What a Difference a Preposition Makes!

She is nameless and faceless in memory but not speechless. What she said is forever etched in my life journal. By changing one word–a preposition–she lifted my grief out of despair.

Every day for a year after my mother’s death, I dissolved into tears. I cried and I cried alone for the suffering she had endured at the hands of my alcoholic father. I remembered his physical abuse. I heard again her blood-curdling screams and the screen door slamming behind her as she ran into the arms of the dark.

I wept over my guileless mother going without money for the barest necessities. Underwear. Sanitary napkins. In the midst of her deprivation, I saw her make sacrifices for her children. More than once her fingers took a bite of meat from her mouth and handed it to my brother who had complained he was still hungry.

Shuttered in my house of mourning, I ached, too, for my mother’s childhood abuse by other hands. Why? She hadn’t done anything. Why was my mother the poster child for innocent victims?

After the alcoholism was a thing of the past, my mother was dehumanized again. This time, in her bedridden years by a urinary catheter bag. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she once told me.

I wished I had visited her more often. If only I had been a better daughter. More thoughtful. Kinder. If only . . . But there were no more chances. They had died with my mother.

As that grim year came to a close, I was tired of flailing about in the quicksand of grief. I wanted to get out–be at peace–but how? The answer came when least expected.

It was my first Sunday to join the group of volunteers who met to pray for the ongoing worship service. The leader began by asking us for personal prayer requests. Maybe it was because I felt safe among these strangers that I divulged being stuck in the torments of grief.

I did not finish with a plea for prayer, however. What bubbled out of me was the cry, “When will I get over this?”

Immediately, the lady, whose face and name are now blanks to me, replied, “You will never get over it. You will get through it.”

That made all the difference. One word. A preposition. Going forward, I only expected myself to get “through” the grief, not “over” it. So it was. And so it is.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me (Psalm 131:2 ESV).

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Yes, He Does

God gives us more than we can bear. Yes, He does. The apostle Paul believed it:  “We should like you, our brothers, to know something of what we went through in Asia. At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end” (2 Corinthians 1:8 Phillips).

The oft-quoted supposedly comforting, reassuring promise “God never gives you more than you can bear” is not in the Bible. Rather, the statement is a misrepresentation of 1 Corinthians 10:13:  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it” (HCSB).

In that quotation Paul is talking about temptation, an enticement to sin. He is not referring to life’s searing experiences of grief, poverty, abuse, sickness, income loss, a devastating divorce, desertion, a gut-wrenching betrayal, hopes dashed, destroyed dreams, rejection, exhausting 24/7 care of a declining parent, loneliness, a murder’s aftermath, a child’s terminal illness, and (you fill in the blank). Already you may have had that sterile moment when your bowels of suffering discharged the plaintive cry, “O God!”

Why does the sovereign God permit crushing burdens to infiltrate our lives–even the lives of those who are diligent in prayer and Bible study? The apostle Paul figured out the answer:  “Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9 Phillips).

You and I are not indomitable. One of us may be able to hold up under a particular suffering longer than someone else, but all of us reach the point where we come to the end of ourselves. Knotted with anxiety, we feel we cannot absorb another thing.

As I placed the onion on the counter, I heard the refrigerator door open and then a thud. Turning, I saw Gail passed out on the floor, her hands curved like a bird’s feet in front of her.

After Jim and I helped her back to bed, I rushed to my study and closed the door. Daddy! Gail! My husband now diagnosed with Parkinson’s! I felt I couldn’t take anymore. I needed help. (page 175 of Before the Door Closes)

The help I needed was God. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been praying to God for wisdom and strength as I fought to protect my father against nursing home neglect and abuse. I was caring for him as I thought God led me. But having now reached my endurance limit, I was at the end of myself and ready to encounter God as Yahweh-Shammah (What’s in a Name?).

My focus had been that I could do as long as God did; but like Paul, I learned that I am to trust, not in myself, but absolutely in God. I needed to let go of me and let God.

The mindset that God will not give me more than I can bear makes life about me and what I can do or should be able to do. Life is never to be about me; it is all about God.

Well acquainted with life’s tempestuous events, King David left us this prayer:

Save Your people,
And bless Your inheritance;
Shepherd them also,
And bear them up forever.”
(Psalm 28:9 NKJV)

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Own It!

Deluded, they take shelter behind the wall of repression. It seems a safe place to hide from the cornucopia of feelings and emotions. Denying them, however, is a false security, which can never result in the desired peace.

