Why Does Everything Have To Be So Hard?

Why does everything have to be so hard?

We’ve just been up to Vermont for a long weekend of helping mom with settling the estate, doing landscaping, and tending to the to-do lists that keep growing. And while it’s a joy to be able to help, each achievement breeds another two to-dos. We spoke with the new financial planner, yes, but that means having to decide on a new annuity. We moved all the piles of sand from around the property, but that meant we didn’t get to clean out the garage very much. And so on.

Please don’t misunderstand. We wouldn’t have traded the weekend for anything (well, except for seeing dad again, but…), and we really did enjoy seeing everyone. It’s just that there’s always Something Else. We go to file the probate paperwork, only to discover there’s another form with another signature that we have to hunt up… Mary really wishes she could just be up there all the time, there’s that much to do.

I read a devotional recently that got me to thinking about why everything has to be so hard. Doesn’t becoming a Christian mean life gets easier? No, actually, it doesn’t. Salvation makes things better eventually, but the One who died a horrible death on a cross would be the first to say, “I never promised it would be easier.”

And that leads me to wonder: what if all our struggles to find ease and comfort, what if all our efforts to just be free of all our burdens, means we miss out on a bigger point?

What if our problems aren’t meant to drive us to solutions, but rather, into the presence of and a deeper relationship with God?

What if our problems aren’t a source of pain and frustration, but a source of even greater faith?

It’s easy, and wrong, to say that “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” It’s wrong because it misses the point: the point of life isn’t to be free of annoyances and frustrations and pain and to-do lists, but instead, to come to know God as provider, as deliverer, as healer…to learn to trust that truth even when we hurt, or it’s not going the way we want it to be.

The whole of the Christian journey is one of abandoning our selves, and with it our own problems and worries, and learning to pursue God in our difficulties, to find He is our relief.

That’s not to diminish the importance of the to-dos. It doesn’t downplay the pain or the frustration. But it does invite us to reframe them, not as something I can achieve, but something with God in which I seek to understand, What is your lesson for me in this, Lord?

This week it’s the estate to-dos. Next week it’s the next year’s budget at work. The week after that, the kids’ school plans for the year. Then after that…?

When will we learn, He is all we actually need?

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The Walking Wounded Come to Christ

Two weeks ago tonight, I was part of the team that began welcoming 24 pilgrims to their Emmaus weekend, E-185. Three days later, the Holy Spirit had moved tremendously through us, and every pilgrim had some fantastic stories to share about their weekend. It was SUCH a privilege to be a part of it!

My bride and I sponsored one pilgrim. Adam is a friend of nearly 25 years, who has gone through some serious struggles and upheavals in the last 11 months. When I came off the mountain for my own walk two years ago, I thought about inviting him, and had a distinct sense of “No, not now.” But once his turmoil began last summer, I started to hear the answer change. And he was happy to accept the invitation to the weekend.

This was my first teaming experience, and so in many ways it felt like my own weekend again, this time with more awareness of what’s going on. And it was deeply, deeply moving to see the experiences of the pilgrims as they came to confront the absolutely bottomless love of Jesus, time and again, throughout the weekend. There were grievously hurt men on the weekend. There was brokenness, there was shame, there was the inability to forgive oneself in spades. And over the course of our time together, the rest of the team and I could see people blossom, come out of their shells, and come to understand God’s love, perhaps for the very first time.

One pilgrim commented to me, after a lifetime of being a “Christian,” that this was the first time he really got it, and really could see how much depth there is available in Christ. That alone makes the weekend worthwhile. To have even one soul come to know God’s love more truly than ever before, makes it complete.

We can’t live on mountaintop experiences forever, unfortunately. And so it’s been doubly encouraging to see that the seeds planted on the weekend are taking root in Adam. He has a new energy, and a new commitment to being a genuine follower of Christ, which I pray he’s able to enlarge and deepen as the weeks and months go by.

