Tag Archives: Anger

The Crossroad of God’s Silence

source: shibanov via Flickr
source: shibanov via Flickr

Then summon me and I will answer,
    or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Job 13:22 (NIV)

This past Saturday night Wendy and I went to see a production of Rabbit Hole at Central College here in town. The play is an intimate look at a married couple struggling with the accidental death of their young son. It is a wonderfully written script, though certainly not an easy one to act or a comfortable one to watch. It is a continuation of the questions with which Job and his friends are grappling.

After the show Wendy and I spent some time unpacking our thoughts and feelings about the play. To be honest, it stirred some of the same deep questions and emotions Wendy and I struggle with in our journey of infertility. Like Job, like Rabbit Hole, our own experiences are simply a different facet of the same stone.

In this morning’s chapter, Job alludes to one thing Wendy and I have found incredibly difficult in our own journey, and which we saw allusion to on stage the other night. When you are walking through senseless suffering, you want an explanation from God.

Please God, simply reply to my questions. Sit down and explain to me ‘why.’ If I’ve done something to deserve this, I want to know what it is. If there is a reason for me to suffer this, then by all means lay it out for me so I can process it and move on.”

But, God remains silent.

I have found this intersection of my questions and God’s silence to be a crossroad. It is a crossroad which beckons me to choose. I can choose out, raise my middle finger to heaven, and walk away from God. I can choose in and press forward being assured of what I hope for based on evidence I do not yet see. It is a crossroad at which most all of us will stand at some point in our life journey. Despite the throng of people who have stood there before, those standing on either side, and those waiting their turn behind us, we each stand at the crossroad oblivious of the crowd. When we stand at this crossroad, we feel utterly alone.

I have equally found that this crossroad is not a one-and-done affair. No matter what I choose in the moment today, I find myself standing there again another day. When I choose out at the crossroad yesterday, then God leads me back to it. I have discovered again and again that God is big on second chances. If I chose in yesterday, then I will go to a play tonight that leads me back to the crossroad mulling over the same questions, feeling the same silence, faced with the same choice once again.

Today, I’m praying for all who find ourselves standing at the crossroad hearing God’s deafening silence. Despite our feelings to the contrary, we are not alone. We’re standing here together.

I’m choosing in.
Again.

You’re welcome to join me.

Weathering the Extremities of Emotional Storms

source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr
source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr

Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
Job 7:7 (NIV)

I despise my life; I would not live forever.
    Let me alone; my days have no meaning.
Job 7:16 (NIV)

I have never experienced suffering like Job, and I hope that I never do. I have not met anyone who has suffered the level of tragedy that Job suffered. I have, however, heard many people lament the suffering they are experiencing with Job-esque intensity. I have even been been to wail out the blues on occasion myself.

As I read through Job’s diatribe this morning I noticed a common thread that I often discover in my own wailing and in the wailing of others: extremes. Intense emotions tend to produce extreme thinking. Job proclaims that his eyes will never see happiness again. His days have no meaning whatsoever. I empathize with Job’s plight, and I fully understand the extremity of emotions he’s experiencing and expressing. Nevertheless, neither statement is true.

Job does not, at this point, know the end of his story. He does not see the days that lie ahead for him, and he has no crystal ball do divine whether he will ever be happy or not. Not only does Job’s days and suffering have meaning, they will become the source of meaning, understanding, and inspiration for billions of people across the breadth of time.

“Never.”
“Always.”
“Forever.”
“Constantly.”
“Continually.”
“At all.”
“Not once.”

These are words and phrases that I hear in conversation which set off my “extremity” alarm. When the alarm goes off it tells me that whoever is saying it (and, it might very well be me) may be feeling an intensity of emotion that is leading to the experiencing of irrational thought. It’s not necessarily wrong, bad, or sinful. It may very well be part of a healthy progression and expression of feelings that will lead to good things and a healthier place. The pinnacle of the emotional storm might be a very good time to try and empathize with that person, but it may not be the best moment to try and reason with him or her.

