Thoughts on Suffering



This is probably the last kind of entry I’d naturally like to write, but my purpose is for encouragement more than anything. There are these underlying questions we’re all asking because of the suffering we’re seeing and experiencing, so my hope is to share some helpful thoughts in moving through it. Though I can’t relieve or avoid such universal or personal suffering, I am at least determined to grow in my perspective, and help others do the same, as the song goes, “If you can’t move the mountains then let them move you.”

Here is what I have so far..

1) Daily suffering is universal.. you are not alone or the only one, and you would experience suffering no matter who you were. Suffering may be able to be helped, but it cannot be avoided in this world no matter how powerful, perfect, successful, or wise you are. The greatest example I think of is Jesus. If anything, He suffered more because of how good He was. We typically think our suffering depends mostly on doing/being better than we are, which is true to a degree, but the ultimate truth is that the world is broken and humankind is fallen, so even if we were perfect, we may suffer ourselves less, but we would just as likely suffer others more, as even Jesus expressed, “How long shall I suffer you?” (Matt. 17:17) Of course, His suffering was all in love and not because of anything He did wrong. So there is both suffering because of unrighteousness, and suffering because of goodness and love.

2) Deep suffering is normal.. or our “broken normal” whether momentary, continual, or seasonal. When I think of every person I actually know on a deep level, I can think of an area where they deeply and sincerely struggle, whether or not it’s their fault. The worst is feeling like you’re suffering worse than everyone else because there’s something more wrong with you than everyone else. The truth is, “No temptation has taken you except what is common to man..” (1 Cor 10:13) and the biblical focus is not on our badness, but on God’s goodness. Too many of us are punishing ourselves rather than entrusting ourselves entirely to God.

3) Everyone is responsible, but no one is to blame.. by that I mean, blaming only hurts everyone worse, whether we are blaming God, ourselves, or others. Blame is only helpful to the extent it leads to forgiveness rather than judgment, because we were ultimately not made for punishment but for love. By “everyone is responsible” I mean, technically God is responsible for allowing free will, and by consequence sin and suffering, to exist, and we are responsible for choosing and perpetuating it – but if God uses everything for good, and love is stronger than death which is the ultimate culmination of sin and suffering, won’t we always have more reason for praise than blame?

Joseph was able to say to his brothers who sold him into slavery, with tears of love, “You intended to harm me, but God meant it for good.” (Gen 50:20) And he was only a foreshadow of Jesus, who while dying for the sins of the world with tears of love would pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) It was his perspective.. “for the joy set before him he endured the cross..” (Hebrews 12:2)

4) The benefits outweigh the experience:

in fellowshipping with Jesus.. In my experience, even the most bitter of suffering turns sweet, in deeper degree, with communion. Whether with others or especially with Jesus, when I find His gaze in such a way, and experience His fellowship on such a level, that I realize I would’ve given all the more to know Him so well.

in becoming like Jesus.. We tend to forget that Jesus has scars. When we pray to become like Him, do we realize that our prayers must be answered through sharing in His suffering? Paul understood when he prayed, “I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:11) His perspective was, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

in comforting others.. There is nothing that has made me more helpful to others than my own painful experiences. (see 2 Cor. 1:3-5)

in eternal recompense.. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:17)


Now here are some common misinterpretations of suffering, leading to loneliness:

“God is rejecting me because if he loved me he wouldn’t let me experience this.” The truth is that God suffers with us, forgives our sins, uses everything for good, and disciplines those he accepts as his children with a heart of love and compassion. See Hebrews 4:15-16, 12:4-13.

“There must be something wrong with me more than normal people to experience this.” See 1 Cor. 10:13 where the focus is on God’s faithfulness in the midst of our common struggles.

“I’m wasted, lost, ruined. This is my end.” See Hebrews 9:12, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” And Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.” – including me and you.

“It is right for me to live in punishment.” See Romans 8, there is now no condemnation.

“I must judge myself.” See 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, where Paul said he does not judge himself, but entrusts himself to God, from whom he waits to receive praise rather than judgment.


We may not be able to help our circumstance or condition, but we can help our experience of it through renewing our mindset according to the Truth beyond the facts. Often our misinterpretations of suffering and negative responses can hurt us worse than our actual circumstance, and by that I mean resigning to despair, condemnation, blame, pride, or unforgiveness, which leads to bitterness and resentment whether against God or ourselves or others, rather than to restoration which is always God’s heart and promise.

