Monday, September 24, 2012

The Man in the Garden

I wasn't there so I don't know... but I imagine it to be a  very still night. A night when the owls stayed aloft in their trees and even the crickets dared not disrupt the peace with their chirping. I imagine the silence to be so penetrating that it almost makes your ears ache. The kind of silence that seems to echo fear, so that you dare not break it... I imagine it was also very beautiful. The centre of a garden in glorious twilight. I imagine the sky was clear with the stars gleaming in all their splendor. The moon smiling just enough light to unveil the tranquil beauty of the garden in which he stood. The gentle aroma of perfumed blossoms dancing in the air all around. I imagine that to anybody else it would have appeared to be a place of peace.

I wasn't there, but this is how I imagine it.

In the centre of the garden, surrounded by the tranquil beauty, he fell to his knees in anguish. Gripped with sorrow and unable to stand under the weight of his troubles, he lay in the middle of the garden and he prayed. He prayed for an hour. I imagine the tears flowed heavy and his line of thought was disjointed by the desperation of his soul. But still he prayed that the cup would be taken from him. That there may be some way that he would not have to walk the path he was being asked to follow. Yet even in this most desperate hour, he still had the grace to surrender his own will. It was becoming clear that the answer to his prayer was, "No"...

Finding little comfort in his own prayers he looked to his closest friends for aid, for some form of comfort. But the tranquil beauty had lulled them to sleep. Clearly they had failed to recognised his desperation and need for their fervent support. With a word of rebuke, he called them to action again, "Keep watch, and pray for me!" And again he went back to the centre of the garden to pray, alone. And the Lord sent an angel to strengthen him, but he was still in agony. The jumble of emotions - fear, anxiety, grief, sorrow - was so great within him that his sweat became as drops of blood. He was physically consumed by his troubles. And still he prayed and still the answer was, "No".

Again he returned to his friends for support and strength, and again he found them asleep. Their own need for rest blinded them to his anguish and again they failed to offer any comfort or support. And again he returned to the centre of the garden, alone. He surrendered his will for a third and final time. When he returned to his friends once more, he found them asleep. Again he roused them and called them into action... but this time it was too late, for the hour was at hand...

What a depressing and encouraging portrayal of the Christian life.  Being a Christian will not spare you from experiencing troubles. It will not spare you from deep anguish or desperation. Being surrounded by Christian fellowship will not save you from feeling utterly abandoned and alone in your darkest hour. The Christian life does not promise to spare you from pain, but it does promise to get you through it.

Jesus is fully acquainted with our human experience. He knows the heights of joy and the depths of woe that our human existence can deliver. He lived it for Himself. I draw so much comfort from the story of the man in the garden. In my darkest hour, the man from the garden stands with me. And when I crumble under the weight of my grief and loneliness, he whispers to me, "I'm here". And I know He is. Then when I cry out in anguish and utter despair, He says "I know your pain". And I know He does. And when I ask in desperation, "Will you redeem my brokenness?" He says, "I will." And I believe Him.

Walking with Jesus does not mean that you will not have to face turmoil, grief or hardship, but it does mean that you won't have to face these things alone.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Lord, please help me to not become a nutcase!!!

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, blah blah blah...."

This is just a passing scripture reference I read over in my weekly notes for a Biblical Counselling Course that I am doing. It struck me, that when I recognised what I was reading I immediately hit the skip forward button  on my internal remote... I am very familiar with this passage, but something about it just irks me. I don't want to read it... it makes me uncomfortable.

Thankfully I heard the Lord point out to me that this isn't right... His Word brings life, not discomfort. So I stop. 

You're right, what is it about this passage that just rubs me the wrong way? What is my problem?

I'm learning that its times like these when you have to stop and invite Jesus in. He is standing at the door knocking, but He will not force Himself on you. You need to invite Him in, even if you haven't had a chance to tidy-up yet. I am also realising that He has a habit of showing up, right when its getting real messy in there... that's not coincidence either.

