Shielding Ourselves From Hurt

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The bad news is that we’re not going to be able to protect ourselves from getting hurt in this life (but you already know that). But boy, do we try! 

We dislike pain and avoid it at all costs. We don’t care to repeat it—ever. Though we may not articulate it, in order to protect ourselves from getting hurt again, we often manufacture a protective piece of armor. We use these shields in an attempt to keep others out, or at least keep them from getting too close.

Our shields take different forms. We might assume an arms-length shield where we keep people at a safe distance. There’s the tough-guy shield nothing can penetrate, or its close model, the overconfident shield that exudes control. Some hide behind a porcupine shield, ready to expel missives at the slightest hint of hurt. While others hide inside a box shield becoming disengaged, closed-off forms of a former self. Others assume the surface shield emitting an everything’s-perfect false facade.

Each shield is a fearful and futile attempt to protect ourselves from facing the uncertainty and vulnerability needed for authentic relationships. No matter which model of shield we assume, it blocks us from the exact thing we most need. Love and intimacy. 

The hurts we experience rip us wide open. Like a sucker punch in the gut, they rock us to our core and bring us to our knees. We think we won’t manage the next breath, let alone the next step. But our shields don’t help us. They hinder and hurt us even more. Not only do they steal from the fulness of relationships they also keep us from finding healing.

A shield is a lie that prevents us from the freedom to be found on the other side of our pain.

When we are torn open, light can pour in. And though perhaps not the reason you ended up on your knees, it is a pretty decent posture for prayer. The tears washing over your cheeks could be the start of a soul-cleansing you would have never thought possible.

But not if you refuse comfort. Not if you shield yourself from love.

Because no matter what has happened. No matter how horribly you’ve been hurt. Despite how used or abused or rejected you’ve been, or how much you’ve inflicted harm on others as a result of your own hurt, there’s a place for all of that pain.

It’s found at the foot of the cross.

It’s found at the feet of the one who loved you so entirely that he died for you. The one who loves you more than anyone ever could. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

All the pain you’ve ever experienced as a result of the thoughtless or intentional actions of others can be brought to Jesus. He won’t undermine the pain or treat it carelessly. He understands it intimately because he died for all of it—all the sins of humankind—past, present, and future. 

In dying for this sin, he defeated it and offers each of us freedom from not only the harmful sins of others but from our own sin. God’s love is pure and trustworthy. When you give him your heart he will not damage it, he will renew it. He is both able and faithful to heal the broken bits of our lives. His miraculous love soaks into the deepest places and reaches our deepest needs. Nothing to compare to the limitless love of Jesus.

Deuteronomy 31:6 also tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them.” It seems we have a part to play. And so we take courage. We set down our shields. We turn our backs on our fearful hiding.

Ironically, the lowering of our shields ushers in the kind of love we desperately long for—complete, unconditional, unearned love—the kind of love only God provides. When we drop our protective measures, admit defeat and our desperate need for this soul-saving love, God meets us in our pain, he joins us in our wrecked and ruined circumstances. We no longer have to suffer or survive alone.

Since God has promised to go with us and never leave us, we can take his outstretched hand and move forward into the hope, healing, and wholeness Jesus died for. We only look back to see how far we’ve come. Instead of our fearful shields, we’re engulfed and secured in God’s healing love and protective peace.

Now, when we’re mistreated and rush to raise our shields, the balm of his heavenly love soothes us and reminds us to be courageous and keep our guard down. We feel the hurt, but we also understand how it feels to be forgiven, and so we forgive others just as he forgave us. God’s remarkable love gives us the courage and strength to love others more fully and unconditionally, and to be loved more fully ourselves. 

Little by little, and sometimes all at once, our pain dissipates. And somehow, God miraculously takes all that was broken and makes beauty.

In the end, we don’t need the shield. We need the Saviour.

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  1. What sort of shield are you using to protect yourself from getting hurt? Is it working?

