“A messenger comes to a mourner’s house. ‘Come,’ says the messenger, ‘you are needed.’ ‘I cannot come,’ says the mourner, ‘my spirit is broken.’ ‘That is why you are needed,’ says the messenger.” (Leon Wieseltier)
Light In Darkness
Depression, grief and unemployment: Having experience these hardships, Rónán Johnston shares how he found light in the midst of darkness and where we may find hope.
How often do things seem to be working out for us, when suddenly, out of the blue, some disaster, large or small, seems to put paid to our hopes and plans?
During my time, there have been a number of these experiences, such as the first time I was unemployed. One week, I was a national TV presenter, and the next I was collecting the dole. People pointed and whispered. In 2004, my mother died after contracting a post-operative hospital infection. Later in the noughties, the international economic downturn wiped us out for a decade.
Each disaster made us ask the questions: “Lord, are you really here? Do you still love us? Do you still have our best interests at heart?” In other words, just like in the Garden of Eden, the enemy has us wondering if God is true to His word.
It is, I fear, the human condition. We live in a “valley of tears” (Psalm 84:6), and yet we resolutely hang on to the idea that life should somehow be simple and straightforward. If we constantly run into opposition, there is surely something wrong with us.
Longing For Wholeness
However, is this viewpoint biblical? From the start, the Scriptures make it clear that life is difficult. We are told the man will labour (Genesis 3:19) and the woman will long for her husband (Genesis 3:16). This continues right through to Revelation when John sees a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1). Jesus promises us: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) We get the feeling that things are not quite as they should be in our world.
Each of us have a longing for the wholeness of Eden within us, like a great genetic imprint put into us by God. The motivational writers of the world rightly tell us that it is a sign we are made for more (true) and, in order to attain it, we simply need enough discipline and “want it enough” to follow through (false).
The scriptures, as well as the devotional writers, remind us that we will see Eden again. However, we need to learn that there is darkness in this valley, where we live and move and have our being. One of our principle needs must be to learn how to experience the redemptive light of Jesus in that darkness.
How, then, can we see the light in the darkness? These three principles may help us:
1. Feel it. Allow the grief of the pain. Pretending to ourselves that everything will be okay, while secretly broken-hearted, is not the same thing as “giving thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
2. Dig in to the promises of God. Find them-they are in there. For example: I will never forget you (Isaiah 49:15); I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you (John 14:18); My God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19); Even if we are unfaithful, still he is faithful, because he cannot be untrue to himself (2Tim2:13). Learn them, inhale them and get them deep into you.
3. Hold tight! He is coming, and He will vindicate you. No pain lasts forever, and it will eventually come to an end. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Having come through all things victorious, we develop resilience and build up trust. We press into Him, and we do not hide from Him during the most painful times.
- Rónán Johnston is a psychotherapist, a writer of soundtrack for film, TV and theatre and a worship leader from Dublin, Ireland. Further information about his work can be found at http://www.ronanjohnston.com
(This is a previous post, but it’s just worth reposting every year . . . )
I don’t usually post Christmas music videos before Christmas. (Trying to keep Advent Advent.) But this one is special. And it’s for all of you who are having a hard time during this Advent season, finding it hard to be joyful like all of those around you. This one’s for you (from Steven Curtis Chapman).
And here’s his story behind the song.
Now, go back and listen to the song again, written just for you.
For many this season is filled with the fullness of family togetherness. The turkey with all the trimmings. It is the time for unwrapping the red-ribbon-gift we placed first on our list. It is the season of sparkly lights and the steady fragrance of evergreen. Cut trees dressed and centered in our homes displaying ornamented memories and present day mementos of our own Christmas present and pasts.
For others—like us— it will be the first without our most cherished loved one (R.I.P Dad Brown). It is the season of skipping to pay the rent in order to afford to put something under the Christmas tree. The homeless among us will seek to find a warmer cover, an even hotter cup to grip away the cruelty of the cold.
Christmas can fill you with joy and wonder and Christmas can make you feel marginalized and alone.
I’ll never forget the Christmas Mommy and I were all set and packed to visit my Grandmother Patricia in Kalamazoo, Michigan for the last time. It would be the last time because cancer… well, cancer said so. “Gabby” had battled hard and surrendered even stronger to the fight. She was still trying to hold on for us though. Mommy and I had our tickets ready on the dining room table. We were sad but excited to have the opportunity to say our final good-bye. We were flying out of Portland bright and early the following morning, but we didn’t make it in time.
Just a few hours before “the call” I sat in our family living room, wrapped in the strong arms of my brand new fiancée. My then boyfriend of two years had popped the question and presented the ring on Christmas Eve. The same ring I was staring at when down the hall I heard my mother scream. Her daughter-griefed-weeping followed, and I knew Gabby was gone.
The sparkle of my new ring and the glare from my streaming tears were both there at that moment, right there at the same time.
Christmas can give you your most desired longing, and it can deliver your greatest heartbreak.
This season, once again I feel like I’m holding a little bit of both possibility and grief. Possibility in that this same Jewish baby Jesus who made His way through oppression, homelessness and rejection will continue to find rescue, covering and favor for me. Grief in knowing that I can’t control the timing of death, the depths and disgust of man’s broken humanity or the schemes and snares of our raging enemy.
But like my ring and my tears I will continue to hold both. This tension of both possibility and grief are calling forth a deeper vulnerability in me, a deeper desperation to both be cherished and rescued.
This Christmas I am desperate to find true meaning in both the unwrapping and the grabbing hold of our Immanuel—God with us, God with me. I’m being drawn to get closer to the Christ child and not Christmas, the holiday. You don’t have to find the “merry” in your Christmas if it’s not there. Just draw near to Him.
Jesus of our possibilities.
Jesus acquainted with our grief.
Jesus of Christmas who knows each of us—that Baby from the manger who knew just how to “be.”
Originally published here.
Originally posted on Mary Ann Morgan’s blog:
Day 91 Spoon Chimes
April 2, 2016
You wouldn’t notice them except on windy days. They are hidden in the weeping cherry, hanging by the garden and dancing on the lowest branches of the oak out front. There are spoon chimes all over our yard. He made them for me from a box a spoons leftover from a church project. He knows how much I love the sound they make.
I want to be a chime, sitting at the ready for the Spirit to move me. But I need to bump into other chimes to actually sing. A chime will never make a sound swinging solo on the most blustery days. We need each other. That’s the way God set it up. He designed us for dependence on him and for community.
I think about this on the lonely days.
There are days that this house echoes with a quiet that is hard to bear. What keeps me from the friendship I crave? Probably fear. It is strange that when we need others most, we feel the least presentable. My house is in utter chaos with 9 puppies and all the poo and pee that comes with them. I wash blankets from morning until midnight daily. On top of that the normal housework has been seriously neglected as well as our own laundry. Inviting someone into this mess feels preposterous.
This adds to the grief I am already sorting through. To surrender to this fear might bind me to a silence that was not meant for me. I was made to sing within a beautiful community, offering a song while rubbing elbows with others.
Like the spoon chimes we need each other to truly become what we were made to be.
Psalm 133 ~”How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the fragrant anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head and ran down onto his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew on Mount Hermon, on the mountains of Israel.”
Straining for the Light
by Tammy Perlmutter • January 4, 2016
For a long time the threat of a new year brought with it an onslaught of more darkness, more enervating melancholy, more long, gray days ahead to suffer through. It was nothing to celebrate.
At the end of one of those especially difficult years I met Alece Ronzino online. She too had experienced a year (or more!) like that, punctuated by loss and betrayal and hopelessness. In 2009 she decided to find one word to focus on in the new year, instead of a list of resolutions that were quickly and quietly abandoned. One Word 365was born.
One word can change everything. Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap the long list of goals that you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live or what you want to achieve by the end of 2016. One word. 365 days. A changed life. ~Alece Ronzino
The last four years I’ve participated brought some incredible changes to my life. I became more focused, more hopeful, more inspired to hold fast, keep going, and expect good things. I’ve been challenged to be fearless. I have committed to believing. I have thrown myself into creativity. Most recently, I have spent a year contemplating possibility and what that looks like fleshed out in real life, and right now it looks like The Mudroom. I doubted it was possible a year ago, yet giving space for possibility to bloom made it a reality.
I’ve been brought low and robbed of energy by chronic pain. I’ve spiraled into dark depression. Anxiety has left me dizzy and breathless. I’ve been facing childhood sexual abuse head on and I have the bruises and scars to show for it. I’ve been humbled by my own darkness, my secret sins that cast a shadow over my heart and steal the light from my eyes. I’ve staggered under the weight of loneliness and grief and fear and despaired of ever feeling strong again.
My One Word for 2016 is restore.
The locusts have ravaged me, leaving me bereft. I hardly know what plenty, abundance, fullness feels like. I find myself returning to that field of devastation, the locusts leaving nothing of worth behind. But there is a promise and I am claiming it.
Joel 2:25-32 (ESV)
25 I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
In these verses God is not telling his people to buck up, man up, cowgirl up, grow up, deal with it, get over it, or pull yourself together. He is acknowledging that this is a straight-up disaster, a full-on calamity. He sees and validates the wreckage and the ruin that has devastated his people, who have been left desolate. He tells them that it was his great army, obeying his command, meting out justice, which caused this cataclysm.
God is a God of restoration, redemption, healing, and deliverance. He is a God of double portions and spacious places. He removes shame and exchanges it for radiance.
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”
He will not leave us as orphans. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. He will not ignore our cries for mercy. There is no shadow of turning in him.
In Life Together, Dietrich Bohoeffer penned a paragraph that all of us should write on our mirrors. He was referring to the morning, but I have replaced day with year.
For Christians the beginning of the [year] should not be burdened and oppressed by besetting concerns for the [year’s] work. At the threshold of the new [year] stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the [year] let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him whom our whole life belongs.
My proclamation for 2016 is to not be oppressed by the besetting concerns for this year’s work, but to face it with excitement and expectation. I will remember that God stands at the threshold of this year, like a sentry, offering protection but also reminding me that every day is a battle, but one I don’t fight in vain or alone. Darkness and distraction are no match for the light of Jesus and his wakening Word. Restlessness, impurity, worry, and fear have no place in this year. My first thought and first word of this year, and every morning in it, belong to God who has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
The onset of a new year isn’t a threat to me anymore. It doesn’t hold the same bleakness and grim prospects as it did previously. I’m determined to wrestle until I’m limping. I’m done with ashes and mourning and shadows and death. I’ve had enough of despondency and gloom. I’m aching for the light.
Who’s aching with me?
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings. Listen to one of the moms share and be encouraged that God always wins over evil. God can, and will, do the same for you.