And finally.. when I really think about it, I realize.. God foresaw all that would go wrong, and still decided that we should all exist like this. So, if I believe Him to be all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving, I must trust even when I don’t understand that what exists is the most wise, powerful, loving kind of reality possible, because of who He is. And that is my ultimate consolation, that the whole story is going to end as the greatest possible testimony to His character, and the greatest possible testament of His love, that ever could have been.

‘Lovest Thou Me?’

Beautiful commentary by MacLaren on Jesus’ heartfelt question to Peter.

‘Lovest Thou Me?’ … John 21:15.

Peter had already seen the risen Lord. There had been that interview on Easter morning, on which the seal of sacred secrecy was impressed; when, alone, the denier poured out his heart to his Lord, and was taken to the heart that he had wounded. Then there had been two interviews on the two successive Sundays in which the Apostle, in common with his brethren, had received, as one of the group, the Lord’s benediction, the Lord’s gift of the Spirit, and the Lord’s commission. But something more was needed; there had been public denial, there must be public confession. If he had slipped again into the circle of the disciples, with no special treatment or reference to his fall, it might have seemed a trivial fault to others, and even to himself. And so, after that strange meal on the beach, we have this exquisitely beautiful and deeply instructive incident of the special treatment needed by the denier before he could be publicly reinstated in his office.

The meal seems to have passed in silence. That awe which hung over the disciples in all their intercourse with Jesus during the forty days, lay heavy on them, and they sat there, huddled round the fire, eating silently the meal which Christ had provided, and no doubt gazing silently at the silent Lord. What a tension of expectation there must have been as to how the oppressive silence was to be broken! and how Peter’s heart must have throbbed, and the others’ ears been pricked up, when it was broken by ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’ We may listen with pricked-up ears too. For we have here, in Christ’s treatment of the Apostle, a revelation of how He behaves to a soul conscious of its fault; and in Peter’s demeanour an illustration of how a soul, conscious of its fault, should behave to Him.

There are three stages here: the threefold question, the threefold answer, and the threefold charge. Let us look at these.

I. The threefold question.

The reiteration in the interrogation did not express doubt as to the veracity of the answer, nor dissatisfaction with its terms; but it did express, and was meant, I suppose, to suggest to Peter and to the others, that the threefold denial needed to be obliterated by the threefold confession; and that every black mark that had been scored deep on the page by that denial needed to be covered over with the gilding or bright colouring of the triple acknowledgment. And so Peter thrice having said, ‘I know Him not!’ Jesus with a gracious violence forced him to say thrice, ‘Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ The same intention to compel Peter to go back upon his past comes out in two things besides the triple form of the question. The one is the designation by which he is addressed, ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ which travels back, as it were, to the time before he was a disciple, and points a finger to his weak humanity before it had come under the influence of Jesus Christ. ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ was the name that he bore in the days before his discipleship. It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him, therefore, on that never-to-be-forgotten turning-point of his life, when he was first brought to Him by his brother Andrew. It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him at the very climax of his past life when, high up, he had been able to see far, and in answer to the Lord’s question, had rung out the confession: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ So the name by which Jesus addresses him now says to him in effect: ‘Remember thy human weakness; remember how thou wert drawn to Me; remember the high-water mark of thy discipleship, when I was plain before thee as the Son of God, and remembering all these, answer Me-lovest thou Me?’

The same intention to drive Peter back to the wholesome remembrance of a stained past is obvious in the first form of the question. Our Lord mercifully does not persist in giving to it that form in the second and third instances: ‘Lovest thou Me more than these?’ More than these, what? I cannot for a moment believe that that question means something so trivial and irrelevant as ‘Lovest thou Me more than these nets, and boats, and the fishing?’ No; in accordance with the purpose that runs through the whole, of compelling Peter to retrospect, it says to him, ‘Do you remember what you said a dozen hours before you denied Me, “Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I”? Are you going to take that stand again? Lovest thou Me more than these that never discredited their boasting so shamefully?’

