Never Forget

Kendra Miller, ND

Kendra Miller, ND

In the final scenes of The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta peer into the countryside from the train that returns them to their district. Peeta asks Katniss, “What do we do now?” She replies, “I guess we try to forget.” Peeta and Katniss have literally had to fight for their lives and have discovered love in the process. Their experience has been incredibly tough, one that wasn’t asked for but chosen for them by lottery. Peeta responds: “But I don’t want to forget.”

I watched that scene and instantly noticed the parallels. I’ve had tough times and we all do. Let me share some points this scene rehearses for me.

  • Never forget the days that humble you. In fact, they’re unforgettable because they’re often full of pain that grinds us down in positive ways we don’t realize until months and years later. We shouldn’t forget these periods because God, in his providence, oftentimes orders our steps through these places, always with a purpose and providing for our safety. We must embrace these tough times for the spiritual training they provide and certainly as grace afforded us. I’ve learned to thank God for the hard times in my life. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything now because I’ve gained too much from them.
  • Hard times should prove the good in us. They should be a constant reflection to us of how well-equipped we are for our challenge; of our spiritual strength and progress, although our knees may buckle at times. Our perspective should also change: God doesn’t send us through a wilderness to be conquered. If anything is to be lost, then the course is designed to necessarily relieve us of excesses and encumbrances impeding of God’s purpose in us, for which we always need refinement. In the end, God wants to make a show of us to us.
  • Pain produces shared intimacy that can otherwise never be known. People who experience incredible hardships or disasters together are often knit heart-to-heart forever thereafter. This is why Peeta says what he does. Their lives were at stake and they had to trust one another in the most ultimate way. They learned things about themselves and each other and had to use it to survive. The situation was serious; there was no playing around, not even with words. Our relationship with God is the same. Those who rely on God through their toughest times gain an intimacy with him others who neglect him cannot know. People often desire the spiritual connection they perceive in some. But it won’t be acquired apart from walking with God wherever he leads—and that includes through tough times.

The chorus of Colton Dixon’s beautiful song “Through All of It” says:

“I have won and I have lost,/ I got it right sometimes,/ But sometimes I did not./ Life’s been a journey;/ I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret./ O! And you have been my God through all of it.”

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What Job’s Friends Did Right

"Job's Friends" by James Tissot (CC-PD)

“Job’s Friends” by James Tissot (CC-PD)

Once word spread about Job’s tragic misfortune, three of his friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—traveled to visit and mourn with him. Generally, nothing wonderful is made of these men due to the flawed counsel they offered Job. But their companionship is something they model that we should emulate.

The Pervasiveness of Trouble

Hard times hit us all…no one is immune. Sometimes trouble comes crashing in on us unexpectedly; at other times we bring it upon ourselves. Whatever the case, the toll on a person can be significant in every way.

Job didn’t have just a single problem that stressed him; instead, he dealt with compounding heartaches—financial ruin, the tragic deaths of his children, a hideous and disfiguring disease, and the loss of a supporting wife. We need not wonder about the toll it took on him because he tells us: “May the day of my birth perish and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’…may it turn to darkness” (3:3-4).

How to Help Others

Fortunately, Job had people who cared enough to come see about him, folk who let him know that he didn’t have to face his cares alone. And thousands of years later, the necessity of a ‘crying shoulder’ or person to lean on hasn’t changed. No matter how spiritual we may be or how much faith we possess, we have limitations and will experience emotional pain. But hardship is eased by meaningful relationship.

Here are some pointers I’ve learned helping others and needing that help.

  • Don’t be silent. In high school I had a friend whose mother was killed in a car accident. I never spoke to him about the situation, although I really wanted to but didn’t know how. The problem with silence is…it’s so loud. It becomes the evidence that everything is known, but for some reason you’re not acting; and then it becomes stigmatizing. It shames the one who is hurting, the one who wants to be heard and have his burden shared. Find a way to show care, even if it seems awkward at first. You’ll find your feet as you go.
  • Don’t pity people. Pity makes us feel sorry for folk and glad that we don’t have to live as they do. It is love from a distance, which is no love at all; and it keeps us from feeling people’s pain. Pity disgraces people and makes them feel bad about themselves. It is not the love of God, and it restrains us from getting involved.
  • Don’t turn people into their trouble. Regardless of an individual’s predicament or how they got into it, they are still persons whom God loves and those he requires us to love. If we’re not careful our moral stances can make us calloused toward folk we identify as offenders. But people are not their problems and they can change. If we don’t believe this, then we don’t have authentic Christian faith.