Imagine. Imagine the possibilities if we could all make that shift in our hearts. What a wonderful place this would be if that could happen.

Burst Appendix

Ten days ago, on a Saturday night, I started to feel a little twinge in the right side of my abdomen. Mind you, this was after working in the yard for a few hours at a charity event, and during bowling night, so I figured, I must have pulled something.

It didn’t get better, and I noticed I lost energy: I came home and slept 12 hours that night, and after church Sunday I slept another 15 hours. Something wasn’t right. Monday I stayed home from work, exhausted, but still not in a lot of pain. Tuesday, though, it wasn’t getting better and I figured I should find out what it was. With one bout of diverticulitis in the family this winter, I thought it could be that, and so went to an ER that could take pictures.

The CT scan showed my appendix had begun to burst. I was taken via ambulance to Mount Vernon hospital just before 1, and by 2:45 I was being wheeled back for surgery.

Things like this–sudden, emergency, literally life-saving surgery–can be a little upsetting. My bride was a little alarmed, but I remember feeling very calm about it. I knew I was in the best hands I could be, the healer above all others, and so I didn’t feel fazed at all.

I think that’s a difference from where I would have been years ago. I think I would have been much more assaulted by the feeling of not being in control, of wanting to research the best possible surgeon, pick a different hospital, etc., etc. Instead, I felt reassured throughout the day, reassured that I was being loved and cared for even beyond the walls of the hospital. I put out a couple of Facebook messages, and brothers and sisters in faith responded with a wall of prayer for me. That felt good, that felt welcomed, and as a result I was able to breathe in the gas in the OR without worrying about what came next.

Recovery has been uneven: discharged after 48 hours, and the first couple of days at home were good. Yesterday my drain showed qualitative and quantitative signs of change, so back to the ER to make sure everything was OK. The CT scan showed no structural problems, but they put me on a stronger set of antibiotics to kill off whatever’s still around inside. Part of the hardest thing to do is…nothing, just to sit around and rest and recover. I don’t “just sit around” well.

But through it all, I am being held, I am being supported, and I do believe healing is available for me. These are incredibly reassuring, and I hold onto them through these next days and weeks.

Always an adventure, huh?

Dealing With Bad News

What do you do when the plans you were making, around which you’d built your expectations for the future, suddenly crumble and you realize they won’t become reality?

We’re dealing with that this weekend. We had some very disappointing news come into the family–shattering news, really, to the one making the plans–and it’s affected us all. I wasn’t the one making the plans, but this news has consumed almost all of my spare brainpower ever since.

When something like this hits, everything feels different. Things move in slo-mo. Brains race. Even, I’ve noticed, food tastes a little differently. Our primitive instincts begin to kick in, we get afraid, we fear. We lash out at anyone or anything we think got in our way.

At times like this our faith in God goes one of two ways. We can get angry with him–how could you let this happen? What kind of God claims to love and then ruins my plans?

Or we can get our egos out of the way and put more faith in him. We recognize that God might not be the actor causing the sudden crisis…but we recognize that he certainly can use it, that he has a plan for us, and that even if we can’t see what that is, that he still loves us.

Easier said than done. When we feel we’ve been wronged, there’s a part of us that likes to play the victim. That’s a whole lot easier than recognizing any role we may have had ourselves in the downfall of our plans.

The good news is, though, that even when we’re angry with him, God still loves us. And that, odds are, he wasn’t the one behind our misfortune. Remember, we have an enemy who wants to wreck our plans and sow discontent and drive wedges between us and God. But in the depths of our crisis, how hard it is to see anything else.

Sometime, yes, new plans will be made. This weekend’s devastation will be surmounted, even if we can’t forget it. And in the midst of it, that hope may seem so distant. But it’s there, waiting for us to discover it with new hearts.

The End…?

The celebrations of only a few days past feel like they may as well have been a hundred years ago. No palm branches waving in joyous greeting, and now the crowds aren’t adoring, they’re hostile, or at best, utterly apathetic. The procession winds its way to Golgotha and the Roman soldiers do what they do best: keep the process moving, don’t let anyone interfere, and get on with the execution efficiently and quickly.