So, dear brethren! here we have Jesus Christ, in His treatment of this penitent and half-restored soul, forcing a man, with merciful compulsion, to look steadfastly and long at his past sin, and to retrace step by step, shameful stage by shameful stage, the road by which he had departed so far. Every foul place he is to stop and look at, and think about. Each detail he has to bring up before his mind. Was it not cruel of Jesus thus to take Peter by the neck, as it were, and hold him right down, close to the foul things that he had done, and say to him, ‘Look! look! look ever! and answer, Lovest thou Me?’ No; it was not cruel; it was true kindness. Peter had never been so abundantly and permanently penetrated by the sense of the sinfulness of his sin, as after he was sure, as he had been made sure in that great interview, that it was all forgiven. So long as a man is disturbed by the dread of consequences, so long as he is doubtful as to his relation to the forgiving Love, he is not in a position beneficially and sanely to consider his evil in its moral quality only. But when the conviction comes to a man, ‘God is pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done’; and when he can look at his own evil without the smallest disturbance rising from slavish fear of issues, then lie is in a position rightly to estimate its darkness and its depth. And there can be no better discipline for us all than to remember our faults, and penitently to travel back over the road of our sins, just because we are sure that God in Christ has forgotten them. The beginning of Christ’s merciful treatment of the forgiven man is to compel him to remember, that he may learn and be ashamed.

And then there is another point here, in this triple question. How significant and beautiful it is that the only thing that Jesus Christ cares to ask about is the sinner’s love! We might have expected: ‘Simon, son of Jonas, are you sorry for what you did? Simon, son of Jonas, will you promise never to do the like any more?’ No! These things will come if the other thing is there. ‘Lovest thou Me?’ Jesus Christ sues each of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow. That is the distinguishing characteristic of Christian morality, that Jesus seeks first for the surrender of the affections, and believes, and is warranted in the belief, that if these are surrendered, all else will follow; and love being given, loyalty and service and repentance and hatred of self-will and of self-seeking will follow in her train. All the graces of human character which Christ seeks, and is ready to impart, are, as it were, but the pages and ministers of the regal Love, who follow behind and swell the cortege of her servants.

Christ asks for love. Surely that indicates the depth of His own! In this commerce He is satisfied with nothing less, and can ask for nothing more; and He seeks for love because He is love, and has given love. Oh! to all hearts burdened, as all our hearts ought to be-unless the burden has been cast off in one way-by the consciousness of our own weakness and imperfection, surely, surely, it is a gospel that is contained in that one question addressed to a man who had gone far astray, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou?’

Here, again, we have Jesus Christ, in His dealing with the penitent, willing to trust discredited professions. We think that one of the signs of our being wise people is that experience shall have taught us ‘once’ being ‘bit, twice’ to be ‘shy,’ and if a man has once deceived us by flaming professions and ice-cold acts, never to trust him any more. And we think that is ‘worldly wisdom,’ and ‘the bitter fruit of earthly experience,’ and ‘sharpness,’ and ‘shrewdness,’ and so forth. Jesus Christ, even whilst reminding Peter, by that ‘more than these,’ of his utterly hollow and unreliable boasting, shows Himself ready to accept once again the words of one whose unveracity He had proved. ‘Charity hopeth all things, believeth all things,’ and Jesus Christ is ready to trust us when we say, ‘I love Thee,’ even though often in the past our professed love has been all disproved.

We have here, in this question, our Lord revealing Himself as willing to accept the imperfect love which a disciple can offer Him. Of course, many of you well know that there is a very remarkable play of expression here. In the two first questions the word which our Lord employs for ‘love’ is not the same as that which appears in Peter’s two first answers. Christ asks for one kind of love; Peter proffers another. I do not enter upon discussion as to the distinction between these two apparent synonyms. The kind of love which Christ asks for is higher, nobler, less emotional, and more associated with the whole mind and will. It is the inferior kind, the more warm, more sensuous, more passionate and emotional, which Peter brings. And then, in the third question, our Lord, as it were, surrenders and takes Peter’s own word, as if He had said, ‘Be it so! You shrink from professing the higher kind; I will take the lower; and I will educate and bring that up to the height that I desire you to stand at.’ Ah, brother! however stained and imperfect, however disproved by denials, however tainted by earthly associations, Jesus Christ will accept the poor stream of love, though it be but a trickle when it ought to be a torrent, which we can bring Him.

