In October 2014 we hosted A VP3 Gathering in Banff, Alberta and addressed the topic of “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering.” Scott Shaum (Barnabas International) cultivated a deeply meaningful conversation about God’s person, character and shaping work, our life experiences, and our deep desire to walk well with others through darker times. We so appreciated the time together that when we got back to Sioux Falls we immediately began to talk about how we might offer this same gathering somewhere in the States in the near future. This April, the weekend after Easter, we will be hosting this same VP3 Gathering in the greater Chicago area.
Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering
April 21-23, 2017
Cedar Lake, Indiana
Little did we know when we calendared this retreat, the meaning it would hold for us and the greater VP3 community. Personally it has been an utterly heart-breaking and stretching 5+ months since Randy’s passing, but also a profoundly meaningful time as well. The Lord’s dependability has been over overwhelming.
I am more aware now than ever that growth in Christ is never a simple, straight line from infancy to maturity. Finishing well as a person is a beautiful thing, but it is not an inevitability. There are many barriers and obstacles and dynamics in the world that seek to derail, distract, and discourage us from a well-lived life of “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). If we are to persist at living well with the Lord and others, then we must bring to the table our best thinking and praying about living wisely and faithfully amidst great difficulties.
There is a Hebrew saying: “Hold a book in your hand and you’re a pilgrim at the gates of a new city.” A really good book gives shape to a new horizon, stretching our imaginations of what is good and important and possible in the world. So this summer, whether we lounge by the pool, the lake or we find ourselves at the beach or simply sitting on our back deck, let us be pilgrims this summer. Here are four recommendations for some good reading from our VP3 offices. Blessings.
Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
Most folks have been introduced to L’Engle by her wonderful novel A Wrinkle in Time. In this set of twelve “memoir-like” reflections she thoughtfully explores the relationship between her life as an artist and her life as a Christian. Whether one considers oneself “an artist” or not, L’Engle gracefully challenges us all as God’s image bearers to engage the world with creativity and compassion. This is a beautiful book.
Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
True to Gladwell’s unique writing style, he provides some remarkable stories of people who seemed “lesser,” who against the odds overcame crazy obstacles and achieved what they only dreamed possible. David and Goliath provides inspiration for one’s own journey in overcoming personal obstacles, as well as situations one might face that need to be overcome. Perspective, faith, perseverance, and surprise will bring you much hope.
Recently I have been listening to some folks who are getting close to finishing up The Journey and are considering moving along our pathway into the next process A Way of Life. And as I listen to them sort this decision out, I keep on thinking about psychologist Henry Cloud’s words in his book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. I thought I would share the extended quote. Cloud writes,
For someone to grow, there has to be a connection to outside sources of energy. Who is pushing you to grow? Who is supporting you to grow? Who is pushing you past the level at which you already are? Where is the encouragement coming from?
The number one reason for lack of growth in people’s lives, I have observed, is the absence of joining forces outside themselves who push them to grow. Instead, they keep telling themselves that they will somehow, by willpower or commitment, make themselves grow. That never works.
But if they enlist a coach, join a group, get a counselor, a community of growth, or some outside push, then the growth begins to happen. It is the coach pushing us to greater heights, the sales manager motivating you to something you can’t do, the Weight Watchers group motivating you to try a new course. On the other hand, if it is all self-motivation, then decay, decline, and dying take over, especially when we hit the stuck places where more is required that we don’t have. But, if there is fuel from the outside, we are pushed further that we are able.
Growing up into Christ involves far more than acquiring the right information. It requires a deep connection between truth and life, between belief and behavior. And such connection only occurs when we take extended time for dialogue or conversation with others about these things that matter most to us.
Dialogue is a critical gift on the journey. The back-and-forth conversational work of listening and question asking, reflection, clarification and discernment are so necessary for development and maturity. Too often in our churches we major on the presentation or the performance—the monologue—without majoring on the hard work of cultivating dialogue.
Many of us yearn for more than the chitchat prompted by the fill-in-the-blank small group questions. We want meaningful conversation around the biggest questions of our lives. We want to candidly ask others whether they think the dreams and hopes we carry within are of the Spirit or not. It is a small, yet powerful matter—our ability to talk and listen—to use words and silence well with each other.
Friendship does not grow naturally out of the fast-paced, competitive, and isolated lives so many of us live. In reality, our work priorities and our household busy-ness most often stand against the cultivation of deep friendship. Yet it is friendship that most often describes an essential condition for Christian maturity. As we make space for a common sharing, honoring, and enjoying of life, something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us.
