On joy and pain

Tealights

So many things we achieve are achieved only through struggle and conflict, not in easy ways. They always seem to involve crosses. I have so longed to find somewhere in life some corner where joy is unmingled with pain. But I have never found it. Wherever I find joy, my own or other people’s, it always seems to be mingled with pain. And I find that the people I most respect are people who know the link between joy and pain. And I have found that if we will own pain and weep over it together, we will also find Christ’s overflowing comfort. The bad news is that there may be no corner of reality where joy is not related to pain. The good news is that there is no corner of reality where pain cannot be transformed into overflowing joy.

– John Goldingay, Walk On: Life, Loss, Trust, and Other Realities

For more on loss, click here.

Caterpillar to Butterfly: A Poem

Caterpillar to butterfly
without the cocoon
Changing, growing, becoming
all out in the open for everyone to see
Wanting to be hidden
in the safety of obscurity

I feel like a child
jumping around trying to wave my arms so people will see me
“This is not who I’ll always be
Don’t write me off yet
Wait till you see who I become
what I become
I’ll make you proud”

I guess if you’re sticking with me now
you must love me more than I love myself
coz I don’t think I would …

Maybe that’s what I need:
your perspective

— Justin Fung, November 5, 2007

The day God broke my heart and changed my life (again)

Original post: March 19, 2008; update: January 26, 2010. March 19 was the day I think God really spoke to me about the direction of my life; this was the day that God really broke my heart for justice; this was the day I found my calling.

Part of the fun (I use that term ironically) of letting God do what he wants is that he may (read: often, at least in my experience) do some breaking, so that we don’t carry all of our preconceptions and pride and baggage with us. So in tandem with the excitement of the last week, God’s also been breaking me. Seriously.

Shattering.

And it hasn’t been comfortable, even though I know it’s good for me.

The following is a mosaic of words from songs and books (Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, U2’s When I Look at the World, Broken by Lifehouse, and Jars of Clay’s God Will Lift Up Your Head; oh, and the Bible) that I’ve been reading and listening to lately. God is messing me up.

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing; with a broken heart that’s still beating. In the pain, there is healing; in your name, I find meaning. So I’m holding on, I’m barely holding on to you …

Thus says the Lord: maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance will be revealed.

We are called not to be successful but to be faithful.

Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

When you look at the world, what is it that you see?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see them naked, to cover them?

When there’s all kinds of chaos and everyone is walking lame.

Love your neighbor as yourself. We are the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. Christ is living inside of you and me, walking the earth.

So I try to be like you, try to feel it like you do. But without you it’s no use; I can’t see what you see when I look at the world.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly. … Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”

We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. … We can adore his cross without taking up ours.

And I am here still waiting, though I still have my doubts; I’m hanging on another day just to see what you will throw my way. And I’m hanging on to the words you say; you said that I will be okay.

I can’t wait any longer, I can’t wait till I’m stronger. I can’t wait any longer to see what you see when I look at the world …

Give to the wind your fear; hope and be undismayed. God hears your sighs and counts your tears; God will lift up your head!

Leave to His sovereign sway to choose and to command …

Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way. Wait coz in His time, so shall this night soon end in joy. Soon end in joy.

Truth: Us < Life < God

Original post: September 25, 2007; update: January 25, 2010.

God spoke to me through my crazy dreams last night. Not so much in an audible booming voice, but more in what he revealed: about relationships, about life struggles, about my wanting to escape, feeling pressured and pursued (not in a good way).

I want to remain in Christ.

See, for the last couple weeks—I guess, since the end of summer assignments meant I had more time to process—I’ve been incredibly frustrated with life. And over the last few days, I’ve come to realize that one of the main reasons for this frustration is that I can’t have what I want. Not right now, anyway; and this applies to a number of things in my life. But I know that it’s not the right time, it’s not the right season.