How can there be anything wrong with having feelings and emotions? They were built into humankind by the Creator, who Himself possesses them. Take jealousy, for instance.

Jealousy is in God’s personality:  “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 ESV). Holy God is to be the One and Only in the marriage covenant entered into with His people; and  He is emotional about preserving it:  “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies” (Nahum 1:2 ESV). God gets worked up over spiritual adultery.

God also grieves:  “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). Yes, God knows how it feels to have heart-stabbing pain. 

Like Father, like Son. Encountering church leaders headstrong on discrediting Him, Jesus “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5 ESV). And that wasn’t the only time the Son of God showed anger:

In the Temple he discovered cattle and sheep dealers and pigeon-sellers, as well as money-changers sitting at their tables. So he made a rough whip out of rope and drove the whole lot of them, sheep and cattle as well, out of the Temple. He sent the coins of the money-changers flying and turned their tables upside down. Then he said to the pigeon-dealers, “Take those things out of here. Don’t you dare turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered the scripture—‘Zeal for your house has eaten me up’ (John 2:14-17 Phillips).

Jesus was also man enough to cry:

 When Jesus saw Mary weep and noticed the tears of the Jews who came with her, he was deeply moved and visibly distressed.

 “Where have you put him?” he asked.

“Lord, come and see,” they replied, and at this Jesus himself wept.

(John 11:33-35 Phillips)

Obviously, Jesus did not hide from His emotions. Why should we?

Feelings and emotions have no moral value in and of themselves. How one uses free will with the feelings and emotions makes those morally good or bad. The key to emotional health is emotional honesty. Accept the emotion or feeling, admit the emotion or feeling, and decide what action, if any, to give it. Free will enforces the judgment call to act or not to act.

Recently, I, who prided myself on having never told a lie (well, almost never), realized I deluded myself when I did not own up to a feeling. Convincing myself it was for the sake of peace in the relationship and out of kindness for the other person’s feelings, I “sucked up” what I felt was a personal offense time and again. Each time I locked it inside me, and the relationship I had thought would become beautiful corroded bit by bit.

Suppose I had been honest with the other person from the get-go and admitted my feelings were hurt. If I had truthfully said after the first occurrence “That makes me sad” instead of repressing the feeling, perhaps the relationship would not have eroded.

Behind the wall of repression is not a safety zone. Rather, it is a place of delusion. We have the free will not to go there or not to stay there, for “by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29 ESV).

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The Opt-Out

“The patience of Job” is a misnomer, for patience implies exercising calmness while under hardship. That wasn’t Job! He was a complainer who endured. When he decided he had finally “had it,” Job demanded his day in court with  God. Once the Almighty heard his arguments, he would  undoubtedly be vindicated (Job 23:1-5)!

When the Judge comes, he opens the case by essentially telling Job he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (Job 38:2). Again and again God makes Job face the evidence of His sovereignty and grandeur. When the examination ends, Job, left speechless (Job 40:1-5), becomes God’s all-weather friend.

That’s how I described the friend  in my post of March 10. She had assured me that no matter what she would learn about me in my book Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father, she would love me. Nothing I had done or been in the past would change that. Job reached that point in his relationship with God when, like her, he opted out of being a fair-weather friend.
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Out of Order

In commenting on my previous post, “The All-Weather Friend,” Carolyn revealed that she learned from classmates after she was grown they had similar stories to mine. She regrets not knowing their secret earlier so that she could have been of support at the time.

Her regret reminded me of André Auw’s poem “Out of Order,”  which tells of a little boy wanting to cry because he couldn’t get the popcorn machine to release the popcorn it held. He didn’t understand that his desire and his money were not enough to make the broken machine work. The poem then concludes:

And Lord, I too felt like weeping, weeping for
people who have become locked in,
jammed, broken machines filled with
goodness that other people need and
want and yet will never come to enjoy,
because somehow, somewhere,
something has gone wrong inside.

Many lives cloister wounded feelings, bruising as easily as magnolia petals. We do not always recognize these mangled souls. We may meet them only briefly. In a crowded store. At the gas pump. During a “move on” business call.

A patient word, a thumbs-up gesture, a simple thank you to these nameless victims may be enough salve for them to make it through another day. And what’s the price? A passing moment of stepping outside ourselves.

But what about the life who is harboring undeserved hurts? You do not have to pass them on. You have the power to break the cycle. You can help others not to be out of order too!
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