day.

  10. “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place…For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him.”

    Isn’t that beautiful? Friends made a specific plan together to be with a grieving friend who was in great need and distress. They made an appointment. I love that.

    Jeff, we are here to comfort you as much as possible. My husband and I went through such stressful times that when we took the Holmes/Rahe stress test our numbers indicated that we should be dead. No, I am not kidding. We went through unemployment, several deaths in the family one on top of another including both our mothers and my cousin who blew his brains out, finally having to leave our home town to find work, and on and on. All I can give you is what the Lord gave me at the time, Romans 5:1-5 Now keep in mind this is the spiritual counsel. My body finally “gave way” and I ended up with permanent damage to my health. And it was all of that which led me to question my triumphalism theology and, among other things, brought me to the Internet Monk site where I found like minded, honest seekers. And Jeff you have one of the most important survival tools there is – your sense of humor. And I really mean that.

    So we will “keep our appointment” to sit with you, pray for you, listen and try not to be “Job’s friends”!!

  11. Jeff – thanks so much for your honesty. I have half a mind to copy and send this post to several of my friends…. well said. And you will be in my prayers.

  12. I agree that a sense of humor is a saving grace in times like these and you have it. Check with your doc about gall bladder. My dad had severe chest pains, thought it was a heart attack, rushed to hospital twice, once throwing up; ended up being the gall bladder.

  13. “I heard someone once say that what we now call stress our grandparents would have called “life.” That these things happen, you bear up under them, and soldier on. Perhaps they were much heartier stock then.”

    “For many Christians, suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure with you just as assuredly as financial prosperity is God’s sign of his favor. Thus, to show you are suffering—to admit you are sick or behind in the bills or are struggling in any way—is tantamount to admitting you are not a very good Christian. And to this I cry bull.”

    This is an amazingly insightful article.

    • In all fairness to us grandkids, I don’t think calamities happened to our grandparents at such an accelerated pace. Plus, they got to work off a lot of that stress through sheer physical labor.

      • Margaret Catherine says:

        Didn’t they? Read the First Four Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (she didn’t have time to put a fictional gloss on it, it’s a much rawer account of events.) Their house burned down, their infant son died of sudden fever, she nearly went mad from the shock of his death and was in bed with deep depression for a length of time. Doesn’t sound any easier than today. But they kept going, in the end.

      • The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, World War I (aka The War to End All Wars), World War II (the war after that), far more open racism than now, diseases — of the six children my great-grandmother gave birth to, only two died of old age. Yeah, life was a picnic back then.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          But Everybody Went to CHURCH back then!!!!
          — the usual Christian justification for the Good Old Days

  14. The Previous Dan says:

    Yes, this is a big pet peeve of mine too. As a young idealist I used to buy into the soft version of the Christian prosperity doctrine. But over the years life cured me of that. At present I’m dealing with the fallout of a failed business. The bank just informed me they are taking my vehicles. There is also a bull’s-eye on my house but I am praying for a miracle before I lose that too. And that is the thing. I pray for miracles and I believe they can/do happen, but I know that God doesn’t owe me one. My circumstances aren’t unique but are also present in the lives of many of my friends. **it happens all over the place nowadays.

    In light of that I don’t understand how anyone who has experienced adult life can still swallow the Christian prosperity doctrine. Either the hardcore version pushed by people like Olsteen or the soft version peddled in most churches. Sure, if you live clean you will probably avoid a lot of troubles. But history is conclusive on the fact that in this life we have problems and everyone grows weak, suffers and dies. The only way to avoid that scenario is to die suddenly while you are young, happy, and in good health. Either way life is a tragedy.

    How many Christians have really read their Bible without tunnel vision? Jesus promised us trouble in this life and said our hope was in Him overcoming it, NOT in us avoiding it. I also wonder how many Christians have read the discourse between Job and his well meaning, but totally wrong, friends. The lack of Bible literacy in the Church is shameful. Too many people preach the power of positive wishful thinking and not enough preaching the truth about the strength, faith, perseverance, and character that the Holy Spirit builds into our lives as we go through this crap.

