Friday, January 3, 2014

The thing about pain and stress....

I was thinking this morning about when my kids were little. We are a "roughhouse" family - even to now, a pinch or a smack in a timely manner is shared among family members all in "the name of humor." Maybe it's because my hubby grew up with brothers or because I grew up with no siblings at all, but it's not completely shocking for a "dog pile" or a wrestling match to erupt on our living room floor. It's how we roll.

But this morning I was thinking about when I used to flick my kids behind the ears, mostly my boys - and how it created two completely different responses in them. Whereas Jacob would shake his woolly head and shake off the little offense, Ethan on the other hand would often end up in tears. Needless to say, I didn't flick him much for that reason.

I never flicked Ethan any harder than I ever did Jacob, but their reactions were very different. I remember saying to Ethan a time or two, "I didn't flick you that hard." And in all sincerity I hadn't, but Ethan would look me dead in the eye and tell me from the depth of himself, "Mom, that HURT."

And that's what occurred to me this morning - the injury or infliction may be measurable, it may be something we can judge from the "outside," but the pain itself is completely subjective. I knew that when I looked into Ethan's little tear stained eyes. When he told me it HURT, he meant it. And I could tell by looking at him, it hurt a LOT.

I look around at a lot of people in my life, myself included who are hurting and struggling in one level of pain or another. Sickness, loss, loneliness, fear, financial struggle - they are all creating levels of pain and stress in the lives I see around me.

It's easy to look at someone else's situation and make comparisons. Sometimes it causes us to judge the other person - we think, "What is their problem? That's not that bad..." I know for me I think people might be thinking about that when I am too apparent in my struggles. And sometimes too we have the opposite response. I think about our struggles and they suddenly seem very small compared to someone who is dealing with death, disease or devastation. Now mind you, perspective is a GOOD thing, but at the same time it's not a call to be dismissive of the hurt or stress we feel.

I think it's very important to realize a few things:

(1) Pain is a gift. What? Yes, a gift. What do I mean about that? It's a warning system that God created within us to protect us. Whether it's the pain in your hand that causes you to draw it away from a hot stove, or the pain in your heart that causes you to reevaluate what you've gotten too close to or too far from to be healthy - it's a gift. It tells us there is something that we need to do in response to the pain. Also, not all pain is bad. The great pain of physical labor in a woman birthing a child helps to bring new life forth. Likewise sometimes in the spiritual and emotional sense, pain is required to bring forth change and new life in those areas as well. If we did not ache in places where we shouldn't be, we just might stay there.

(2) Pain and stress are completely relative." I could flick Ethan's ears today and not at all get the same response I once did when he was younger. Is it because he's older? Or because his ear's are healthier? (He actually had a lot of ear problems when he was little.) No one can say for sure, except that SOMETHING changes. It's like the pain of grief. It does change, and in some ways subside - but not on a schedule, and not in the same manner or way for each one. A lost job or a lost loved one, some adapt more quickly, some struggle longer. Sometimes change takes a long time, and sometimes it's a very sudden improvement, or for another three steps forward and two steps back, and even another two steps forward three steps back. Everyone has to walk out the process on their own. Stress too is relative. I've had days where the car breaking down could send me over an edge, and others where I can manage a far greater crisis in peace. So many outside factors to account for, but at the end the point is, we cannot judge another's pain or stress level because we have no accurate point of reference.

(3) God understands. That's the most important factor of all. God gets it. And He does not differentiate between one man's pain and another to prioritize who He ought to comfort and who ought to get over him/herself. The Bible describes Himself as "the God of all comfort." It tells us He comforts us "in ALL our afflictions..." (pain and stress) and makes no mention of it having to reach a certain level, or supersede that of another to qualify. He just IS the God of all comfort for each of us who needs it.

