problems

Language of the heart

Over the last week I pondered what theme I should choose for the worship in our English speaking service this evening. Several songs that the Lord brought to my mind had a similar topic – God as our refuge in times of troubles. When I took another look at the song texts I was surprised to see that basically all of them

  • use words taken from the Psalms, and
  • include some kind of imagery, describing God as our shelter, a fortress, a refuge, a safe tower, a high rock, a hiding place, an armor, a shield, – and my favorite one – the shadow of his wings.

This reminded me of something I had heard from Leanne Payne – symbols are the language of our heart. They speak to us in a deep way that no heady teaching can.

No wonder that these songs usually speak to me. Praise the Lord for those Psalm writers who first crafted the words out of their own experience, and for the song writers who used them for these songs!

One of my favorite songs is the following from Hillsongs Australia:

Hide me now
Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty Hand.

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father, You are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

Praying that it blesses you, too.

What is normal?

I am reading in 2 Corinthians at the moment. There are all kinds of things that speak to me and seem to be relevant to my situation. Possibly the most important insight happened this week, when I meditated on 2 Cor 6:4.

I patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.

This sentence is prefaced with the remark that Paul shows in everything that he is a true minister of God. Following this, Paul writes about several kinds of problems which he endured and through it proofed that he is a minister of God. But is this normal?

It nearly sounds as if Paul considers it normal to have problems!

This is in stark contrast to what I want to experience – a more or less stress-free and unproblematic life, or at least low stress and less affected by problems than what I experienced, e.g., during the last two years. Already two chapters earlier Paul mentions a whole list of unpleasant adversities that he experienced (2 Cor 4:8-12), and in the first chapter he mentions problems that were really beyond his ability to endure (2 Cor 1:8).

I am wondering how anybody can endure that? I guess the answer is given in 2 Cor 6:7 – “God’s power is working in me”. This is one of the marks of and a recommendation for a minister of God that Paul mentioned – not to live in our human strength but in the inner strength that comes from God (2 Cor 4:16). Again and again he states – that is why he never gives up (2 Cor 4:1, 16). Wow!

I still find this hard to stomach – does this really mean that we are to consider problems as something normal? I don’t like this. I am light-years away from this attitude.

Slowly I am realizing that I was off base and made things more difficult for myself when I rebelled inwardly against difficulties. I did this more often than not during the last two years. This has probably only resulted in wasting my energy where I could not accept problems and resisted them. Slowly it dawns on me – some things might have developed differently if I had accepted problems as a normal part of my life.Especially in one case (I am slowly realizing) did I really waste my energy, when God seemed to speak to me about something unpleasant, incomprehensible. I just could not imagine this really being God’s will, and accordingly I refused to accept it. Looking back, I can see that I really burnt myself out over it and how this has probably contributed to my general exhaustion.Of course, nobody enjoys problems, but there seems to be a difference if I accept them with a weary smile, or if I am getting upset about them and rebelling against them.How often during the lat two years have I waited for my life to become “normal” again. Under “normal” I meant no or at least less difficulties. However, if I consider as “normal” a life with problems (such as Paul does), I will encounter them with a different attitude. Even if I don’t know what lays around the next corner, problems won’t hit me with their full force and catch me completely flat-footed. I am more likely to endure them and they won’t unsettle me as much. If my strength is not sufficient, then I can still trust that Jesus lives in me and gives me his strength. When I don’t see a purpose in the negative things, it is also helpful to remember that God promised to “work all things out for good”, that he will use even negative things for our good (Ro 8:28). [By the way, I don’t know if you ever noticed, it does not say that God takes away negative things or that he will turn negative things into positive things, but that he will use them for our good.]Along these lines, I hope that in the future I will encounter problems with a new attitude. I am already curious what God will make out of it.

God speaks through pain

When I wrote the last entry, I was reminded of a quote that has become very important to me about 10 years ago. Since then I have often quoted it and reflected upon it.

