It’s very easy for us to live in a sheltered world as Christians. Particularly middle-class, decent-income, Western society people. We forget the problems that are associated with other people because we are “comfortable” in our existence.
Until one day something happens to us.
Nobody is immune to the troubles of this world. Jesus said so – “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” (John 16:33 Amplified)
But the reality for most of us is that we either don’t know the promise, or we can’t accept it.
I struggle with my temper. Have done for years. I’m learning to temper it, to take my thoughts captive as Paul put it. But it’s hard. Especially when the anger is directed at someone hurting the people I love, and even more so when it’s my wife who hurts.
Pain is something we all struggle with. Physical pain is easy enough to deal with, but most people don’t comprehend the emotional pain many people suffer. Even the closest people are often stunned by a suicide attempt because they didn’t see it coming. They couldn’t comprehend the emotional pain that person was going through.
I attempted suicide four times in my twenties, and considered it several times in my teens. I’m not ashamed of this, and Christ’s Grace has healed (mostly) the wounds in my heart that put me in that position where I was so desperate I could see no other way out. I felt abandoned, unheard and like I didn’t matter. My life was worthless and nobody would miss me if I left.
It’s a story I’ve heard from several people since then, including some people very close to me, and I still struggle with the thought processes that lead someone to that point – even having been there.
The big problem is that we seem to live in isolation. In the early years of the Church, Luke tells us in Acts that the followers lived in each others lives and shared everything so nobody had lack. The support in the face of such hostile adversity pressed them closer together. They didn’t feel abandoned by God or His children.
A huge problem is that we tend to surround ourselves with people who are not really believers. They have the labels, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist etc, but their hearts are selfish and they have no true interest in others except how helping them will boost themselves in everyone elses eyes. Modern Pharisees, crying from corners to show how good they are.
See – I said I had a problem with anger. There are a few individuals who – if I’m honest (and I see no reason not to be) come to mind as I’m writing this. It’s not healthy. It hurts me, and separates me from Jesus because I end up sitting in judgement over those people rather than looking at the action and the person seperately.
The anger I feel initially at the behaviour may actually be what God feels at it as well, but in me it quickly develops into judgement, condemnation and outright hatred of the person if I allow it to. Then that turns inwards and quickly becomes an insurmountable obstacle between me and God. I end up feeling abandoned by God, and isolated and abandoned by family, friends and Fellowship. Please note, Fellowship – capital “F” is not church on a Sunday morning. It’s the people we surround ourselves with who speak Godly words into our lives and allow us to do the same.
The first thing the Enemy tries to do is to isolate us. A branch severed from the vine will die. A single coal removed from the fire will grow cold quickly.
You get the point.
We see pain as a problem, and to be honest it is. As far as we allow it to be. Modern Western society has cut us off, especially men but increasingly women too, from our emotions. We are encouraged to bottle everything up. Elkie Brooks had a UK hit in 1978 with the line “Don’t cry out loud, Keep it inside, Learn how to hide your feelings”. That seems to be increasingly the attitude of society, and it’s more damaging than anything else I can think of.
Even Jesus allowed Himself to experience and express the full range of human emotions. He wept at Lazarus’s grave, embraced the children – presumably with smiles and laughter as kids tend not to respond so readily to other stuff – was even confused and angry. Read the Gospels and you can’t miss it. He was fully human in His life here. And His life did nothing but give Glory to God. He even knew despair and torment. It’s impossible to read the accounts of Gethsemane and not see a human being in anguish who takes captive the thought patterns and submits them to God.
He shares a joke with the disciples. He shares His torment with them – how else would we know about Gethsemane. He needed Fellowship, and I can’t help but hear a catch in His voice when I hear His conversation with Judas in my head at the Last Supper. He felt the pain of the betrayal. He felt the pain of Peter’s denial too. In the adaptation “Jesus of Nazareth” where Robert Powell played Jesus, the scene of the denial is captured as Jesus and Peter’s eyes meet as the cock crows.
The key is what we do with the pain. Judas lets it destroy him. Peter comes back and asks for forgiveness. Jesus must have been so happy after that conversation on the beach after breakfast.
Peter felt the pain of his actions. He ran back to his boat. We do the same. We run to the familiar instead of the Cross. We bury ourselves in business, all the time hurting more and more, until eventually it overwhelms us.
The answer is Jesus. But we have to find the strength to call out to Him.
I know I use it a lot, but Peter walking on the water to Jesus is exactly the image I have to keep in my mind when things threaten to swamp me. He was in the boat. The boat was sinking. He saw Jesus, called to Him and walked over the problem that had been killing him, faltering only when he takes his eyes off the solution, Jesus.
So do we.