What Do You Do When Jesus Isn’t Enough?

My mind is at odds with my heart. Ever have that experience? I call it ‘The Great Disconnect.’  It’s where you have an intellectual understanding of a truth, yet, your heart perceives it to be a lie, a forgery, a falsity. Intellectually you get it. In fact, if asked to, you could explain the in’s and out’s of it seven ways to Sunday.  In such a way, even, that the Skeptic becomes Believer. But feeling the truth of it for yourself, is incomprehensible. Instead, your heart is like a limb that got lost in the snow, numb and without feeling to Truth’s certainty.

This is the season of Advent. A time of hopeful expectation. An expectant waiting for the one who has come, the one who will come again: Jesus. Jesus, the great rescuer of mankind, the one who was foretold by the prophets:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Almost 700 years past between the time of Isaiah’s prophecy and the birth of Jesus. Imagine. Seven centuries of silence fell across the face of the Earth like an oppressive blanket for those who were waiting, year in and year out, for the Messiah. And then one day, a child was born who came to take away the sins of the world. A Rescuer, known as the God-man, Jesus, whose death would freely exchange our sin and enslavement for his righteous and freedom. And with that, the gift of eternal hope.

But, what happens when the reality of this world, at this present time, snuffs out the joy and peace that Jesus offers?  What happens when this season that is meant to remind us of the hope we have, instead presents itself as a bitter token of the hope we’ve lost?  What do we do when the tapestry of our life is torn apart by suffering—whatever the form be (death, divorce, illness, broken relationships, barrenness, etc.)? What do we do when the weight of life’s crash is so heavy and the brokenness so profound that we feel ourselves suffocating underneath the weight of it all, and we’re left feeling without hope?

What do we do when we feel like our suffering has ‘out done’ what Jesus has done on the cross and that he isn’t enough?

What a lonely and frightening place to be.

Preach truth to ourselves

We remind ourselves that sometimes what we feel isn’t always true. Just because you feel something or don’t feel something, it doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on its truth. Sometimes I feel I’m hungry when really I’m just bored. Other times I don’t feel tired when I really am. And most the time, I feel like I’m being funny when really I’m just being obnoxious. If I was married I could use a slew of analogies here. My point is, our feelings have a limitation when it comes to trust and we have to remember that. It’s okay to feel, but we have to remind ourselves that reality through the lens of grief is oftentimes distorted. Even if  we don’t feel it we have to preach ourselves truth, allowing our mind to be filled with it until our heart catches up.

Pray…

We pray like hell. We offer up cries of prayer to the one who can save us. I’m often trying to remind myself that “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, his ear attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15).  God can take anything I cry out at him. He knows my heart anyway, whether I speak it or not. So why hold back? Why censor? We need to pray that Jesus keep us from distorted thinking and self-pity.  Two things that lead us toward a downward spiral that is hard to come back from. We must ask him to save us from the disbelief that runs rampant in our hearts when grief gets a hold of it. Primarily, I find myself praying that God save me from myself. That he save me from my own sense of what I think is ‘fair’ and ‘best’. I pray that he keep me from becoming like the Pharisees who tried defining who Jesus was on their own terms, telling him who he should and shouldn’t be, how he should and shouldn’t act and therefore missed out on who he was altogether. 

Remember that Jesus is our Suffering Savior

Yes, Jesus bore my sins on the cross, but he did more than that. He took my sorrows as his own. The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the perfect High Priest, and not just because he is the pure and spotless lamb that absorbed the wrath of his Father for my sin, on my behalf. But, because he empathises with me in my weakness. Jesus was spouseless, childless, betrayed, abandoned, chastised, beaten, ridiculed, imprisoned, and put to death. He is not some God who sits far off and aloof. He knows your pain and mine. He is our most comforting suffering savior. He has felt everything that you and I will ever feel.

He is a Good Father

He is a good father. In his giving and his taking, no matter how painful it is, no matter how many tears you’ve shed. No matter how many times you’ve screamed at Him at night lying alone in bed, strangling your sheets in clenched fists, while his silence is deafening and your tears are inconsolable–I promise you, and myself, he is a good father. It may not feel like it at the time, but it is true.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead

of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give

him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give

good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly

Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

So, what do we do then,  when it seems Jesus isn’t enough? We preach, pray, remember, and believe even when our hearts don’t feel it.