Read more: Helping Others Grieve

Cries of the Heart

CC BY, sylvain.collet, Flickr

CC BY, sylvain.collet, Flickr

“In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’” (Psalm 31:22)

The psalmists confess what many of us won’t: that we don’t have it all together.

Have you ever read Psalms—I mean really read it? It has to be the most relatable book in the Bible. I am floored by the range of emotions we see from these God-fearers, their intimacy and sincerity, their indignation and rage.

And I love it. It makes me feel a little more normal when I’m stressed or tempted or miffed with God.

Peering Into Our Hearts

The tones of cheer and praise in Psalms are as obvious for the dark and gloomy ones that ensue. In Psalm 42, for instance, we detect signs of the speaker’s depression and frustrated search for God: “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” (v. 9). I love the nuances and implications that often arise from a text because they add color and depth to a scene and teach us by training our eyes on the unapparent. One thing I learn from Psalms is to really understand myself, how I respond to circumstance, how to feel and manage my emotions, how to submit them to God.

It’s important because what we can fail to notice is how impacted our emotions are by events and circumstances, the stress of them, although they may not be critical at all. You see, it’s the emotional aspect of our lives that often waylays us. Situations can be handled—we pray to God for as much—but we, the caretakers of our souls, are slow to anticipate and prepare ourselves for the emotional toll that can follow.

We never thought our circumstance would cause us to make rash decisions or to become temperamental. We didn’t expect to be crept upon by a sneaky depression. We surprised ourselves with our excesses, blinded by pleasure and glee.

Our emotions will trip us and Satan…well he watches unguarded doors.

Healing Our Souls

We’ve witnessed too many times of late the tragic consequences of people living life bottled up. It is necessary to acknowledge our feelings and give them healthy expression; it is also important to share our feelings with others.

I reject the triumphalist spirituality that suggests I keep happy and overcoming, or that it’s a sin or faithlessness for me to feel pain or experience sorrow. I also reject those on the opposite end, the hill climbers, whose faith only identifies with plight. They seem to start every conversation with “Hey, bro, what are you struggling with?”

I haven’t quoted a bunch of scriptures here, or said Jesus twenty times, yet this might be the most freeing news for some people, Christians included. We don’t lose our faith because we agonize; we just must not let pain cause us to lose our contentment in God.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps. 42:11)

What We Learn in God’s Holding Patterns

CC BY-NC, Fly For Fun, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Fly For Fun, Flickr

A flight holding pattern is a delay tactic airports use when planes cannot land for different reasons, like congestion or bad weather. If you’ve flown enough, you have probably experienced one of these. In fact, you may have looked out your window and saw the airport but wondered why on earth you were flying around it in circles.

Depending on the type of delay and number of incoming aircraft, planes can be stacked in holding until air traffic controllers can land them one-by-one, starting with the lowest plane.

God’s way with us is like holding sometimes, can you agree?

Learning Contentment

Who doesn’t love that great Pauline verse—“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Ph. 4:13). But I’ve found that many of us don’t understand its context. It is definitely deeper than the Christian self-help it has become in recent times. Paul refers to his ability through Christ to keep at an even keel while facing the highs and lows of his life. He expresses how the grace of God offers him contentment.

So let’s back up a little. Paul, a prisoner now and finalizing his letter to the Philippian Christians, thanks them for their generosity to him. Then, he quickly clarifies that he doesn’t bring up the matter for any new need he has…and this is where the important context begins.

“For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (vs. 11b-12, ESV).

Is Contentment Satisfaction?

