Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Impatient Patience

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12 NASB

It is perhaps a mark of faith to have the audacity to pray for patience. It is definitely an act of stupidity to pray for patience a second time.

I know that from experience.

Because God rarely, if ever, just offers anyone something as complex as patience on a silver platter. God grows patience in us by giving us situations, often trials, that make us wait.

Despite my stupid requests for patience, I'm still not as patient as I'd like to be. I'm not about to pray for more patience, though. I don't think I'm ready for more painful situations that make me wait. In fact, I still think I'm still dealing with some waiting from the LAST time I prayed for patience. 

Which, for the record, was over ten years ago.

Ah. There. Now you're getting it.

About six or seven years ago, when I was definitely in the midst of a painful waiting period, I said something that made my friends roll their eyes. They thought I was being cute or stupid, but I was serious. I was very serious. And at the time, I couldn't find anyone who could understand what I meant.

This is what I said:

"It's not that I'm impatient; I've just gotten really tired of waiting."

I got some condescending head nods and, "Riiiiight"s in response, and I can understand why. In their experiences, impatience was just an unwillingness to wait. But when someone has been patiently waiting for something for awhile, is hard to persevere.

I couldn't find counsel. I just found people who thought I was being ridiculous-not worthy of being taken seriously. And, you know, that's okay, because even then I realized that being relatively alone in my struggle was part of the ordeal God wanted me to endure.

But in the middle of that waiting, I came up with a cheesy acronym. It helped me through the really hard times, and it has served as a reminder over the years.


Waiting always involves trust.

It's never easy to wait, whatever it is we're waiting for. Whether it's one of my preschoolers waiting for me to give him a cracker or it's me waiting to get some direction career-wise. But if my preschooler knows I love him and want the best for him, then he should trust that I'll give him what he needs. And if I believe God loves me and wants the best for me, then I should trust Him to provide for me.

The thing is, it's one thing for me to say something like that in a blog. Readers can nod their heads and agree that God is good and we should trust Him. Hooray! Everything is wonderful.

Except...sometimes it's not.

Because sometimes saints pray, and results aren't easy or quick to see. Sometimes young women pray for God to bring them a husband and children, children they desperately want and don't feel quite complete without, and yet those women grow old without seeing dreams fulfilled. Sometimes young men pray that temptations will be taken from them, yet they still struggle. Sometimes single moms pray that God will provide jobs and living situations that will give their children some kind of stability, and yet things don't work out. Sometimes beautiful people want to get out and serve others, but their health won't allow them to, even after they have prayed and prayed for healing. Sometimes a mother earnestly prays for salvation for her prodigal child, enduring every act of rebellion with a new crashing wave of pain, and never sees any sign of change.

And the world, even the Christian world, sometimes ESPECIALLY the Christian world, looks at these people and say, "They must be doing something wrong. God must be punishing them," or "They must not have much faith."

Or they just ignore them completely.

The fact is, I know a lot of patient people who have grown tired of being patient. They aren't impatient; they're EXHAUSTED. And a pithy word of "encouragement" isn't going to bring healing. It seems that Christians just want to slap Spiritual band-aids on wounds that require extensive healing.

If a person has been praying, waiting for a fulfilled hope, a healed illness or injury, a solution to a serious problem, then believe me, a platitude or Scripture reference isn't going to do anything but frustrate. The person who has waited doesn't need you to tell him or her to be more patient or trusting or godly or whatever.

He or she needs rest.

And there is only so much that we can do for those who have been waiting. We can fill some practical needs, but we can't fix everything.

Sometimes we think we have to fix everything. So we say things to cheer people up, things that don't work and often have the opposite effect. We try to downplay problems. We try to act like everything will be okay, when we really don't have a clue what the other person is going through.

Honestly, sometimes there just isn't anything we can do. We can just pray. We can just wait. We can just let the person who has been waiting and praying that he or she isn't praying and waiting alone. We can let him or her know it's okay to hurt, it's okay to be angry sometimes, it's okay to even doubt a little.

Because patience is hard, and it's even harder when you have to go through it alone.

Sometimes all people need is a hand to hold in the darkness--not a hand that will lead them, but just to let them know they're not in the darkness alone . You don't have to have all the answers; you just have to be there.

And sometimes when you come beside someone in the darkness, God will show up, too. All the problems might not be solved, deep pain might continue.

But for that moment, there is rest. There is a chance for the waiting person to breathe, to remember in Whom he or she places trust...

And there is strength and grace to wait again.

Be slow to judge, quick to listen, eager to love.

And keep your Spiritual band-aids in your pocket. Chances are, they won't be needed.

Like  one who takes off a garment on a cold day,  or like  vinegar on soda,
Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.
Proverbs 25:20 NASB

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Things I Won't Let Anyone Steal

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" is arguably the worst Star Trek film ever. But what can you expect when William Shatner writes, directs, and portrays a character who boldly goes on a mission to defeat "God"? It really is sad, especially after the epic brilliance of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," in which Leonard Nimoy writes, directs, and portrays a character who knocks out a rude punk bus passenger, masters the use of colorful metaphors, saves the whales AND humanity, and also looks pretty smashing walking the mid-1980s San Francisco streets in a bathrobe. But I digress....

"Star Trek V" was a stinker, but there's a scene in it that I kind of like. In case you haven't seen the flick (you're not missing much), here's some background:

Sybok, Spock's long, lost half-brother has hijacked the Enterprise. He's a Vulcan, but has renounced the logical ways of his people and embraced emotion. His big thing is "sharing pain." He does some kind of psychic Vulcan mind trick to make people relive their most painful experiences, and he pretty much brainwashes people into following his "pain sharing" cult. And then they all go frolic off into the unknown to meet God...but not really. It's actually some kind of alien thing that was using Sybok. Or something. I think.

