Tag: sad

No Shame in Lament

No Shame in Lament

If you follow YouBelong on social media, you will possibly be aware that our founder has been experiencing more crashes, which have left her unable to get out of bed or do anything more than sleep and rest. Each time, these have occurred at the weekend, at the end of a busy week meaning any plans out of office hours had to be cancelled.

If you experience good and bad days with your health, you will likely be aware how frustrating this is. I am not good at expressing how I am feeling (I take myself away from people when I am in pain and when I go to A&E, I am the one making the doctors laugh because my happy instincts kick in despite having not eaten or drunk anything for 48 hours or more, thrown up multiple times over that period and been in horrible pain from spasms). I guess that’s just how I am. Sometimes it’s a positive, as it acts as a distraction at times and ensures that those around me don’t get too worried about me but it also means I struggle to express just how bad I am feeling when I am asked by a doctor, and therefore, am not always taken seriously.

I feel that sometimes, I approach God in the same way. I don’t want to show Him how I am really feeling. ‘There are people worse off than me’, ‘God’s got more important things to deal with’, and sometimes even, ‘He can’t be listening/ care, otherwise He would have done something by now’. We know that is not true. God listens to everything, He even sees our tears and counts them as prayers (Psalm 56:8). Even Jesus wept. That was it. When Lazarus died, Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t have words. He cried. Lament is not far from this. Slightly more than crying, it is about sharing our anguish outwardly with God – ‘expressing grief, pain, suffering or frustration.’

‘And it has a unique purpose: trust. It is a divinely-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of helping us to renew our confidence in God.’ – Mark Vroegop
https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dare-to-hope-in-god

There are texts of lament in Lamentations and in the Psalms. It is not solely an act intended only for the Old Testament era though as Jesus Himself uses one of the Psalms to cry out to God (i.e. lament) when He is on the cross – ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ This Psalm in the original context of Psalm 22, goes on to turn into praise for God, but Jesus stopped there. No praise, just a simple expression of sadness and pain.

I couldn’t imagine lament as a type of prayer. When I read these parts of the bible, I would view them as humans revealing their imperfectness and Jesus, His human-ness. I certainly never viewed these moments in people’s lives as times of prayer and seeking God. My idea of prayer was, Thanks, Sorry and Please (otherwise known as TSP prayer), where was the lament part in that?! But I was wrong. Crying out to God isn’t wrong. It isn’t attention seeking or unnecessary complaining. When we are suffering, upset, frustrated or grieving, God wants us to go to Him. As our Father, He cares about us and wants to be there to comfort us. He understands. At the same time as dying on the cross, He lost His Son at the hands of those He created and understands our emotions better than we do!

So if you are having a bad day or week due to a flare up of symptoms, the loss of a job, friends, a loved one or frustration at not being able to attend church, visit family or friends or just get out of bed, lament! God is listening. Some of the Psalms end with praise when the Psalmist finds God is with them and they recognise His goodness, but Jesus just did the crying out part. If all we can manage is the crying out, and you are aiming it at God and not just grumbling, know He hears you, and it is as valuable to Him as a carefully planned out, 15 minute, TSP prayer. There is no need to hide our feelings from God. He knows what we are thinking and feeling, He knows every hair on our head. Let us allow ourselves, and our generation of ‘stiff upper lippers’, to grieve and share our pain and suffering with God. It is what He wants us to do and you can bet He will be right there with us, even if you don’t feel Him there at the time.

Glimpses of Heaven

Glimpses of Heaven

Occasionally, we hear stories either in the news or from people we know, that someone has either seen or visited heaven. This often seems to happen when the person is either very ill or injured very badly (i.e.’Heaven is for Real’ and ‘Miracles from Heaven’). Sometimes we might struggle to know whether these people really have seen heaven or whether they have imagined it or perhaps something in between – maybe God sent them a picture/ sense of heaven for comfort. Although we might argue about this, it is harder to argue that people in the bible who were described as having seen/ been to heaven really did or not. Why would God put those stories in the bible if they weren’t true?

There appear to be only 7 people in the bible who saw heaven, or a glimpse of it, including Jesus who was said to have seen heaven upon rising out of the water following baptism:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:9-11 (NIV)

Before Jesus’ time on earth, there were only 3 people mentioned who saw glimpses of heaven, Elisha, his servant and Ezekiel:

15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. – 2 Kings 6:15-17 (NIV) (thought to be chariots and horses from heaven as they appeared out of nowhere).

Ezekiel saw many glimpses of heaven which are all spoken about throughout his book but it begins with chapter 1, verse 1 which says:

1In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. – Ezekiel 1:1 (NIV)

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were also Stephen (Acts 7:55-56), John (Revelation 4:11) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). If you want to know more, you can read their stories in the corresponding passages.

Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? Perhaps you’ve always imagined it as a place full of clouds and unicorns with big golden gates with a fancy house sat behind them with God in a big throne and angels all around, or maybe the image in your mind is more like those in the Scriptures.

