If There Is Any Other Way

cup

“As we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at our own sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly carefully, but fully.” Henri J.M. Nouwen

Suffering is one of the only things that is guaranteed in this life. Some say that Christianity is a spiritual crutch that makes life more bearable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is not about making life easier. Christianity is about an eternal, unconditionally loving, intimate relationship between a Creator/Savior/Father and the created/saved/child. The price of this relationship is costly, for both sides of the relationship. In fact, the Christian life could by almost all accounts be considered unbearable (outside of God’s grace), especially when we look at the boundaries God has put in place for us with which modern society views as backwards-thinking and intolerant.

Many people feel free to warm themselves by the fires of all their desires. By contrast, Christians are called to acknowledge and see the good, God-given longings in these very real and sometimes desperate desires and then to be willing to lay them down if necessary in order to pursue a greater love, a higher truth, a more fulfilling calling. We are asked to do this daily, not to save us from eternal damnation, but to have the honor of walking the same road as Jesus did, so though we also share in His sufferings, we too can share in His inexpressible joy.

On the surface, especially from an outside perspective, a Christian’s life may look like self-inflicted torture.

On the contrary, a Christian is called to choose to live in God-inflicted grace.

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:36-39

Jesus pleaded not just once but three times in this one desperate evening for His Father to take away the suffering He had been asked to endure. Like Jesus, we beg of God to take the cup of suffering from us. If there is any other way to obey You . . . please, Daddy, let me have what I want, what I think I need . . . please, Daddy, don’t make me carry a grief I don’t understand . . . please, Daddy, there must be a different, less painful way . . . 

Like Jesus, we weep and try to say, but You know what’s best. You have my ultimate good in mind for me. Help me to trust You. Help me to follow through with what you want me to do. Jesus fully embraced this truth, and the reward was this grace: untold millions destined to enjoy an eternal intimate relationship with God and with those who love Him. 

Who knows what grace will come if I, if we, choose to follow the paths God has laid out for us, heartbreaking and confusing though they may be?

The cup of suffering I have been asked to drink has stifled my joy with nauseous disappointment. I have been holding this cup for nine months, tears dropping into what looks and smells like liquid death. This is not what I thought I signed up for . . . but this is what I have been given . . . cycles of grief and anger and death and acceptance and surrender . . . how can this possibly be worth it? Oh, God . . . if there is any other way . . . 

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1b-2

 

The Shit of Life

I have had a lot of candid conversations recently, profanity included. Those who know me know cursing is not a habit of mine. But sometimes, there are no other words to describe the stuff of life. Consider Aleppo. The slaughter that is happening there deserves the worst profanities known to man. Consider the deepest pains in your own heart. That pain does not deserve censoring. I was so angry at my own personal situation yesterday that I started hitting things . . . and bruised my hand in the process. Yep, at twenty-four years old, I threw a temper tantrum.

And ended it icing my hand with a bag of frozen fruit.

I don’t trust God. He does not seem like a good Father to me, as He chooses suffering to be the primary tool to bring people to Himself and to bring glory to His name. I resent the evils that He allows. I despise the things that don’t make sense.

Why must anyone suffer? Why are there no limits to the intensity of pain people can experience in this life?

My dad recently sent me this profound excerpt from a Phillip Yancey book entitled The Bible Jesus Read (208 – 9):

Job reluctantly concluded that, no, God could not care about him or about other suffering people. “How faint the whisper we hear of him,” sighed Job. The psalmists cried out for some sign that God heard their prayers, some evidence that God had not forsaken them. I know of only one way to answer the question, “does God care?” and for me it has proved decisive: Jesus is the answer.

Jesus never attempted a philosophical answer to the problem of pain, yet he did give an existential answer. Although I cannot learn from him why a particular bad thing occurs, I can learn how God feels about it. Jesus gives God a face, and that face is streaked with tears. Whenever I read straight through the Bible, a huge difference between the Old and New Testaments comes to light. In the Old Testament I can find many expressions of doubt and disappointment. Whole books—Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Job—center on the theme. Almost half of the psalms have a dark, brooding tone about them.

In striking contrast, the New Testament Epistles contain little of this type of anguish. The problem of pain has surely not gone away: James 1, Romans 5 and 8, the entire book of 1 Peter, and much of Revelation deal with the subject in detail. Nevertheless, nowhere do I find the piercing question Does God care? I see nothing resembling the accusation of Psalm 77: “Has God forgotten to be merciful?”

The reason for the change, I believe, is that Jesus answered that question for the witnesses who wrote the Epistles. In Jesus, God presents a face. Anyone who wonders how God feels about the suffering on this groaning planet need only look at that face. James, Peter, and John had followed Jesus long enough for his facial expressions to be permanently etched on their minds. By watching Jesus respond to a hemorrhaging woman, a grieving centurion, a widow’s dead son, an epileptic boy, an old blind man, they learned how God felt about suffering.