    • “In light of that I don’t understand how anyone who has experienced adult life can still swallow the Christian prosperity doctrine.”

      I’ve spent the last two years getting to the same place. And it’s a huge relief to let suffering be what it is, and have a community that “gets it”, without having to defend my spiritual character every time my family members have health problems.

    • Dan the prospoertiy gospel is entrancehd in many places because the young are separated from the old. The young are focused on marriage, career success, etc.. and since churches are very much age segregated these days the young never see as the older people as much. Never the person dying of cancer, etc.. In today’s evangelicalism older poeple are disposable just like single people.

      I hope things improve I really do. I cringe as the prospect of other people suffering. As for prayer I don’t see how prayer helps. I can’t tell you how many times my prayers fell on dead ears and did little. And this was in a culture where everyone is talking about how their prayers answered. Do you mind if I ask what part of the country you are living in?

      • The Previous Dan says:

        Good point. The naive idealism of youth is amplified and inbred by our 20-something youth pastors teaching our tweens and teens. And then the young couples all congregate together as well. In our church the young professionals’ fellowship group is actually called “The Becomers.” We are perpetuating the secular culture’s worship of youth, beauty, and natural strength.

      • The Previous Dan says:

        I currently live in South-central Pennsylvania

        • I bug up to York twice a year for the largest train show in the United States. Lancaster is also nice. I’ve headed up there for relaxing, getting in touch with myself and letting loose. I love the culture in Strasbourg and hanging out at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Now that’s my sanctuary!! 😀

          • The Previous Dan says:

            I’ve been to the Railroad Museum and ridden on the railroad, but only once. I live a little over an hour northwest of there. My favorite spot in that area is Paradise, PA where they have the National Christmas Center and Museum. I’m a sentimental sap when it comes to Christmas.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Been to Strasbourg RR and the Museum across the highway once, a couple years ago. First time I saw one of the famous Pennsy GG-1s full-scale.

  15. Jeff, before i logged on this a.m. i was reading the passage in 2 Cor 11 — the list of Paul’s sufferings — so consider yourself in good company. I was raised in the ‘if you are suffering, you are not walking with God’ mentality; then i realized, hey, there sure where a lot of people in the Bible who suffered…including Jesus Himself. That’s when i realized, God trusts those WHO ARE walking with Him to send suffering–He knows those who will trust Him alone through it all.
    Whoever said this life is going to east and wonderful? Pretty sure Jesus didn’t.
    Praying for you, your health, and your family (i guess i don’t need to pray for the computer anymore!).

  16. David Cornwell says:

    Jeff, thanks for the honesty of your words. It reminds me of these words from “God Knows Trouble:”

    “God don’t call it treason
    God don’t call it wrong
    It was supposed to last a season
    But it’s been so strong for so long”

    This isn’t advice, but when it gets deeeep, I find myself praying the Psalms, and sometimes seeing the Psalmist in his laments crying out to God. And praying with Jesus Himself as he taught his disciples to pray “…this day…”.

  17. I guess my experience of evangelicalism has been kinder than others’, in that, thankfully, I cannot recall ever sitting in on a sermon or Bible study or even a post-potluck casual conversation in which it was suggested that a “good” Christian life shouldn’t/won’t ever include suffering. However, I do admit that sometimes Christians are over-eager to help their brethren through suffering by offering grand statements or theodicies that attempt to “make sense” of whatever, er, merde has transpired. And while that sometimes makes me angry (“This is *my* misery! You may not appropriate it as an instance of *your* philosophy!”), I know that the impulse is usually well-meant. People simply hate to see one in pain.

    Some personal context: A year ago, my husband left me for a woman he met in a virtual world (doing– wait for it– charity work). Up to the day before I found out there was a problem, we had a stable, functional, loving home in which disagreements were few and “I love you”s were thick on the ground, so I felt utterly blind-sided. We weren’t perfect, but we’d made a commitment that I’d’ve bet my life on. I will never understand what happened– partly, I think, because I refuse to understand it, since, if it “makes sense,” then it’s not the tragedy I know it to be… right?

    Believe me, though, I have occasionally wondered whether I somehow specially “deserve” my pain on account of the inauthenticity of my Christian life (I’m the post-evangelical who can’t bring herself to leave the sweet, small, now-struggling congregation where she’s served for 30 years, and so more-or-less fakes it most of the time). But I think that such guilt comes from my own over-active conscience rather than from anything I’ve been taught.

    • The Previous Dan says:

      “I guess my experience of evangelicalism has been kinder than others’, in that, thankfully, I cannot recall ever sitting in on a sermon or Bible study or even a post-potluck casual conversation in which it was suggested that a “good” Christian life shouldn’t/won’t ever include suffering.”

      Camillofan,

      I think the soft version of the prosperity doctrine is more subtle than that. An example would be the sermon I sat through where the preacher encouraged us to trust God in our hard times and He would “see us through.” Technically the preacher was correct because that can mean that you die of your illness and go to heaven, you die broke and go to heaven, you die alone and go to heaven, etc. But from talk afterward I know most people heard that to mean “God will eventually make it work out happy in this life.” According to the end of Hebrews 11 there are many possible outcomes to a life of faith that people don’t want to acknowledge.

      Another example would be the testimony time when I testified to how I was struggling while life sucked. Everyone “Amen’d” the testimonies about answered prayer and victory but just sort of uncomfortably murmured during mine. It seems obvious in my experience that it is only acceptable to publically share about hard times AFTER they are over and you have the “victory.” But what if you never see that victory in this life? I wish church was a little more honest like an AA meeting. The battle is constant with both victories and defeats and as real people we need to share them all.

      • amen…

        during a current series at our church addressing fears, the usual list of things that cause us ‘stress’ or ‘fear’ were rolled out with accuracy & sensitivity. and this in the midst of one of the pastoral staff dealing with the bad news of cancer reappearing after surgery+chemo…

        so, they do understand that suffering is common to all men. but then the response or answer was put back onto the hearers: “just trust God more.”

        trust God more. hmmm. not sure that is workable in the midst of being undone by the disruptions of life…

        as if God is only wanting us to seek Him more so we know He is there. and the implication is subtle: He will ‘deliver us’ from the trial when we pass the test ala Job & be restored…

        it is not written anywhere in fine print we deserve or will receive the “Get Out of Jail Free Card” when ‘stuff’ happens. as someone else mentioned already, my divorce is permanent. i am going to be divorced for the rest of my life. other aspects of my past are fixed also. no release from such things. i do hope this life is not one of lingering bad things happening, but we don’t have any guarantees…

        each individual must wrestle with this & make choices how they are going to respond to the ‘stuff’.

        Lord, thank you for your grace & mercy…

        • The Previous Dan says:

          “we pass the test ala Job & be restored…”

          Boy, I hope I have some of that in my future 🙂

      • It’s so hard to get out of that mentality of only sharing hardships AFTER the “victory.” It’s always some variation of “things were hard, but I believed for a miracle/had a personal epiphany, then Jesus made it all better and I lost 15 pounds.” You feel obligated to try to turn things towards “but it’s better now,” even if it’s not at all. I hate it, because it’s so hard to be honest, with yourself and with others.

      • Dan…

        I can’t tell you how many testimonies were of the “instant transformation” in the fundgelical culture. The guy struggling with alcohol sobered up and.. YOU GUESSED IT! He had no more problems or diffifulties. The guy who dealt with porn got clean and…YOU GUESSED IT!! He had no more problmes or difficulties. On and on it goes. If there was an award for the world’s most gullible idiot; it should go to me. Becuase I believed in it, and I swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

        My agnsotic prision was of my own making and it was carved out of evangelical faith expereinces.