As I write this, it is gone midnight but I am still awake, ironically, not because the pain is too bad, but because for that 1 in every 1000 times I take pain medication, it has really worked and the pain is almost totally gone leaving a calming tingly, relaxation. When you live with chronic pain, this is a rare feeling so when it happens, I like to lie still and enjoy it – which is exactly what I’m doing now! To me this is as close to a glimpse of heaven as I’ve ever had. A life without pain and suffering and with an overwhelming joy and peace. 

There is a song that I first heard back in 2013, at the start of my chronic illness journey, called ‘You Hold Me Now’, which is written by Hillsong and goes, ‘No weeping, no hurt or pain, no suffering, You hold me now, You hold me now, no darkness, no sick or lame, no hiding, You hold me now, You hold me now.’ This song has come back to me recently whilst I have been thinking about this post and I think this is a really good, yet probably simple, description of what heaven will be like. No more pain, suffering, fear, shame, upset, darkness, just joy, hope, peace, love and comfort.

Therefore, although those short moments in my life when the pain is gone are infrequent and irrelevant to most people, to me, those moments are glimpses of heaven. In the same way, I see heaven when I see a rainbow that reminds us of God’s promises of hope and when I hear the birds singing and feel peaceful and even when I taste something good. These are all God’s blessings to us and small bites of what heaven will be like. I am quite content and excited by the things taking place in my life right now, but I am also so excited for the day when I come face to face with God and get to see heaven in all it’s fullness -not just glimpses but full 20/20 vision, luminescent, panoramic fullness!

Have you had any glimpses of heaven this week? No matter how big or small they might seem, they are glimpses of God’s goodness and what is to come for us in eternity.

Facing shame and guilt due to chronic illness

Facing shame and guilt due to chronic illness

In her book, ‘Illness as Metaphor’, Susan Sontag explains that within many cultures, illness is believed to be the result of something a person has or hasn’t done. Perhaps you’re ill because you ate too much bacon, drank too much wine, did too little or too much exercise, didn’t get enough sleep, put yourself into too many stressful situations, dwelt on a situation too long or even sinned (did something wrong in God’s eyes) etc. etc. 

I know my health problems are not my fault, in fact we are pretty sure that it is likely the result of my genes, but sometimes I still wonder if I should have exercised more or eaten healthier or done more meditation even though I know this is unlikely to make any difference at all. When I think about what I could or should have done differently, I feel guilty as if I could have changed the past, I wouldn’t be suffering but nor would I be making life harder for those around me. 

My parents suffered when I couldn’t eat and was very weak and when I experience high levels of pain because there is nothing they can do to help me. They suffer financially because I cannot work enough hours to earn enough money to sustain myself so are looking after me at home too. There relationship may even suffer because I take up their time and energy so they have less left for each other. I am almost certain they would not want me to think like that but I feel guilty for what I have taken from my family and those around me who I care most about. 

Another avenue that produces shame and guilt is being vulnerable and honest. When I am vulnerable and honest with people, I will tell them when I am in too much pain to continue walking or too tired to stay up and socialise or that I need to have something different on the menu due to dietary requirements or I need to have extra cushions on my bed, a downstairs room in a hotel to reduce energy usage. In real life, it means saying no to baby-sitting because I am too tired or in too much pain to help out despite having done nothing else all day, leaving someone who has done 8 hours work, cleaned and tidied, walked the dogs and already baby-sat yesterday to do it again today. That leaves me feeling very guilty but there is nothing I can do. My body is out of my control. 

Shame is the result of societal norms being broken. If the shame came as a result of wearing bright pink clothes to work in an office where everyone else wears suits, the person may be embarrassed but they can wear a suit to work the next day and the shame will slowly disappear. When the shame happens as the result of something beyond our control, the only we can do is hide it the best we can. For me, that looks like not using the wheelchair when out in public, eating foods that my friends eat even if they hurt so as to not appear ‘fussy’ and provoke questions and doing all I can to keep up with those around me and then going up to my room to sleep and take medications or cry until the pain subsides or I fall asleep. 

As a Christian, I fear shame every time I open up to someone new about my health issues because society says illness is our fault (see above) and many Christians often say that if you are not ‘healed’ it is because you don’t have enough faith/ don’t pray enough. When I have done all I can and prayed everyday for many years, had prayer evenings dedicated to my healing, this not only leaves me feeling upset and frustrated but shamed because I can’t do anything to change those people’s views of me and my condition. 

However, we know that God does not want us to experience guilt and shame. They are not heavenly emotions and do not belong in God’s people. Often, guilt and shame are our own fault in which case, the bible tells us we need to ask for forgiveness but this is different because chronic illness and disability are not our own fault (generally). Even the disciples, who were only out to do good by sharing the good news of Jesus with those around them, experienced shame but instead of letting it overwhelm them, they turned it on it’s head -“rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). It might not seem like it, but we can use the shame we feel for having disabilities or chronic illnesses and use them for good by using them for His name and glory and for the extending of His Kingdom.