This is a revealing glimpse at Paul’s life. His words comfort us in our trials today because someone as sage and godly as he is transparent enough to share his own holding patterns in the will of God.

What does Paul mean by content? Surely he desired to be out of that prison. His churches were better served by his presence among them; after all, he’s sending them a letter here. Certainly he preferred a full stomach to a grumbling one and peaceful presentations of the gospel instead of violent protests.

If we’re not careful, we will make Paul say that he was satisfied with his circumstances. But consider yourself: perhaps there was a time when you didn’t have the things you needed. Did that cancel your desire to have more or better, especially if someone depended on you? No, it didn’t.

Think about the plan God has shown you for your life. Maybe you’re in a hard place right now and simply cannot fathom how he will make good on his promise. Although it’s difficult now, God showed you his plan at the start to provide you hope for when the good times turned. He doesn’t mean for you to build a home in the wasteland.

Something on the Inside, Working…

Instead, Paul’s contentment means he was inwardly self-sufficient, not requiring outside support. It means that he was indeed satisfied with the grace of God that propelled him forward in the divine will despite his external circumstances. In fact, it was knowing that wherever he was in life somehow accomplished the will of God for him; and because of that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. The scope is pervasive, all-inclusive.

Herein we are offered a deep lesson about what we possess and don’t possess. The highs and lows enter our lives to lend us perspective and never to disturb our rest in God. For whatever may come, we cling to grace, not things.

Let me sum it up this way: Contentment is to not worry about anything you see around you or off in the distance, whether it’s your natural sustenance or the very promises of God. But it is to learn and progress right where you stand. And it is to trust God—who knows exactly where you are in the holding pattern—until he lands you where he wants you next.

More on this topic: The Perils of Covetousness and God, You’re Killing Me!

“Hard Candy Christmas”

This week The ‘Mike’ is reflecting on Christmas music. I’d like to share this one with you before starting. You might know it already—“Hard Candy Christmas” by the great Dolly Parton. I love this song. It’s a tender tear-jerker, not unlike Dolly’s delicate voice and emotional delivery.

A ‘hard candy Christmas’ described the holiday for a family so poor that parents could only afford a cheap bag of hard candies to give to their kids; and Christmas was the only time for such a splurge.

My hope is that you’ll think of someone else this season, if only by remembering them in your prayers. Everyone’s not happy like most of us, for different reasons. And many are like the narrator of this song—just getting by.

Yet circumstance doesn’t have to take the merriment out of Christmas. Listen and reflect.

How to Make a Mess of Adversity

CC BY-NC, chris-on, Flickr

CC BY-NC, chris-on, Flickr

Life guarantees each of us some heartache. No need to search for it; it will find you. The scriptures add the possibility of God ordering us to pass through trial for the perfecting of our faith. But whether it is life’s distress or God’s higher purpose at work, trouble can be overwhelming at times and bring us to the brink of despair.

A conversation I’ve had with God during these times has often begun—and ended—like this: “Lord, I’m failing this test!” Frustrated, I’ll start praying and then stop because I’m sure God is sick of hearing me about that same ole thing. I know I am.

This usually happens when I’m at my wits end and don’t know my next move, or I feel that I’ve botched something. It springs from a heart that sincerely desires to please the Lord but is near despair because there seems to be no solution to the problem.

Soul Grief

Sometimes it’s relieving to look at our Bible heroes and see that they dealt with the same emotions we face. Consider these words of Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed…about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

Keeping it in perspective, my cares don’t compare to Paul’s active engagements on behalf of the souls in his young churches. Yet we all steer a state of mind that must be held at an even keel, whether we deal with real, urgent risks or matters of play. And Paul pulls the covers back for a moment and shows us a low point, which should encourage us.

‘Saved and on my way to Heaven’ doesn’t exempt one from dealing with the gamut of human emotion. Faith should determine how we deal with our emotions, although we won’t be happy perpetually or sad forever.

God vs. Our Image

Another thing that won’t be perfect is how we handle trouble. This is where I have often erred, especially in those times when I knew God was sending me through the wilderness. It is the crux of my ‘failing’ prayer. Let’s keep reading Paul’s words: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (v. 9).

