My son Bryan was invited to share his story at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He was one of two featured speakers on a night when almost every participant in the room shared some kind of disability. Disabilities included Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), asthma, depression, cancer, arthritis, etc. Each person was asked to write a poem about their challenges and to highlight what was bad as well as what was good. Then, throughout the evening, volunteers could come to the front of the room and share what they wrote.
What causes people to be downcast? I would surmise in most cases it is because of unfavorable circumstances. We want something that does not materialize. We deal with sickness. An enemy is a relentless grief-flinger. “Sixty students who had attempted suicide were asked why they had wanted to end their lives. The majority, 85 percent, said they had tried to kill themselves because their lives seemed meaningless and without purpose . . . Without purpose we lose motivation and sometimes lose health and even lose life.” Without understanding God’s ever-present love we are destined for despair.
There is a passage in the Talmud that says, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” It is easy to be pessimistic if our perspective is rooted in the wrong place.
1 Samuel 16:1—The LORD said to Samuel, “How long are you going to mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have selected a king from his sons.”
Watching the news is as about as fun as playing frisbee with a cat. Between the stock market plunging over 500 points in one day, Syrian rioting, Mexican gang violence, Texas drought, and political debt bickering, lamenting seems to be a worldwide sport. Listening to a Christian radio station today in Wisconsin, I heard the DJ ask if it seemed like God was angry. That seemed ironic since I had just read from my quiet time in Psalm 85:5, “Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger for all generations?” Moses observed in Psa. 90:7, “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed” (ESV). Jeremiah warned, “Come out from among her, My people! Save your lives, each of you, from the LORD's burning anger”(51:45). What people in what century have not experienced pain and attributed it to God’s wrath?
Aside from Jesus, Job is perhaps history’s most famous man associated with suffering. Messengers report to him one fateful day of: enemies stealing his oxen, donkeys, camels and killing his servants; lightning destroying his sheep and shepherds; and, a powerful wind that wipes out all ten of his children. The poor man stood up, tore his robe and shaved his head and then fell on the ground in worship saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Praise the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
1 Samuel 27:1,2—David said to himself, "One of these days I'll be swept away by Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape immediately to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will stop searching for me everywhere in Israel, and I'll escape from him." So David set out with his 600 men and went to Achish son of Maoch, the king of Gath.
Numbers 13:33—“We even saw the Nephilim there.” (The offspring of Anak were descended from the Nephilim.) “To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.”
When cadets return to West Point in January, they enter what is called thegloom period. The buildings are gray, the skies are dreary and a feeling of “I wish I could just take a long, extended nap” settles upon the Corps. I lived through four years of that gloom period. Imagine my surprise when I moved to San Diego and discovered that June was called the same thing! The ever-present sun gave way to incessant fog and a chilly air. What were we thinking when we moved to western Oregon, a place famous for what can often be eight months of drizzle and fog?
Psalm 42 and 43 belong together as one work and could aptly be titled “Depressed.” Verses 1-3 in chapter 42 indicate the writer’s distance from God:
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, “Where is your God?”
Nadjya* came into our center to get food. As Bryan had her fill out forms, she shared she was mentally struggling. He forewarned me that she seemed kind of bizarre. I called her in and asked her questions to determine her financial and spiritual status. Essentially, a bout of pneumonia and lingering weakness caused her to miss enough work that she was in need of our help. I was surprised at how well her job paid. Most people who visit us make very little money or are in between jobs. I was also impressed with her faith in God’s mercy and forgiveness. She seemed to have a good grasp of the Bible.
Job 3:25,26--For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.I cannot relax or be still; I have no rest, for trouble comes.
He was the picture of success, a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil. He had ten children and was fabulously wealthy—the greatest man among all the people of the East. Job was so concerned about living a pleasing life to God that he would have his children purify themselves after partying and he offered sacrifices on their behalf in case they might have sinned. So why was this mighty man fearful that something bad would happen to him?
When crocodiles cry, their tears are not like our tears at all. A crocodile’s glandular excretions act to expel excess salt from its eyes. When a man is remorseful but not repentant he acts like a crocodile. He sheds tears but they are not from a true sense of shame over wrongdoing, but rather to put off the one aware of the sin. Remorse is that sensation we experience when we are caught. Repentance is the revulsion we taste for the evil in our lives.
Caleb’s head sunk in agony. On the splintered beams of a weathered deck stood the only life left that really mattered—his daughter. And now she was to be sold into slavery—auctioned off like some four-legged beast of burden.
We come to the time of year when Christians around the world celebrate the incredible birth of Christ. For many it is a time of giving gifts—a holiday ritual recognizing the second greatest gift of all time. What manner of love for those of His image--yet deeply flawed, possessed God to send His Son to be conceived a baby? What marvelous humility flowed from our omnipotent Lord that His Son should bypass the greatest of human protocols to be born in a smelly stable? Like the wisemen who followed the star, we trace the life and ministry of Jesus, joyful that His holy journey liberated us from the dungeon of sin. But there is so much more to His story, so much more to who He is.
Have you ever had a day when you wished to be alone; when your heart felt crushed beyond repair and your dreams were smashed like a wooden boat against the jagged reefs of reality? Like the eye of a hurricane, misery has its own island of calm. Often it is in the center of pain where God reveals His warm will and tender truth.
There will come a time in your life when your heart is surrounded by sorrow and the light of life seems remote, flickering against the howling wind of affliction. In times of tenebrific anguish, it is important to realize that you are emotionally at a much deeper level than most who are around you. This heightens the possibility that they will not understand what you are experiencing. If you are in a prolonged state of anguish, many will tire of your depressed condition and suggest you need to quit feeling sorry and move on with life. Misery may love company but not for long.
Luke 23:44-46--It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three, because the sun’s light failed. The curtain of the sanctuary was split down the middle. And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.” Saying this, He breathed His last.
She stood by the side of the road in the face of a steady rain as cars streamed by her in both directions. Across her waist was a cardboard sign with large letters pleading, “I need work for food. Have two kids. Please God”. Hers was not the ordinary sign of the typical person waiting at strategic intersections for someone to feel guilty, stop and give money--the kind of person whose demeanor actually begs the question “Why don’t you go get a job and work instead of standing here all day.” This woman was sobbing. Her eyes cried the pain that emanates from a broken spirit. Her trembling transcended wet-induced cold to a dark hopelessness. Her plight evoked deep compassion in me not because she needed food or money. Her sign was more profound than that. Her real cry was—“Please God!” This woman knew that her deepest needs went far beyond what caring strangers could offer.