        • The Previous Dan says:

          I can relate. I’ve been through multiple experiences that have shattered my idealism. Every time I tried to glue it back together something would shatter it again. It finally occurred to me to look at that part of the package that never broke. It wasn’t pretty or neat and it didn’t allow me to have my best life now. It was about loving and trusting Someone who was too big for me to understand or control. I kind of still resent that. I’m still not sure that I like Him very much (same way my teenage daughters feel about me) but I love Him and I know He loves me.

    • The Previous Dan says:

      Camillofan, you certainly don’t deserve your pain.

    • Agree with these thoughts. The hardest thing to get past as I’ve struggled these past few years with major employment issues is the (I assume) well meaning thoughts from A) Church people who cheerfully declare that God has a plan for me and that as long as I keep the faith, there will be wonderful things at the end. B) Employed acquaintances who like to make judgmental statements aimed at those who struggle in this economy, declaring that they should just get off their lazy butts and find even a crummy job and quit whining-if only it were that easy C) People who just say not to worry to much because God will take care of things. He, however, hasn’t put money in my bank account lately D) People who say you just need to learn to ask for help.

      Do these people never look around them and see that sometimes the cancer eats away at your body, your job never comes back, your child never returns to the fold, and there is no victory lap. A little human compassion, the offer of a job from a church member who is a business owner (they are out there!), the passing on of the knowledge of a job opening that they know about…all these would go a long way to show God’s love. But I don’t think people step up for fear that their help might not lead to a success and that, in too many minds, leaves the Gospel in tatters.

      I fear I’m not really saying what I mean, so I hope my thoughts make sense. This touched a nerve with me.

    • Margaret Catherine says:

      You don’t deserve it. And Don Camillo’s Christ would be the first to tell you that…there’s a lot of simple wisdom in those books.

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    There is a Christian version of this, of course. It’s called by many names. Spiritual warfare. Deliverance. Rebuking the devil. Getting what we deserve.

    Making Magick? (i.e. forcing the Supernatural to give me some personal advantage?)

  19. “And to this I cry bull.”

    Thank you, and may we all join in with you, and may we all cry louder! I think that we are hard-wired to believe that if we just do things right, follow all of the steps, do the right thing, tithe (yes, I said it), that all will be OK. We want to believe that we can put God in our debt.

    I was reading recently in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 the blessings that were promised to Israel if she would keep the terms of the Old Covenant. Good crops, good health, good commerce, lots of money, military success, your country will be #1 is the gist of these passages. Of course, Israel could not live up to the law of Moses, and they failed to achieve “Shangri-La”. Although some American Christians think that God has blessed America because she has been so “good”, the reality is that no one can achieve these blessings on their own merit.

    I am struck by how different the terms of the New Covenant are. Christ performs in life, word, deed, death, resurrection, and ascension, and we benefit from His performance. Following Jesus does not guarantee health, wealth, success, good kids, and national prominence. Instead, Jesus warns us that homes will be divided 2 against 3, and 3 against 2. People will hate us because people hated Him. We will be persecuted, some of us to the death. Those who endure to the end will be saved. In other words, our effort and obedience will not necessarily bring our best life now. You don’t hear that preached much nowadays, but there it is.

    Thank you, Jeff, for being weak, and being willing to admit it. God chose to put His treasure in fragile clay pots, said the apostle. If I were God, I would not have made that call, so we can all be glad that I am not God. It was God’s gracious choice to use weak men like you, like all of us, and it is infinitely good news that He did so.

    May the Lord bless you in all your endeavors

  20. Yes, Jeff, thanks for sharing. I have no platitudes to give you, and I’m sick of people who mutter platitudes at me when things go wrong like they’re going now. People haven’t read the Psalms or the rest of the Bible. The Psalms are so brutally honest about things we’re going through, none of that “happy, happy, happy, all the time, time, time.” nonsense, no prosperity theology. But God weeps with us. And I weep with you, Jeff.

  21. Forget words, if I could be there I would just give you a big ole hug, buy you a cup of joe and listen.

    We who you have blessed, will be here if you need us.

