Sorry, but this doesn’t have anything to do with the weekend. And it’s a bit long. Put your feet up…but not if you’re at work.
When C. S. Lewis’ wife died, he kept a journal of the dark world his heart and mind were thrust into. It was first published under a pseudonym. After his death three years later, A Grief Observed was released with his name. It was revealing. The Great Apologist of Christianity was adrift, unmoored by his emotions, swept along currents that caused him to question all that had anchored his life. He opens with these vulnerable words:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
He would later expose his most unnerving thought:
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.”
As time passed, Lewis rediscovered the presence of God. Not in a supernatural blast of power, but as his soul eventually quieted, the peace of God slipped in almost unnoticed at first.
I can’t say enough about how profound the latest blog post from Angie Matthews is. Angie is the wife of Charlie Matthews who suddenly passed away after acute respiratory failure. My friend Charlie was only in his thirties and excited about leading the Mason Vineyard on the north side of Cincinnati. Angie and her two kids are forging their way through a brave new world.
Here’s the tough thing for many of us Americans to process, yet it shouts out through all of scripture: Suffering, regardless of how it comes or through whom it comes or even why it comes, does something in us that nothing else can. It reorients us to another level of truth. Call it unfair, discriminating or cruel, but suffering can have an effect that nothing else can.
I know an older, deeply devoted believer who can be righteously indignant, sometimes prophetic, sometimes moralistic, sometimes difficult to be around because how easily they can dismiss others, perhaps understandably so at times (remember when the psalmist is so angered at the injustice and cruelty of those persecuting his own people that he screams, “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock”?). But when this person is going through difficult times, interestingly they become softer, less judgmental, and though noticeably unsure of the depth of their faith, more merciful and gracious to others. As an observer of human nature, it’s absolutely fascinating to me.
Anyway, Angie’s slant on truth is beautifully insightful. Listen to a piece of it:
“Perhaps life is not so much an education in the truth, as if learning was the primary activity, but more a gradual acclimation to the truth, contingent on acceptance and sacrifice. Each experience is an opportunity (and option) to gradually focus our vision, such that the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable given the truth is easier to discern. That is not to say that the particulars of life are ever black and white, or that there is always one most right choice in the complex scenarios in which we find ourselves. However, it does seem to apply to how we live, what we value, and to the purpose we pursue…”
“…Suppose my husband dies despite the pleading prayers of hundreds of God’s people. Suppose my kids must grow up without their father. Suppose all my plans for the future must be rewritten. Suppose I feel lost and alone, disappointed, discouraged. Suppose I don’t want to get up, day after day, and face a reality I did not choose. Suppose I do not understand any of it- nor is any explanation likely forthcoming. I frantically look for some gray area to which I can retreat and feel justified in my anger and despair. How can I be sure God is with me? I can’t know that redemption will come. Maybe I was wrong about God. Maybe I am wrong about a lot of things. Maybe I am a fool to think that there is more to this than meets the eye.
“But then I blink back the tears and try to make out the truth again. It was there before, somewhere in this mess it is still here. The fuzzy edges retreat a little. I see I am no longer hiding in a gray area, but standing quite clearly outside the truth. I could cross my eyes, blur my vision, ignore the truth and stay right where I am. Otherwise I have to get moving, headed in the right direction, back toward the truth. Why are my feet so reluctant to move? Why is it so much more appealing to lay down, close my eyes, and sleep? Am I afraid that making this choice now will deny me the option of blaming God should similar, or far worse, circumstances befall me in the future? Yes. Maybe if I hold that little bit back from God (stay just in the edge of the gray) He will think twice about allowing more tragedy and potentially losing me for good. Maybe I can manipulate Him into protecting me. Maybe I am in control. Maybe I know best.
“Maybe I’m a fool after all.”
While few among us would choose to suffer, what we do when—not if—suffering happens will either cause us to surrender to shallowness or give our souls more depth. And I suspect that depth is never to be hoarded. I, for one, am going to lean into listening when someone who deeply loves Jesus finds herself on a desert journey and is willing to reflect on it. Sometimes I just prattle or shut down when I am hurting; but others among us reflect and thus change the worlds of those who listen.
Angie Matthews' blog is here.