It is likely this will not keep the guilt and shame away completely but we can ask God to protect us and block the unfair attacks that are aimed at us. When we pray, He listens, and He will work in our guilt and shame and stop the devil/ accuser from hurting us through his lies. Overall, we must remember that even when we feel guilty because others are making us feel that way, God is not saying that to us. He loves us and cares for us and has not given up on you.

Palm Sunday – the revised version

Palm Sunday – the revised version

Here is my Palm Sunday 2019 experience, from the perspective of someone with chronic illness…

I walked into church, sat down and held my head. The music was loud, and every beat made it hurt more but taking medication for that now would mean less medication to be taken for potentially worse pains later and the side effects also needed to be considered as the fatigue was already bad and would be made by taking some pain relief. I was spaced out and dizzy and nauseous but I wanted so badly to be there. The start of Easter and my first chance to be back in church in many weeks.

After a few minutes, I decided I would need to take something to get me through the service but the medication takes a while to take affect so I continued to sit whilst I waited for the headache to fade. As I sat there and listened to the words of the songs being sung, tears filled my eyes. The people around me were fully immersed in worship and seemingly, whole-heartedly believing every word — ’cause when we see You, we find strength to face the day’. I didn’t feel strong at all. In fact I felt the complete opposite. I felt so weak. This sudden rush of emotions swept over me as I looked at people in their 70s and 80s stood up praising God with their voices, standing and raising their hands and yet here was I, a 26 year old woman, sat in a chair, lost in a crowd with my head in my hands, pain relief working its way through my system and wondering why I don’t feel God’s strength like they do. Just as I wiped the tears away, we were instructed that if we were able, to come to the front, collect a palm cross and follow the procession outside and around the church and back in again. This was just about too much for me as I watched the majority of the church collect a cross, follow the crowd and walk outside, singing and praising God. My first thought was, ‘Why God? Why can’t I do that? Why won’t you let me praise you like they do?!’ Then my mind went to the first Palm Sunday — Jesus entry into Jerusalem. I wonder what people like me did then?

The Triumphal Entry

(Mark 11:1–10)

11 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 Off they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Additional revised verses: And those who could not see, could not hear and could not walk, sat at the road side, a great distant from the crowd and from Jesus, unaware of what was going on, unable to get too close and participate. They loved Jesus so much and knew He could do amazing things in their lives but those with able bodies blocked them from getting near enough or didn’t offer them a way to express their love for Him in a way that suited their needs.

Obviously, we don’t know what really happened on Palm Sunday for those people who were disabled or chronically ill but we do know from other passages in the bible that in Jesus’ time and society, lepers were outcast, the blind were forced to be beggars and the lame were considered useless as they could not earn money to provide for themselves or their families. Today should be different than it was 2000 years ago, and it is in many ways. We have laws that enforce a certain level of equality but there are certain things that mean that either have yet to be made better or simply cannot be accessible to every single person. But the Kingdom of God is.

With the big focus in the UK being on politics and specifically, Brexit, at the moment, this is particularly relevant. In Heaven, there are no nations, but one Kingdom, and one over-riding, almighty, powerful King — Jesus. We might not have the power to control our circumstances but Jesus does and that was my mistake at church. I thought that God had given up on me. I wanted to praise Him and be strong and stand with my church family to worship Him but when I found that I could not, I gave up and got angry at God for my situation.

We are told in Luke’s gospel that when the Pharisees asked the disciples to stop shouting their Hosannas and Hallelujahs to Jesus, He explained to them that if they didn’t shout out, the stones would. This tells us that there is a close connection between the natural world and redemption. Paul said the entire creation groans for redemption, and from the beginning we see how creation was twisted and thorns infested the ground because of sin and the same can be said of illness and suffering (although please do not misunderstand this as me saying your sickness or disability is due to your sin, but rather because we live in an imperfect, fallen world).

Whilst those around Him were praising Him, we read in verse 41 that Jesus, was crying! Jesus is probably the only person weeping in Jerusalem that day. Why does He weep when He is surrounded by a crowd that adores Him?

Jesus wept as He took in the faces of the crowds of people who were spiritually blind to the Son of God. God is with them but they don’t recognise Him so they crucify Him, thinking they have done right by God! Jesus weeps over lost souls, defeated lives, people in the chains of sin without hope.

Let us not let our ailments, problems, disappointments on earth affect where we spend eternity. We need to give our stony places to God and praise Him for who He is and not what He has (or has not) done in our lives. He may be the King, but He is also the suffering servant who understands our situation and one day, will free us of our pain and suffering. All we need to do until then is wait on Him and recognise Him as our strength giver, provider, healer, friend, Father, Saviour, King, and Holy Spirit who is always with us.

When we stop singing because we have lost hope, the only way we can go back is to start singing again. So even if you don’t feel like, start singing and shouting praises to God and He will show up! That’s a promise.