“You’re blushing” she pointed out with a smile and questioning giggle.“Oh, I am…”I thought to myself. I was trying to be brave; I tried to smile, but at that moment I wanted to do anything but smile. This outward blush wasn’t that of sweet and bashful joy, but raw, painful embarrassment. I fought back tears as I finished the game. I was standing in the center of a huge group of people and found myself fumbling with words and long pauses as my voice started to crack. “This is not the way I want to feel” I thought. “I thought I was stronger that this.” At one point I realized that I was taking too long and threw out some “lame” answer and it was over. But the embarrassment wasn’t and the feelings continued to haunt me.
I felt powerless against my irrational feelings, against the lies and embarrassment in that moment. Slowly I sat down, thankful that I hadn’t burst into tears. I never like to cry in public and often struggle to let the tears come even when I’m by myself.
“It’s okay to cry Rachel,” I was told later, “It’s a good thing, and it releases good chemicals.” I wasn’t convinced despite the shaking of my chest. I felt my throat tighten and tried to relax, but the tears were soon swallowed up…perhaps by my pride.
“You have kept count of my tossings;[a] put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
Thanksgiving is the start of the holidays and as it would seem, a season of great reflection. Oh how greatly I have been blessed by the love, support, admonishment and grace of God and His saints. Why would a moment (or season) of embarrassment cause me to question such blessings?
“This is supposed to be an exciting time; you’re in your twenties!” So sweetly stated, the comment was intended to encourage me forward to excitement, but I wasn’t excited and this time the tears weren’t swallowed by my pride. “She’s right…” I thought,“ I should be running towards the exciting things, the scary things, the risky things.” So why did I feel like doing the opposite? The thrill of something new was less than appealing.
“For the Lord will not cast off forever,
but, though He cause grief he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men.” Lamentations 3:31-33
Have you ever found a verse that you can’t move past? Usually, I read verse to verse and look for the “big picture”, but this verse stopped me in my tracks. Did you know that Lamentations is the most rigorous book in how it is structured? This book is in acrostic form. This means that the first letter (or syllable, or word) of each line (or paragraph) spells out a word, message or the alphabet. John Piper recognizes this fact and comments that it is, “…perhaps to show us that our pain is bounded, channeled…”
Just like a river, our pain is channeled and moving somewhere.
So I’m asking myself, do you see how God’s heart is brimming with love & compassion? Do you see that He doesn’t afflict from His heart? Do you see how this modifies both the affliction and the grief? What a wonderful remarkable revelation!“Our pain is a means to the good that God does delight in.” (again, John Piper.) Oh that I would naturally long to submit to that sovereign love more and more each day, but in reality it is a discipline.
Paul Maxwell writes, “God doesn’t promise that His truths will always carry the wit of that guy in your creative writing MFA that’s putting you $25,000 in debt. God says trite things — God repeats one single, unoriginal, overstated, overplayed truth again and again because we forget it just as often: ‘Work, for I am with you’ (Haggai 2:4). ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). ‘The Lord is near to the brokenhearted’ (Psalm 34:18).”
The shepherd will never stop caring for His sheep. No matter how many times we are “cast down” and can’t turn ourselves aright, He will never abandon or forget us. He is never apathetic, never careless, never weary or abusive.
“I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15
“Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:15–16)
“I thought I wouldn’t have to still struggle with these things!” I exclaimed in a much stronger tone than intended. Whether intentional or not, I had created a timeline for much of my life; whether it be for schooling, work, relationships, or family. I longed to have complete victory in one area of struggle or another. I desired to feel more adequate and wise.
Despite these desires I am reminded daily that God doesn’t work on my timeline!
And you know what, that is a huge blessing! That is something to be excited about. I can rejoice in knowing that He is so much wiser than I will ever be. I don’t want to glory in my own accomplishments, self-discipline or growth. I want to glory in the truth, in something beyond me. I want to glory in greater understanding of the Lord and His goodness.
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.…” – Jeremiah 9:23-24
So when I am tempted to glory in my own “hard work,” I can be thankful for the challenge to lean on the guidance and strength of our God. While I may be completely baffled as to what I should pursue in the coming week, day or hour, I can know what He is calling me to do in the next few minutes! The future may still be cloudy, the future pain unknown, the joys not yet seen, the direction unsure, but I can cling to what I know. I can submit to God’s sovereignty knowing that He will never abandon or forsake those who love him and are called according to His purpose.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV) Romans 8:28
May we keep our eyes fixed on His purpose and His goodness.