Long ago, I listened to a remarkably holy man, a cancer patient, sharing a conversation with God.
It was a naked, piercing, and heavy testimony of the “when you’ve finally just had it” variety. During a morning quiet time in his big easy chair, he is praying and listening for God and suddenly (for are not these things rather sudden?) just explodes into venting about the story God is writing for him. It’s not just the disease. It’s the ongoing changes and the endless appointments and the constant vigilance and the social misunderstandings and the lack of closure and the shame and fear that attend. All his anger and helplessness and isolation explodes before the throne in frustration. He lets God know.
And the man described hearing God reply, “I understand you don’t like the story. How do you feel about the Author?”
It cut me to the quick – one of two things he said that did so. Not a pleasant reveal, but an unmistakably holy one. A divine refocusing.
For though I dared not compare my life’s difficulties to cancer, the question was stil one that I had not wanted to face. For I could tell you exactly how my journey (e.g. my family history, my weird and glitchy personality) has made me feel about God.
The other thing he said was:
“I could just hear the clarity coming to myself, and I finally said it: ‘What I really don’t like is, I’m now living a life where I need you, God, on a day-to-day basis, just to get through it. And I don’t like being desperately needy for you, God.'”
A friend of mine lost his father very suddenly this last week.
Another friend is struggling to stay afloat after a car accident last summer brought towering bills and dependence on a chiropractor.
Even sitting down in a chair that can’t support your weight can bring on sudden suffering like nothing you’ve ever known…debilitating pain to wake up to every morning, endless second opinion, flummoxed doctors.
Someone once said something to the effect of, “It’s not the old familiar fears that end up coming true…it’s the ones that come with a phone call at 2:00 on a Thursday morning, the ones you never saw coming.”
How do we live like this?
I certainly don’t want to live paranoid. I don’t want to live life looking over my shoulder.
Yet these stories remind me of the uncertainty of life, and the certainty of death. They remind me tomorrow is not guaranteed. They remind me that God’s ways – whether you believe he directly causes all things or whether he causes some and allows others – are rockier and more elusive than we’d care to admit.
So how do we live knowing that each and every day could bring about the end of our lives as we know them?
We were expecting life to be pretty simple.
High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, but all of it falling into place in our early twenties without all that many bumps.
And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away.
“If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”
It wasn’t quite that blase. We still love him…kinda. We certainly believe. We know he exists. We get riled up on his behalf when some atheist starts talking.
But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise.
I don’t mean this as a guilt trip. Please hear me out.
As a youth worker with ten years of experience, I’ve known the pain of watching my students lose their faith.
Sometimes it’s on them; they just decide it’s more interesting to live the way they want. But sometimes the loss looks more akin to theft, being snatched away by the brutal realities of life after high school. They “get out into the world” and quickly find themselves mired in a slog of doubt, and the strength needed to wade through is rare.
As I’ve prayed over and grieved these friends, I’ve seen their struggles fall into categories. This is encouraging, as naming the battleground is half the battle. These are categories that many youth groups address with all their might, but there simply is no substitute for a parent’s influence.
I humbly offer some brief thoughts on these categories.
Recently, I was emailed a question by a follower basically asking, “is Satan real, or an illusion?”
I can’t believe I’ve reached this stage of blogging to where I’m being asked questions – yeeeeeeeeeeee, what do I know? – but fortunately, we have Scripture to reveal truth to us. I’ll just go there.
Satan is real. He is a conscious being with intelligence and personality. And he is a (limited) threat.
And just mentioning this subject makes people sensitive. It immediately evokes fear, anger, and irritation. There’s a lot of (pardon the expression) heated opinion about Satan and his precise role in the Christian’s life. Good teachings, bad teachings, and bad teachings that spring off both the good and the bad.
This is a chance for me to share a fierce core conviction of mine, if you’ll permit me a quick rant: I want to know Scripture, straight-up, as it truly is. I don’t want man’s “compensational” teachings. I don’t want Scripture tossed aside or marginalized by anyone going “people will run the wrong way with this teaching” or “this teachings doesn’t match up with my preferred image of God’s sovereignty”. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in other words. The term “bathwater theology” describes this phenemenon well, and there’s a lot of it out there.
No. Let us take the Bible as it is, without shying away from or massaging anything. Then we can build around it with other Scriptural teachings so that we may be properly equipped.
Here’s what I find in Scripture (and may God lead me well in this).
When I was younger (not that I’m old now, thank you), I had an issue with being ungrateful.
Every parent out there probably just said “amen”.
When you’re young, you don’t know how much you don’t know. It rarely occurs to us that others have it worse; we just don’t see it. I often struggle with the section of my heart that just plaintively shouts “NO. I’m tired of cliches. Just fix this, God!” whenever hardship shows up. May God have mercy.
But reaching the age of 33 has quieted that voice. Time has given me the chance to see more suffering. It’s devious, unfair, and creative, just how badly the world can go wrong for people. And it makes me thankful.
I’m seeing clients’ bodies break down from cancer, paralysis, mood disorders, even diabetes induced from head injuries in war (didn’t even know that could happen). Six-figure medical bills, ensuring debt for their children no matter how well they settle with the insurance company. It leaves me grateful that I can breathe, run, even walk, or pay for something – and noticing each time I do. Noticing. I thought being grateful for my sight and hearing was for older folks who had ascended to some higher plane of earthly wisdom. Nope – it’s for me, too.
If you’re asking “Just what is God like?”, few books of the Bible answer more directly and generously than the Psalms.
Yesterday I was reading through Psalm 103 (one of my favorites) and found myself stopping on verses 13-16:
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
I stopped reading. A lump had taken up residence in my throat. Yes. This is me. Dust. Temporary. Fragile. It’s what I am, and moreover, it was how I’ve been feeling lately.
And God knows.