“a significant question, that one of our pastoral advisers placed before us (…) will you concentrate on the pain of this broken world experience and resist it, OR will you permit the pain to become an environment in which God can clearly speak to you about matters he deems of ultimate importance? The choice is yours.

(…) It was not a one-timer choice. We made it again and again as time passed. (…) Would we fight the pain or permit it to be the environment in which God speaks? Usually, we chose the latter.”

(from “Rebuilding Your Broken World” by Gordon MacDonald)

In view of my last entry, I am wondering if this not a similar principle. Only when we face the pain, God can work on the deeper issues, things that we usually try to fight and medicate with addictive behavior, because we don’t like to face them.

Security

We all need security.

Some of us more than others. In a talk with a colleague last week I realized how much I am struggling with my present insecurity, incertitude, lack of clarity about the future. I have a hard time not knowing what exactly will happen after July. Of course, there are considerations and plans beyond July, and at the moment nothing speaks against implementing them. But ever so often, when I want to take practical steps in preparation for these plans, I don’t have the inner freedom to do so. That really unsettles me. Why does God seem to slow me down? What is there that speaks against realizing these plans? I find this really difficult. During the talk with my colleague I realized how much I am tempted to create securities in other areas, by taking long-term decisions for which it is not the right time. My colleague suggested that maybe God wants to teach me to live in the present moment, and find my security in Him alone, not in clear plans for the future or fixed structures. Probably she is right. But it is not at all easy. To not have these human securities gives me almost physical pain.

The other morning I was reminded of a term I had heard recently – “redemptive suffering”. I don’t know where I had heard it, except that it was in the context of addictions. The basic idea is that when we can’t bear a tension / pain / feeling / problem our tendency is to numb it with a substitute, usually a sort of addiction.

Usually we suffer as a consequence from this addiction, e.g., overweight, health problems, hangover, debts, etc. If we refuse to numb our emotions by using these substitutes then we suffer, too. But only this second kind is “redemptive” because it allows God to work at the deeper issues in our lives.

Most likely this is exactly the tension I am experiencing at the moment. I can hardly stand the incertitude. Only when I am ready to endure it with God’s help, will I see God at work in my life and experience the results that God had intended.

So, please pray that I will not avoid this (hopefully redemptive) process.

God is at work

For quite some time I wanted to give you an update but could not find the energy to do it. God is at work for which I am truly thankful. Two weeks ago we had our annual women’s retreat and the team who had come has been a wonderful blessing. I really enjoyed it, but at the same time I was often tired and had to skip some of the program.

Several of the learning processes I wanted to share with you in the following are connected to things said, prayed and even sung over me during this weekend (the team sang the theme song over me as a special blessing – Prov 3:5-6). As Adela, our retreat speaker, said, the weekend was probably a turning point. I am on the road to recovery, but it seems a very long road and I am advancing only slowly. Shortly after the weekend I also had my first online conversation with Karen. I knew her from a workshop a few years back and her insights and advice were very helpful.

So what is God teaching me?

