Whose Line is it Anyway?

I love comedy. Comedy transforms the ordinary, the absurd, and sometimes even the tragedies of life, into a pleasantly uncontrollable physiological response: laughter. In the TV game show Whose Line is it Anyway?, a few comedians are thrown into various pretend scenarios and games and are asked to improvise. The end result is hit or miss, but when they play off a scenario well, hysterical laughter ensues.

Sometime between the ages of 8 and 12, I wanted to be a comedian. I had always been good at making my family and friends laugh. My best friend and I even had a game we would play, aptly titled: Make Somebody Laugh. We would take turns doing various ridiculous things. The goal was to make the other person laugh ten times (the person would use their fingers to keep track of how many times they laughed). I was always eager to be the comedian, so when I was in the audience, I would often force some laughs so it would be back to my turn in the spotlight.

I was so excited about making people laugh that at eleven or twelve I pushed past my shyness to join an acting class. The first class included an improv game called FREEZE! in which two actors would start a scene. At any time, someone from the audience can shout “Freeze!” and enter the scene. Heart beating rapidly, I watched in exhilaration as the actors started their scene. It was now or never–I had to enter the scene. I knew exactly what to do.

“Freeze!” I said, a little timidly. I tapped one of the actors on the shoulder, they moved out of the way, and I resumed their position, which was in the middle of wrestling a chair. “Crikey! She’s a big one!” I morphed into my best Steve Irwin impression, pretending the chair was a crocodile. A chorus of laughter met my ears, and I felt a thrill of satisfaction, a bolstering of my self-worth. My “co-star” said something to me that moved the scene in a different direction than I was expecting, and my train of thought derailed.

I had thought that once I had jumped in, the rest of the scene would come naturally to me. Instead, I felt an inevitable sinking feeling in my gut as the initial laughter died down and I scrambled for a response. The remaining thirty seconds of the scene was agonizing. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Who am I kidding? I’m not funny. I’m shy. I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m doing! A mingled feeling of relief and embarrassment stirred when someone put me out of my misery and shouted, “freeze!” That was my first and last appearance at that class.

Sometimes life is a lot like an improv sketch.

Just like my first attempt at improv comedy, I jumped into my journey of self-discovery (approaching the year mark now) scared as hell but excited to forge my own path through a confusing scene. I knew the first couple lines to say. I even correctly predicted some of the dialogues and maneuvered my way around them with little difficulty. Like a good comedian, I delivered some one-liners that floored my audience. I’ve taken control of some of the twists and turns and used them as well as I can to my advantage.

But now, the thrill and the laughter has died down. I find myself thinking: Who am I kidding? I’m not equipped for this. I don’t know what I’m doing! And like a painfully awkward improv comedy sketch, I do not know what to say or do next.

I wait for someone to yell “freeze!” and take my place in this scene that I’ve messed up with my determination to force God’s will to align with my own. He isn’t budging on His part. And so far, neither have I. But I’m wearing down. Sometimes I’m worn down by bitterness, anger and grief. At other times, I’m worn down by faith . . . by faith in God’s goodness. It is a faith like Abraham’s, that makes no sense:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.'(Romans 4:18)

Immediately when I feel a hint of that kind of faith, I recoil. Am I being duped? Am I succumbing to some kind of manipulative plan of God’s to draw me to Himself through suffering? Am I losing the wrestling match?  

The Spirit of the sovereign God lives in us (Christ-followers) to transform us into becoming more like Jesus for our good and for His glory. We are also told that we have the free will to reject the Holy Spirit’s leading. Even so, does it not seem at times as if we are pawns in this game of life? Sometimes I ask myself what is speaking to me, keeping me here weighted at the crossroads: my conscience, my shame, or my God? I find it so hard to resist Him . . .

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:19-21)

In Whose Line is It Anyway? former host Drew Carey played a vital role. He introduced scenarios, stopped scenes in their tracks, and sometimes joined in the improv sketches himself. In a way, so it is with God. I’ve resisted Him as Lord of the game show, as Lord of my life. Like the time when I was derailed by how my fellow improv actor responded to my initial Steve Irwin impression, I am thrown off by a God who prefers to use the unexpected (and often the most painful) paths in life to bring about His good and loving purposes.

Heroes and Martyrs

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How many times have I told Him?

How many times have I told God that I do not want to be a martyr?

There are some Christians out there who say, without a doubt (I’ve never understood this), that they would take a bullet before denying Jesus. They would lay down anything, sacrifice whatever they most held dear, to avoid denying that precious relationship. Growing up saturated in a Christian home, a Christ-centered church, with Christ-honoring relationships all around me and involved in all sorts of ministries for Jesus . . . you would think I would be one of those Christians.