    All you have to do is ask…

    -Paul-

  22. So according to your doctor your heart is fine, it’s the rest of you that’s clapped out? 😉

    Glad to hear that your heart isn’t the cause of the ailments. As to the mystery chest pains, I recommend taking a calcium-magnesium supplement. Helped me with ongoing leg cramps and mysterious upper back pain.

    Ongoing prayer of course!

    As to the financial situation, any way we can help with the bills coming in with big red letters? I know that this isn’t you rattling the begging bowl, but could we set aside a day to donate via the Paypal button for your needs? A kind of early Christmas present (giving that they’ve been advertising for the past month with the toys and the hotels and the book your parties now on the radio over here)? Everyone throw in a fiver or whatever they can afford (or a decade of the Rosary if they can’t manage the dough)?

    God be with you!

  23. Hang in there, Jeff. Life sometimes just kicks you when you’re down; we’ve all been there, are there now, or will be there at some point, however much we may try to deny it.

    (BTW, as a huge Bloom County fan — LOVE the illustration!!)

  24. Thanks, Jeff. Just seeing Bill the Cat made me feel better about my day.

    • CJ and humanslug, I’m an old Bloom County fan too, but what humanslug said about Bill the Cat also applies to Tom Waits, particularly the Small Change album. Whenever I hear that album I feel GREAT! I mean, Waits really knows how to have the skid row blues, and nothing I”ve been through has been that bad. Plus they’re great tunes.

      Side note, theologically: it’s a case of worldly, sinful practice being used by the grace of God for his glory. But for some, Tom Waits will be a hard sell.

  25. I once rescued a bird from a dog’s mouth and held it in my hands, trying to figure out if it was injured, trying to encourage it to fly. Every time I let go of it it would just flutter to the ground, flapping wildly. I don’t know if it was hurt or just so panicked that it had forgotten how to use its wings.

    I feel like that bird most of the time – both in the fact that I often feel hurt, panicked, and vulnerable, _and_ in the sense that I feel myself to be held in the strong and gentle and compassionate hands of God. It’s actually a constant surprise to me that those two emotions – the fear for the present, and the utter confidence that all will be well in the end – can coexist. Yet they’re so tightly twisted together than sometimes I don’t know if the ache in my chest is loneliness and fear, or a crying out to God – or even if those two are different things.

    So I guess my prayer for you (and myself), is not so much that you’d be free from stress and anxiety – as you said, maybe that’s just a part of life – but that in the midst of it, you would experience yourself to be held in God’s strong hands, and that you would know, as Julian of Norwich puts it, that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” – the big things and the tiny inconveniences and everything in between, all somehow wrapped up in a love that is stronger than death and redeemed by God’s grace.

  26. EXACTLY!!!!! Sh…t. ahem, I mean life, happens!!!!! This is the nature of the human condition. Period. Not because we sinned or are out of God’s favor and suffering is some sort of Divine retribution. Not because the devil is out to get me. And not as my Catholic brothers and sisters have brought up to believe – that suffering is something to hold, cultivate, revel in because it just means we have more to offer up to God as means of purchasing our own way or a loved one’s way out of purgatory. Life just happens…warts and all. It is for this reason that I am GRATEFUL for my spiritual practices because they provide comfort in time of anxiety and stress, a healing balm in times of loss and confusion, and a loving embrace when I am feeling alone. Perhaps the redemptive aspect of suffering is that is may (if we are open to it), urge us to seek God when there is no other comfort for our suffering. Otherwise it seems we are left to flounder alone in our pain.

    • “And not as my Catholic brothers and sisters have brought up to believe – that suffering is something to hold, cultivate, revel in because it just means we have more to offer up to God as means of purchasing our own way or a loved one’s way out of purgatory.”

      Lauri,

      You are way off base here in representing what Catholicism believes about why there is suffering in the world and what the RCC teaches about how to embrace it. What you have said does not represent the truth even though you may be using words out of context or not part of the complete thought and reasoning of the RCC view.