These are the lessons which it seems to me lie in this triple question. I have dealt with them at the greater length, because those which follow are largely dependent upon them. But let me turn now briefly, in the second place, to-

II. The triple answer.

‘Yea, Lord! Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ Is not that beautiful, that the man who by Christ’s Resurrection, as the last of the answers shows, had been led to the loftiest conception of Christ’s omniscience, and regarded Him as knowing the hearts of all men, should, in the face of all that Jesus Christ knew about his denial and his sin, have dared to appeal to Christ’s own knowledge? What a superb and all-conquering confidence in Christ’s depth of knowledge and forgivingness of knowledge that answer showed! He felt that Jesus could look beneath the surface of his sin, and see that below it there was, even in the midst of the denial, a heart that in its depths was true. It is a tremendous piece of confident appeal to the deeper knowledge, and therefore the larger love and more abundant forgiveness, of the righteous Lord-’Thou knowest that I love Thee.’

Brethren! a Christian man ought to be sure of his love to Jesus Christ. You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to others. You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to your wife, or your husband, or your parents, or your children, or your friend. Love is not a matter of inference; it is a matter of consciousness and intuition. And whilst self-examination is needful for us all for many reasons, a Christian man ought to be as sure that he loves Jesus Christ as he is sure that he loves his dearest upon earth.

It used to be the fashion long ago-this generation has not depth enough to keep up the fashion-for Christian people to talk as if it were a point they longed to know, whether they loved Jesus Christ or not. There is no reason why it should be a point we long to know. You know all about your love to one another, and you are sure about that. Why are you not sure about your love to Jesus Christ? ‘Oh! but,’ you say, ‘look at my sins and failures’; and if Peter had looked only at his sins, do you not think that his words would have stuck in his throat? He did look, but he looked in a very different way from that of trying to ascertain from his conduct whether he loved Jesus Christ or not. Brethren, any sin is inconsistent with Christian love to Christ. Thank God, we have no right to say of any sin that it is incompatible with that love! More than that; a great, gross, flagrant, sudden fall like Peter’s is a great deal less inconsistent with love to Christ than are the continuously unworthy, worldly, selfish, Christ-forgetting lives of hosts of complacent professing Christians to-day. White ants will eat up the carcass of a dead buffalo quicker than a lion will. And to have denied Christ once, twice, thrice, in the space of an hour, and under strong temptation, is not half so bad as to call Him ‘Master’ and ‘Lord,’ and day by day, week in, week out, in works to deny Him. The triple answer declares to us that in spite of a man’s sins he ought to be conscious of his love, and be ready to profess it when need is.

III. Lastly, we have here the triple commission.

I do not dwell upon it at any length, because in its original form it applies especially to the Apostolic office. But the general principles which underlie this threefold charge, to feed and to tend both ‘the sheep’ and ‘the lambs,’ may be put in a form that applies to each of us, and it is this-the best token of a Christian’s love to Jesus Christ is his service of man for Christ’s sake. ‘Lovest thou Me?’ ‘Yea! Lord.’ Thou hast said; go and do, ‘Feed My lambs; feed My sheep.’ We need the profession of words; we need, as Peter himself enjoined at a subsequent time, to be ready to ‘give to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope,’ and an acknowledgment of the love, that are in us. But if you want men to believe in your love, however Jesus Christ may know it, go and work in the Master’s vineyard. The service of man is the garb of the love of God. ‘He that loveth God will love his brother also.’ Do not confine that thought of service, and feeding, and tending, to what we call evangelistic and religious work. That is one of its forms, but it is only one of them. Everything in which Christian men can serve their fellows is to be taken by them as their worship of their Lord, and is taken by the world as the convincing proof of the reality of their love.

Love to Jesus Christ is the qualification for all such service. If we are knit to Him by true affection, which is based upon our consciousness of our own falls and evils, and our reception of His forgiving mercy, then we shall have the qualities that fit us, and the impulse that drives us, to serve and help our fellows. I do not say-God forbid!-that there is no philanthropy apart from Christian faith, but I do say that, on the wide scale, and in the long run, they who are knit to Jesus Christ by love will be those who render the greatest help to all that are ‘afflicted in mind, body, or estate’; and that the true basis and qualification for efficient service of our fellows is the utter surrender of our hearts to Him who is the Fountain of love, and from whom comes all our power to live in the world, as the images and embodiments of the love which has saved us that we might help to save others.