 

 

 

 

This Is Not Heaven

61555202_676562199467770_2025329413687607296_nThis time of year is spectacular in Southern Ontario with its breathtaking array of flowering trees. There’s magnolias in all their splendor, the heavenly scent of lilacs, and cherry blossoms that take your breath away. The birds join in nature’s show adding songs that span daytime and reach into dusk.

Yet however fragrant the blooms, however sweet the birds’ chorus, all of this is just a mere scent of heaven. Anything of any beauty we experience here is only a small taste of things to come.

Amid these fleeting pockets of beauty and moments that take our breath away, we’re aware that the here and now is not heaven. Alongside the beauty, there’s heartache and hate, pain and poverty, tears and turmoil. There’s darkness that displaces light and depravity that dipells hope. Sometimes, despite the fragrance of heaven, the next breath is difficult and painful.

The world aches and our hearts throb, yet we try to replicate heaven on earth. We seek comfort, perfection, and beauty while desperately avoiding pain. We numb ourselves to distract the discomforting soul sores or the courage that it would take to face them. As a result we’re addicts clinging to cheap imitations of heaven while trying to break free of our various pacifiers. We reach for anything that will displace the pain for a while, silence the desperate cry of our hearts, or fill our empty places while running from the very thing that offers us the heaven we seek.

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No matter how beautiful the flowers, how idyllic a moment, how much a vacation feels like paradise, or a person like perfection, all pales in comparison to the real deal: knowing Jesus. It’s that friendship that fills the heart holes, heals the hurt, wipes away the wounding, and purchases the paradise you’re longing for. But to find it we need to release our misguided grip on the here and now, stop trying to fabricate heaven on earth, and reach for the promise—the person—of Jesus.

When we do, all that once seemed so important will lose its shine. All that we use to deal instead of heal will lose its lustre. This is how the apostle Paul put it: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

Strangely enough, heaven comes down—bursts right into the imperfection, heartache, futility, and falsehood, answering the groans of humanity with a healing love. A kind of love that makes room for the mess of this place, while cleaning up the garbage in our lives. In Jesus, we find the answer to our deepest needs, peace in the imperfection, deep joy despite circumstances, and the promise of a heavenly home.

What would it take for us to loosen our grip on the things of this world, to trade in the comforts we’ve tucked around our lives attempting to buffer the blows and ease the pain? In an act of faith we can reach for—or return to—Jesus and let him be the peacemaker and joy-giver of our lives.

This week’s song: “What a Beautiful Name”

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  1. What are you doing to numb the pain, fill the void, or find happiness? Is it working?
  2. If not, try Jesus. He’s been the answer to my deepest needs.

 

 

 

 

Enough

shutterstock_107062958.jpgI was addicted to chocolate. By mid-morning, I’d be rummaging through the cupboard for any available morsel. One was never enough. A handful failed to quench my desire. Why on earth would anyone choose apple pie over chocolate mousse? I wasn’t one to put on weight easily, so my addiction remained hidden.

What is it about our human condition that makes it shockingly easy to over-indulge? Why such insatiable appetites? And it’s not just food. It can be anything. Too much TV, shopping, work, or working out. Too much wine, whining, or finding fault. Too much of anything unmanaged can easily become destructive.

Enough is enough. Only it isn’t. What propels us to keep filling up? We only need more when we’re empty. There’s not enough chocolate in the world to fill what was never meant to be replaced by cocoa or caffeine—or anything else for that matter. No amount of promotions or Pinterest, Doritos or dopamine, nicotine or numbing drugs, gambling or gaming, shopping or shows, food or fashion, sex or social media will ever manufacture the real hit you desire.

But all of these fillers feel good—for a time. Until they don’t.

Because here’s the thing: there’s a God-sized hole in our souls meant only to be filled by God. But we stuff the space full and sell ourselves short with cheap imitations. We run and hide. We misunderstand what it means to know God and the true peace and joy that accompanies this relationship. We wonder if trading in our habits and addictions for friendship with God will be boring. We may even believe our sins are too great for us to be accepted by God.

The truth is God made you and delights in you. You aren’t a random hunk of matter going through the motions until you die. You MATTER to him. He lived to die for you so all the filth in your life can be wiped clean. The cross bought your second chance. Jesus died to not only assure you eternity but to offer you a more abundant life today.