What I'm walking away with this revelation from this morning is this: (1) Be compassionate - towards others especially, and without judgment. People are hurting and under a lot of stress, and we need to be sensitive to their hurt and struggle without quantifying it. We don't know all the factors. If they are hurting or overwhelmed (and most people are to some degree or another) then be the hands and feet of the God of all comfort to the best of your ability in whatever capacity and opportunity you are given. (2) Don't exclude yourself from the "right" to comfort. - Don't be dismissive of your own pain or affliction, don't ignore it or belittle it, don't be ashamed of it, but rather respond to it in a healthy manner. Figure out the what response you need to make to it. I would say first and foremost move toward the Lord in it. He is the Great Physician, and no one knows suffering more than He. Most of all He has made the invitation to us, "Come all you who are weary and heavy laden..." God calls the hurting and struggling and promises comfort and rest.

If you are not one of the hurting today, be joyful and GRATEFUL in that place, and be a conduit for those around you by directing them toward the Source of comfort with your compassion, a gentle word, a listening ear, a time of prayer. But if you are hurting, pursue the God of comfort for yourself. I encourage you, He is waiting with open arm ready to enfold you in His love and grace and help you move to a healthier and stronger place.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Clean Slates

There's something about a fresh start. Whether as a writer with a blank piece of paper (blank screen?), a painter's new canvas, or opening a door on a snowy morning to a fresh blanket of snow (not part of my normal experience) or turning the "page" on a calendar to a new month, or even better a new year, almost everyone I know likes a new opportunity.

So we've turned the page, and 2014 is here, and the slate it clean (I hope you didn't muck it up too badly on January 1st anyway.) So what's next?

Some of you are resolution makers. I am not one of them. If I were, yesterday would have been very bad for this girl who spent most of the day on the couch overeating and failing to open her Bible or any redemptive reading of any sort at all, but I digress. Some of you ARE resolution makers, and you have your determinations set. I won't go down the discouraging statistics of broken resolutions, but rather I will cheer on those of you who are giving up sugar, signing up at the gym, breaking out a new Bible reading plan, or changing some other habit that you feel needs to be altered or abandoned. Good for you! Blessings on your endeavors! Go for it!

Some of you are goal setters. You are likely the visionaries. You don't just look at the details, you look at the direction you want to head. You're not just joining a gym, you see yourself, you see yourself running your first half marathon. You're not just giving up sugar, you see yourself two sizes smaller. You're not just starting a reading plan, you see yourself reading all the way through your Bible in a year! I am not a visionary, but I admire those of you who are. Go! Achieve your goals! Make yourselves (and the world?) a better place!

There's more of you blank slate responders. There are the hopers, the ones who hope things will change, happen or improve in the New Year. There are also the pray-ers. You're the ones who hope and put your faith into it by actually asking God to help you accomplish it. The prayer factor is a good one to add to any of the other clean slate responses. With your resolution set, pray for help and strength. For the goal setter, pray for favor and direction. It's all good. Prayer is good, and something about praying over a clean slate that just instills a little more hope and expectation. It's like a spark of a flame, and prayer is the best way to fan it. In all honesty, I am NOT the best pray-er either, but that I plan to work on in 2014...

Those are my first steps onto the snow of 2014, the first words on the page, fisrt brush stroke onto the canvas... I want to pray more.

It's not a resolution. Because really, it's about conversation and relationship with God. It's not a goal, because how do I measure it? What is "enough"? And if I get there, do I stop? That would be just silly.

So my non-resolution, non-goal intention? plan? steps?... for 2014 is to pray more because I want to get to know God more. I want to go deep (I won't even declare it "deeper") with Him.

I do it with one thought in mind though. God's economy is not an annual clean slate the way we like to make it. We decide ever 365 days (366 on leap year) to give ourselves this said fresh start. But God says His way is to give a fresh start every morning. Except He calls it something different.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

So my second thought on the New Year is simply this, I'm going to take 2014 one day at a time, maybe even one step at a time. Back in early December my end of the year started to fall apart - my eating, my reading, my (total lack of) exercise. And I honestly looked ahead at the coming clean slate of 2014 and threw the rest of 2013 in the trash, and I did a lot of damage waiting for the biggest canvas. So I think I will find wisdom in waking up with a clean slate every morning. I know even the poor choices of yesterday (no bible, no exercise, and bad food) can be put behind me in this day. And that's what I want for 2014.

So I have this in my heart, to seek God continually, to go deep with Him, and to remember each new day comes with new mercy, new opportunity and new hope. Welcome 2014, I plan to take you in moment by moment and day by day.