Today, I’m thinking about my own penchant for thinking in extremes, and thinking about some extreme proclamations I’ve heard out of people’s mouths in recent days. As I learn to discern these intense conversations in the moment I am able to respond to the extremity alarm with grace, patience, kindness, and empathy rather than anger, frustration, or vengeance. Wisdom is found in knowing when to speak and when to be silent. I’m finding that present, loving silence is often the best response to storms of extreme emotion, and rational words are better left for the calm that eventually comes after the storm.

 

Wisdom and Peace

Solomon and Hiram
Solomon and Hiram

The Lord gave Solomon wisdom, just as he had promised him. There were peaceful relations between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty.
1 Kings 5:12 (NIV)

When you are in any kind of leadership in family, business, church, or civic organizations you are going to face your share of conflict and controversy. As I progress in my journey I have come to realize how critical it is to handle conflict well. Each conflict I face is a fascinating experience for me to think introspectively about how I both unconsciously react and how I choose to respond in the situation.

I liked the description of relations between Solomon and Hiram. Wisdom led to an agreement which led to peace. While the scribe of this story is only concerned with Solomon, the truth is that it took wisdom from both parties to avoid conflict and pursue peace. Hiram was, by no means, a fool in this situation.

Any one can pursue peace, but it generally takes two to reach it. If I have a conflict with a neighbor then my desire is to reason things out and come to a peaceful conclusion, even if that conclusion is an agreement to respectfully disagree. If my neighbor continues to seek me out with reasonable and courteous appeals to change my position, I am happy to continue to discussing, considering, and seeking a mutually beneficial resolution. If, however, my neighbor goes around the neighborhood in anger stirring up trouble for me, my natural response is to dig my heels in and harden my position. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t react well when I feel disrespected or bullied. I’m working on that.

Today I am thinking about wisdom and the path to peace. I cannot control others, their words, or their actions. I can only control my own thoughts, words, and actions. I have many personal examples of reacting to conflict with foolish thoughts, words, and actions. Hopefully, the number of these examples is diminishing with time and wisdom is growing in me.

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Refusing to Feed Emotional Fires

source: judy baxter via Flickr
source: judy baxter via Flickr

If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
    do not leave your post;
    calmness can lay great offenses to rest.
Ecclesiastes 10:4 (NIV)

I am the youngest of four siblings. It is said, primarily by elder siblings, that the younger children always have it easier than their older brother and sisters. I do agree that parents tend to chill out as they get older. I don’t know whether this is because they have more parenting experience or because they are simply worn out. Perhaps a little of both. In that leg of my journey, I found that my path was sometimes made easier by observing and learning from the mistakes of my brothers and sister.

When I was young I watched the arguments between my parents and my siblings. Like all families, we had our fair share of them. My observation led me to perceive and understand that there was a consistent pattern in the way arguments escalated between my parents and my siblings:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “no.”
  • Indignant, child rolls eyes and asks for reason.
  • Defensive, parent plays the authoritarian trump card. “Because, I said so.”
  • Child plays victim card, makes snide remark (under his breath, but still meant to be audibly heard) about never getting his way.
  • Parent takes offense, reacts, and angrily calls child out for his attitude.
  • Child raises his voice and accuses parent of injustice, recounting a string of similar cases.
  • Parent raises voice, recounts their own rap sheet of the child’s offenses, and threatens further punishment if child doesn’t back down.
  • Child screams and accuses parent of running a concentration camp for children.
  • Parent screams back what an ungrateful child they have and grounds him for life.
  • Doors slam.

Having observed this pattern on a number of occasions, I quickly learned that:

  1. Arguing never changed my parents initial decision, it only entrenched it.
  2. Arguing almost always ended with the child in worse trouble and more punishment.
  3. Arguing led to parental defensiveness and mistrust.

So, I stopped arguing:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “No.” Instinctively sets defense shields to maximum.
  • Child calmly says, “Okay.” He returns to his room (face it, either way it’s where you always end up).
  • Parent scratches head and wonders what just happened.

To be honest, I wasn’t always happy about my parents decisions. My pragmatism didn’t lessen my adolescent anger. I threw some private tantrums back in my room that I refused to let my parents see. It just seemed to me that all the escalation and arguing was a waste of time and energy, and the ultimate outcome threatened to be worse than just sucking up the disappointment at not getting what I wanted. The result? I think my parents were ultimately easier going and more trusting with me because I was an easier going kid.