Interesting: Paul submits that his life-threating ordeals occurred so that his team could fall upon the great strength of God to rescue them.

The Holy Spirit showed me how I stopped relying on his grace to face my cares and opted to confront them in my own strength and pride, attempting to persevere with tidiness and perfect form. The truth is, however, the wilderness kills those who don’t adapt. It’s a place of change. And you don’t get the luxury of looking good in the desert. Instead, God leads us there to get better things in and out of us—and that ain’t ever glamorous.

Trial is not pretty and never perfectly endured. But such a mindset only proves that we are not relying on the grace of God, which is perfect, to carry us, start to finish.

My “I’m failing this test!” prayer only demonstrates that I need to chill out and cease trying to please the Lord and score “A’s.” Instead, God’s tells me, “You already please me, and I’m not disappointed in you. Just learn what I’m trying to teach you.”

That means deal with the variables or the aftermath of the situation with faith and dutiful attention, as you must, but keep your heart open to the lessons the Spirit wants you to grasp.

A Spiritual Learning Curve

There is a spiritual learning curve for each of us, and it comes with some hardship. If it weren’t challenging, we wouldn’t grow and couldn’t achieve mastery. In time, however, we learn that it is challenge and resistance, along with the grace of God, that raise our lives from one state of glory to the next. Paul finishes:

“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” (v. 10).

Paul is suggesting one clear message: the triumph of God’s grace in our adversity. Later, he renders it this way: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (12:9). Did you see it that time?

Friend, lets lay aside those crooked prayers and rest in the mighty grace of God. We’ll gain confidence in his purpose with our pain and ease our troubled minds.

“Thanks” Series—Post by Michael Stephens

CC BY-NC, Jason-Morrison, Flickr

(See where the tree grows!)
CC BY-NC, Jason-Morrison, Flickr

This post is the fourth in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Today I reflect on the following quote by British author and intellectual C.S. Lewis.

“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

These words make me think of others I’ve spoken—“Why complain when you can be thankful?” I’m a million light-years from Lewis’s brilliance, but I think together we’re onto something here: life is chockfull of occasions to show gratitude.

Eco sustainability teaches the principle of zero waste in nature. No matter the debris or pollution, nature eventually recycles it into use again. Our lives possess that same characteristic because we have every chance to turn all our good and bad instances into moments of gratitude to the Lord. Lewis draws us into the heart of this concept and, in simple fashion, explains why it can be so.

For the Good and the Bad

“If it is good, because it is good,” Lewis says—not merely that we have everything we could wish for, which is nice, but also for the essential goodness that has entered our lives. The adopted boy taken out of the system has drastically more to be thankful for than the fineness of the clothes, toys, food, and vacations he now enjoys. Instead his deepest gratitude springs from one thing: his being chosen.

Lewis continues: “if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” If you hear Lewis saying we ought to be thankful for bad fortune, you’re hearing incorrectly. We cannot be thankful for disease and violence and poverty and destruction, all things that break God’s heart. But we can be thankful because they are catalysts.

Misfortune offers us a chance to develop in our lives virtue that we might otherwise never experience; and that virtue grants the Lord more control in us and with us. This is spiritual wealth that glorifies God and that, in some unknown way, accrues and awaits us in the life to come.

Moreover, what Lewis conveys of bad fortune rings resoundingly with hope: we should take trouble itself as a cue that better lies just ahead of us. Whether in this life or the next, our present experience is dissolving into something astonishingly wonderful.

God’s Design for Us

Thus, complaints have little hope of thriving when we grasp that every moment is a chance to be grateful to God. The apostle Paul trumps Lewis and me when he says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18). The will of God is his desire and design for our lives; Paul identifies part of it as a life brimming with gratitude.

On this Thanksgiving Day we raise a toast in praise to the God who has entangled our lives in an intricate win-win situation. His grace makes our good sweeter and helps us transform our misfortune into wealth. He is the author of all good and the Eternal Victor over every dark power. May he who is our every advantage be glorified this Thanksgiving and we remain always grateful.