Life—the Christian life—is made up of seasons. And the one that I’m in now is one of frustration, of helplessness, of waiting, of patience, of difficulty, of discontent, of struggle. And I’m realizing that that’s okay—I don’t think the psalmist was particularly exuberant when he expressed his feelings of abandonment by God in Psalm 22; I don’t think he was in a particularly happy place. But he knew where to turn. And so do I.

God is preparing me, reshaping me, pruning me. And it hurts. It hurts like hell. And I kick and shout because I don’t like it, because I don’t want to be hurting or in pain or in difficulty. But my Father holds me tighter in his arms, tears in his eyes because he hurts to see me in pain, and he whispers: “I know this isn’t nice; I know it hurts; I know you would rather be anywhere but here. But it’s for your good. It’s for your future. And after this season, there will be a season of joy. Though the sorrow may last for a night, the joy comes in the morning. After the hurricane, the sun will burst through.”

A few years ago, I had a vision of a horse, straining at the bit, wanting to be given its head and being released to run. And God, the rider, was crouched close to the horse’s ear and saying, “Just a little longer, and then you can go as fast as you want …” There is a time for everything, a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 6). If we try to push ahead, to force the right time to come around, we’re working on our agenda, on our timing, which doesn’t—can’t—take into consideration the bigger picture, the universal scheme of things.

There’s a human desire to see things done the way we want them done, at the time that we want. But life is bigger than us.

Fortunately, God is bigger than life. And it’s in trusting him—especially in the times when we just want out—that we grow the most. Coz that’s what relationship’s about: growing in trust and love, learning to let God do what he’s doing, coz he knows far better than we do what he’s up to.

The scars we bear

Original post: August 8, 2007. Update: January 17, 2010.

“Scar tissue that I wish you saw …” (Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Scar Tissue’)

Just below my left knee is a scar from slicing my leg open roller-skating when I was about 12. When I was 14, I managed to explode a small (fortunately almost-empty) canister of gas while throwing a tantrum; as a result, I have a faint scar on my nose that shows how close I came to being blinded. When I was 21, a kid fractured my fibula with a bad tackle while playing soccer; it still aches now and again, and still affects my ankle a little when I run. When I was 24, I jammed my right ring finger playing sports; now, whenever I uncurl my fingers, it clicks. When I was 26, I split my leg open to the bone (and had to get 18 stitches) trying to impress a girl.

I’ve picked up a few scars over the years; we all do. Some of them are physical; some are emotional; some psychological; some spiritual. Living in a fallen world, there’s no way to not get hurt in some way or another. Some of the wounds that we suffer hurt like hell. And sometimes, it can feel as though these wounds will never heal.

Humans are paradoxes: we are both fragile and resilient, made of stuff both frail and indomitable. We do heal, though sometimes it can take a long, long time. Yet though we may heal, we often still bear the scars from these wounds–from the experiences, relationships, events, that cause us to hurt.

Looking forward, I wonder if we’ll bear these scars—these healed-over wounds—on our new bodies, our bodies fitted for eternity. Each scar carries a memory, an association, good and bad: for instance, when my leg got broken playing soccer, Ally looked after me the entire weekend, driving me around and basically nursing me through my grumpy times; when I split my leg open, my new friend Kelly came to the clinic with me and watched the doctor scrub the dirt out of my leg; when Amanda broke my heart, my friends–Matt, Adam, Benjie, and Tim–came around me to help me back on my feet.

Upon noting that Jesus still bore the scars of the nails in his hands and feet after the resurrection, one of my friends posited this hypothesis: maybe we’ll bear the scars that we bore for the sake of the kingdom; and they will be scars that we can be proud of.

Now I’m not glorifying pain, or making light of (by philosophizing about) deep wounds (especially emotional) that we suffer. But I found this definition helpful:

Scar:

  1. a mark left by a healed wound—an area of fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin (or other tissue) after injury. A scar results from the biologic process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process.
  2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, trauma or suffering.

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Rom. 5:3-5, Message)