Looking back, I believe that learning this lesson proved valuable throughout my life journey. Directing my emotional energies where they can truly make a difference and wisely choosing my emotional battles has served me well. As Solomon alluded in today’s chapter, refusing to react to another person’s emotional outburst and remaining calm usually halts any further escalation. Choosing not to add fuel to the emotional fire, the other person’s rage will usually smolder rather quickly.

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Timing is Everything

david mourns saul and jonathanThen David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 (NIV)

One afternoon while in high school I sat at the counter in our kitchen/dining room and was having an after school snack. My mom had gotten home from work and was opening the mail. All of a sudden her hand went to her mouth (her signature gesture when she’s going to start crying) and she began to weep. At first I was scared, but then I realized that they were tears of astonishment.

My sister was in college. Times were tight. My folks were struggling financially. I hadn’t known it because I was a clueless teenager, and no one else knew it because my parents had not said anything to anyone. But, God knew. They received an envelope anonymous with cash in it and an anonymous note about God’s provision.

“Timing is everything,” they say.

Along the journey I’ve been both amazed and incredibly frustrated by God’s timing. I have witnessed what I consider to be miraculous events of God’s timing like my parents’ cash gift. I’ve also been through long, difficult stretches of life’s journey when my timing was definitely not calibrated with God’s timing. What I wanted, and felt I/we needed, was perpetually not provided. This has usually led to grief, doubt, silent tantrums, and anger. In most every case, a dose of 20/20 hindsight from a waypoint a bit further down the road made me grateful for God’s wisdom in NOT letting me have what I thought I wanted.

In today’s chapter we pick up the story of David, who had been anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel as a boy. But, the timing of his ascension to the position was not immediate. Saul occupied the throne and David refused to usurp the throne or depose Saul, choosing to defer to God’s timing. This led to David being branded an outlaw, having a price put on his head, fleeing to neighboring countries, and living for years on the lam. Now we read of David’s response when he hears of the death of Saul and Saul’s son Jonathon, who happened to be David’s best friend.

I was struck by David’s grief this morning. Believe me, David was also frustrated by God’s timing. We’ve recently journeyed through some of the blues-like psalms David wrote in the wilderness expressing his anger and frustration with the situation. Yet, when his enemy Saul is finally killed and the way is finally opened up for David to walk into his anointed calling, David recognizes that his anointed calling comes with a price. David grieves for the king who had been “God’s anointed” king before him. He grieves for his friend Jonathon who also died and gave David a clear line of accession without political rival.

Today I’m thinking about God’s timing in my life. I’m exploring how I see God working in my journey on the macro level. I’m thinking about paths we desired to take which God blocked, paths that remain closed, and paths that have opened up to us. I want to follow David’s example from this moment of his own journey, when he acknowledged and honored God’s timing.

 

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The Dark Turn Towards Vengeance

"Vengeance" by jbelluch via Flickr
“Vengeance” by jbelluch via Flickr

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:7-8 (NIV)

Years ago I found myself the victim of another person. I wasn’t wronged in any tangible way, mind you. It was more of the personal affront in which a person of authority demeans and diminishes  another person because he or she has the power to do so. I was hurt and my hurt became anger. Sometime later, while still seething with anger, I found myself in a unique position to wreak vengeance on the perpetrator and make this person’s life extremely uncomfortable. I had a choice to make.

The psalms are song lyrics and they express the breadth of human emotions. Today’s psalm was written in extreme circumstances that we can scarcely imagine today. Around 600 B.C. the Babylonians laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. Eventually, they destroyed the city, razed the walls, tore down the temple of Solomon, plundered the city, and returned to Babylon taking all of the best and brightest young people as their slaves (fyi: the prophet Daniel was one of them).

The writer of today’s psalm was one of the slaves living in Babylonian captivity. The lyricist had survived the siege during which, according to Jeremiah in his song of Lamentation, the residents of Jerusalem were reduced to cannibalism to survive. Perhaps the song writer had been forced to eat the flesh of his family or friends to survive. Certainly the song writer had seen his hometown and all he held dear destroyed. He had likely seen friends, family and neighbors senselessly slaughtered in sadistic ways. Then he had been forcibly taken from family to live life as the slave of those who destroyed their family and home.

With psalm 137, the writer is feeling more than just the blues. His pain was coming out in anger. I get that. My pain of being victimized is nothing compared to what the writer of this song went through, but yet the human reaction is the same. Pain turns to anger, but once anger is realized the path leads to a fork in the road. We have a choice. We can sit endlessly in the anger as it endlessly gnaws away our spirit, we can choose the path of forgiveness, or we can choose the path of vengeance. Our psalmist is struggling with feelings of vengeance and he pours them out in his musical prayer. I like to think that writing a song about it was probably a healthy outlet for his feelings.

As for me, I chose not to pursue vengeance on my perpetrator. The thoughts of revenge were sweet, but in the long run I believe it would have damaged me spiritually more than any pain and discomfort it would have inflicted on my perpetrator. Like the psalmist I expressed my anger and desire for vengeance to God and I vented with a safe cadre of loved ones. Then, I let it go. I chose to forgive and gave up any “right” I felt for revenge.

Anger and the desire for vengeance are real emotions. They need to be explored and expressed in healthy ways. Finding a creative outlet like the psalmist can be an important part of that process. The path of vengeance carries with it deep spiritual consequences. When anger makes the dark turn toward vengeance victims risk critical damage to their own souls.

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Lessons Learned in Time

A page of a calendar.
A page of a calendar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
He settles the childless woman in her home

    as a happy mother of children.
Psalm 113:3, 9 (NIV)

I have been meditating in recent weeks about the passage of time, and the way that God has arranged layers of meaning into days, weeks, seasons, and years. God exists beyond time and time is as much a part of God’s creation as the stars in the sky or the oceans. As with all artists, what is created is an expression of the creator and I have been thinking about the ways time expresses the character and nature of God, who is not bound by it.

So, as I read the psalm this morning I was at first struck by the third verse of the lyric. Praise and worship of the Creator is to be a part of the natural flow of day from morning until night. In ancient days, there were specific times around the clock when followers stopped what they were doing to pray. Christian tradition calls this the daily offices or “praying the hours.” I attempt to pray the hours on a regular basis, but confess to being horrible at it. David even wrote in the lyric of his psalms about his stopping to pray five times a day. Some religions continue this tradition as do some groups within the larger family of Jesus’ followers.

Then I came to verse nine and it stirred a whole host of emotions within me. This is a verse that I had memorized and held onto while, for years, Wendy and I were diligently attempting to have children together. As our attempts met with repeated failure, this verse became the source of incredible anger within me as I wrestled with doubt, disappointment, and discouragement. The incredible emotional pain of that period of our lives has waned over this past year or two, but reading verse nine brought it flooding back to me this morning.

And so, this morning I have these two verses connecting for me in ways I would have never connected them seven or eight years ago. I have come to learn that there are layers of purpose and meaning in the passage of time. Day-by-day God is to be praised in the waxing and waning of the sun and moon as we tread our life journey through its peaks and valleys. Wendy and I have not realized our hearts desire to have a child together as had envisioned. Throughout our earthly lives, this reality will be the source of shared grief.

In the hindsight which the creation of time affords, however, I now realize that the promise is not wholly unfulfilled nor is the grief we experience eternal. As we walked together through some dark times Wendy would say through her tears, “If God is good, and He is, then we must believe that the plans He has are the best for us even if we don’t understand them.”

Many days have passed. The grief has not gone away, but it less acute than it was. Over time, our experience has broadened my perspective and I like to believe that it has deepened my faith. I am learning that sometimes I ask the wrong questions, and then get angry when I don’t understand the answers. I am learning that time is layered with more meaning and purpose than I’ve ever realized, and that lesson changes the way I experience this 17,415th day of my journey and the way I relate to those with whom I share it.

From the rising of the sun this morning, until it goes down, my heart and my lips will praise God.