Monday, May 6, 2013

The Fellowship of His Suffering

Sorry it has been so long...

That thing that we dreamed of for ourselves, the things we hoped for that never materialized, the life envisioned for ourselves that we were robbed of, these are the things I am talking about. The pain and suffering of watching them pass from our reach is so personal, so private that to speak of them with the chance that the hearer would mock, scoff or make light of them keeps them locked away from the sight of any other human.

Some of us, no all of us remain chained to these disappointments far longer than we should. A “self” we had hoped, planned and sacrificed for has died. This cycle repeats itself over and over in my life. It happened again this week. This morning while lamenting my case into my coffee, a very soft and sweet thought rose out of the cloudy gloom like someone whispered it to me. “Take up your cross and follow me.” Ever have that happen? A thought clear, bright and laden with hope emerge from the mess with such clarity that it captures your attention with its novelty and excellence.

“So what does that mean in this situation,” I wondered. The answer came as softly and sweetly as the statement. Take all the things that have “died” and the means by which they were killed and follow Him and in the doing of this, His purposes will supernaturally begin to materialize. Could accepting the losses as part of His plan for me and following Him while bearing them be the way to the exceptional life He planned for me? What wonders will unfold in obeying this command?

I’m no Bible scholar but I’ll tell you what my hope is: that the pain and disappointment that we find so personal and intimate is not just known by Him but understood by Him. I have reason to believe He understands not just the value of that which was lost but why it was important to me.  Pain is the canvas on which the strokes of courage and cowardice work themselves out in the light. He sees the beauty and the blemishes. Nothing is too graphic for Him to handle. His story is on the canvas too. We can take comfort in common experience, and TRUST Him.

Those persons and events that force their way into our lives and do violence to what we consider personally valuable, delicate, fragile, priceless… don’t relent despite our cries. The inevitability is at times breathtaking. They force open the door through which we enter into the fellowship of His suffering.  Philippians 3:8-10 really comes to life in this light.

Php 3:8-10 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith--  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

The valuable things that die don’t have to be an anchor to an abandoned, defeated life of disappointment. Christianity offers an amazing alternative to this. Instead of a life tethered to failure and disappointment requiring greater amounts of synthetic pain relief, Christ says,  "…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Take up my cross? The things that cause those important, personal parts of me to die, I’m supposed to take them up and follow Him? Is it ok to think that our lives are sometimes crucified in small or large pieces of intimate personal matters, killed by circumstances beyond our control but certainly not His? Those events come and kill a part of what we held dear and leave us swooning with how beyond stopping they were. Sometimes the force of an event extends itself over years or decades and finally we realize this isn’t going to be what I had dreamed it would. It is a hope drawing its last breaths. Then it dies. What about these piecemeal crucifixions? Little parts of us that die. Do we need to include them on the cross of self denial? I think if we want to be free of the regret of their loss, yes. In the acceptance of the death and the cause for it, as a matter of trusting Jesus for the decision to allow it, we swing free of the restraints of grief, sorrow and loss to look expectantly toward His silhouette against a whited-out future following Him.

The phrase “take up” in Jesus’ command are a sailor’s terms for weighing anchor. What else would you weigh anchor for other than to prepare for a voyage. What grander voyage can there be than navigating eternity by the celestial references of the Maker of the Universe? “Trust Him?” you ask. After the damaging event that has changed the course of my life? Yes. This is definitely a big decision. Who will be the guide of my life, me or Christ? In my hands, my life will be held back by regrets and sorrows. Taking them up and following Him makes my life bigger than those regrets and sorrows. They are only mementos of a long and meaningful journey, a journey I still don’t know the whole significance of. Without Him they are a destination, a place I really don’t care to stay. I’m going to do everything in my power to weigh anchor.

I am often struck by the command in 1 Thes. 5:16 to “rejoice always”. Even while something important in my life is dying? It does say always. Another verse I have trouble reconciling with this one and my life is two verses past in verse 18. “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It really is a choice. Will the disappointments (as well as the triumphs) be a destination or a simply a port of call on a much bigger, more significant journey.  These two verses make much more sense when you put with them Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. “ If I really believe that then I really can rejoice always and in everything give thanks. Take a deep breath of freedom. Trust His judgment. Keep your eye on His form ahead of you. Are you sick to death of grieving the loss? Weigh anchor mate. Let the voyage resume. This port is not the final destination.  

I can weigh anchor and as the winds of the sea stir the sails and fall on my face I can rejoice, always looking forward to the next leg of the journey. I can give thanks in all things knowing my final destination is not in the port of Regret, Loss or Disappointment. There are adventures I have yet to experience on this journey.