Brethren! let us all ask ourselves Christ’s question to the denier. Let us look our past evils full in the face, that we may learn to hate them, and that we may learn more the width and the sweep of the power of His pardoning mercy. God grant that we may all be able to say, ‘Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee!’


To Love Him

Oh, that I might know my Beloved
As I am fully known
His face I seek, his soul I covet
To love so well as my own

He loved, how he loved through throbbing pain
That I could have taken away
If only I had come to him in the garden
Before he collapsed to pray

How greatly he longed that midnight hour
Which never seemed to pass
I slept, all while he felt the power
That I would be his at last

How vulnerable, with his arms wide open
Did he cry my name, and gave
His heart, his all, as his passion was proven
Greater than the power of the grave

Unoffended, though bearing every offense
Unhindered, though nailed to a cross
He purposed himself at the greatest expense
To be mine, counting all else as loss

Oh may he have what he wept for
With sweat as he bled and bled
He wanted me and nothing more
Than to be my Beloved

And may I, even I, whom he has won
Though I’ve wounded him beyond words
Make him so glad from this day on
With joy only love affords

His love, once spurned and unrequited
Shall ever be returned him
As true as my whole heart has ignited
Like it never once burned dim

And may I so touch his aching heart
With pure and holy tenderness
That I may mend what I have hurt
Before I knew who he was

That he could long for my embrace
And know a warmth like his
That he could savor my fragrance
And taste my name sweet as a kiss

Yes as he is mine, so shall I be his
And if I have one truest passion
In living, in dying, it is only this
To love him so well in return

IMG_7860 (1)

Remember me tenderly

We don’t do this. We don’t meet for coffee and smile politely while our hearts break quietly. We don’t look at the time, as if we have somewhere better to be. We don’t run out of things to say, or get uncomfortable with the silence, or resort to nervous tics. Or at least.. until now we didn’t.

I used to take sunsets personally, like he painted the sky just for me. I used to cry while he kissed my face. Now the tears have left no trace. I used to walk down the street smiling about him. I used to pass strangers like I knew the secret to life, convinced… If only they would stop to ask me what it is, they would run to him for their lives and never look back. I used to close my eyes on the plane, on the train, on the bus, enjoying our sweetest love. I would sing like he was listening. I would sway like we were dancing.

Oh God, what have we become? The couple sitting across the table from each other, arms crossed and hearts locked, having found a lover yet lost the wonder? You know I haven’t forgotten. It’s the memories leaving me lonely. Oh, how dearly I must be reminded that you remember me tenderly.

Maybe you can meet the crowds for coffee, but not me, please not me. I am in too deep. Do you remember me? My name is graven on your hands. Do you still miss my fragrance? Are my shoes still on your doorstep? Is my journal still by your bed? Tell me you haven’t forgotten, my Love, to remember me tenderly.


You know me past my pretense. If you leave me, you’ll leave me too broken to fix. Will you run to me through this wilderness? Will you take hold of my hand? I will come home to you again, if only you’ll take me in. I will say yes without hesitation, if only you’ll ask me to dance. We’ll sway back and forth on your floor like before. Our love will be precious once more.

To be wrapped in each other’s presence is the closest I’ve been to heaven. All I want in life and in death is to lay my head on your chest, to be known as your beloved. Would you sing again, so my soul can rest, and hold me til dawn like you did?

I remember the words you prayed before you went away, “that she would be with me where I am…” Oh, to be with you where you are… Show me the way and I will walk in it. Keep your promise so that I may live. You said you’d come again. You promised. And I will hold you to it.

Wednesday morning

It’s early Wednesday morning as I silently sip my tea with half a thought, half a prayer in my quiet soul. Do you care to hear my voice when my throat is sore and I’m half awake? Can you see me past the morning fog that hides my face?

Sooner than I ask the question I feel you smile as if to say, I’m just happy to see you today.

For a second I wonder if it is only my imagination, until I hold back the tears that come because it sounds like something you’d say. Half of me is sorry I doubted my truest friend, and the other half, just happy to hear your voice again.

Where love began

You knock on my bedroom door before I’m ready and I hold my breath in a moment of panic, wondering how you’d respond if you saw me like this.