It turns out that this passage wasn't written to rebuke anxious people. It was written as an encouragement. In the past, I have had this passage flung at me by other people who naively thought they were being helpful, but were actually being hurtful.  It is a little silly to tell a person struggling with anxiety to just "Don't be anxious." It's a bit like telling someone to stop snoring. It is very insensitive, and its wrong. There was this one time when Jesus grew so anxious that He sweated blood!! I have never been at that point, and pray I never will be. But I have wrestled with anxiety, and for very good reason. Life can be rather horrifying sometimes. I realise that this passage struck a nerve with me today because I am feeling anxious, but am pretending not to be.

I'm very very good at being stoic so you would never know but, I am walking around constantly just on the edge of flipping out. This week a very dear friend had a perfect baby girl. And Praise the Lord, everything went well and both Mum and Bub doing great. I also found out that two other friends are pregnant. This is good news. I am happy for my friends, and it is good news. But I am so sad for me. And it really really hurts. This is not something you will understand until you walk it for yourself, but hearing about other peoples babies, and seeing other bubs out in the shops just twists the knife a little bit more and reopens the wound. It hurts. And I know that God is not going to stop other people from having babies until I'm able to cope with it again. Other people will keep having babies and I will keep on hurting. It just is what it is.

So now comes the point when I need to come before the Lord and ask Him to come into this and meet me here. Well that's what I meant to do, but it came out more like this...

Lord, please help me to not become a nutcase!!!

He comforts me. He is so tender. I don't need to be brave. It does hurt. I'm allowed to be afraid, sad, angry... it isn't fair. It is reasonable for me to be anxious about this. So I go back and I read the passage in context...

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me - practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." 
Philippians 4: 4-9.

My worst fears have been recognised. I am living my nightmare. I brought my child home in an urn... But God has not changed. He remains, His love still runs deep, and His faithfulness endures forever. I know my God. He is honourable, and just and pure and lovely and commendable and excellent..... These are not just empty words, but this is my intimate experience of the God of peace who is with me. Because of who God is, there is reason to rejoice, even in my pain.

It really really hurts... but I am still confident of this, I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!!

Please continue to pray for me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Battlefront

The pain is raw today... it seems that everywhere I go and everything I do is a cruel reminder that my little boy is not here, where he should be. I'm sad. And it hurts. My eyes are puffy and my face has that sticky gross feeling from the tears. I'm on my way to sit in the shower again...

But I wanted to write this down before I go. I am realising that a common battlefront in my life is my joy. It feels odd to be talking about joy on such a miserable day... but more and more I am realising that one of the major battlefronts in my life is my joy. Its always the first thing to go... and the last thing to return. In fact, right now, I don't even want to feel joy. I don't want it. I'm not interested... I want to just be miserable. And I think most people would agree that this is perfectly natural. Yesterday was 2 months since my son died. I don't want to be joyful today...

But I think that this is far from natural. The fact that I don't even want to be happy right now is ringing alarm bells in my heart. (Praise the Lord for that!) Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit... dispair and misery are not. And didn't Jesus come that we would have life and have it to the full???  Surely that includes joy...

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your and that your joy may be complete." John 15:11

"Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." John 16:23

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Romans 14:17

"What has happened to your joy?" Galatians 4:15

I'm not naturally a joyful person. Never have been really. I have never been one of those people who just radiates warmth and sunshine... Joy has always been fragile for me. And its certainly never been a priority. I've never set out to simply pursue joy. I've always been far to sensible and mature for that...

But I think this is the case because the enemy doesn't want us to know the fullness of the joy we have in Christ. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and therefore if we have the Spirit of God, we have His joy. This is important. Joy is not found in the absence of sorrow, but in the presence of Christ! Jesus tells us in John 15:11 that he gives us His joy so that our joy may be complete. Jesus is a joyful person. But he is also a man of sorrow and familiar with grief... but for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God!!

So if Jesus wants to give us His joy and to make our joy complete then of course this is going to be a highly prized possession for the thief... of course its going to become a battlefront. But it is a battle worth fighting...

Exactly what this joy looks like in the midst of grief, I'm not sure. I know that joy does not equal the absence of sorrow or grief or compassion. That's called narcissism. And I know that joy does not cancel out pain. But I know it is a gift from my Redeemer and I claim it now for the sake of His steadfast love.

"When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul." Psalm 94:19

Please take a moment to pray for me.