I have struggled with gratefulness. My eyes squinting hard to see beauty, to see miracle, to see all the obvious of what God has done. I have looked for a better day to be reality now. I have throbbed with impatience.
That was just this week.
Can I wake up? Can I live with gratefulness for who I am and what I have? False whispers distract, pulling me away from Home: You are trapped and don’t know how to make the most of a day. You are flailing and out of control. You are given much and are failing to measure up, still.
God’s words pull us back to Him, our minds open, expectant. We hear His words, yet our hearts struggle to believe it applies to us – our situation, our life.
What our mind desires to believe, our heart struggles to accept as true.
Do you feel even more alone when you read the Bible and they feel like only words? Does it make you feel stuck, abandoned, crushed? What happens when the circumstances haven’t changed but God is telling you He loves you, He sees you, He is here? Do you love Him, praise him, rejoice in the suffering, this moment, right now?
I hear questions from sisters: Would a God who loves me continue to let me suffer? Would a God who loves me continue to let me stay here, on my knees, in the dark, the walls pressing in, letting me, once more, fall?
A friend of mine puts this verse on my heart. It takes months for the words to sink deep:
Resist him [the devil], firm in your faith, knowing the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your [sister]hood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:9-11, ESV).
This verse can make me uncomfortable.
I squirm in my chair when I think about suffering – when I acknowledge my suffering and when I hear my God tell me He knows.
He knows about our suffering. He knows what you, my sister, are experiencing, right now.
I want to skip to the end of the verse, when Peter, who knows suffering first hand (but who also, initially, did everything he could to avoid it), gets all worked up: The “God of all grace. . . will himself restore, confirm strengthen, and establish you.” He knows what we are going through and we are not forgotten. He knows our plight, and He calls us to Himself. He knows every detail of our situation, and He promises to not keep us in this place of suffering forever.
You will not be in this place of suffering forever.
* * *
Twice this week I join my children and my friends at a national ministry for the homeless, called CityTeam Ministries. I do simple things, like pull up weeds and serve food and peel potatoes and place mandarins into plastic bags. And I listen to stories.
I hear the story of Miles, from Texas, just twenty years old, whose mother died of a drug overdose and whose beloved grandmother died soon thereafter. I hear how when he was a teenager he was addicted to drugs and had no place to go and lived on the streets. I hear how one day he felt compelled to buy a bus ticket instead of drugs and he joined his brother in California. I hear how he came into the front doors of CityTeam and his brother welcomed him and they gave him a job and a place to live. Brothers saw his suffering, and they showed him the face of Christ.
I hear the story of Tobias, whom I serve next to in the kitchen, while I scrape potato peels off the floor. His blue eyes sparkle as he tells me his gratitude for being surrounded by loving community now. He says he can do it this time – stay off the streets and keep this job and stay sober. And I hear the story of Reynolds, who is the boss of the kitchen and left a triple figure salary as the chief chef at the Hyatt Regency in town because he wants to go into ministry. He wants to love on people who are suffering. He wants to speak the love Jesus has shown him into the lives of people who don’t yet know His name.
* * *
I go home and wonder at my life – the home I have and the family and friends God’s given. All gifts. All things I don’t deserve. And I get to write and listen to stories, doing something I love . . . But He gives me the means to do it. And I didn’t merit it.
And I read the letters from you, sisters, of your suffering, of your waiting, of your longing for more and your longing for suffering to end. And I hold it up to God and wonder why. And then He leans and whispers, I know. I know. I don’t leave. And His heart moves me to action.
For there is something we can do, sisters. We don’t have to remain passive in our suffering.
Our Father – who names us His righteous ones, His chosen ones, His daughters – has equipped us for battle.
God equips us, in His name, with weapons to fight the suffering that could so easily steal our hope and our joy. There is an action for us to take here. Do you see it?
Resist. Resist Satan as he whispers his lies in our ear. Resist as Satan tries to steal our joy in Christ. Resist as he tries to steal our hope and keep the eyes of our heart focused on despair, on hopelessness. Resist as he wants to keep us impatient and looking to the next thing to try to fix ourselves. Resist as he wants to keep us tired and weary and busy and anxious. Resist as he wants us to be blind to God’s goodness, deaf to His words of love. Resist as he wants us to feel stuck and not free, hopeless instead of hopeful, sorrow-filled instead of filled with God’s joy.
* * *
Yesterday I was feeling the weight of lies upon me, stealing my joy, making me not want to be grateful for what I have. I seek a heart quiet in God’s love, strong and secure, not looking beyond what He has given.
Do you know, friend, you are not the only one who listens to His words, reads His love letters upon the page, and doubts the words are for you? Do you know you aren’t the only one who can get herself to believe she is stuck, and that nothing will ever change . . . that she will never change?
The way you move, with Me, is a pace that feels like dance. You move with beauty and with grace and with light that cannot be contained. It is made to be seen. You are made to be seen by Me, and I see you, and I delight in you, and I love how you do it (Loop, “The Way You Dance”).
I remember this truth: Christ is big enough to handle whatever we are going through – and how He knows, He knows, and He doesn’t leave us in the middle of what we are going through. He has done it. I love how Phillip Yancey explains it: “Christ is God crying I am here . . Because of Jesus, we have the assurance that whatever disturbs us, disturbs God more. Whatever grief we feel, God feels more. And whatever we long for, God longs for more.”
Oh, Father, what do we do now? What do we do when we hear You love us, You are here, You invite us to dance . . . and we just have trouble believing it? What if the pain is too great, the wounds too deep, to feel like raising our heads, to believe a look into your eyes will help?
When will healing come?
Our heads hear God’s truth, but our hearts are desperate to see it realized in our lives. We cry out, “My heart feels like broken fragments. . . my heart is gasping for breath.” But we know our suffering isn’t too great. He suffered. He gave it all. His love is even bigger than any suffering we endure, ever.
So we surrender, and we bow low. And we pray, and we lift up our hands, for we know He is close.
Emmanuel. He is here.
Father, we know You are here. We know You know our hearts, our suffering, our aches and longings. And You are here. And You love us. And this is the reason You invite us to dance. And this is the reason we know we can do more than endure. We hear you: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18).
*I return to these words, written many months ago. I needed to hear them again. What about you?