  • The first important insight was the importance of being secure in God’s love. “The powers of darkness fear those most that are confident and secure in God’s love.” – I realized that this is something which was part of last year’s healing to an extent I would not have dreamt of. Yes, I am secure in God’s love, I know that he loves me without conditions and that there is no condemnation no matter how much I fall short of perfection. If I had not had this security during the last weeks and months, I might have already left the country. It gave me an additional strength I was not even aware of. The attacks could not hit me with their full force.
  • While praying for me, Adela had the impression that all these problems of the last time are a preparation and purification for a future ministry. This was maybe the most crucial insight. Not only did it answer my main question of the last months – how should I interpret this accumulation of problems and stress – it also gave me a new perspective. The problems might be due to Satan’s attacks but they are also part of God’s training program. This goes a step further than saying God will use it for good, because it tells me that there is purpose in it.
  • Based on this insight I realized that dealing with multiple problems at once are my weak point. I have never been very good in multitasking especially when I felt assailed by too many things at once. God is teaching me now how to do it, and not in my strength but in his.
  • Karen asked me among other things what I am telling myself in these situations. I realized that I unconsciously told myself: I can’t handle it anymore, it is too much, it’s not fair, – and eventually – I don’t want anymore, I don’t want to go on like this. This unwillingness to deal with multiple problems prevented me from living out of God’s grace and strength. Now I am slowly learning in these situations to call on the Lord and trust that his strength is perfect in my weakness when I feel overwhelmed. It’s amazing what difference this self-talk can make.
  • It was also very helpful that by looking at my prayer mails Karen was able to identify at least four major losses and a long list of stressors (26 and still counting). So the question was if I had grieved these losses. I had not. This was part of my recovery work during the last weeks, for example, by writing a good-bye letter to Fatomata, who had died in July.
  • Karen also gave me an article from Henri Nouwen which provided valuable input. This article underlined for me the need to let go and let God work it out (parable of the river), stop trying to control things, which is hard when you feel so much out of control, tossed around by circumstances like a ball. I also realized that I had accumulated a lot of resentment, towards all these circumstances and the people involved in it. I still need to work through these points. Interestingly enough, there was no resentment about the accident itself. Through this article I realized that because I felt so much gratitude about God’s intervention on the day of the accident, that there was no room for resentment. Gratitude is an antidote to resentment.
  • Last weekend I finished listening to the “Sacred Romance” (audio book). One paragraph was especially significant for me: about God using warfare to draw us into closer communion with himself. In a way it underlines some of the above insights. There is warfare, but not because God is not in control or because I have not resisted the enemy enough. The author goes on to say:
    Warfare begins to feel different. The whole thing is not about Satan. It’s about communion with God, abiding in Jesus. The issue is to keep focused on God’s goodness instead of being obsessed with the enemy and his attacks. The only reason to focus on the enemy is to rebuke his lies.” (my paraphrase)
  • This audiobook also reminded me of James 1 – trials are a reason for pure joy, because God uses them to grow in intimacy. Or as the Life Model puts it – to grow in maturity. This was a reminder of what God had spoken to me a few months ago. How quickly did I forget!
  • Being instead of Doing: That was a topic I had often meditated about in summer. I often wondered if all the problems that kept me from doing what I was supposed to do was a lesson in Being? This seems to be reinforced now through the article from Nouwen. We need to trust that ministry is not so much what we do but the power that flows from us when we abide in Christ.

So now I am learning to put all these insights into praxis. The last weeks were definitely a training ground in patience. Right now I am basically learning to do nothing, except listening to the Lord, and resting in him in all kinds of problems, including my lack of energy. It means total dependence, because I never know when I will have enough energy to do something.

Last week provided ample opportunity for putting things into praxis: On Tuesday I got the car back from the garage that had painted it. On Wednesday I had planned to have the very last repair done, only to discover three more problems that need taking care of. Plus I had problems with the police twice (not my fault). This was a lot of stress all in one day (or actually half a day), but I was thankful to see that I was able to handle it fairly well. On the other hand, the next two days I was too exhausted to do anything. Saturday I worked on resolving one of the three new problems, only to discover yet another one when I was again stopped by the police – two days ago darkened car windows have become illegal here. While I am writing (Saturday) a mechanic is working to take them off. This means less protection from the sun for us and our shopping. -( I still find it difficult to accept these adversities as a normal part of life. I guess this is part of what I have to learn. I was always waiting for life to become “normal” again, meaning with no or fewer problems. But as a friend said: ‘Normal’ is only a setting on the dryer.

Some time ago I decided that I should probably stay in the capital for two more weeks after the car repairs are finished. For the moment it is too early to say if this will be enough to completely recover. Or if the Lord wants me to keep going despite my weakness. It’s a difficult balance. Therefore you can praise God for all he is teaching me, but also pray for my continued recovery and wisdom to know when it is time to move on. Thanks again for letting me share with you.