But I have never pretended that I could be a martyr.

On the contrary, I have begged God not to ask me to be a martyr.

When I was fifteen, I bought a book from our local “Bible book store” called I Would Die for You, about a boy who felt like he was called to be a martyr for Jesus. He ended up dying from a sickness he contracted on a mission trip when he was fifteen. For some reason, it sounded to me like an inspiring book at the time. When I finished reading it, I was terrified. I kept on seeing “signs” that I too was going to be a martyr. I remember a song playing on shuffle on my I-pod immediately after finishing the book, and it was all about dying for Christ. I recall seeing the number 41 shining through the blinds in my room and being suddenly convinced that was the year I was going to die (this is what anxiety does to you, folks). I laugh about all this now, but then, I could not have been more scared.

Today, I am not scared of losing my literal life for the sake of following Jesus, because there is no imminent, known threat.

However, today, and every day for ten months and counting, I am scared of losing something very important to me. No…I am scared of purposely leaving behind something very important to me. I am scared to perform my own execution, in effect. How…can…I…do…that?

How many times have I demanded that He give me the answer to my most pressing question in this journey? It is a question that, if answered, could at least anesthetize me before surgery. Why must He allow suffering to go unexplained, in any instance?

You know that verse in James that says perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything? Do you know what I’m discovering the end of perseverance is? Sacrifice. Martyrdom. The laying of Isaac on the altar. The loss upon loss upon loss in Job’s life. The agonizing weight of the destructive thoughts and actions of every single person in the lifespan of humanity nailed to Jesus nailed to the cross.

You must die to live. You must sacrifice. You must trust though it seems like foolishness. You must be born again. That’s the Christian story.

It is a story reflective of all those good, sacrificial, heroic stories we all know and love.

But when it comes down to it, being a hero is a calling I am not sure I can live. That is why I could not write anything about those epic questions I asked in a failed blog post attempt. I was going to write all about how we are all the heroes of our own story, so we need to stay in our stories and keep fighting because it will be worth it in the end. But I found myself endlessly frustrated, tormented by my doubts.

I am still doubting. But the thing about doubt is that it always contains at least one crumb of belief.

So here is the space for my crumb of belief to speak:

It was the joy set before Him that convinced Jesus that dying a miserable death was worth it.

For the love of all that is good and true and hopeful and lovely and pure and beautiful, help us all to see the joy set before us as we endure our personal battles, as we persevere in a progressive world (both within and outside of Christianity) that shows us alternative scripts that seem to offer so much more joy, so many more answers, and so much more peace than the lives we are living. Help us to rest at the various crossroads in our lives for as long as it takes to become the heroes we were born to be.

Still W(rest)ling

It was just today that I noticed that the word wrestling has the word “rest” in it. That is significant to me, perhaps because I’ve been getting an average of 4 – 6 hours of sleep per night and am feeling tired all the time. It is not that I can’t get to sleep or can’t stay asleep . . . I’m choosing to stay awake until ungodly hours because this journey of mine has me unhinged.

Like a swinging door tossed back and forth by massive gusts of wind.

I’ve been talking to God a lot via story and imagination lately. Near the start of my counseling journey, I started writing a story loosely based on the concept of the movie Inside Out, in which I interact with personified different parts of myself (anxiety, hope, anger, etc.) I’ve been asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me there. Though I realize it can’t come close to authoritative Biblical truth, I believe He is revealing wisdom to me in these messed-up pages that I bring to my counseling sessions unceremoniously wrinkled and folded and crammed in my purse.

Today I read a part of the story to her that I’d written over the weekend. If you’ve been following my blog or know me very well, you will know that I have often referenced where I’m at these past several months as wrestling God “at a crossroads” (sarcasm alert: Don’t you love the nebulous, noncommittal nature of that statement?).

Well, in this chapter, I meet with God in a garden that . . .

No matter the season, every flower was on the cusp of blooming. In my entire twenty-four years, not one flower had opened up its petals to display its full beauty. Not one flower had wilted and died, either. It was a premature beauty, this garden—full of a lingering, just-out-of-reach promise, like so many of the places I traveled and lived. It was an infuriating and comforting place all at once, and I would come here when I didn’t know where else to go.

When God comes to meet me at the garden, the flowers blossom at His touch. And at the end of our conversation, I am stunned at how He has also given me the power to reveal beauty–to release the flowers and trees into full bloom.

Spoiler alert: at the end, I find out that the garden is actually the crossroads.

