School begins in a couple weeks…maybe. Who knows in all this uncertainty? The one thing I’m told to accept in this season is change. So. Much. Change.
I cannot think of many things that are certain besides what we will have for dinner…if the grocery store has all the ingredients, of course.
As the pandemic continues my tolerance of change is wearing thin. I want to know things. I want to be sure of something. I want to be able to tell my kids a piece of information I’m certain will not change.
Right now, I want to do something normal. I want to buy school supplies. I want there to be a list and I want to buy everything new, neatly packaged and put it in a backpack because it feels normal.
But I don’t need all the things on the list. I don’t know if my kids will darken a school door in a historically “normal” way. But I don’t really care.
I want the order to calm the storm that is happening around us.
When I check the news or social media, it provides mostly grief. We are all trying to latch onto something certain like desperate people drowning at sea.
Maybe its a politician, a plan, an ideology, or conspiracy theory…but we want a life preserver.
And when we think it will save us, we latch on hard. So hard.
One phrase in my readings of the Bible comes to mind often when I feel so much want that I don’t know what to do with it. Where do I go with these impossible longings for a life that looks different than our current reality?
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
God wasn’t just talking about food. He is talking about total reliance on Him to fulfill our needs, wants, and desires. In the context of this verse, God’s people are going to many, many other people for stability.
It’s worth noting who they were going to:
Spiritual leaders who promised peace when God was promising captivity.
Political leaders who promised power when God’s power was with other nations.
Foreign leaders who promised alliance when God said rely on Him.
Material objects that promised fulfillment when God said only He could fulfill.
And nothing has changed, has it? I still want to go to these things and claim a place of power, of agency over my circumstances. More than many other turbulent times in my life, this era is unique in its universalism.
The whole world is scrambling.
The whole world is longing for the same things. But will we go to the One who is truly capable of providing for us?
I don’t know. I hope so. I labor towards that end.
And I open my soul mouth wide, naming all my hungers, and I wait and trust that God will feed me.
Somehow. In some way. Because He promised He would.
I don’t know how He will do it, but I am eager to see.
When my father got sick, I wrote about it in real-time. A few of those blog posts were widely shared and read due to the circumstances of his sickness and death.
Did I exploit his situation? I knew he did not think so. He was more than happy for many more to hear about his life in Christ, even while his body was dying. But, the thought lingered.
Recently, I listened to a podcast by Michael Hyatt titled Keys to Writing a Killer Blogpost. I highly recommend it. At one point, Hyatt mentions the concept of stewarding our lives. Stewarding our stories. Stewarding our suffering. It resonated with me.
Hyatt’s podcast fleshed out in words what I hoped for and still hope for through my writing. In some way, I wanted to steward my dad’s suffering. Beyond that, I want to grow in stewarding my own.
So, what is a steward?
A steward is by definition in Merriam-Webster’s: one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts). Or, one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution.
A steward is a manager. At best, they are fair and look after those affairs given to them in honesty. At worst, they are insubordinate, embezzling and neglecting their responsibilities causing people to suffer so they can gain. I imagine a mediocre steward fails to recognize the importance of their job.
I’ve failed miserably at stewarding other hard things in my life to the hurt of some very dear to me. Lately, I sense that every day I am faced with the invitation to be a steward. Sometimes its my own situation I must steward. At times, it is someone else’s.
What does it take to be a good manager of what God entrusts to me? It starts with turning away from some common lies about our master.
God doesn’t care about my suffering…
Sometimes I feel like I am working at a distance from God. I’m in a cubicle, one of many. I’m an ill prepared employee blaming my boss. He’s not around to know how hard it is and He didn’t send me to that training. I grow resentful.
I see the opposite of a distant and uncaring God in the Bible when Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death. When the Israelites’ cries came before God in heaven while they were in Egypt. He was merciful to them in the desert, knowing their weakness and giving them time to heal. He saw Haggar. Saul persecuted the early church. Jesus asked him at his conversion, why are you persecuting Me? Not, why are you persecuting them but why are you persecuting Me.
God is not unfeeling. He does care. Because He is omnipresent, He is never absent.
My suffering is mine to bear alone, not burden others with…
No one wants to be needy. Problem is, we are all needy. To not be needy is to be God, completely self-sufficient, which makes Him the best provider for our needs. Our suffering is close to God’s heart and we must bring it there first.