Santa has Nothin’ on Jesus

This morning I wake to a darkness that fills my tiny bedroom. I don’t get up right away, but lay here, silently, eyes closed, ears open to nature’s commotion outside my window, which assures me that the light of morning is on the horizon. And then it strikes me, as a metaphor of sorts, for the meaning of this weekend…

As a little girl, I remember my mother stating that Easter was her favorite holiday. At the time, I could hardly understand why. Why would anyone choose an early morning spent in stuffy dress clothes, sitting in a hard seat, listening to some man drone on and on for the better part of an hour? When all the while you could choose the holiday with the fat jolly man who brings presents directly to your living room, where you can spend all day in your pajamas. It’s like choosing vanilla when you can have chocolate. Sure, it’s an option, but it doesn’t make it a good one!

At the time, I just figured that’s what happens when you get old, you forget what fun is.

The implication of this weekend, for those of us who consider ourselves Christ-followers, is momentous. But, where does one choose to focus their attention in reflecting on this weekend? Clearly, it would seem Christ’s resurrection is the pivotal moment of importance. No? I mean, without his resurrection, the Christian faith becomes…futile. Without the resurrection of Christ, Jesus becomes nothing more than a man. Conversely, with his resurrection, everything changes. And, I mean, everything! Hope is restored, brokenness is mended, ashes turn to beauty, and mankind is connected with his glorious Creator.

It’s ‘Resurrection Sunday’ that permits the ‘Good’ in Good Friday. Without the resurrection, Friday becomes a tragic day in Roman history, where a really nice man, who spent time with the sick, poor, and outcasts of society was mercilessly beaten and left for dead. For no reason.

Good Friday. The day that signifies that Jesus stood in for me, absorbing the wrath and abandonment of his Father, on my behalf, so I would never have to. How do we not stop in reflection and genuine exploration of what that event means? The picture of Jesus, nailed to a cross shows us two things. One, who we truly are when left to our own nature: depraved, wicked, violent, self-absorbed, prideful, vengeful, jealous, out-for-our-own-good. Two, it shows us who this God-man Jesus is: completely loving, unbelievably merciful, abundantly gracious, Rescuer of mankind.

As a kid Santa brought me some amazing gifts throughout the years: my first leather basketball, my first pair of Skids, my first suede coat… never once did that fat jolly old man offer to stand in, as a ransom, paying my debt. Never once did he offer me the gift of life. And I don’t just mean life after death, I mean real life, in the here and now. The kind of life that when the storms of circumstance, disappointment, failed dreams, disease, addiction, abuse, abandonment, betrayal, and death come crashing in, so hard that you feel like you don’t have it in you to face another day—The God-man Jesus steps in. He kneels down, eye level, and reminds us that he has known sorrow and pain, too. And, the good news is, he has conquered it all.

Holy Thursday is the day that puts it all into proper perspective, for me—the passage of scripture, where Jesus is with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. You know the scene. The disciples have fallen asleep, even though Jesus pleaded with them not to.

Night has fallen. He’s alone, knelt over by a half dead tree. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Jesus exclaims into the darkness, as tears sting the back of his eyes. He knows his hour has come. He can feel it, deep inside. As he sits there, alone, he prays through grinding teeth: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” This is exactly what he and his Father have been discussing for centuries. This very moment in history. The moment where he exchanges garments with his creation, taking on our depravity, experiencing the wrath and abandonment of his Father, while giving us his righteousness.

I’m reminded this morning, as I lay here in my dark tiny bedroom with morning light on the horizon that the cup of suffering he swallowed wasn’t his—it was mine. And he swallowed it fully, absorbing it all on my behalf. It’s in reflecting on this great exchange that my perspective is set right. A perspective in which I assume my rightful place, one of humble gratitude at the cross, in recognition of the greatest gift I have ever received: Jesus, my great Rescuer.