Pain

What do you do when it starts raining and then it never stops? Somebody asked me that question yesterday. I was sitting across the table as this friend poured out the details of some really difficult things that are going on in his family right now. Really difficult things that I honestly can't understand or relate to because I've never been there myself. So for that reason, I wasn't sure how to answer his question. What do you do when things get dark and there's no light at the end of the tunnel? Actually, let me ask the question this way, because this gets right at the heart of things: What do you do when you pray, beg, cry out for Jesus to step in and calm a storm in your life, and then you wait and wait and wait for the peace to come and it just.....doesn't?

I'll bet that if you and I were to sit down over coffee and I asked you if anything is worrying you or stressing you out, you'd be able to rattle off a handful of things without even thinking about it. I could too. There are a few things I've lost more than a little sleep over. Maybe you can relate to this: sometimes there are extended periods of life where it feels like that's my reality. It's more than just a season or a phase...stress just becomes part of the routine. You've most likely experienced the same feeling. We explain it away, try to ignore it or brush it under the rug, or do what we can to endure it. But worry is toxic. It's a slow-moving poison that is deadly. And because it tends to creep in a little at a time, we usually don't do anything about it until it's too late.

I know a guy, a pretty young guy, who is battling cancer. And the cancer is winning. I know a lot of people who have battled cancer, but something is different about this one particular guy I know, even though I can't explain what it is. I don't even really know him well, but I haven't been able to get him off of my mind the past few weeks. It's not fair that cancer wins, especially over someone so young. In his fight, every step forward has come with three steps backward, and it sucks. There's no other way to put it. My grandma has also been on my mind. She's about 5 years or so into the debilitating mess of Alzheimers. We've watched a woman who was always bright, sharp, funny and loving be stripped of her memory and personality. Who she is now isn't her. We see the effects of the disease, but it's not her. Things like Alzheimers shouldn't exist. I don't understand why we haven't figured it out yet. Why haven't we found a cure? Why hasn't God given someone the answer?

I don't know if you're like me, but whenever I read the Bible I look for the hidden truths. I'm always looking for the part I might have missed at first glance. I was reading a story Jesus told in Luke chapter 15 last week and had one of those moments.

"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away."

He told this story to communicate an important truth to two specific groups of people:

This is not a post about ISIS. I know the title would suggest differently, but this post isn't about ISIS and it's not about politics. See, I've been reading a lot about ISIS, and often when I read an article online I check out some of the reader comments below. I've read so many comments full of hatred and anger. The sad part is that so much of it isn't even directed toward ISIS, but toward other readers, but hey, that's for another blog post. A week or two ago, I read an article about the 21 Christians that were beheaded on the beach and one of the comments, apparently written by a believer, struck a chord:

"I just keep telling myself that this must be part of God's plan."

Since then I feel like I've read or heard that same thought echoed by a lot of other people. Maybe I'm just noticing it more now that I saw it once. But I've been thinking about that. When bad things, terrible things, the absolute worst kinds of unthinkable things happen to good people, is it part of God's plan?

Maybe I'm not supposed to say this because I'm a pastor, but I've never questioned my faith more than I have in the past 18 months. I've never doubted God. Not His existence, not His love, not His presence. But I have done a lot of asking, searching, and chasing after answers to some tough questions about life, faith, and how God interacts with us particularly in the middle of hard times. Although I've never doubted God, I have wrestled with anger that, if I'm honest, I've directed at Him more than once. As I watch people I love go through difficulties in life, as I watch students I love experience pain and hurt, and as I watch tragedies of all shapes and sizes unfold across the planet (like yet another high school shooting that took place today), sometimes I can't help but take a step back and wonder why in the world God allows certain things happen the way they do. That's a tension that we all have to face. What I've come to realize and have complete peace with is that there's nothing wrong with struggling through those moments. There's nothing sinful about wrestling with God's plan. God's grace is greater than my weakness, and it covers me even in these moments of my life. Especially in these moments.

The first time I dreamed that I was drowning, I was actually surprised to wake up. It was so real and so vivid that I actually believed that I was dying. I don't know if you've ever dreamt you were drowning, but it's terrifying. I was even more surprised because I don't normally dream, or if I do I don't remember them when I wake up. But this one felt more like real life than a dream, and even a few minutes after I woke up, I was still breathing heavy and my heart was beating fast. That night a few years ago is one I haven't forgotten. It came in the middle of a time in my life when I had some big decisions to make and didn't know what to do. Things were good at work, but I was feeling pressure to succeed, and for someone like me who struggles with not tying my identity to my achievements, this was crushing. I was finding that I didn't know how to do what I needed to do to keep things moving forward, and my bag of tricks and easy ideas was running out.