Sunday, March 19, 2017

Honest Conversations...

     I was one of those kids that said whatever came to mind...out loud. My mother frequently had to tell me, "You don't have to say everything that you think." As an adult I am thankful that she patiently repeated those words as often as I needed to hear them, and taught me the importance of choosing my words wisely. However, her words did have some unintended consequences. They often kept me from sharing my thoughts and feelings with her and dad. I was less likely to bounce ideas off of them or to go to them with problems that I had at school. To some, this may sound like a bad thing but I believe God used it for good. God became my confidant. I learned that I could have honest conversations with Him. God would never tell me that I didn't need to share everything that I thought with Him. The honest conversations I had with Him gave me clarity, confidence in decision making, and made me teachable.  As far as I can tell, the only draw back is that sometimes in my honesty I forget that I am talking to the God of the universe, my Creator, and Savior.

     I had one of those forgetful moments about two weeks ago. During that time, my mother was diagnosed with a lung disease that can only be slowed and not stopped. There are moments when watching someone you love continually suffer becomes your own kind of suffering. At least this has been my experience, as I have watched her suffer over the course of these last five years. Sometimes I feel frustrated and angry because I know God can heal her and He hasn't...yet. This was one of those times. The problem was that I needed time, space, and privacy so that I could have an honest fit! What I had was a few fleeting moments alone in the car and a few honest sentences. God welcomes our honesty...but some of the honest things I had to say were disrespectful and sarcastic. Still, in the quiet I heard Him say,  "It's okay to have your feelings and to ask your questions, but don't let them give way to anger. Anger can lead to bitterness. Don't let bitterness take root." In the midst of my sarcasm and disrespect He welcomed my questions...even though I was really questioning Him. That's when I remembered Isaiah 45:9, "Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop, you're doing it wrong!' Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be?' "  In that moment, I was reminded that I am just clay. Isaiah 64:8 says, "Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter, we are all the work of your hand." Actually, I was a very sarcastic lump of clay who was busy mouthing off to the potter about how  He could use a different method other than suffering, to shape another lump of clay, my mother!  After apologizing for my sarcasm, another humbling thought occurred to me. God gave His only Son to suffer and die on the cross...for me, and I am clay. Jesus endured suffering and death and because of that, this lump of clay has received salvation...this means anything else is icing on the cake, really.  The health of my loved ones, their very existence, God's daily provision in my life, and many other things that I have unwittingly come to expect...all icing.

   You would think that all of that would have been enough for me...enough to set my anger and frustrations straight, humble me, and put things right within me. I thought so too until I went to church that Wednesday evening. I guess I didn't realize just how deep or how long I had been shoving my thoughts and feelings. I didn't realize how long I had been telling myself that I was just waiting for time alone to have a longer honest conversation with God. What I needed to do was take a page from Psalm 15 and speak the truth in my heart. I needed to get it all out in the open with Him. He knew just how to bring me to that point. We had just begun singing the words, "You are stronger, You are stronger, Sin is broken, You have saved me" and all I could think in my heart was, "Yeah, I'm still waiting to see that You are stronger!" and immediately all that had been shoved down was about to break free...so I left the service.

     God in His mercy and infinite love met me on the way to my car. I had been headed there to have it out with Him, but He used a precious sister in Christ to stop me on the sidewalk. We cried together, prayed together, and had some honest conversations of our own. We bore one another's burdens and in that moment the burden of being angry with God along with the weight of the hurt of suffering was lifted. All it took was an honest conversation and prayer. I've been thinking about this in the days since, and that's why I am here writing...having an honest conversation with you.

     I sense that I am not alone in how I have felt and what I have been wrestling with. Perhaps you too are struggling with hurt and anger toward God over your own suffering or the suffering of a loved one. Like me, maybe you've been so busy taking care of everyone else...that you keep shoving your feelings aside until you have time for a long and honest conversation with God. Or...maybe you talk to God but not about how you really feel, because speaking the truth in your heart is too painful and may require change on your part. I've come to realize through this experience, that the longer we wait to have those honest conversations the less likely they are to happen. Holding off only makes room for raw feelings to fester and creates distance between us and God. Eventually, it feels like God doesn't hear us at all.  Can I give you some advice...from one misshapen lump of clay to another? God, the potter loves you. Don't run from His presence or hide from the touch of His hand. Let those nail scarred hands firmly...yet tenderly shape you in the midst of trials and suffering. Don't be afraid to ask the hard and the honest questions. Say what you think, but remember who He is. Remember that the One who lovingly welcomes your honest and even at times sarcastic questions, is also the One who loved you enough to give His life. This is what I too am being challenged to do...to always see suffering through the lens of God's love. I have no idea exactly what that means or what it will look like, but I know that's the direction He is leading me in and that is where I'll go.