What does all this mean?

It means I get to talk with you in more nebulous metaphors.

Actually, it simply means that I can rest.

I have mistakenly made the crossroads where I must make my monumental decision seem immediate and inescapable and impossible.

In truth, the crossroads was never meant to be just a place of wrestling. It is also meant to be a place of faith, of growth, of beauty in the confusion and indecision.

So here I am, resting in the wrestling. I’m getting a chance to drink some Gatorade and stretch and take a nap and talk with my competition. There is no need to rush to move past the wrestling match. There is no need to panic at my vacillating feelings. God will not be surprised at what path I choose, and if a wrong choice is made, that does not reflect upon my identity. As God’s child, nothing can take me out of His hand, not even myself.

 

This is The Worst Blog Post I’ve Ever Written

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Earlier today on Facebook, I posted a “preview” of an encouragingly epic blog post that I had not yet written. I just spent three hours staring at my computer, failing to write anything encouragingly epic.

Instead of posting my confusing array of disordered thoughts, I’m just going to leave these questions here, because maybe sometimes asking uncomfortable questions is better than providing half-baked answers.

  • What if Frodo refused to let Sam carry him those last agonizing steps to destroy the ring?
  • What if Harry Potter decided that staying with the Dursleys was safer than becoming a wizard?
  • What if Belle refused to see anything good in the Beast?
  • What if Elsa could never accept herself and lived in fear forever?
  • What if Katniss decided it would be better and easier for everyone if she just died as quickly as possible in the Hunger Games?

Wild

This is a very recent song that I decided to record and play around with garageband tonight. The midi keyboard is a little off beat, but I wanted to remember the riff so I kept it in there. hehe. And there is nine seconds of nothingness at the beginning…

WILD
by Lindsey Snyder

Call me Job because
I’m putting you on trial
Even though I know I do not have the right
Call me Jacob ’cause I’ll wrestle you for hours
Until the blessing is in sight
Call me eve because I’m about ready
To take the fruit that’s hanging from the tree

What do you call me?
If you call me loved
Why do I feel
That you’re not enough?
What do you call me?
If you call me child
Then Daddy stop hurting me
Your love is too wild

Call me David ’cause I want something I can’t have
Yet I might try and feel your anger anyway
Call me Isaac because I’m going to the altar
Won’t you oh please provide a different way?
Call me Jonah because I would rather jump ship
Than go the way you’re pointing me to

What do you call me?
If you call me loved
Why do I feel
That you’re not enough?
What do you call me?
If you call me child
Then Daddy stop hurting me
Your love is too wild

Call me Thomas cause you know I’ve always doubted
Call me Peter because I’ve denied you too
Call me Paul because no matter how hard I try
I do the very things You don’t want me to do
Call me Lazarus and resurrect my dead heart
Call me Mary ’cause I’m weeping at your feet

What do you call me?
If you call me loved
Why do I feel
That you’re not enough?
What do you call me?
If you call me child
Then Daddy stop hurting me
Your love is too wild

Your love is wild
wild
Your love is wild
wild

What do you call me?
If you call me loved
Why do I feel
That you’re not enough?
What do you call me?
If you call me child
Then Daddy stop hurting me
Your love is too wild

Take Me Back to Egypt!

Numbers 14:1 Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night.Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Dear wandering Israelites,

How quickly you’ve become kindred spirits.

Here in the 21st century, I get to see a full view of your story: beginning, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion. I’ve seen the depths of despair you experienced enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years, clinging onto your faith the only way you knew how: through wailing and weeping. I’ve watched in nervous anticipation as Moses tells you that it is time for deliverance. I understand your cycles of doubt and awe and worship and unbelief as you wander in the wilderness.

Many of you die in your 40-year wilderness of waiting, having seen glimpses of God’s glory, but never fully able to walk into the promised land.

I wonder if your premature deaths parallel the realization of my own longings. My resolve to follow God’s commands is waning and warring with a hope long suppressed. Does God have something good in store for us? My faith is wavering, but who else can I turn to? There is no one greater.

But there is so much danger. God will take care of us . . . in His own way. We may suffer for years and die a terrible death. We may survive and see our deepest desires fulfilled in this life. There are no guarantees. We are only promised God’s presence.

And the question is – can we trust God knows what we need better than we ourselves?

We have only the choice to obey or disobey. The final outcome will remain the same.

Friends, I want to go with you back to Egypt. Yes, we were enslaved, but at least we knew where our next meal was coming from (however meager it was), that we had a place to sleep at night (however uncomfortable it was), and we did not have the burden of freedom weighing on our shoulders, heavier than the largest piles of bricks.

The burden of freedom pulls back the veil to expose the internal war within us all. When we take on the burden of freedom, God will call us to do the impossible. It is only when we step out into seemingly empty air to cross a bottomless canyon that we feel something solid beneath our feet, despite all appearances that we are going to break all the bones in our body if we take one more step.

Hebrews 11:13-16 13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

If you had the context of Hebrews 11, I believe you would still make the same mistakes. I don’t say this to discourage you, only to empathize with you that your rollercoaster of emotions is the pulse of my own life. The pull of self-rule is tempting no matter how many warning signs and caution tape and examples of faith you receive.

Oh, nomadic Israelites, how my heart hurts for you.

Isaiah 54:5-8
5For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

Can we believe? With all the context, with the overarching story in view, I will try. But friends, I will fail, just like you . . . as history repeats itself, so will the individual story of the prodigal son. We are all prodigals in our own way, with nothing but a choice to turn away or to turn back. Rinse and repeat.

Homesick for Egypt,
Lindsey

The Beautiful Wishes with a Truth Tree

img_3793“I forgot to show you my story!” my little sister (Big Brothers Big Sisters) shouted from the backseat as we drove to the movie theater for our weekly outing.

“You wrote a story?” I asked, pride swelling. Creativity is one of those things that makes me feel most alive, and seeing this ten-year-old girl get so excited about writing made me ridiculously happy.

“Yeah! But I forgot to bring it.”

“What’s it about?” I asked, intrigued.

“Um, I don’t know, I forget.” Undeterred, I waited for her response. “I forget” is her stock answer to a lot of questions, but if you are patient, she tends to inexplicably “remember”

. . . sure enough . . .

“It’s about a wishing tree,” she said, matter-of-factly.

My grin widened. It sounded like something I would have written at her age. “A wishing tree? That sounds awesome.”

When we returned from the theater, my little sis immediately retrieved her story and gave it to me to read. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation. I read with appropriate enthusiasm.

The story is about a girl named Sharlett and her brother Jeff who discover a wishing tree in their backyard. The tree has only six wishes and each time a wish is made a leaf falls off. When the last leaf falls, the tree dies, and there are no more wishes. Sharlett, Jeff, and her parents quickly go through five of the wishes, but when Sharlett and Jeff realize that there is only one wish left, they try to distract their parents while crafting a plan to keep the last wish on the tree. Despite much deception and trickery from the kids, the mom eventually finds out that the kids moved the tree out of their backyard so that their parents would not use the last wish.

The story ends with a poignant truth:

Mom said, “All the kids come in the house.” She said, “it doesn’t matter if the tree was gone, but tell me the truth.”

Recently, I have discovered what seems to be one of my most precious “wishes” in this life. I have done everything I can to keep my wishing tree alive, including deception and hiding.

“I’m less concerned about what you choose to do, and more interested in what the motives are behind your actions. Help me understand,” said my counselor one evening when I was particularly distressed about what seemed to me to be a strong desire to abandon what God wanted for me and go my own way. Her words disarmed me. Here was someone who simply wanted to understand me. Here was someone who was not panicked or worried about what decision I was going to make. She just wanted my vulnerability.

Maybe a week later, I had decided to tell another couple of friends a little about the difficult counseling journey I have been walking through, so that they would be able to pray for me more specifically. As I drove home that evening, though I knew the war was (and is now, too) far from over, I felt, rather than heard the words seep into my heart and spirit with sudden conviction:

“I’m proud of you.”

I immediately burst into tears right there on the interstate, because I knew I had and have been idolizing something above my God. I have acted in rebellion and have cursed Him. My trust in His goodness continues to be unstable.

And yet, here was the Savior of my soul, to whom no past, present, or future thought, action, word, or emotion of mine is hidden, reassuring me that He was proud of me.

Could it be that our God values us coming to Him in the messy honesty of our brokenness more than He appreciates begrudging obedience? Could it be that I can follow God and be angry with Him at the same time?  Perhaps the Christian life is more about running to God’s grace and love and less about walking in inexplicable contentment than I once believed.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17

Maybe God is not overly concerned about what we do with our wishing trees. That doesn’t mean that everything is relative. Our actions matter. Our decisions matter. But in the overarching story, our actions will not ultimately hinder His plan of redemption, and God has always been more concerned with the heart than the hypocrite’s righteous deeds.

Maybe God is saying to you and to me:

“It doesn’t matter if the tree was gone, but tell me the truth.” 

If There Is Any Other Way

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“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.