      Why don’t you stick to stating your own personal beliefs and not putting out there jabbing statements about what you believe about another church from what you may have heard or read(even from catholics or non official catholic websites) or that you think is the belief system of another Church with the underlying intention of presenting yourself as being holder of the truth and the RCC the holder of falsehood. Unless you do some honest in depth study and apply it to your life to see what it’s all about don’t make yourself a representative of RCC thought. That is not a loving Christ-like stand to take. Taking statements out of context to make a point is something I find all over the internet from the standpoint of Protestants towards Catholicism. I have never once mentioned another denomination here in a defamatory stance and I never will. Nor do I do so with actual conversations with others. The RCC backs up what it believes with scriptural references and apostolic Father’s teachings. You and others may disagree on the interpretation but how do you know you just might be wrong. Are you privy to the actual mind of God?

      There are things I question about the RCC and there are things I don’t just as there are Protestant beliefs I embrace and others I don’t; but I will not lie back and let false statements injurious to a part of the Body of Christ be thrown out there. There is no need for it. It doesn’t foster truth or understanding within the Body of Christ.
      It pains me deeply as I’m sure it pains the Spirit of God. I am really getting tired of it.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Like!

      • It’s probably true that people shouldn’t try to represent traditions they have never been a part of. To be fair, though, the practice here regarding evangelicalism is pretty liberal: for the purpose of criticism, one regards his own experience as normative. I’ve been an evangelical for 30 years and would’ve thought I’d gotten around, so to speak, within the movement (Campbellite church, “Full Gospel” meetings, InterVarsity in college, Billy Graham crusades, church pianist from the era of choirs through praise bands, brother a minister big into church growth), and I often read things here that I do not recognize. In that light, I read Lauri (who did not claim to be an expert on official Catholicism), as presenting a view consistent with her personal experience of Catholic friends.

        • If Jeff’s post was on the Catholic view of suffering then that would give reason for one to post their own personal opinion or personal experience and stated as such. However, this post is not about Catholic views or official catholic belief. There was then no reason for her to bring up such a statement and using the choice of words she did. She presented it as factual truth.

          I recently read an old essay by Michael Spencer where he stated; “It’s my opinion that the Roman Catholic Church is the most hated single institution in America. Its values run counter to almost all the dominant cultural avatars. Its stands for male clergy, celibacy, and the pro-life position on abortion are enough to earn it the venom of millions. Add to this the suspicion and prejudice of millions of Protestants, and the general hostility of those who dislike religion in general..”

          Vatican II turned the RCC upside down and inside out and the dust is still settling. I do not profess to know everything however, after 15 years as a religious sister/nun in the RCC, and all the years and opportunities I was given to study, pray, learn, and also visual see remnants of the early Christian church(non RCC) while living overseas; my lived experience enabled me to know what was the heart and core of the RCC.

          Years after I left I looked into various protestant churches for a variety of reasons which is not relevant to the topic. During those years I experienced first hand the enormous amount of animosity towards the RCC and anything and everything about it. I learned how vast were the widespread beliefs about the RCC that were not accurate, were gravely distorted or just plain old lies. I saw how easily these things were spoken against the RCC just because it was what someone was taught from their pastor or some well known preacher. I also heard such things from former catholics who clearly never knew their faith to begin with.

          At the same time, I realized just how much is the same between protestants and catholics yet RCC was labeled as the antichrist, was the big lie of satan to destroy the True church and was certainly not christian.

          The only way the above realities can be dissolved is for the truth to get out there. For words taken out of context to back up a non RCC thought about the RCC to be stopped.

  27. Previous Dan how true this statement : seems obvious in my experience that it is only acceptable to publically share about hard times AFTER they are over and you have the “victory.” But what if you never see that victory in this life? Thus there are those who do not know a welcoming and safe place to share their reality.

    Jeff,

    Consider in your darkest moment one great blessing you have : the love and support of many true friends here on i-monk. It is something many do not have. For some it is hard to find even one friend that truly cares and heaven(God) is silent as though heaven(God) doesn’t know you exist.