It is Eugene Peterson’s words on the importance of friendship that has been resonating with me again over the past ten days. In his book Leap Over A Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, Peterson insightfully describes our deep need for fellow travelers along the way of following Jesus. He writes,
Each of us has contact with hundreds of people who never look beyond our surface appearance. We have dealings with hundreds of people who the moment they set eyes on us begin calculating what use we can be to them, what they can get out of us. We meet hundreds of people who take one look at us, make a snap judgment, and then slot us into a category so that they won’t have to deal with us as persons. They treat us as something less than we are; and if we’re in constant association with them, we become less.
And then someone enters into our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what is deepest within us. A friend (54-55).
As I was thinking and praying this afternoon about the many different folks spread throughout North America, walking through The Journey process, being invited to seriously, honestly and courageously seek God’s gracious presence in the story of their lives, I was mindful of writer Madeleine L’Engle’s profound insights drawn from the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). L’Engle writes,
We don’t “get over” the deepest pains of life, nor should we. “Are you over it?” is a question that cannot be asked by someone who has been through “it,” whatever “it” is. It is an anxious question, an asking for reassurance that cannot be given. During an average lifetime there are many pains, many griefs to be borne. We don’t “get over” them; we learn to live with them, to go on growing and deepening, and understanding, as Joseph understood, that God can come into all pain and make something creative out of it.
(Sold into Egypt: Joseph’s Journey into Human Being, Shaw Publishing, 1989)
May you come to personally encounter God’s great capacity to come into your life and make something creative out of your deep frustrations, disappointments, confusions and failures. Spirit of God, be generous to us…
“People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us.”
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word ‘patience’ means the willingness to stay where we are and live it out to the fullest in the belief that something is hidden there and will manifest itself to you.”
Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Waiting
After cutting up an apple for my kids one afternoon, my son Davy, then 3 years old, asked if he could have the seeds. I put the seeds in his small hand and walked him to the back door. I watched him as he picked up a toy watering can and took maybe two small steps off the patio into the yard. He bent over moved some dirt, laid the seeds down, covered them and watered the spot. He then stood there watching and waiting. After what I know was less than a minute, I saw his small shoulders drop down with disappointment. He turned and walked away, coming back to the door. As I was opening the door for him, he looked up and said to me, “Mom, those seeds were broken.”
Our son started teaching me lessons on waiting from the Lord before he was even born. We learned in my 30th week of pregnancy that something wasn’t right with Davy’s stomach and that raised a few red flags and several tests. We waited 6 long weeks to find out if he was going to be ok. The last 2 weeks of that waiting were the worst because they became haunted by the phrase “we are not sure yet if he will even survive.”
Through the prayer and support of family and friends we felt surprisingly more and more at peace during those six weeks. We found ourselves holding onto a seed of hope, a promise from God that it was simply going to be ok. Not a promise that our baby boy was going to be ok, but that whatever the outcome, God was promising us it was going to be ok.
Like many of you, I’ve worked through The Journey a few times with groups of wonderful people. I’m in my fifth go round, still learning, still working through my personal journey, this time with a new group of friends.
Today I read something I’ve read before (at least four times, anyway), and it spoke to me again. These are Frederick Buechner’s words in the session titled, “Participating in God’s General Call.”
An important question we all need to be asking ourselves is, “How deeply rooted am I with God?”
How blessed is the man
Who does not walk in the counsel
of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates
day and night.
He will be like a tree
Firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
From my perspective, there can (basically) be three possibilities. Since this is about being “deeply rooted,” lets look at trees as the example…
About 30 followers of Jesus gathered together last weekend. We went to a beautiful place (Banff, Alberta) to discuss a difficult topic, “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering.”
We quickly realized that most everyone in the room was experiencing pain of some kind – from the loss of a loved one to challenges with children to unexpected health issues We were encouraged to acknowledge our own suffering first, allowing us to better help others, a bit like putting on your own airplane oxygen mask first. “I am always first a sheep. The day I forget that, I’m a fool,” said Scott Shaum (our retreat facilitator from Barnabas International).
Scott set the foundation of the weekend with a challenge to always being “tethered to the Father” – relationally, biblically and theologically. I like the word “tethered,” because it gives me a picture of never being out there on my own. God’s love and strength are available to me, if I choose to stay connected.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians. 1:3-4)
Scott’s solid teaching connected with each one in the room. And as we thought about the many versions of pain we see in those around us, his words resonated: