Last week we talked about how God is still working on us. We are a never ending work in progress. And instead of being hard on ourselves over the faults we have difficulty ridding ourselves of, we should use that opportunity to lean on Him even more.
We often have difficulty letting go of the things which have hurt us; whether they have deeply saddened us or angered us, that which has made us feel deeply, often stays with us, even if we don't want it to.
Today, in my daily devotional, I read some of Lamentations, which by its very definition, is about grief and sadness. It is understood that the book of Lamentations is a collection of songs written to express grief and suffering after experiencing the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, at the hands of the Babylonians. These are people of faith, crying out to God, putting their sadness and suffering into words, as they question why God would allow such a city to fall.
Yet, even these passionate expressions of deep grief, are not without hope.
The highlighted verse is often what Christians will quote. It is the hope that we hear of most frequently, and understandable so, but how much more might we relate to these people of the Bible, knowing that they struggled with the same doubts and sorrow that we do today? Here are the prior 21 verses:
I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the
I remember my affliction and my
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
~Lamentations 3:1-21 NIV
There are 21 verses, before this often quoted verse; verses of doubt, bitterness, crying, blaming, despair, and yet, yet, there was hope. In my youth, I found this confusing, even contradictory.
How can someone seemingly blame God for their suffering, and still find hope in Him?
But this is real. That is real life. This is not hypocrisy. This is human emotion. We often express our sadness not only with this world, and the suffering around us, but with a God we cannot fully understand; wondering how He can allow suffering such as this, to happen.
God has actually shown us how normal this is! He has shown us that lamenting over our broken, suffering world is quite biblical. But because of God's great love, it need not consume us. Express your grief, your sadness, your misgivings and doubts. Cry them all out to Him; pour them onto paper. He knows them anyway!
Then remind yourself of the hope you still have in Him. Remind yourself of His blessings, big and small. Take comfort in His word; even the laments. They were included in His scriptures for a reason! Know that you are not alone in your emotions.
I did not want to write this message. I don't mean this particular message. I just mean that I didn't want to write one at all. I didn't want to be bothered. I didn't have a message in mind. I'm exhausted. I've been battling an infection for two weeks. The weather has turned miserably cold and wet, which always has an ill effect on my mood. I hate that I struggle so much, seasonally. It makes me feel weak and out of control of my own emotions. It doesn't help that I live in an area that is cold and miserable more often than not. I am bothered by my own complaining about it, because truly someone who resides in Buffalo, should come to expect the sudden and drastic season changes, but the emotions, and heaviness that I can't seem to shake until spring are more complicated than simply just deciding to be in a better mood. I truly hate feeling this way. The other day, staring out the kitchen window, I actually had tears in my eyes, watching green leaves fall from the trees. Our fall is so brief, and so fleeting, that we often don't even get to experience its full beauty. This fills me with such a sad heaviness that suddenly really small, daily tasks seem incredibly difficult.
After some whining to my husband last night, about how I just wanted to crochet, or read, or go to bed, for goodness sake, and I didn't want to have to write this message, I began to do the dishes in a rare bit of silence, as the kids were getting ready for bed. A blast from the past song began playing in my head, from when I used to homeschool our children. There was a musical part of our curriculum, which included some fun nursery rhyme jingles, as well as some children's Christian songs. I can still picture my little ones singing this with me, with their sweet hand gestures:
He's still working on me
To make me what I ought to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
He's still workin' on me
There really ought to be a sign upon my heart
Don't judge me yet, there's an unfinished part
But I'll be perfect just according to His plan
Fashioned by the Master's loving hands
Sometimes the simple Sunday school songs for children surprise me the most with their depth. Listen, we are complex beings, with complex bodies, minds, and emotions. God created the moon and sun, the stars and the earth, and all its inhabitants in a single week. It was a set it and forget it moment, like when I throw dinner in the crock pot and walk away. He made it, and saw that it was good.
But with us, made in His image, He did not walk away. He created us with purpose and meaning, not to leave us to our own devices, but with the intent of walking with us, in our hearts; shaping our journey, molding our minds and our lives, if we so choose. He never promised it would be easy. Complex things never are. But He promised to be with us if we let Him.
And this simple children's ministry song, is a powerful reminder to extend grace to others as well as ourselves. Don't be so hard on yourself. No one has it all together. We're all struggling with something. Whatever it is you are going through is real, but you are not alone. The Potter is still molding His clay. Know that He is God, and you are not. Lean into Him that much harder during difficult emotions. While unfinished and under construction, instead of beating yourself up about it, learn to take rest in the Master's hands.
Bad things happen.
There are no disqualifiers here. They don't just happen to good people. They don't avoid bad people. They just happen.
They happen because we live in an imperfect world. They happen because this is not Heaven. This is not our permanent home. Imagine if bad things didn't happen at all, ever. How would we ever appreciate the good? How would we learn to rely on God? Why would we even look toward Heaven if we had it so good on earth?
God never promises us that bad things wouldn't happen. In fact, the Bible repeatedly warns us of hard times, and tries to teach us how to prepare for them.
One of my favorite songs in Sunday school as a child, was The Wise Man Built His House, based off the above verse. The song came complete with fun hand motions and everything, but an even more valuable lesson.
The storm was not diverted away from the wise man. The storm came to both the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The storm hit them both. The only difference was that the wise man was better prepared with a stronger foundation.
Life is hard. Bad things happen...to everyone. This lesson is not only about how some bad situations are avoidable by making wise decisions, but also about preparing our foundation.
The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. ~Matthew 7:25
The storm still comes, with its dark clouds of sadness and difficult winds of change. You will still feel it sweep through, but you will not be broken. With God as your Rock, your Foundation, prepared with His Word, you will not fall.
I woke up this morning with the same line of a song playing over and over in my head. It's a gospel song I've heard a handful of times over the years, and it was never really one of my favorites. It's a good song, but some songs you just really feel, if you know what I mean. With this one, I could really take it or leave it. It just wasn't the kind of song I was going to sit in my car to finish if I'd reached my destination.
But God often speaks to me through songs, and especially the unexpected ones; the ones I know are only from Him, because I do not hear them or sing them regularly...or at all. This morning, one line played over and over again, the second I woke up, "Sometimes you have to encourage yourself." It goes on to say, "Sometimes you have to speak victory over the test." Suddenly a song I hadn't previously given much thought, was speaking to my spirit.
I have been conditioned to fear punishment. I believe most of my friends who were athletes might feel the same way. I was conditioned to believe that if I wasn't good enough, I would get punished. If I didn't make that easy shot, if I didn't make that free throw, if I made a mistake that cost us the possession or a basket, if we lost the game, we would be punished. We knew we would be punished, but usually not right away. We would live in fearful anticipation of when we would be punished for not being perfect.
Some of this stemmed from my own form of self-discipline. Most athletes get to where they are in their athletic careers because of a pretty decent amount of self-motivation already. Then, when they have coaches who condition them in such a way, it is easy to live out the rest of their lives in a system of reward vs punishment.
When I met my husband, I feared (and still often do) that I wasn't good enough for him. I fear that I am not a good enough wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend. I criticize myself all the time. When I heard the lyrics of this song first thing this morning, I realized that in living this life of fear, I have created a breeding ground for negative thinking and speaking. I have made it easy to be critical of myself. I have told myself that this is who I am, and I have believed it.
And I have stopped caring for myself. Instead of living in victory, living like the loved and saved person that I am, I have been living a defeated life.
I share this with you not for sympathy, but because I believe someone else out there needs to hear this.
You cannot live your life fearful of
imperfection and punishment,
because it directly contradicts
the perfect love of Christ.
You cannot speak victory over your life while playing the role of the defeatist. Jesus' perfect love, already took the punishment for your imperfection. Amen?!
Now, because old habits are hard to change, and because I don't want to just leave you (or myself), with a powerful message without an applicable way to change, I want to wrap this up with a list of things you can do to change this behavior, and I'd like to join with you on this journey of self-love, self-care, and living a victorious life.
I also couldn't leave, without allowing you the opportunity to hear the song God used for me this morning. I hope this message finds you well and provides encouragement where needed. If you struggle with accountability, and need encouragement in your prayer and journal life, don't hesitate to reach out!
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You're driving along at about 72 mph in a 65 mph zone. You figure, not so slow that you're getting passed frequently, or drifting below the speed limit, but not so high as to risk getting pulled over with a high fine. Right? Don't lie. You've had this same thought process.
A car flies by you going at least 85, weaving in and out of traffic. You think to yourself, "He's definitely getting pulled over," yet 5, maybe 10 minutes later, when you see the lights and hear the sirens, they're for you. If we imagine ourselves in this situation, and many of us have actually been in this situation, it is easy to know how we might react. The almost immediate reaction is that of self-righteous indignation. How dare they! There are many others driving much faster than I am!
Another example: you are selling Disney trademarked items in your Etsy shop. You receive a cease and desist letter from the Disney corporation for using their intellectual property without proper licensing. You are ordered to remove some of your most popular items from your shop or they will take legal action. You're appalled. How dare they! How can your little side business possibly effect their sales? What's worse, there are literally hundreds of other shops still selling their Disney trademarked items and getting away with it. Your reaction again, is a sort of entitled anger. After all, you made those with your own hands, right?
We do this in our every day lives all the time. When friends or family express their hurt feelings, we become angry and defensive. Well, you did this, this, and this to me. How is this any different?! When someone cuts us off in traffic, how quickly we forget the times we have done this in great haste as well.
I could go on and on, but I share these things with you, because I, myself, have experienced them, and I believe I am far from the only one. You see, anger is a defense mechanism. This is not to say that there are not truly appropriate times to feel anger with this world and the evil in it, but so often in our day to day lives, we use anger to protect ourselves from the truth. Because conviction in our own hearts, is uncomfortable.
This verse is so frequently used in reference to relationship advice, as though we should be sure to talk everything over before going to bed. I believe the advice is much deeper than that.
Anger can very easily give the devil a foothold on your life. Anger stirs up bitterness, resentment, hostility, entitlement...really, nothing good. To be angry with someone or a situation allows you to focus on everything about that person or situation which makes you angry, often drudging up things from prior incidents which are unrelated to what's happening right now. This is not from God! This is a way of hardening your own heart to grace and forgiveness. This is a way of preventing your own growth. Because, as I showed you in some of the above examples, our anger is often a retaliatory response to being caught in the wrong ourselves.
When God's Word says, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry," what do you take that to mean? Sure, it could mean that we should talk it out with the offending party. But outside of a marriage, how often is that possible? You may not have the chance to discuss it before going to bed. You certainly can't hunt down the guy who cut you off on the highway that morning. Not everything needs to be, or even can be settled within our human terms. Don't forget who the actual enemy is, because it is not that person who hurt you. Through prayer, with Jesus, we need to push that anger aside to make room for grace. Because where there is grace, there is no room for self-righteous indignation.
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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