Truth Thursdays 22: Happiness vs Joy vs Suffering

This blog entry is inspired by Ray Stedman’s sermon on Romans 5:3-10.  You can check out the link here.

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The Greek word for suffering defines it as a ‘tribulation’ or something that causes distress.  In Romans 5:3-5, Paul makes it clear that our response to suffering should be to rejoice.  This is backed up by other verses in the Bible:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2, NIV)

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12, NIV)

Joy is not simple stoicism/ hanging in there/ or enjoying the pain.  It is not pretending you’re happy.  Christianity is never fake.  Philip Yancey once wrote back to an email I sent him asking about disappointment and trusting God.  I have posted my email and his response below:

Dear Mr. Yancey,

I just needed to ask you a question that a friend and I have been arguing about for a while now. We were discussing disappointment and trusting God and my friend basically said that if you trust God or if you consult him on all areas of decision-making, it’s possible to never feel disappointed with the answers he gives you, because your trust is complete and whole in him. However, just from my experience I believe that its possible to be disappointed with God’s answer but to trust that his way is right and true and to obey despite your personal desires. Does that mean my trust in him is not complete? Because I occasionally still feel disappointment?

I know you’re a busy man and probably won’t have the time to respond to this but I hope you do. I have felt an enormous amount of condemnation regarding this and although I have read my Bible nothing has jumped out that has been a clear word on this. I’m not looking to be proven right. I just want to get some perspective from someone who seems to have more insight on this.

Thanks very much!

 Here is a portion of his reply:

It is my firm belief and personal experience that God does not want us to turn into automatons when we decide to follow him.  I believe God wants us to come to him with our whole heart, soul and mind, not leaving anything of ourselves stuffed in a closet or relegated to the back shelf.  Therefore, we will bring the struggles of our will vs. his will to the relationship with God, just as in any other relationship. I can think of numerous examples in the Bible where this was true, and the person involved was disappointed but chose to accept God’s will over his own.  Think of Paul and his thorn in the flesh.  Or of David, longing and pleading for his and Bathsheba’s son not to die.  Or Abraham and Sarah wanting a child before they were old and gray.  We can go on on and on with the examples of deferred gratification in favor of God’s best.  The best response to your question is to recommend the book of Psalms: it’s full of disappointment, even anger, yet has been the believers’ prayer book through the centuries.  That says it well, I think.

I respect your friends’ point of view, but I like yours better.  Listen to your own heart.  You can trust it.

Philip Yancey

While this does not necessarily speak directly to joy I believe it still relates.  Joy is not hiding your disappointments or hurt from God.  In fact the Bible acknowledges this:

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)

So we acknowledge that joy is not faking happiness – the question then remains…what does it mean to rejoice in our sufferings??  Ray Stedman defines it as thus: “an awareness that this suffering has done something of supreme value; therefore, you wouldn’t have missed it. But you wouldn’t have chosen it, either!”

So how does one rejoice in suffering?  Mr. Stedman explains that we are able to rejoice because we know something – we know that suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope.  There is a point to our suffering.  It is not for nothing.  It produces perseverance (or steadiness) – the ability to be patient, to stay under pressure and not panic.  It also produces character – developing you to be a strong and reliable person.  A person that can withstand the test of disappointments and hurts and pain.  Finally suffering produces hope – hope that God is continually perfecting us to become more and more like Christ, transforming us into His image.

I will quote Mr. Stedman on this last point on rejoicing in suffering:

“I know some Christians who are suffering, but are not being made steady and reliable and confident. Instead, they are being made bitter and resentful and angry, even to the point of denying their faith. Suffering, you see, does not produce these qualities automatically. You can go through suffering as a Christian and be filled with anger and rage and resentment against God. What makes the difference?

As Paul explains here, the difference is in seeing your suffering as evidence of God’s love, and not his wrath. Then you will experience that love in the midst of the suffering. The Holy Spirit will shed abroad in your heart an experience of the love of God so rich and radiant and glorious that you will not be able to help but rejoice in your suffering. But, if you see your suffering as evidence of God’s wrath, you will be rendered frustrated and angry and resentful and miserable.”

Truth Thursdays exists to connect people through writing.  To initiate something honest, thoughtful, and meaningful.  Truth Thursdays is an open discussion of expressions. There are no right or wrong responses, Truth Thursdays are just what they are.

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no sudden moves.

So that guy texted again. After a month of radio silence he texts me asking me when I’m moving back to the US. He tells me I deserve a prince of a man, one that treats me and loves me beautifully. He jokingly tries to convince me to have 12 kids with him. And just like that, I dissolve into tears. I promised myself I wouldn’t let him do this to me again. So with all the blood rushing to my head I try to be brave.

