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I have recently determined that there are several ways of asking why of God. “God, why is this happening to me?” is the simple question, but the intent behind asking reveals the heart and faith of the questioner.

“Why?” is frequently an accusation that God is being unfair to strap you with a particular problem or difficulty. You lose your job. “Why did this happen to me, God? I’m supposed to support my family, pay my bills, and pay my taxes. How am I supposed to fulfill my responsibilities.”

But “Why?” can be asked in a different way to mean “What do you want me to learn from this difficulty?” and “How will you get glory from this difficulty?” That is, “Why is this difficulty occurring to further Your kingdom and glory in me and those around me?” You lost your job. “Why did this happen, Lord? Were you trying to get my attention because I was doing something wrong, or are You trying to increase my faith, or do You have a better career in mind? Be glorified through Your provision for my family during this difficulty and in my reactions and trust in You. Bless my wife and children with provision and security. Bless those looking on with a sense of Your goodness to us.”

There is a third, mixed reaction to difficulty that involves asking “Why?”. I am reminded of the honest answer of the father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” I can relate well to this response. I frequently respond initially with “Why…that’s not fair?” but then consider God’s goodness in times past and the Scriptures about His faithfulness and moderate my stance to “Why is this happening in this way for my instruction and Your glory?” In reality, it usually comes out in more colloquial language: “God, what are you up to?” or “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “How do You get glory from this?”

I mark my progress in the faith largely by how quickly I move on to trust. And at times I am finding myself responding in faith immediately. Perhaps because of a sense of inability or defenselessness, I seem to respond in trust more immediately the more drastic the difficulty or disappointment. And that is the good in trials for us, learning to trust without accusations of “WHY?”

But lest you think I am saying that I have arrived, I also shrink back into discouragement and complaining all too often. A circumstance, a Scripture, my wife, a friend, or even a stranger communicate how blessed I am and how foolish ungratefulness is and I am set, sometimes hard, back onto the path of faith. May God patiently work His plan in me and through my circumstances, and I would append that request to say, may He do it gently because I am frail (“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust,” encourages Psalm 103:14.).

I have been thinking about Job lately. Do you feel like Job whose friend, Eliphaz, encouraged him by saying, “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)? That’ll put pep in the step, not! I keep having to “humble [myself] under the mighty hand of God,… casting all [my] anxiety on Him, for He cares for [me]”.*

As I told my Sunday School class, “Resist temptation and replace it with something better.” Jesus is always better. Thanksgiving diverts my attention from temptation to Him. I’m preachin’ to myself. You can listen in if it gives you any help. Maybe I will even get to the place of saying with James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

*I inserted personal pronouns in place of yourself, your, you.

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

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I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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Stress

I am going to drop a few poems here that I have written over the past several months. Life has been very busy and stressful this Fall. I need to learn how to let cares roll off my back like water off a duck’s back. I have learned more about praying through and clinging to Jesus, but my personality causes too much internal stress that doesn’t need to be there. See if you can understand the repetitive nature of the stress cycle from the poem.

Go
Faster
More intense
Reap what you sew
Pretend you’re master
Don’t ride the fence
Hoe your row
Plaster
Rinse

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Storm the beaches
Drop from the sky
Normandy’s far reaches
Every angle try

Rain of bullets
Take cover or die
Blood is freedom’s droplets
Shed in full supply

Wrench from tyrants
All sorts of slaves
All that conscience supplants
Against reason raves

Surge forward now
Pill boxes defeat
Start liberation now
Rescue not complete

Push over fields
Free every town
Freedom to no man yields
Made them renown

Always has been
Good and evil fight
Freedom will at last win
Wrong bow to right

 

 

For my thoughts on D-Day, see “D-Day Remembrance of Freedom”

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With what are you struggling? Struggling with temptation is a matter of replacing it with something good and godly. I find that Romans 6:11 helps me to focus in times of temptation. Philippians 4:8 helps it to be less of a problem in the first place and less burdensome when happening. But what if the struggle is not a temptation but concerning a desire that you have thought to be a godly ambition? You pursue it, but thus far, to no avail. Patience and acquiescence to God’s will are certainly needed, but as platitudes they do not answer questions about how to proceed. So, here is how I am struggling:

My senses all say no
As do comments and circumstances
Whence comes this great desire
When all else says there are thin chances

To prayer I did devote
This ambition of which I now speak
Much counsel, plans I wrote
And God’s will in this matter I seek

How do I now proceed?
Exercise patience and longer wait?
More scrutiny it need?
Oh my mind and emotional state?

Is it time to give up?
To admit it was not in God’s will?
Accept this empty cup
As good providence rather than ill?

This I know above all
God is good and His will is the best
May stumble but not fall
Be bewildered but finally blest

I will continue on
Trusting God and in His guidance rest
Listening I will hone
Find His direction and pass the test

 

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On the drive to church this morning,
I wrote the first verse of the following poem.
Hands free communication (as with a cellphone) disallowed me
to write it down, so the beginning of the second verse was lost
to me before I could write it down. But the direction in which
I was thinking remained for the rest of the poem to come this afternoon. God’s grace and goodness are so great, especially in contrast to our inability to comply to His commands and wishes.

So much wickedness in my heart
Made in God’s image, tarnished art
Frequent failings, falling away
To often straying from the way

Desire to follow ever grows
Distracted by pleasures and woes
Many small failings of the heart
Who will give me a brand new start?

Jesus only, beginning, end
Power to enable, transcend
All my failings and weakness
Distracted thoughts and selfishness

All by grace He has given me
From Him any good that you see
This fragile glass His strengths reveal
Demonstrates His goodness is real

One day my faulty service gone
Perfect obedience will dawn
In good time I will be steadfast
Then I will see God at long last

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains