Society and culture tells us that it is okay to throw a pity party when things don't go well. Mainstream movies and TV spoon feed the lie that all women should grab a carton of ice cream and eat half the tub while watching a cheesy romance flick when their heart is hurting. Women are commonly shown to have group pity parties when life "goes wrong." Men are told to fill the ache with work, toys, extra relationships, and activities. This is how our culture tells us to deal with hurts and heartaches. It preaches that you can eat or perform your way out of the sin-induced ache that will inevitably creep inside your heart and life. But it's all a lie.
It doesn't matter who you are, where you are, or what kind of life you have. Even if you have your ideal circumstances, be it a life of travel overseas or two kids, a husband, and white picket fence, every single person on this planet will, at one time or another, experience the ache inside which loudly declares this is not final, this is not the point, and this is not our home. The ache might come when you're with everyone you know and love and you suddenly feel alone for some reason. It might come as you dwell on the fact that you are the 2% of this world's population and that the majority of this planet is hurting, suffering, dwelling in poverty, and facing persecution. It will inevitably come if you start dwelling on all you "don't have" and allow the demon of discontent to worm its way inside your heart and life.
The feeling and sense of discontent is a direct result of the fall. It tells us that we are not complete, we are not whole, and we are not fully satisfied. Wrongly used, this sense of discontentment can burry and eat alive a person who otherwise has a fantastic and blessed life. If used correctly, however, this sense of not belonging, not being fulfilled, and not being satisfied in the here and now can be used to catapult us on toward a relationship with Christ, the depths of which we have only begun to explore. It can be used as a diving board to launch us into the deep end of the love of Christ, the grace of Christ, and the reality that only in Christ are we made whole, complete, and satisfied. When used as a means to rightly direct our hearts and minds, the ache of discontentment can actually bring us joy in Christ. For when we focus on Him and all He is, when we consider how much we have been given by and in Him, it renders invalid our default toward pity.
"How are you?"
"I'm good, and you?"
How often have you heard that three-sentence conversation? I think I hear it repeated the most during that five minute hand shaking time in church. Not enough time to really invest in another person's life, we all resort to the standard "I'm good" reply when asked. It often becomes our default answer even when the world is falling apart. So what do you say when it really does feel like the world is crashing down and you can't give life a trite "good" label? What do you say when you hope the makeup hides your puffy cried-too-much eyes or know that you can't possibly cover up that new crease line in your forehead? How do you respond to well meaning questions or wishes for a "great day?" What do you say when you don't know what to say?
This one aspect makes me incredibly thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the family of Christ, we are commanded to carry one another's burdens. We are told to help bear each other up and lift one another before the throne. We are told not only to rejoice with those who rejoice, but to weep with those who weep, as well. Through the blood of Christ, we are quite literally bonded together and become our "brother's keeper." We literally exist for one another.
Sometimes, you don't need to say a thing when someone asks how you're doing. Sometimes they'll just know, they'll understand, and they'll silently come alongside you and stand with you. Other times you will need to speak up and share the hurt and heartache you are facing. But that's okay. Because that is why we have each other. To encourage, to love, to weep with, to stand together in prayerful silence when silence is all there is left. When we realize that our lives are placed here for those around us, our focus becomes entirely different and entirely correct. Christ came to this world to live and die and rise again for others. When we become His children, we are to take up that same cross, deny ourselves and follow in His footsteps.
God is SO good!
In many places in Africa, the pastor will call out to his congregation on Sunday morning with the greeting, "God is good!" The congregation will reply, "All the time!" The pastor will then rejoin with, "All the time!" and the congregation will finish this oral tradition by replying, "God is good!" I love this tradition and always smile when a visiting pastor will try it here in the States.
In Africa, they are joyously calling out this truth amidst poverty, crime, war, danger, disease, and hardship. These church members often suffer in ways we only hear about and they are shouting out the affirmation of God's goodness in a church building that often consists of four poles holding up the roof under which they sit - if that. But still they affirm this basic fact - God is good! And today, in the midst of difficulty, hardship, breaking hearts, uncertainty about the future, illness, and the vast amount of issues I know many are going through, I, too, want to affirm this fact. God is SO very good.
He is kind and loving, trustworthy and caring. He is infinitely compassionate. He holds us up, walks with us, feels our pain, understands our hurt, knows the joys He will bestow upon us, has a plan for our lives, and constantly works in our hearts and lives to make us more like Him. Though we may not always be able to "see" where He is in a given situation, He is always there and will never depart. Even when - and maybe I should say especially when - the only thing we can cry out is "Lord, help!" He graciously hears and responds. Through all of life's trials, through the well known "stormy blast," He unceasingly stands strong as our rock and shelter, He unwaveringly holds His shepherd's staff to see that we do not stray and wander, and unendingly showers his love and grace and mercy upon us as we walk on. Life may be difficult, but God is good. All the time.
"With hope comes the will to fight, with faith comes the strength to fight, with charity comes the reason to fight." - A friend of mine
How many times have we read the verse, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" from I Corinthians 13:13 and thought 'that's nice' then continued reading on? How many times have we glossed over those words and not stopped to give thought to their depth and meaning and importance? I know I've been guilty of doing so and it wasn't until a friend and I were talking over this very verse that the importance of what was being stated really hit me.
Why faith, hope, and charity? Why not peace, joy, and righteousness? Why not any number of spiritual gifts we are given through Christ? Because this: faith gives us the strength to fight, hope gives us the will to fight, and charity gives us the reason to fight. This life we live is a fight. We fight the fight of faith, fight for the good of our family and friends, fight against ourselves, fight against our old nature, fight against temptations, and fight to live for Christ. It is a spiritual battle in which we live and it is crucial that in such an on-going battle, we do not go without faith and hope for in them lies the will and strength to keep fighting.
But charity is the greatest because in charity we are given the reason to fight. It gives us the 'why and wherefore' behind everything we do. Through charity we can walk beside a friend who is suffering. Through charity we can rejoice at the good fortune of others and weep with those in sorrow. Through charity we are able to physically and visibly demonstrate the love, care, and compassion that Christ has toward all people. Charity is far more than donating to a food pantry. Charity is the deepest, most pervasive form of love in which we can dwell.