Me: Maybe you shouldn’t joke about that 🙂 My poor heart 🙂

Him: It’s actually a tough one for me, so joking helps I guess.

Me: I can understand that 😦 But I guess what I wanted to say is it’s difficult to hear that joke in relation to me because it’s just way too personal…it makes me want to hit you upside the head and at the same time pray for the right girl for you to have 12 kids with because I genuinely care about you and want you to be happy. I think we could actually be good friends but everytime you message and kind of joke about how things might be different I don’t know how to deal with that. But seeing as I’m now just telling you that it’s not your fault…it’s really mine. Because I’m usually a rock and I’m having an off day and this is hard. I try not to be affected by what you say but as it turns out I’m sensitive.

Him: You’re 100% right. I shouldn’t make references to us having 12 kids together. I joke around the unexplored desire that dwell with me, not knowing how to solve the missing pieces of relationships.

At this point, I am crying, thinking to myself how cruel it is of him to throw that out there. As if any of his unexplored desires have to do with me. I don’t want to ask but I need to hear him say it. I need to hear him say he doesn’t want me the way I want him.

Me: Those unexplored desires…I don’t think they’re for me. I think they’re desires in general…so as long as you don’t use me as a filler (even jokingly) we’re okay.

Him: Deal. But why do you rush to assume they could not be for you?

And oh I hate him in that moment. It’s almost as if he wants me to continue to hope for the possibility of him and me. To keep me around just in case he needs an ego boost. So I brace myself. I work up the nerve to ask a question I already know the answer to but need to hear anyway.

Me: Fair point. Are they?

Him: Well maybe not the full 12 kids, but you know I was attracted to you and enjoyed our conversations. I couldn’t see the distance working for my personality and needs in a relationship.

It feels like someone punched me in the heart. Once again I’ve offered him my slowly healing heart only for him to be careless with it. Again. All I can do is sit in my cubicle trying to be quiet, and hope that no one sees me. We talk some more. Finally we end with agreeing to continue to be friends. I really just want to tell him I don’t want to be his friend but I hear God telling me I need to learn to be vulnerable, I need to learn a few more lessons in setting boundaries. I have to be stronger than my broken heart. And despite everything, I need to be able to see that he is still a good person. A selfish person, yes, but then again so am I. Is he using me? I think in some way he is, but I truly don’t think he means to do so. I genuinely believe in him. And I pray about that wall he’s erected around his heart – that wall that makes him do these selfish insensitive things – I pray someday it crumbles.

Everyone I know has been damaged by love in one way or another. The only thing you can do is to be brave. And eventually, throw yourself back in the ring and try again.

thisisn'teverythingyouare

Although not indicated in the title, this post is also a part of my Truth Thursdays entries – Truth Thursdays 21: All Things New.

Truth Thursdays exists to connect people through writing.  To initiate something honest, thoughtful, and meaningful.  Truth Thursdays is an open discussion of expressions. There are no right or wrong responses, Truth Thursdays are just what they are.

TRUTH THURSDAYS 17: OH, THE PLACES WE COULD GO!

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Raleigh, North Carolina.  I cannot begin to express how difficult it was to leave North Carolina.  I was there barely a week (and have been there multiple times in the last decade) but it felt different this time.  I was walking with my friend and her son and looking around thinking “this is where I want to be.  this is where I want to have babies, raise a family, settle down.”  I don’t know when or how but I’m pretty sure I will be back.

Raleigh, North Carolina (Part 2).  This is where I go when I need to find myself again.  I come home to my friend.  The person that has known me before I was a confident kickass woman.  The benefit of a college friend is that they see you before you start collecting all your labels – career woman, girlfriend, wife, mother, warrior princess.  They see you just as you are – before you belong to anyone, or anything.

Manila, Philippines.  This city with it’s dirt and grime and shine and sparkle.  It holds a piece of my heart that I can’t ever get back.  Being a province girl I never thought I would get used to the noise, the sheer visual traffic that overwhelms you when you’re used to fields, cows, sugarcane, and green, green, green spaces.  But, 8 years later, I’m in love.  I can’t imagine going to bed to the sound of nothing.  I can’t imagine driving and not seeing all this hustle & bustle.  This city has more character, more grit, than any place I’ve ever been.

These are my sanctuaries, my secret spaces, the places that have defined me and redefine me.  Two very different worlds that sometimes pull me in opposing directions.  Confronting me with the dilemma of trying to walk the tightrope and keeping one foot in each world.

 

Truth Thursdays exists to connect people through writing.  To initiate something honest, thoughtful, and meaningful.  Truth Thursdays is an open discussion of expressions. There are no right or wrong responses, Truth Thursdays are just what they are.

