Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Purpose In It

I've been working on the proposal chapter of my dissertation recently and the progress I've made seems so small.  How much more can I say about the research methodology and design?  It's qualitative, it's phenomenological, and it's heuristic, yet the powers that be need me to elaborate on this all to demonstrate my working knowledge of the process.  I feel rebellious and annoyed.  While I should be researching, I find myself staring blankly into space while mentally going over my grocery list.  Sometimes I even get up to clean house. Unfortunately, my deflection accomplishes nothing and the project goes nowhere. Literally.  It remains here before me just waiting on the yielding of my stubbornness to submissiveness.  From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of some notes pertaining to the phenomenon of abandoned faith among clergy and I scowl.  It's as if I'm angry that the burden has been placed on me, but then I remember one thing.  I placed the burden on me.  What's more is that I don't have to complete anything. I get to complete it. The burden is not a burden, but a privilege.  It has been said that only 1% of the U.S. population has a doctoral degree, and although I actually think that number has risen, the fact remains that it's a small percentage. What an honor to be given the opportunity to achieve something so rare, and yet most days I hear myself grumbling and complaining.  I'm aware that Philippians 2:14 tells me to do all things without complaining and arguing, but as lifetime groaners we usually learn this one the hard way.  Instead of expressing our dissatisfaction over a situation, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to "give thanks in all circumstances." While this sounds spiritually significant and sound, it actually has little to do with words like "hallelujah" and "praise the Lord," unless those words are spoken in both the good times and the bad. 

Giving thanks in all circumstances has less to do with the days when we get what we want and more with the days that we don't.  It's often a sacrificial act of obedience that actually physically hurts when the pain is great and deep.  I know because just this morning, my own voice shook as I mustered the strength to thank God for the painful things happening in my own life.   I don't necessarily thank Him for the pain itself, but for what He is doing through the pain.  I've been going through some pretty excruciating enemy attacks lately that have caused me immense heartache and suffering.  I've cried a lot, put on a happy face when needed, and prayed like I've never prayed before.  No matter what I do though, I still hurt.  A lot.  I have some really great moments of joyous victory where my smiles are sincere and my laughs authentically from the belly, but more often than not lately, a dark cloud of depression follows me and threatens to envelop me.  I shield myself from it with verses like James 1:2-4 that say my faith is being matured and developed through these trials.  I curl up under the blanket of Romans 5:3-5 that says this: "We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us."  So, under the illuminating light of Scripture, what is actually happening to me? Although many days the only thing I feel happening is pain, the deeper reality - the truth - of what's really going on is this: My faith is undergoing a maturation and developing process.  Think of photography.  When a photographer

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develops color film, he must go into a closed room and mature the film from one state to another by the use of not only chemicals, but also darkness.  The lights in the room must remain off while he does what is necessary to bring out the true life and color of each photo.  The beauty of the pictures will never appear if not first taken through that dark room, and our faith is no different.  In this, knowing God will make my life's pictures beautiful, I can rejoice. As Habakkuk said in 3:18 - "yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior."

What else is happening during these dark days?  It's often difficult to take my mind off of the pain I feel and put it onto the colorful artwork God is creating and developing, but beyond beautiful pictures, Romans 5:3-5 tells me that these tribulations are producing several important things: perseverance, character, and hope. In other words, my suffering is not without meaning.  It is the soil from which many beautiful flowers will blossom if I praise the Father for the darkness that births them.  Viktor Frankl, in Man's Search for Meaning, said it like this: "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning...” and I know that in my own life this has proven to be true.  In the dark pain of here and now, I am learning more deeply how to persevere, how to hope, and what it really means to have God's character as my own.  It's not easy and there have been days that I've wanted to give up, but before I sink too deeply into those thoughts, God gently reminds me of Isaiah 41:10 that says this: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Remembering this, I go on. 

Go back with me for just a minute though to the feelings of animosity I had towards the proposal chapter of my dissertation.  Read back over these following statements from that first paragraph:

1. The progress I've made seems so small
2. How much more can I say
3. The powers that be need me to elaborate on this all to demonstrate my working knowledge of the process
4.  I feel rebellious and annoyed
5.  While I should be researching, I find myself staring blankly into space
6.  Sometimes I even get up to clean house

Now ask yourself these questions: are there any relationships in your life that make you feel this way?  Are you struggling to overcome something, but feel like the progress you're making is too small to matter? Do you feel like there's nothing left to say? What about number 3? Do you feel like maybe God is keeping you in a relationship situation until you're able to demonstrate some working knowledge of why you're in it to begin with? Does the entire situation leave you feeling rebellious and annoyed? Are you star gazing and fantasizing when you should be working on the relationship? Now read these statements:

7.  Unfortunately, my deflection accomplishes nothing.  The project goes nowhere.
8.  It remains here before me just waiting on the yielding of my stubbornness to submissiveness. 

The problematic relationship you're in isn't going anywhere as long as you're unwilling to lay down your mental grocery list or travel plans or escape route.  It will remain before you until you sacrifice your stubbornness for submissiveness to God's process.  Now read the next one:

9. It's as if I'm angry that the burden has been placed on me

Is that how you feel? I know it's how I felt about a relationship that has recently caused me deep pain.  Keep reading.

10. But then I remember one thing -  I placed the burden on me.
11. What's more is that I don't have to complete anything. I get to complete it.
12.  The burden is not a burden, but a privilege. 
13. What an honor to be given the opportunity to achieve something so rare

Don't forget that if you're in an unsavory relationship or suffering from the inherent pain of a particular union, the burden of that association didn't just fall on you.  You chose it. I placed the burden on me when I entered into different relationships.  Instead of blaming the other person, I must take responsibility for my role, but even more important than that, I must remember that I don't have to stay in any situation or relationship.  I get to stay in them and do the hard work (Colossians 3:23-24). The burden is not a burden, but a privilege (Romans 12:3), and what an honor to be given the opportunity to achieve something so rare.  Whether yours is a relationship of friendship, romance, family, or extended family, the fact remains - relationships are hard work.  Look around at your own.  Are you loving as Christ loves you? In John 13:34 Jesus says this: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another, and what I'm finding in my own walk is that those who are the most difficult to love are the ones who need love the most.  Some days, much to my chagrin, I'm that person who is difficult to love.  What about you? Is the other person really the challenge, or is God using them to change you?  2 Corinthians 13:5 says to "examine yourselves to see whether or not you're in the faith," and I know I've not always loved as Christ loves me, but what an honor to be given the opportunity to try again to achieve a love so rare.  My own trials, and yours too, are never without meaning and purpose.  Seek the meaning of a trial and you'll find your purpose in it.  

Youtube video credit at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ


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