How do I want God to respond to my situation? I want Him to give me what I want, because it seems good and right. But all He ever guarantees to give me in my deepest pain . . . is Himself. I find myself asking, again and again . . . is that enough?

My counselor reminded me of the story of the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 . . .

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

God did not prevent Stephen from suffering a terrible death.
But God did show up. The result? Inexplicably, Stephen’s mind and heart were transformed into the will of Christ even as he lay bloodied and bruised, the life quickly draining out of him.

I’m not there yet. I honestly don’t see how I would ever get there. But that’s not the point.

The point is . . . God gives Himself as an answer to my suffering not to change my situation, but to suffer with me.

I complain of my own suffering, but God chooses to enter every person’s suffering that asks Him for help. The greatest intensity of pain pierced his body on the cross, and pierces his heart even now. And He chooses it, so we don’t have to suffer alone.

And isn’t that really what I want? What has ever given me the greatest comfort? It has never been well-meaning advice. And while changing the situation certainly seems the most ideal, the sweetest expression of love to me, the one that brings tears to my eyes, is when a person willingly comes down into my valley of grief and sits with me there, holds me there, cries with me there . . . for as long as it takes for me to move forward.

And that is the heart of God.

 

An Advent Wrestling Match

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'”

C.S. Lewis

I have a hard enough time following God when I agree that His ways are best for me. My pride is at war with humility; my love is at odds with my fear. Though I agree love and humility are good things, I am human and I struggle. But it is an entirely different sort of “hard” when I feel that God is being unfair towards me, when I feel He is withholding or doesn’t truly have my best interests at heart. It is different when I don’t understand in any particular instance why my will and His cannot coincide. The confusion stirs up anger and bitterness. Why do I have such strong desires for more if He is all that I need? I’m discovering that . . .

it is much easier to follow God when we suppress the parts of ourselves that disagree with Him.

But God calls us to the hard task of bringing Him our hurting hearts with real God-given human longings and surrendering our past, present, and future to His goodness. Can I just say that I hate that? Well, I just did.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was smack dab in the middle of the garden. God certainly didn’t make it easy for Adam and Eve to ignore! He said, “Nope. Your choice to follow me must be deliberate. The tantalizing alternative must be in full view.” You know what? I bet the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil tasted damn good. I bet it was the best-tasting fruit they had ever eaten (a mango, perhaps). And that’s where the feeling of unfairness hits, isn’t it? It seems as if God sets us up for failure.

The truth is, God does withhold good things from us, but only so that we can taste the best things, with full appreciation.

I am very angry at the sentence I just wrote. I don’t want the so-called “best” things. Best by whose standard? I know what I want and I want to be able to want the things that I want! So there!

None of us have always waited for the best. In our own unique, personal ways, we have eaten the fruit that God commanded us not to eat. But God doesn’t give up on us. Though we ruined our ability to fully appreciate His best, He redeemed it, and redeems it again and again, every day, every minute if necessary, imparting to us the righteous sacrifice of His Son.

Maybe God knew that only by tasting the forbidden lesser good and allowing His redemptive purposes to work could we truly appreciate the best good. Maybe He knew that wrestling was the only way to find rest. Maybe He knew that sacrificing Himself would be the only way to give abundant, eternal life.

Man . . . advent sucks.

Advent is humanity forced to stare at the good, and choosing to wait for the best. Advent is humanity biting into mangos, wanting so desperately to taste our will being done on earth (as it may or may not be done in heaven) because we know it will taste so good and right. Advent is humanity naked and ashamed. Advent is Christ, the eternal paradox.

On that note, here is a song I wrote.

“The Ones Who Wrestle”
Lindsey Snyder

You say you are enough

But I want more than you

I’ve wrestled for your blessing and

Been given bitter tears of truth

You show me glimpses of the end

But the road is so daunting and hard

What is the point of this winding path

That I keep stumbling on?

Will I have this limp

the rest of my days?

Why is suffering so long?

If you are the one that satisfies

Than why am I

still empty inside?

The name you gave me from the start:

“Hope” feels a cruel joke on this earth

I do what I don’t want

I want what I can’t have

Have what I need and yet I feel

All the lack

And maybe I’m a spoiled child

But please tell me that my pain is real

Who can save me from me

digging my own grave?

Only the one who suffered the whole world, to heal

Will I have this limp

the rest of my days?

Why is suffering so sure?

If you are the one that satisfies

Than why am I

still empty inside?

What good am I to you

If I cannot love the way you want me to

What good am I to you

If I cannot, I cannot love you?

What good am I to you

If I cannot love the way you want me to

What good am I to you

If I cannot, I cannot love you?

But that’s who you choose

The ones who wrestle you