TRUTH THURSDAYS 20: VERSUS

I was talking with a friend about hopes and dreams one day and mentioned that I would give up my career in a heartbeat to start a family.  She was beyond surprised.  In fact, she’s not the only one who’s been surprised when I bring this up.  Most people see me as this strong, career-driven individual.  Someone who knows what they want and has a detailed timeline and roadmap to get to the finish line.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  The things that I want – really want – they’re beyond my control.

I want to be a wife and a mother.  If I could be those people today I would.  What I have now however – what God has entrusted to me in this season – is a career.  In particular, a career where I must be strong, tough (but kind), and decisive.  My heart however, longs to be nurturing, loving, tender.  It’s a dilemma I wrestle with often.

“Lord I don’t believe this was your original design for me.”  “When can I stop playing at a career I don’t really want?”  “When do I get the chance to start my own family?”  These questions run around in my head constantly.  Often I try to bargain with God – “if You don’t make this happen soon, I’ll get used to being independent and won’t know how to adjust to living with someone else.”  There’s some truth to that argument.  The more I have to function this way – the tough, strong career woman – the further I feel from the woman I long to be.

But that’s always been the great struggle of my life – honoring the season God has placed me in now while yearning for the season I know He has promised for me in the future.  I’ve used this analogy before and it still seems fitting…at times I feel like I am in a tug of war with myself – only I am also the rope itself – pulling myself apart in 2 different directions.  What do I do when discontent and frustration creep in?  When I know who I could be and yet see nothing of the promise on its way?  I remember who my God is – the God who raises the dead.  Who calls into existence the things that do not yet exist.

“As it is written, I have made you the father of many nations. [He was appointed our father] in the sight of God in Whom he believed, Who gives life to the dead and speaks of the nonexistent things that [He has foretold and promised] as if they [already] existed.” – Romans 4:17 (AMP)

He can give life to my dead dreams.  Especially since He planted those dreams.  All I have to do is trust Him.  In the face of hopeless circumstances and staggering possibilities, I am reminded…

“Is anything too hard or too wonderful for the Lord” – Genesis 18:14

 

Truth Thursdays exists to connect people through writing.  To initiate something honest, thoughtful, and meaningful.  Truth Thursdays is an open discussion of expressions. There are no right or wrong responses, Truth Thursdays are just what they are.

TRUTH THURSDAYS 15: FOR YOUR APPROVAL

Growing up I was always the people-pleaser.  My life was dictated by what my parents, family, and friends thought of me.  Hell, my life was dictated by what strangers thought of me.  Do you know what that’s like?  Living life walking on eggshells and watching everything you say or do because you have no idea how it’s going to be received?  How you’re going to be received?  It’s paralyzing.  I was living in a constant state of fear.  “Why did I say that?”  “Was she offended?”  “Do they still like me?”  “What can I do to fix this?”  The result being that I was a quivering mass of insecurities with no clear identity.

I was jealous of people who could just be themselves and not care about the consequences.  People that accepted their flaws and rolled with it.  My best friend in particular was one of those people I was envious of.  She was loud, outgoing, funny, cracked inappropriate jokes at times, and was the life of the party everywhere she went.  I wasn’t jealous of the attention she got – I was jealous of how comfortable she was in her own skin.  I desperately wanted to be that way.

Around 3 years ago I went through group therapy.  During the course of this process I rediscovered myself – identified which parts of my personality were authentic and which parts I had developed to either play the victim or to play the star of the show.  I threw those parts away and focused on being a real, authentic, true person.  I let God redefine who I was.  He showed me the parts of me that I had been suppressing.  And I got really really comfortable in my own skin.

The flip side of that?  I started disappointing people who were used to getting what they wanted out of me.  Because I had no clear identity or personality I had been a chameleon of sorts – giving each person what I thought they wanted to see or hear from me.  All of a sudden I was saying “no, I don’t want to do that, that’s not who I am” and it didn’t go over so well.  But you know what?  Once you get used to letting people down – it just isn’t such a big deal anymore.  I encourage everyone to try it – disappointing people that is.  It’s good for you – you realize you can survive someone thinking poorly of you.  It’s good for them – they realize that no one’s perfect and everyone will let you down at some point.  I’m not saying go out of your way to let people down or hurt them – I’m saying be true to yourself even when others don’t understand.

Obviously, all of that is in context of loving God and loving others.  I don’t want this to sound like an excuse to be a person that doesn’t accept rebuke or correction.  But I definitely think that we should be able to hear correction and go “I’ll pray about that, let me check with God and see if He feels the same way about me as you do”.  Because the truth is, we don’t have to accept everything people say about us.  But we do have to accept ourselves – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It’s been a while since I cared what people thought of me.  I do have some people in my life that have the power to really hurt me by being disappointed in me.  I am okay with that – being vulnerable and exposed with certain people in my life.  But thank God that I have stopped feeling that way about everyone.  Thank God I have stopped letting the world define me.