But, we must also bring it to others in the family. Paul writes that when one member suffers, we all suffer with them. We comfort with the comfort we receive from God, and are called to give and receive comfort.
Sadly, not all will suffer with you. I have not always suffered with others. Those failures still grieve me. They also teach me in many painfully good ways what it is to stand alongside others better in their suffering now. I can never take back the salt I poured on wounds, but Jesus paid for that too and He can heal that in my friend’s life as well.
As I learn to share my suffering with God and others, I learn to carry others as well. I expect it to make churches and communities warmer places as we carry suffering, because we all suffer.
I should share my hard times when I’m over them…
Sharing struggles against temptations, failures, and doubts in real-time is challenging. It feels like what’s better is to share how I used to struggle. And, some hard times do need to resolve a little with limited counsel to steward them well before crowds.
What happens when I share my temptations, failures, and sin in real-time is that it often takes the power of secrecy and darkness away. Just like many of my hardest moments mentally seem to be in the dark of literal night, so struggles and failures against sin rage when they fester out of the light of the One readily available and able to fight them.
Bring them into the light with a trusted and mature person well versed in the Word and life, and it is like turning on a light in the middle of the night. Things are clearer, brighter, and usually a bit more hopeful. I thank God for the many women and men, too, who have turned on the light in the dark room of my soul.
On the Job Training
There is no way a blog post could exhaust this topic. I know I haven’t grown fully into my job description as a wise manager. I envision a painting (by an old master of course) of a steward depicting this aspect of my life in Christ more fully. I picture a person sitting at a table with provisions, a line of people in front of them, but also a kind master behind them whispering in the steward’s ear instructions regarding what is to be dispensed.
Listening to the master while facing the people strikes me as a good position to steward well. Maturity in Christ comes through on the job training.
How have you stewarded suffering well? Where do you stumble as a steward?
One of the most difficult things about life anywhere, and life lived across cultures for sure, is that often it’s no one big thing that slays me…at least not yet. It’s all the small things that add up and threaten to take me down. Taken alone, each cut seems relatively minor and superficial, like a paper cut, but they sting. Each and every cut stings and there’s no time to put on a Band-Aid before the next cut comes.
Talking about what hurts seems silly sometimes. It’s just a paper cut, why am I so upset about a paper cut? I minimize and compare. I don’t suffer like that other person who really stood up for their faith in a stressful situation of direct confrontation. No one really hurt me, right? I’m still alive, aren’t I? I discount the cut and fail to treat it.
Again and again the cuts come. Forgetting my passport. The person who cut me off again just this morning. The man who makes me re-park my car so that the nose faces out warning me that I am breaking the law if I don’t. He doesn’t understand that at least 5 people on the road endangered my very life and parking my car in a “cultured” way is the least important thing to worry about now. The lady at the store who will not even try my credit card even though I know it works. I did not bring cash. Smog.
Here in Asia it’s called “eating bitterness” these paper cuts. It’s an old saying about life and just taking it. It results in kick the dog syndrome, though. People just lose it for no clear or sufficient reason. But I know why they lose it because I lose it too.
Unseen cuts cover us all and then someone pours salt on the wound. The salt without the wound is nothing but with the cuts…it brings sudden pain and I react. Kick the dog syndrome spreads like a contagion. A woman picks up a brick on the street to throw at a man. I’ve seen that. A family fights in the apartment above us and furniture shakes and screams keep me awake. I’ve heard that.
I wish for a formula to combat the paper cut plague but it doesn’t exist. I know more now to look at the cut and say it hurts…to cry even if it seems silly to cry over a paper cut. I know that real life seems more death by paper cut than death by some brave act of martyrdom though those stories also move me to tears.
Death by paper cut is not as futile as it seems when I count the Lord’s view of suffering. He calls me to die to myself as He died for me…even in the smallest things. He calls me to persevere and endure and even do it joyfully because He gives me resources I just cannot muster myself.
As I contemplate more on this concept and acknowledge the cuts, I do find more joy because I find grace and mercy. I still kick dogs some days…not real dogs but proverbial dogs. I do a lot of apologizing. It is coming easier to apologize because I get a lot of practice.
But His grace and mercy, this is the salve that allows my soul to lay down and rest.