Honestly, I don't really have a clue what was going on in that movie. And I don't know if Shatner did either. I think Shatner just wanted to beat God. Because he's the Shatner.

But, yeah, Shatner did have a pretty good line in the movie. Sybok had gotten to Bones and Spock, making them "share their pain." But when it was Shatner's...uh...Captain Kirk's turn, he said something deep and brilliant. Because the Shatner wanted him to:

(remember to say it in a Shatner voice)

"You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!"

Now, I have never met an emotional Vulcan brainwasher with delusions of finding God on a distant planet, but I've met a lot of people who remind me of Sybok. Like Sybok, they think they're doing good things. They think they're helping. But, in an unusual sense of the phrase, they are "identity thieves."

These are good people (as good as any of us can be) with good intentions. They aren't hacking passwords or stealing credit card numbers or illegally obtaining social security numbers.

They are just guilty of getting all up in people's KoolAid without even knowing the flavor.

And I really think these kinds of "identity thieves" are well-intentioned. They meddle because they genuinely care. And that should be acknowledged and even appreciated, but it can't be an excuse for someone to "fix" a friend or his/her problems.

I'm not talking about burden-bearing. Scripture is clear that we are to care about one another and take care of one another. But it's one thing to come alongside someone, listen, and pray, and it's another thing to try to make another person's problems disappear. Especially when one doesn't really know all the details.

And, to make this personal, I've had a lot of people try to fix me without really ever listening to me. So they don't really even know or understand what it is they're trying to fix. And if they did, they would probably realize that it can't be fixed, and doesn't really need to be fixed even if it could be.

I'm an anxious, awkward person. No really. I mean, hello! I started this blog post a with a Star Trek reference. I'm awkward, okay.

Back in middle school, high school, even early college, I would have agreed with anyone who said that I needed to change. I would have agreed that my anxiety in social/unfamiliar situations was the result of me letting fear overcome my faith, of sin. I know I would have agreed with anyone who said that, because I DID agree with people who said that.

But as I've gotten older and slightly more comfortable in my skin, I've come to the pretty clear conclusion that I will NEVER stop being awkward. I'll ALWAYS be uncomfortable, and even to some degree, suppressed in unfamiliar situations.

It's not sinfulness to be socially awkward. And while it's not always desirable, it's part of who I am. It's something about me that is unique and even beautiful. Sometimes it makes life harder, but life isn't supposed to be easy. And if someone tries to tell me, usually in a misguided attempt at encouragement, that I'm not awkward, I will fiercely defend my awkwardness. I won't let people try to steal that.

And I know that seems odd to some people, but I learned a long time ago that I am not a strong person. I don't buy into the "believe in yourself" junk that after school specials tried to feed me for most of my childhood. It sounds so good, and maybe if I wasn't so awkward, I might have less trouble believing it.

But God has made me, and I believe God wants me to be awkward. I believe God wants me to be weak. I believe God wants me to believe in Him and not in myself. I believe God has purposes for my anxiety, for my social awkwardness, and I won't let anyone try to steal those things away from me.

And another thing I won't let people steal is my pain. I'll admit, compared to a lot of people, my life's pain is pretty minimal. But to make a long story short and to not go into details that involve others who might not want their story shared, just know that I got my heart broken. It was a little over 8 years ago. And it involved a lot of other painful details that pretty much make it the saddest part of my life.

But the thing is, it was also the most beautiful part my life.

And I don't share that story much because, well it was a long time ago. People never did like to hear me moan on and on about it. Plus, I've healed enough to where I don't need to talk about it much.

But a few years ago, when the wound was fresher, I did need to talk about it. But there were precious few who would listen, really, really listen.

Most of what I got from people was about a minute of half-hearted listening followed by a five minute sermon about why I should move on and how I deserved "God's best" and about how sinful it was to look in the past and rob myself of future joy.

People, for the most part, wanted to fix me instead of really listening to me. And let me tell you, that is one if the most frustrating things in the world. And it hurts me to see it happen to other people, to see well-meaning "identity thieves" trying to "pain share" without really investing anything more than their uninformed, misguided opinion.

Because sometimes "God's best" doesn't look like what we think it should look like. And sometimes God allows or hearts to be broken because that's part of who He wants us to be. And if anyone, however well-meaning, tries to steal away my heartbroken, rejected identity, I will fiercely defend it.

And that might be hard for some to understand. And quite frankly, I don't care whether people understand or not. Understanding isn't as important as respect.

If I, or someone else, was doing something destructive or not following God, then yes, by all means there should be some intervention. That's not meddling; that's biblical brotherly love.

But here's the thing. The pain I have from being rejected is part of who I am, but it doesn't keep me from reaching out and risking to love others. My anxiety and awkwardness don't keep me from stepping out in faith and trying new things. Nothing that the world deems negative is anything that holds me back.

Fear and faith are going to be a constant struggle. They just are. The pain of rejection is always going to haunt me, threatening to make me shy away from reaching it to others. It just is.

But my weaknesses are not as the world sees them, and maybe other people's weaknesses aren't as you see them.

And what's more is that there is mercy in the struggle.

I serve the God who uses the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise, and those that aren't to shame the things that are. 

It's actually a good thing that I am weak, and I WILL boast I'm my weaknesses. For when I am weak, He is strong.

And no one can steal that away.