A couple of years ago I was the girl that would adapt different personalities to deal with different friends.  I would be lost in groups because I didn’t know how to be 5 different people in one setting.  Today I’m the girl that is herself in any setting.  I won’t apologize for who I am – I can be intimidating, I like to dress well, and I have a sassy strong personality.  I can be flexible and accommodate people – but I’m not going to change myself so others feel more comfortable with me.  I may have a harder time of it because of this but I’m not going to trade the security I’ve found in being who God designed me to just for the desire to feel like I belong.

I’m who I am for God’s approval.  Full stop.

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Truth Thursdays exists to connect people through writing.  To initiate something honest, thoughtful, and meaningful.  Truth Thursdays is an open discussion of expressions. There are no right or wrong responses, Truth Thursdays are just what they are.

TRUTH THURSDAYS 19: WITHIN A ROOM SOMEWHERE

I have lived on my own since I was 16, shipped off to the States for my college degree.  That’s nearly 13 years of having my own space, coming home to a quiet 1 bedroom or house.  I am not one of those people that needs alone time – I have too much of it.  I’m constantly alone with my thoughts so what I crave, really crave, is human contact.  Connection.

To that end I’ve become an excellent events organizer.  Movie nights, karaoke sessions, TV marathons…I’m usually the one texting 20 different people and organizing it so we end up having dinner beforehand and coffee after.  I love the fact that I have awesome friends around me and I love that I am usually out for dinner and only home to catch some Law & Order reruns before I turn in for the night.  But one day you wake up and you realize you’re older – I mean OLDER.  The kind of older where the number of people that are free to spontaneously grab dinner with you has dwindled.  People are getting into serious relationships, getting married, having kids.  Responsibilities change.  Careers take off.  If you’re life is not moving at the same frenetic pace…you can feel…a bit lonely.  So you do push your life into that same hurried pace.  You fill up your calendar with activities, hobbies, events.  And suddenly you’re on the opposite side of the problem – you don’t have any time to just BE. 

It isn’t something that I feel too often because I prefer to be in the middle of a bustling storm than to just BE.  Still.  Silent.  Alone with my thoughts.  But SOMETIMES…just sometimes…I do like the occasional “BEING”.  And when I find myself craving that…I take off.  My “room” is my car.  I will drive and drive and drive.  Windows rolled down.  Wind in my hair.  Music pouring through my crappy speakers.  Me singing my guts out.  Sometimes dancing.  Sometimes crying.  Sometimes rapping and headbanging away.  Sometimes all of the above.

I live through music.  My life – I have a mixtape in my head for every event.  Small or large.  Momentous or forgettable.  And I have never been more in touch with myself, with my thoughts, with every emotion running through me – than when I am in my car playing the song that perfectly describes how I feel at that exact moment in time.  Lyrics play a huge part yes, but more often than not a melody can move me to tears.  Or give me goosebumps.  Or warm fuzzies.

I have cried more to songs than I ever have in movies.  Death scenes have a 50-50 chance of moving me to tears but listening to Iron & Wine’s The Trapeze Swinger nearly always has my eyes filling.  Jimmy Eat World’s 23 is still one of the most heartbreaking songs about love I have ever heard.  The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition causes this weird sense of aliveness to fill my chest.  Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party and Blake Shelton’s Sure be cool if you did give me warm fuzzies.  Joshua Radin’s The Greenest Grass and Glen Hansard’s High Hope leaves me hopeful and somewhat expectant.  Amos Lee’s Colors and Mumford & Son’s The ghosts that we knew makes my heart ache in a bittersweet way.  Switchfoot’s On Fire, Lifehouse’s Breathing and Of Monsters & Men’s King & Lionheart connect me to my God in a way I cannot begin to describe.  I could fill a whole book with the songs that I love – the selection covering bluegrass, folk, country, pop, rock, alternative, r&b, 80s, 70s, praise, indie, rap, etc.

But all this emotion and poetry and sound – the whole reason why I can feel all that in every note, in every lyric – is because I am alone and yet somehow not alone.  I am in my car.  Windows rolled down.  Hand shifting through the breeze.  Speakers blaring.  Somehow making a connection with the world despite the dark, despite the stillness.  So really, even when I’m trying to be alone – I’m really trying not to be.

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Truth Thursdays exists to connect people through writing.  To initiate something honest, thoughtful, and meaningful.  Truth Thursdays is an open discussion of expressions. There are no right or wrong responses, Truth Thursdays are just what they are.