How did we wind up here, when only last night we were preparing to celebrate the Passover meal? How did we wind up here, when only days ago he was cleansing the temple and restoring God’s righteousness? How did we wind up here, on a windswept hill, at the foot of a cross, watching his blood run like rivulets down the rough wooden cross?

When he told us last night that the bread and the cup were his body and blood given for us, I had no idea that he really meant his body and his blood would be sacrificed. I thought it was another of his parables, just another saying that we didn’t really understand, and now he’s not going to be able to explain them ever again, is he.

The crowd and the soldiers are taunting him: “If you’re so mighty, come down off that cross yourself!” I’ve seen him heal the sick, cleanse lepers, even raise Lazarus from the dead. I know he’s powerful. So yeah, why does he just…stay there? Why doesn’t he summon the power of God and break free? What on earth holds him there?

I can’t imagine what he’s going through. The pain of the nails, the slow suffocation of hanging on the cross, every breath shallower and shallower, as he grows weaker. And he’s probably not the last of our circle to be up there: so many of the brothers have faded away already. They’re scared, and they have every reason to be–I wonder how long before the authorities are knocking on my door.

All that he taught us…all about God’s kingdom, all about love and mercy and repentance, everything he stood for, is now ebbing away with his fading heartbeat. It can’t be, but it’s ending, here on this hill, on a criminal’s cross.

It is ending…isn’t it?

Baby Steps

Lead me through the darkness / Lead me through the unknown / Oh, lead me, Holy Ghost. (MercyMe, “Ghost”)

I’ve written before about my very much ongoing efforts at discernment, to determine if perhaps I am being called into ordained ministry after five decades on this planet. I guess it’s time for an update.

Over the past couple of months I’ve started private mentoring and counselling sessions with my pastor, to try to gain insight into what’s going on. They’ve been very helpful sessions, which have explained some things and given me other things to think about.

At this point, it seems to me, that there’s enough “there” that I need additional help in working through the prospective call. And so I have taken the first steps down that path, by submitting my name (and the first bits of paperwork) to begin the formal process of discernment in the United Methodist Church.

When I hit Send on that email, I had a sense of reassurance, that this was the right thing to do. My first hurdle will be the District Committee on Ministry interview, which could be later in the spring; they will either pass me along and assign me a mentor to undergo the discernment exercises, or tell me I’m not ready. I find myself hoping to be passed along to the next stage. We’ll see.

If I were to go through with this, it could be another decade (!) before ordination. Lots of work to do between now and then, and that’s a bit intimidating. But it hasn’t scared me off yet. On to the next stage.

Our Growing Community

Tonight we brought our sister in Christ, LaRae, down off the mountain from her Emmaus weekend. She walked with 27 other women on E-184 and, as with every other such weekend, had just the most tremendous experience of God’s love in new ways that she had never experienced before. Some thoughts came to mind today at different times.

First, when we were seeing all the pilgrims looking so happy and radiant, it really brought joy to my heart. And that’s not just a saying: I mean it brought a touch of the divine, a moment of connection of heaven and earth, and I found myself tearing up a little because they were getting to experience it too. All I wanted to do was shout praises for what Christ was working in their lives.

Later, we welcomed LaRae into the Sydenstricker community of Emmaus with her Fourth Day Dinner. I remember my own, two springs ago, and I think there were perhaps 8 to 10 people around the table–some of them not even from our church. Instead, tonight there were 21 folks gathered. There is a wonderful new energy about our Emmaus community that is simply so refreshing to see, and rewarding to experience.

LaRae is already talking to her husband about his walking on the men’s weekend this spring, the one I’ll be teaming on for the first time. And there were a couple of other names tossed out as men who need an invitation. Who knows, perhaps we can get out to a couple dozen before long!

De Colores!