    May the truth and awareness of your not being alone in your dark hours bring you some comfort – may you draw strength from the love and caring of the many, here, who are with you.

  28. Jeff ~ I just read an interesting article on Christianity Today’s website titled, “Jesus is Not Nice: The Chaos of Grace and the Grace of Chaos.” Speaks much to your thoughts on suffering etc.

    • good article…

      my personal experience with my spiritual journey includes BIG disruptions. as in BIG…

      i refer to these events as a “Jacob’s Embrace”…

      messy. very upsetting. uninvited. unannounced. unwelcome even…

      but they happen nonetheless…

      i wish it were not this way, but after going thru divine disruptions of BIG proportions, i suppose it is going to be the process i will experience until this brief existence ceases…

      O Lord, have mercy on me…

  29. S.J. Gonzalez says:

    Suffering has always par for the course while I was growing up, it’s this “joy” that eludes me.

    When I would hear people talk about God wanting me to be happy, I’d be confused because, then, I was being a horrible Christian, right? Though I find the pain has given me a tad more wisdom the folks my age, or so I’ve been told. And if there’s anything I’ve read from reading the Psalms is that God is faithful to His covenant, and that always keeps me going. Except now I’m expecting a new creation instead of being moved to another country. I suppose, then I am like the Israelites in exile wanting to go back home.

    Let’s pray that kingdom comes already…

  30. Jeff are you suggesting that maybe “your best life [is not] now”?

    Maybe you need to immerse yourself in some Osteenite literature and podcasts to make you suicidal uplift you 😕 If that doesn’t make you feel like an abject failure, nothing else will!

    On a serious note, a dear sister in Christ that I know, lost her (on and off Christian) husband to lung cancer not long ago. The nicotine he inhaled in 4 packets of cigs a day was capable of claiming his lungs without any help from the devil.

    She was left with an only son and two grandsons. The son who was once a Christian, left the faith behind and crossed over to the dark side. He is border schizophrenic and extremely violent…to his own mother. Only a few days ago he punched the living lights out of her. Within a few days they found the 17 y.o. grandson in the laundry trying to shoot up heroine. She doesn’t even own a car, but a bicycle and a few weeks ago somebody stole it!

    I know the family well, and when I look at the woman’s life there is nothing glaringly obvious to justify a cause for the tumultuous life she lives. To pull a ‘Job’s friends’ punishment card on her would be unforgivably cruel. She’s hanging-on on her faith, albeit by a thread. Matt 12:20 comes to mind.

    Take care brother and thanks for sharing!

    (John from down under)

  31. That Other Jean says:

    Jeff, I’m sorry Life is giving you extra-large helpings of the nasties. I hope it gets better for you soon.

  32. Christian Piatt stated the following in an article posted over on “theooze” website:

    “There’s a long-standing debate about theodicy, which questions how God could be both all-powerful and entirely good while such pervasive evil exists. It’s easy to get tied up in knots over this, especially if you conceive of a human-like God, with something resembling human consciousness and will. With this come all the questions about why a loving God would cause horrible things to happen, or would at least allow them to happen. But all of this presumes an awful lot about the nature of a God we know really very little about. By killing all preconceptions we have about who or what God is, we do indeed free God simply to be, as stated in Exodus and by great theologians and philosophers ever since. Arguments about theodicy dissolve, claims that God punishes certain people selectively for whatever reason we deem valid lose their teeth.”

    There’s a difference between believing in a personal God and a personalized “god”. A god which fits our mold and unravels all mysteries becomes a monster of our creation.

  33. You probably don’t have the stomach for another 10 pages of thought provoking stuff the day after so here is just a morsel:
    Nothing in life is harder than now. No trial, hardship, testing or trouble will tax you more than what you are currently doing. Nothing we have to do is more difficult than what you are doing at this very moment. Nothing we have ever done is more difficult than what you are doing at this very moment. Nothing we will ever do is more difficult than what you are doing at this very moment.

    by SMHG John over at Ripples-Book.tk