I am half dressed, scrambling to cover my nakedness. My face is wet with tears and yesterday’s makeup. My heart is caught in conflict. I’m scared of what I’ll say. I’m scared of what you’ll say. My heart is screaming your name, but my throat is choked by my shame. I can’t bear for you to walk away, but I’m terrified for you to stay.

Please, my Love, please wait.

You’ve waited a thousand years, you say, and that wasn’t all to leave me this way. So you wait, and you whisper my name, and you hum a melody meant only for me, until my heart responds in harmony. I close my eyes, and breathe.

My breath isn’t shallow like it was, but as deep as my need in your presence, and I lay back and rest. I haven’t even heard your footsteps, but you’ve come so close to me I can feel your heartbeat. I cry because you hold me with arms so holy, where I’ve felt unworthy to touch. I can’t believe the walls between us could be overcome by love.

But there are parts of me still hidden, and I don’t know how to let you in. I’m desperate to protect you from myself, from this crushing disappointment… am I really the one you wanted? If only I could be all that you deserve… How do you see beauty beyond my brokenness?

We’re quiet for a moment, and I grieve in the silence. But I find answers in your abiding presence. Your love simply is.

You are blessed to hold me just like this, you promise, and you seal it with the sweetest kiss, so our hearts can’t help but keep singing.. I had come to the place where I thought love would end, only to find that was where love began.

Through the tears

I think we can give God the silent treatment without realizing it. We hurt, so we pray, but God doesn’t always save us from the pain. Hearts break, plans fail, we fall, and people die. We groan inside. We know God could have prevented what causes us such grief, or make it better, at least. But for whatever reason, we bleed.

We remain kind to him, but distant. We stand, but we don’t lift our hands. We pray, but we don’t praise. We are polite when all we want to do is fight until things are made right. We don’t confront him with our questions. Does our pain matter as much to him as his reasons? And if he cared as much, wouldn’t he spare us?

God might be the only one to break our heart for the better, but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less.

I keep thinking of the story of Lazarus. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus when their dear brother was on his death bed because they knew Jesus loved him as much as they did, and he could make him better. Jesus said, “This will not end in death, but in glory” and then delayed until Lazarus was dead for four days. When he finally arrived, Mary stayed inside and cried, but Martha ran outside and confronted the Son of God, “If you had been here…”

Jesus gives her a promise, much like he does with us, but Martha’s comment implies that it wasn’t enough. Jesus promised again, “This will not end in death, but in glory,” and Martha responds that she already knows he’ll live in the end, but she was hoping he’d be alive in this moment. We too believe in God’s promises, but feel desperate for them in the present. Jesus replies by reminding her who he is. He is resurrection and life, and he asks her if she believes him despite death, and she says yes.

He calls for Mary, the one who loved to sit at his feet and listen, and now she fell at his feet and wept, “Jesus, if you had been here…” Jesus knew full well that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew it was all for the best. But instead of repeating his promise, he was overwhelmed with the brokenness of that moment. He loved Mary, so he felt what she felt. He was deeply moved, and he wept. He saw Lazarus’ tomb, and he mourned. He too was torn.


We assume that since God knows the glory of the future, he forgets the pain of the present. But he is ever present. He is the truest kind of friend. He involves himself intimately in our experience. We can have tearful conversations and ask him the desperate questions. Though he is in complete control, he becomes completely vulnerable. Just because he is over it all doesn’t mean he’s not under it all. His Spirit in us feels our laughter and our tears. His heart aches with ours. We have no fear he has not felt or tear he has not wept. He bears our scars on his arms.

God has entered into our human experience. He embodied himself in our flesh to bleed with us, to bleed for us. He drank our cup of suffering to the very last drop. He has not forgotten.

God has experienced our condition in a way we never will. We don’t have to convince him by being downcast or distant. He understands. Because he validates how deeply we break, we can laugh with him without betraying our pain. We can dance in the rain. Since God cries when we cry, we can smile with him through the tears.

And through the tears of our trial he does smile, just like he did when he raised Lazarus from the dead, when he said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Psalm 46:1-3

Beautifully Yours

I can’t count how many times I’ve fallen short of you.. but you say I am worth all my weight in your arms.. that I am worth every tear, every scar.. every break in your innocent heart.

But when have I loved you like you have loved me? I love you with all of my broken heart, with my whole wounded soul.. but your love is pure and full.

Your love is constant and unfailing. Your love is undivided. Entirely committed and wholehearted. True through life and death. Strong for a thousand years.

