Thank God it’s Good Friday.

He was not good looking.

He was not successful.

He was not envied.

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He was a man of sorrows.

Acquainted with grief.  

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He knew what He was doing for me, and I did not.

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I betrayed Him.

I rejected Him.

I misunderstood Him.

I misrepresented Him.

I gossiped about Him.

I deserted Him.

I beat Him.

I pierced Him.

I wounded Him.

I killed Him.

That is what makes Good Friday meaningful. Purposeful. Personal.

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And yet He has come for me.

He always-and-forever-will-be for me.

And you too.

It is unfathomable.

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He went to the depths, and rose back up.

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Because of Him, I will too.

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Thank you, God, for Good Friday.

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Thank you, God.

The sky is black.

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Sunday is coming.

 

jsg/march 18

 

Hot Loneliness.

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It was just like this.

Last year, I discovered an old lap writing desk that had belonged to my great grandmother.  Made out of beautiful polished wood, it was edged with brass and had an inbuilt, well-used leather blotting pad embossed into the lid.  And it was heavy, which meant that something was still definitely being kept inside.

I found the writing desk in an outside shed in the bottom of a box of mildewed linens which had not been opened since my parents’ move into their current house 11 years ago.  The problem was, there was no key.

Until one day, exploring treasures, I found it.  One of those old fashioned hollow keys with a curlicue handle that fitted the lock exactly. The desk sprang open and inside were carefully tied bundles of letters and cards and photographs and hair ribbons and memorabilia that had been painstakingly stored by my mother’s mother’s mother.  Irreplaceable family memories locked away for posterity.

And just to think, I had so nearly taken that box of smelly linen to the tip without even checking.

Like Gan’s writing desk, I found a key to myself  this week. I read a book that referred to the “hot loneliness” of the human condition.  I gasped and lay still for a long time.

I’d always assumed loneliness was cold and isolated and lifeless. Hadn’t it felt like that? Recognising that loneliness is hot, pierced the centre of my being and connected me to myself.

My loneliness had only felt cold because I tried so hard to suppress it or obscure it.  To cover it with story, or smother it with food, or wrap it in my duvet, or – later – to extinguish it with alcohol, or vaporise it with anger, or deny it with distraction.

But I see now that my loneliness will have none of that.  My loneliness is searingly hot,  and this week since I’ve stopped all my semiconscious attempts to starve it of oxygen, it has burst through in all its fiery majesty enabling me to see it for what it is.

And I am BOILING.

Suddenly, I can’t wait to take off all the layers upon layers upon layers I have been using to try and cover it up.  This hot loneliness.  The layers have only made me hotter!   I am suffocating in here! I can’t breathe!

I need to take it all off.  Off, off, off.  No more concealing, no more quenching, no more diverting, no more reaching for a sonic boom of anger which will somehow blast it into space.  Away from me.

No, I think I am finally ready to face it for what it is.  Loneliness.  Searing, scary, intimidating, enraging, flaming, crushing, unbearably heavy. And hot.

And by loneliness, I don’t mean being alone.  I am content with my own company much of the time. Loneliness is simply the shield covering the painful, incendiary core of why we feel lonely.

Because I have God, I think I’m at last ready to acknowledge this newly understood hot loneliness for all its worth.  I’m at last in a place safe enough to say, “OK, Loneliness. You wanna show me what’s underneath? However painful it may be, I want to see it.”

The surprising thing is, now I’m ready to face reality and lifelong memory, I can’t wait to get rid of all the layers I’ve been using to hide myself from it.

I’m willing to feel loneliness melt all my carefully applied bandages and break off the hard caked substitutes I’ve plastered over myself to protect me from reality.  To keep me hidden.

Because unwrapped, nakedly me, I will be in the light. And God will be able to show me/I will be able to see who I truly am, what I truly want, where I have truly been and how God can truly use it all now for my good.

Loneliness had always been working for my good, calling me to look so that I could own my own life. Face the real pain.

I need to let loneliness do its work, reveal its core, so I no longer need its heat to remind me of what I have to face.

Because I’ll be facing it.

And it will be really me.

jsg/feb 18

How to survive your calling.

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I am always very wary of ‘worthy’ Christians.  Where does all the mess go?

I appreciate that this may well be my own insecurity.  Maybe there are people who are simply that sorted in life and faith that there’s never a hair out of place.  But not me.

Oh no, not me.

I’m the hot mess in the back pew crying, “Lord! WT* is going on?? I know you’re here, I know you’re good but SERIOUSLY??

I’m the one who looks at the American President and thinks we may well have got the President we deserve, but NOT the ideal candidate from God’s point of view.  I can’t go there, not even for Bill Johnson or my old buddy Eric Metaxas.

I’m the person who looks at the shooting in Las Vegas and weeps ugly tears at the stupidity of gun laws.  I don’t blame God or think God is exacting judgment.  I think the Lord, like me, is weeping. I’m not surprised by the brokenness of the shooter. we’re all broken.  But, thank God, I haven’t reached for an AK47.

