This morning in his message my pastor shared a story about some friends who have a young daughter. Around the age of two, she was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. As they were dealing with that reality, other diagnoses came taking them down a very uncertain and unpredictable path. His purpose for sharing their story was to illustrate that their shared journey through uncertainty brought them closer to each other and to God.
Theirs is a story of groaning. As parents, they groan. As children of God, they groan. As spouses, they groan. When they choose to groan together, recognize each other’s groaning, they are actively choosing to draw closer together.
Sounds perfectly natural for a couple to do. But you and I both know, that’s not what all couples do. Not all relationships survive such trials. And when you examine similar challenges that a larger group is facing together, the possible response scenarios are multiplied.
- How might responses be chosen if the challenges were seen as “the whole creation groaning”? (See Part 1)
- How might we listen to one another if we viewed other’s words as groaning prayers?
- What if we shared groanings without trying to win?
- What rewards would be received if at least once we chose to listen to another’s groans without demanding they hear ours?
Most likely, all the answers to these questions have a common thread-choosing grace. Grace says, “I hear you. I see you. I’m willing to listen to you. Your groans matter. You are allowed to groan however you want, how loud you want, about whatever you want.”
We are all born groaners. We all have the opportunity to become gracious groaners.
Who is a gracious groaner?
- That person that you know is in pain, but they refuse to suck the life out of the room.
- That person that shares their groans along with the lessons they are learning, the questions they are asking, and the hope they have anchored.
- That person that understands everyone around them also groans and offers the grace they desire to receive.
How did that person nurture such grace? Most likely, they admired someone else with it. Or even better, they grew from being gifted undeserved grace in return for their lack of grace. They received the benefit of shared grace.
More about that in Part 3.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
About a month ago, I walked through a situation that I could only explain with one word: sad. So when I came to chapter 11 entitled “Boundaries with Sadness” in the book I’m reading (Boundaries For Your Soul), I was ready.
Of my many highlighted quotes in the chapter, this was the most helpful:
It’s helpful to think of the causes of sadness in three categories: sadness as a response to the loss of something good, the loss of something bad, and the loss of what might have been.
Categories one and three I get and I’ve used to befriend my personal sadnesses recently. But category two tilted my head…until I read Maria’s story.
Maria, a bright woman, dated an abusive, addicted man for four years. When asked, “What keeps you from leaving?” she answered honestly, “I don’t want to face the pain.” She had given four years of her life to loving someone who had hurt her repeatedly. A part of her didn’t want to accept the reality that she had wasted so much time on a destructive, dead-end relationship. So she was choosing the pain she knew over the pain she didn’t know – and was missing an opportunity to move forward with her life.
I instantly understood category two. Choosing the pain we know can be crippling. Most likely we don’t know this is what we are doing until someone or some happening makes it clear to us. The strength and comfort when we allow the Spirit of God to assist us in facing that unknown pain is worth embracing to free us to move forward and start over.
However long it takes, the freed life-found by trusting God to help us face the unknown pain-awaits us. Rather than run from the sadness, we should turn into it. Why? Here’s a final quote from the chapter:
Pain becomes redemptive when it causes you to draw near to God and experience his power.
I came home two nights ago facing a choice. The choice was how to check off the 10-mile run on the training schedule. To make the choice, I chose to lay down on the bed to ponder (a hindsight look at the choice I ended up making).
As I saw it, I had three choices:
- Do it now while it’s 80 degrees
- Wait until morning, which meant the alarm would go off in time for me to hit the pavement by 4:30
Choice #1 quickly went away to avoid regret somewhere along the race route a week from Sunday. That left choosing between heat and sleep. Choosing heat meant getting it done but with much more strain. Choosing sleep meant getting less and running unfully rested. As usual, my mind ran away from heat strain choosing the dreaded early alarm. Neither sounded fun; both had pain levels more bearable than regret.
Achieving a goal, developing a discipline, and pursuing growth require sacrifice; and with sacrifice there will be pain. Committing to the pain may be half the battle of achieving, developing, and pursuing. Your commitment raises your chances of avoiding regret, knowing your sensible strain level, and rising to the challenge when doubts invade your mind.
When facing choices, maybe these questions can help:
- How important is avoiding regret?
- How much is too much?
- What am I willing to sacrifice?
There are definitely times when we need to be still and silent before God. None of those times are when there is known sin separating us from Him. David says when he didn’t acknowledge his sin to God it impacted his body-“my bones wasted away.” Not good.
In our efforts to be healthy, we usually address diet and exercise. That entails being honest with our doctors or trainers about our choices which may be leading us away from good health. When we come clean, we show we are serious about getting healthier. David’s response to realizing his silence was not good was to “make a clean breast of my failures to God.”(verse 5, the Message)
We can’t ignore the truth that silence about our sins creates self-inflicted pain. If we want to protect our bones, our first step is to not be stubborn mules but to be honest confessors.(verses 9-11)
- Standing at a very familiar life intersection wondering how many times you have to keep crossing
- Staring in the face of prior pain dreading its possible return
- Knowing you’ve taken a step backwards but not sure how or why
- Believing you heard and followed the right path but unsure it’s going to be as advertised
Congratulations! Welcome to the human race! It’s been going on for centuries. Here’s an example:
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you must camp in front of Baal-zephon, facing it by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites: They are wandering around the land in confusion; the wilderness has boxed them in. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will pursue them. Then I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh.” So the Israelites did this.”
Yes, they turned back as instructed, but soon began to challenge the decision. That’s what we all are tempted to do.
- “What are you doing, God?”
- “Why are you making me turn around into the face of pain that I thought you had rescued me from?”
- “This makes no sense at all. God, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
We find ourselves at the intersection of Faith and Pain, or Trust and Doubt, or Follower and Fool. We are faced with the choices from being turned back.
- Will we believe in God’s salvation for this moment
- Do we believe that He truly cares
- Can we trust this God who dishes out unbelievable promises
If He says it’s for His glory, shouldn’t we want to see the outcome? Getting to the other side of the sea ain’t easy when all we do is question God. It’s much more awe-filled, beautiful and serene when all we’re doing is resting, walking and trusting in all His knowledge and power. When He says, “Turn back,” our response should be, “How Far?”
Here’s a Turning Back Prayer you might say if you’re having a difficult time saying, “How Far”:
God, thank you for Exodus 14. Thank you for turning them back so now all of mankind is still talking about your power, your glory, and your willingness to fight for your people. I have no reason to fear. I have no reason to believe you will make a mistake. I have every reason to remember you have always remembered me. Forgive me for wanting to run forward when you may want me to turn back so you can be glorified. Fight for me. I’ll do my best to be quiet.
The question is why.
- Why get up at 5am period, first of all? And then you go run?
- Why put your body through it? What about your knees?
- Why run when you can swim, bike, or at least use the elliptical?
That last one is easy. The elliptical was designed by the devil. Biking bores me. Swimming? I do it, but mostly for cross training or when my legs need a break. But do I love it? About like eating yogurt when you want ice cream.
Now about the body, that one is a little more complicated. If you haven’t already, google “is running good for you,” and you’ll find articles arguing both sides. It seems everyone agrees running isn’t for everyone. Not all bodies are built for it. Yet, many bodies thrive on it, even the pain of it. Here’s an article about pain, in particular the pain that runners, like ultra marathoners, tend to actually crave. As for the knees, thankfully mine haven’t been a problem for me. I believe that’s mostly due to making right choices about shoes, stretching, and rest. Speaking of right choices for the body, I certainly could do more cross training (look for more on this subject in the future). That is where the body is shored up to withstand the life of a runner. For me, I’m fortunate that running is for me and, of course, side with those who believe running is good for the body.
Scott Jurek says he runs to test his body and mind. Good for him. I’m fine with the tests my body and mind have passed and don’t feel the need to prove anything else in those areas. My reason for running is quite simple. I enjoy it. The struggle. The movement. The freedom. The solitude. The choice to think or not to think. The release. The joy. And when you cross a finish line knowing that you enjoyed the journey and completed what you committed to, you are stronger and have the peace of accomplishment. The pain is worth it.
Ryan Hall says he runs because God gifted him to, and he believes it glorifies God to use that gift. I’m no Ryan Hall. But I do thank God for giving all of us the gift of running.