You could have chosen to pursue a lover worthy of your heart. She could shine with the radiance of the sun and burn for you with its passion. She could plant her feet in the depths of the sea and still stand taller than me. She could reach the notes I cannot sing. She could dance upon the ground where I fell. She could love you well.

She would never need the blood you shed for me, and your tears would be full of joy, never grief. You’d never have to know how heartbreak feels, or jealousy. You’d live without the painful memories of death, because you would have married her at an altar and not a cross. She would have held your gaze when I turned away. She would have stayed through the night when I left your side. Yet you chose me for your bride, and you’ve given your eternal life.

I can only imagine the reason for your brutal pursuit is how loving me proves you true, through and through. It’s as if you’re an author with one novel to write, one story to forever tell what you’re like, and when I crossed your mind, you knew what I’d require. In that moment you knew the hell you’d face, and how your heart would break, and so you called my name. In the greatest expression of what it means to be Love, you called me your beloved.

The mystery is that your love is not merely the pitiful kind. You have chosen me for your bride. You could have loved me well by loving me at all, but you love me in every way possible.. I have your fullest attention, even your deepest affection.

The greatest gift you’ve ever given me has been yourself. You’ve held nothing back. And just to think God himself could be my closest companion, the truest Lover of my soul.. It may be scandalous or even foolish to think, and if I made it up I should be ridiculed. But by your initiation it is glorious. Far too wonderful for words..

Still, we are only at the conflict, in the middle of the story, and as with any great story the best part is how it ends. And I know you are the one who calls things that are not, as though they were. You call light to shine out of darkness. And I know now I see in part what I will one day see in full. Now I see a poor reflection of things, dim and indistinct. Then I will have full vision.

Then I will see your face, and you will look at me like you’ve looked at no one else.. and just to think I could have your full attention for a moment is a weight of glory too great..

Then I will sing effortlessly with you, my Melody, as your perfect harmony. I will dance again, and missing a step will only mean falling into your arms. And I won’t break your heart or leave you scars. I will be fit for you, finally. I will be good for you, perfectly. Because I’ve been made for you..

Then I will see you, and I will be made like you, shining with the radiance of the sun. In a flash of brilliant light, in a timeless and glorious moment, all at once, I will be yours.. beautifully yours.

Struggling with God

Beyond the fear of losing those I love, of losing my health, of unfulfilled hopes and dreams, is my restless thought of losing God.

I don’t think I can actually lose God’s presence, just my present experience and enjoyment of him.

I mind no circumstance the way I mind my suspicions resulting from it, the doubts that disturb my confidence, the wavering that breaks sweet fellowship.

I think of a newly married husband and wife. They share their hearts, their bodies, and their lives. They touch places in each other withheld from the world. They share their souls, which are intangible yet incredibly vulnerable. It’s easy to imagine that if one of them were to suddenly disappear one night, there would be a heart wrenching conflict of emotion in the one left behind.

The deeper your experience of love, the deeper your questions, Where are you? Do you still love me? How could unfailing love look or feel like this? In the presence of incredible love, you become incredibly accessible as your intangible being is expressed, communicated, given. You would never share your defenseless soul unless you felt it was safe to do so.

And then, in what feels like love’s absence, you become just the opposite. You are closed, guarded, careful. All at once the arms that brought you home have left you out in the cold, and pain rushes into the places you felt loved. Are we much different in our response to an apparently absent God?

If a desperate prayer seems unanswered long enough, or a promise withheld from experience, the heart once so vulnerable with trust turns to stone at the thought of betrayal. The faithful become skeptical. The passion becomes dull. And we blame God’s distance, but we are the ones who have hidden ourselves.

What is actually worse than the seemingly unanswered prayer or broken promise is the breaking of intimate fellowship. The deeper problem of any circumstance is our loss of trust in God’s tender care for our soul. Otherwise, our hardship would be a manageable external circumstance, not an agonizing inner conflict resulting in spiritual depression and emotional distance. We would struggle with God, not against him.

Certainly if a husband fully trusted his bride, because he knew the reason she left in the middle of the night was to meet her mother in the hospital, he would not experience heartache nearly as he would if he believed she had left him. Even if he missed her for the night, he wouldn’t feel overcome with loneliness, uncertainty, and betrayal, as if she meant to leave him.

If anyone knows what it’s like to become intimate friends with God, and then feel left behind in the middle of the night, it is John. On the night Jesus was betrayed, John rested his head on his chest. He was close enough to hear his heartbeat and feel him breathe. He enjoyed the depths of love, of joy, of peace. He knew vulnerability. God himself was his closest companion, his greatest love. The sun set that beautiful evening only to rise again as the Son of God, John’s beloved one, was crucified before his eyes.

John, the beloved disciple, may have had more reason than anyone in the world to feel abandoned by God while he died on the cross. As Jesus breathed his last breath, I wonder if John questioned him, Where are you? Do you still love me? How could unfailing love look or feel like this? Yet John was the only friend who stayed with Jesus until the end. There were thousands upon thousands who followed Jesus when he fed them, but when it appeared he had nothing to offer but blood and tears, John was the only one left.

It’s easy for us to look back and see the cross as God’s proof of love, but all John saw when he looked up was loss. The tragic and sudden death of Love. But he didn’t leave.

When I look at Love and only see loss, when God doesn’t fit into my box, can’t he still be as good as I hoped he was? Can’t I be the one loyal friend in a thousand?

I don’t think people who live in love with God should despair when they’re numb and overcome with questions. I think the deeper we question God’s love and suffer its apparent absence implies the depth we’ve experienced it.

I think those who seek God with their whole broken heart will find him, and that he will prove himself a true friend. I think he’ll relate to those well acquainted with grief, and bring relief. I think we can come close enough to count the tears he has cried over us, to hear the prayers, to feel the scars. To struggle with him, and not against. To break with him, and not away from him. To grieve, and not grieve his Spirit. To be angry, and not sin. To trust him, even in pain. To love him, and never look away.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. O people… you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
(Isaiah 30:18-19)

Alone with you

God wills that we should push into his presence and live our whole life there.
A.W. Tozer

We live in a world with 7 billion people, and yet to some certain degree we all go through life alone. Our journey is our own. It is incredible to find a few to share your soul with, to think out loud with, to simply be with. But even after the nights where there’s no such thing as time, after you’ve shared laughter and tears, words and silence, hopes and fears, morning comes. And overnight, even while you are both asleep, distance happens.

We would love to live all of life together, to be there for each other and catch every fall, but the reality is, we are not. We are limited. Our presence is mostly limited to our being together.

footprintsWhen I share myself with my friends I like to be face to face, present with them. When I share myself with God I would obviously prefer being face to face, but until then I like to write or sing to him. I didn’t realize how uniquely comfortable I was writing to God until a close friend who I’d share anything with asked me a personal question over email. I sat down to write, but nothing happened. I couldn’t just bear my soul and push “send” all while she was entirely somewhere else. I needed her presence. I’m starting to think half of friendship is conversation, and the other half is being present. And what I realized is how truly God, and God alone, is ever present. While I write to him, he responds. He’s responding to me in this moment. He is ever present.

I have struggled with the fact that the Lover of my soul, my best friend in the world, is invisible. We are always together, yet no one sees him walk into the room with me. I can’t hug him. We don’t have audible conversations. And then I remember the words he said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

And now he is my ever present Helper. He hears what I haven’t said yet, what I can’t articulate. My inmost being is not a mystery to him. He searches the depths of my heart. He experiences every season of my soul. I am known, understood, and loved, completely and perfectly. Every moment, he is present with me. And the time we share, words can’t convey how sweet, and how deep.

Nothing gives the believer so much joy as fellowship with Christ. He has enjoyment as others have in the common mercies of life, he can be glad both in God’s gifts and God’s works; but in all these separately, yea, and in all of them added together, he does not find such substantial delight as in the matchless person of his Lord Jesus Christ. (Spurgeon)

No matter how many friends we have, they cannot make up for Jesus. There is a loneliness in our existence only he can befriend. There is a depth only he can reach, a need he alone can meet, a brokenness only he can mend. There is a constancy, a faithfulness, a loyalty in his presence, which no other can attempt. There is a friendship no other could promise. There is an intimacy we will never know, unless experienced with him alone.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

Psalm 139:7-8

The godly will dwell in your presence…
You hide them in the secret place of your presence…
In your presence there is fullness of joy.

Psalm 140:13; 31:20; 16:11