If you think you’re too messed-up to be eligible, you’re wrong. In his own words, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) All your mess-ups are erased the moment you accept Jesus. You begin again—a glorious part two—but now you have his Holy Spirit to help and guide you. You’re no longer alone. He fills the empty hole with his love, joy, and peace with enough to share with others. No matter how deep the hole, how old you are, how messy you feel, it’s not too late.

Are you content with the life you’re living today? Is there an emptiness you’ve never managed to fill? Have the quick fixes provided long-term satisfaction? Do you wonder if there’s something more, or a better way to live? Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). And in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

One simple prayer to God, asking him to forgive your sins and be the true God of your life, can alter your every tomorrow. I know because it has mine, and I’ve never looked back.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” ~ 1 John 1:9

More next time on how my chocolate addiction was resolved…

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  1. What are you using to fill the God-sized hole in your life?
  2. If you confess your sins and receive him, he will make you new.

 

 

Nose Tears

crying picRecently, my 10-year-old told me something enlightening. She said she learned in school that when you cry and your nose runs, it’s actually tears coming out of your nostrils. Nose tears? I was astounded. How could I have lived for forty-eight years and never heard of this phenomenon? This led me to think about all the other times my nose runs besides when I cry or have a cold.

For instance, my nose often runs when I’m enjoying hot food, particularly soup. I’m rather partial to soup. Does this mean I’m crying tears of joy while sipping? I experience a runny nose when outside in the cold. I rather dislike the cold. Perhaps I’m crying tears of pain that I must endure Canadian winters. And when I go for a run, my nose runs along with me. Are these tears of elation since running has always been a passion of mine, or my body secretly shedding tears of compassion for the endurance needed to complete the rigorous exercise?

Apparently there are different types of tears. My daughter informed me there are psychic tears (happiness or sadness), basal tears to keep the eyes lubricated, and reflex tears as a response to things like onions or tear gas. I looked it up and learned that the various types also look different under a microscope (see image below). How cool is that?

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The Topography of Tears ~Rose-Lynn Fisher

It’s amazing to me that God created us to release different types of tears, but also an outpouring of them when we experience strong emotions. Physic tears contain a natural painkiller, called leucine enkephalin, that also acts to improve mood. Apparently, when we shed tears, built-up chemicals are released from the body. I suppose the release of these endorphins and chemicals explain why we feel better after a good cry.

I have always loved this verse:

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. ~ Psalm 56:8

The idea that God keeps track of my pain and sadness, and even records them, is a marvelous comfort to me. But that he collects my tears and that they are precious to him brings tears of joy and wonder itself. It shows that our suffering matters to him—intimately. Not one tear or trial are forgotten by him. He hears every pain-riddled prayer and sees every soul-searing sorrow we experience.

I envision arriving in heaven and God holding up my tear jar. I imagine him sitting next to me flipping through the pages of my book of sorrows. I picture him showing me how all the pain and hardship I experienced on earth fit together. I’ll be in awe of how all the trials had a purpose even though I couldn’t understand while in the midst of them. I’ll be amazed at the way his mercy met me at every turn, how his love anchored me, and how his arms carried me through it all; nothing unnoticed by his loving gaze. I’ll gape at how God used it all and somehow managed to turn it into pure gold.

If tears have been your steady companion as of late, and trials pour in like the spring rains, take heart. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6) You are not abandoned or forgotten. He collects those tears and records your sorrows. He sees it all.

Before Jesus was led to the cross, he warned his disciples about some of the trials to come saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This life will not be without trials, we aren’t in heaven yet, but we have God’s spirit to help, guide, and comfort us.

His love is tender and true, and he hasn’t forgotten you!

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  1. Sometimes in trials we are tempted to think God doesn’t care or has forgotten us.
  2. How does it make you feel to know God collects your tears and records every bit of your sorrows?
  3. His love is unlimited and unconditional. Cling to him even in this trial.

If you enjoyed this devo, look for Soul Focus – 30-Day Devotional & Journal (coming Fall 2019), a collection of daily encouragements for overcoming life’s trials. Click here to learn more: Books  

 

 

When I Die

Twenty-six springs have passed since we moved into our neighbourhood. I can’t say how long before we arrived, but even back then an elderly couple lived at the corner house across the street. Every spring their garden came alive and apart from winter, you’d be sure to find them planting, puttering, and tending their blooming menagerie.

This spring, as every other, their flowers are once again pushing toward their prolific show. The green beginnings of new life poke out from the soil declaring winter’s end. You wouldn’t know it to look at the garden, but something is different; one of the caretakers is no longer there. The man sits alone in that sacred space the two of them once shared. The flowers silently about their cheery work won’t tell you that late last summer, the woman passed away in her beloved garden as her family gathered to celebrate her birthday.

Though shockingly sad and sudden, a small space in me can’t help but think that’s just the very place she would have picked; departing from this world on the same day she arrived several decades apart in the place she most loved. Now her garden lives on—a flowering legacy for others. All the beauty she painstakingly sowed now being enjoyed by every passerby.

I think of my life. Will I sow flowers? Will others be left better than I found them? Will the things I’ve done make some small, meaningful impact for good? Will beauty poke out of the dark crevices of others’ lives because of some small deposit dropped into their soul? Perhaps a kind word or deed, an encouragement or offered shoulder in the storm.

I know it’s not just about kindnesses. It’s about choices. One thought in particular nestles into the fabric of everyone’s thoughts, especially as the latter years settle in: where will I go after this? Many prefer to push away thoughts of death, but I’d rather face them head-on. Eternity awaits, and though I don’t morbidly live for my last breath, I should live each day as if it were my last.

I’m sure my flower-loving neighbour had no warning of the sudden heart attack she would experience that day. In this way, I too cannot predict how many days I’m gifted with or which moment will be my last. But I want to be ready: better prepared than I’ve ever been for anything in my life.

When I leave behind the shell I was given to move me through this world—the one that enabled me to speak and write out thoughts, to reach out with hands to comfort, to walk to the places I was meant to tread—my spirit will live forever. That’s where the choice comes in. We each have a decision to make, and it affects where we spend eternity.

It’s not complicated. At least, it wasn’t meant to be. There’s only one decision to make, and I can make it well ahead of time. And I have. I chose Jesus. I chose to accept his free gift of life and love he purchased for me (and you) on the cross. I admitted my sin, asked for forgiveness, and now live each day assured that when my time comes I’m saved from hell, and will be with him forever in heaven. There’s not a thing I can do to assure heaven except to believe and receive Jesus. I cannot take anything with me save my faith in him.

I’m sure heaven’s gardens are glorious. It’s my hope we’ll dance there together among the flowers!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

~ John 14:6

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

~ Revelation 21:4

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  1. If tomorrow were your last day on earth, are you certain where you would spend eternity?
  2. If not, a simple, heartfelt prayer can change that. There is no formula. Just speak to God and tell him you are sorry for the wrongs that you have done, that you believe Jesus died for them and paid the price so you can spend eternity with him in heaven. Ask for his forgiveness. Move forward with his Holy Spirit as your guide.
  3. The best way to learn about God is to read the Bible, find a Christ-centered church, and surround yourself with other Christ-followers.

 

A Eulogy for My Best Friend

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This Easter weekend, I’d like to introduce you to someone I’m most fond of. He may be the most misunderstood man who ever lived. But I love him for it, because he’s probably the only man who didn’t care one bit about any of that. And because he didn’t care about what others thought of him, he was unswerving in his life’s purpose.

He didn’t get in the way, like some religious people of his time, and block others from seeing God. He showed up in unlikely places—often with the unpopular—and pointed people to his father. Instead of harsh judgement and criticism, he honoured everyone: men, women, and children, and reached out to those on the outskirts of society who would have appeared unholy, unworthy, and labelled sinners by the “religious”. He showed great compassion and said they were the ones he came to call (see Luke 5:32). He offered healing, grace, love, hope, and peace to anyone who would listen and even offered his very life. He gave all, for all, until his last breath.