I’m not the best person to have in a small group from church.  Because I immediately want to go really deep and really real.  I immediately want to swear just to shake things up a bit. It’s not coffee chat.  And it won’t wash with the “Praise the Lord, everything’s going to work out” crowd.  I’m the one sitting there thinking, “HOW? How can this be the fruit of righteousness? Of faithfulness? HOW could I/you have ended up here? HOW could this be the way the road went?”

I’m the one who knows I may well have got it wrong.  From my own inevitably limited point of view.

I’m the one who contributed to the whole mess in the first place.  I’m the one who agrees with G.K. Chesterton when he responded to the question posed by the London Times  “What is wrong with the world?” with this postcard:

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I’m with John the Baptist in the prison cell.  I’m with Elijah curled up in a foetal position.  I’m with Joseph in the pit. I’m with Elisabeth Elliott when Jim was murdered.

I’m not sorted, but I’m clinging on.  Because the Person I’ve met is real and proves Himself to be real every day in my life.  Through my kids, my friends, the beauty of creation, LOVE. And I owe Him, big time. I love Him.

I’m not where I want to be, I’m not doing what I want to be doing, I’m not living how I want to live.  But when I ask God, He says to me (as He did to John the Baptist), “Look at the fruit.”

I’m clinging on.

I’m surviving.

Jsg/Oct 17

 

 

Allowing for suffering.

Who first said “Time heals all wounds”? Was it Shakespeare?

Whoever it was, they lied. Wounds don’t simply go away, they need dealing with.

It’s one of those revolting bromides that serve only the speaker in the face of another’s pain.  A platitude surely sibling to other such unhelpful phrases as:

“It could be worse! Lucky you.”

Or, “It’s not as bad as you think.”

Or, “Calm down, getting upset isn’t going to help.”

Or, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it.”

Or, “Brave girl, no more tears!”

Or finally, “Don’t cry, dear heart. The milk is spilt.”

What is it about another’s suffering that plants in the human heart such a profound desire to minimise?  Isn’t it just about the discomfort of the observer?

Ironically, Christians can be among the worst offenders.

“Well, praise the Lord! They beam as you weep your guts out. “God is in control and He will bring all things together for good!”

I could slap them.

Don’t you remember that there were three days between the Cross and the Resurrection?  Three days of utter darkness and total despair?  Disbelief, doubt, desolation, abandonment, disillusion?  There was no whisper from Heaven, “Hold on, y’all! Sunday’s coming!

When Jesus went to raise Lazarus, he didn’t arrive with a brass band to shout: “Dry your tears! Weep no more! I’m here to save the day!” Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Jesus wept, loud noisy agonised snorting tears at the plight of his deceased friend and the beloved bereaved.  

So what is to be my healthy response to my own suffering?

What happens now, when I’m brought back “to the scene of the crime” as an adult? I’m a grown up now, surely I can handle it?

And I have, for a time.

But then I feel boxed in and desperate, choking. And the wounded child within me seeing no escape, finds their only release is to scream.

SCREAM blue, bloody murder.  It’s ugly, and wild, and hurtful.

“Don’t scream like that!” A trusted friend says.  “You’ve got to stop. It won’t produce the result you want.”

How sound and how rational that is from their position on the sidelines.  But the child within me is in battle.  Hurled back into the lifelong nightmares of my childhood and no amount of maturity is going to wipe that slate clean.  Because it’s not about me.  It’s about the others.

Sometimes suffering produces a train wreck.  And you must not be scared by that.  Suffering is hugely messy.

Faced with no way out and no discernible options, the child within you can scream and scream and s-c-r-e-a-m, no matter the age they are now.  I’m sure that screaming is not productive in moving toward resolution. I’m sure it’s not mature.  I’m sure it’s not shrewd.

But it is raw.

And real.

And undeniable.

And so so so necessary.  There might be a lifetime of screaming down there which needs to be released.

Being told to change course, or to alter your reaction to produce a better result, is meaningless in the face of soul-destroying, screaming, stifling anguish.  You are who you are. I know I am. Still. And the suffering is what it is.

I need the grace of Christ to allow me to scream.  Not the well-meaning advice of friends who tell me to stop or who have a better strategy. Who think it can do me no good to scream.

Because I can tell you this.  Suffering suffers no stratagem. It grabs you by the guts and screams at you, “LISTEN TO MEEEEE! I AM DYING!”

And, in suffering, part of you is.  You are dying to what you thought your life would be.  You are dying to how you wanted to be loved and known.  You are dying to hopes, expectations, dreams. You are dying to the person you have lost and perhaps never had. You are dying to what was not, in order to come into an acceptance of what is.

There are no shortcuts.

And unless in suffering you do die to all these things, nothing can grow from it.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Suffering refuses to rush toward resolution.  It doesn’t care about your comfort, it’s trying to heal you. So we must be willing to sit in the agony of it – our own and others’ – to wait for redemption. No matter how the rest of the world views it. Suffering can be a lonely place.

And redemption won’t come quickly, because it follows due process. In fact it may not come at all.

But to deny the suffering itself? How can that help anyone?

What I long for is freedom. Freedom beyond the pain.

And, as John Wimber used to say, ‘The way in is the way on.’

 

jsg/sept 17