He was the most unselfish person the world has ever known. His life was lived for his father’s purposes for the sake of others. Every place he stepped, every action he took, every word he spoke was for another’s benefit. His mission was clear: to show God’s love in a myriad of ways so all could see, hear, and understand his father’s great mercy and love.

The beauty of his unfathomable life is that none of it was typical—nothing you’d expect of a king. That was part of the problem. People found his humanness and humility unfitting. It was difficult to take him seriously and hard to accept that he wouldn’t fit their preconceived idea of God. Those who had spent their whole lives waiting for him, missed him. Those who should have known better, crucified him.

This is how one man explained him:

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”  ~ Isaiah 53:3

In the end, even his closest friends scattered. He died utterly alone, and it appeared his thirty-three years on the earth had amounted to nothing. But I adore the way looks are deceiving, and more than that, how his heart-wrenching obedience changed everything. Because he suffered the most horrific death known to humankind, I was offered a second crack at life—a chance to surrender the life I deemed so dear for a new one with him.

He once said: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30

And there it is, with him I live freely and lightly; the heaviness of all the things I wasn’t meant to carry handed over. My burdens lifted, my sins wiped out, and my mind renewed. All the former things fade in importance for the friendship found in him. And as the load is lifted, love fills the deadened creases of my life. This same love brings with it a breath of freedom and joy, and peace that ignites hope. You can’t describe his beauty. It’s something to behold.

He moves into our tired lives when we let go. But it’s not easy—the letting go. You see it at the cross, this refusal to release. Some hanging on tightly to their position or praise, others hanging on to disbelief, and others to the material things of this world, grasping at anything that seems too precious to leave behind. Because what is known feels safer than launching into the unknown, even if the known is mediocre at best. But all the praise, position, money, best behaviour, or good deeds count for nothing if I reject him.

His radical, life-altering offer is extended to all. No one left behind. No matter where you come from or what you’ve done, you aren’t excluded. His forgiveness is a free, unearned gift, and when you receive it—believe in and trust him—you’re renewed for today and preserved for eternity.

You’re beautifully and unconditionally accepted and adored by the creator of the universe, all because one Easter, over two thousand years ago, Jesus died for you.

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God loves you. There isn’t a thing you can do, or not do, to earn his love. With a simple prayer, you can receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and step into tomorrow with him.

Beautiful Things

There are so many beautiful things in this life, each day bursting with beauty just waiting to be noticed and celebrated, all miraculous in their own way.

But sometimes I’ve missed the beauty—the holy moments—consumed by my own preoccupations. Sometimes I’ve failed to recognise that these simple moments strung together comprise my life—not a bit of which I prefer to miss. Beautiful things like a stranger’s smile, a tiny, chubby-handed wave, that first sip of morning coffee, the belly laugh of a child, and the birds’ chorus lifting in the air.

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So here’s my reflection of some other beautiful things I’m thankful for today:

latte art tirelessly created by the barista who smiles though the job has its not-so-nice bits

humans who are willing to give time, talent and resources to help others

the spectacular sun on my shoulders that gives life and warmth to our planet

my visionary husband, best-friend and biggest cheerleader, who I get to walk life alongside

my children, the great loves of my life, who have brought me untold joy and laughter and whose various talents I have the joy of celebrating

dear family and friends who crowd around to support and love me and who I get to love and encourage in return

the “prayer ladies” who have bolstered my faith and enriched my life

words to string together to create something from nothing

colours to mix and swirl together on a canvas

a quiet moment to reflect, chose thankfulness and make course corrections

beautiful books that challenge and change the world

flowers and plants to care for that add colour and texture my life’s canvas

the canopy of trees to offer comforting shade and life-giving oxygen

a body to move me to the places I’m meant to tread

arms to draw in another soul reminding them they are cherished

my next breath to inhale, providing another chance to live well

eyes to see all this terrific beauty

Christ’s love and sacrifice that changed everything.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

~ Colossians 3:15-17 (The Message)
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What are some beautiful things you’re thankful for? I love to hear them!