It’s been a long time since my last blog, at least since I’ve posted one anyway. In truth I have felt dry, like I got stuck in the desert and I have found it suffocating sometimes. Seasons come and seasons go, and for me this season is hot and dry and in this climate it’s not easy to breathe. The heat got to me and I felt burnt, damaged and deformed by the flames. I didn’t recognise myself. I have felt I had nothing to say; no words left, no fruit and any means of bearing fruit that I had are dehydrated.
I have asked many questions of God: all without an answer. I have asked for Him to show me signs and visions but those prayers come back void. I have held on to hope but I feel disappointed. In every church, in every town all around the world there are people who feel like me. We may not want to acknowledge them, or know what to do with them but they are there. They turn up every week to worship and hear the word of God, and there is power in ‘turning up’, but if every week they hear nothing but the great things God has done they can feel isolated and alone, and can end up wondering what it is about them that means that God won’t answer them. Stories of God’s goodness do lift our spirits, I am not for one minute saying they don’t but I know myself that I can do more to remember the balance of people’s reality. We do a lot of rejoicing, as we should, but we can stop weeping too soon. If someone loses a loved one, our care for them needs to go beyond the first few days of finding out. Grief can still be very raw 2 years in to the process and it matters that we remember that.
Job 30:20-22 says this:
“I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm.”
It appears to me that if Job can say these things of God and they made it into the Bible then it is ok for us to have times of feeling like this, it is what we choose to do with those feelings that matters. Rick Warren in one of his Daily Hope readings says that God is not surprised by our emotions after all He created them. God is big enough for our questions, but are we big enough to keep standing if He never answers them? And the chances are He will never answer them and even if He did, it might not help us.
Rob Bell refers to this in his book ‘Drops like stars’ as the art of honesty. He says:
Pain has a way of making us more honest. I know a family whose son committed suicide. He was taken to the hospital, where he was laid on life support for several days, brain-dead but breathing-barely. His eleven year old cousin came to see him before the machines were turned off. When she got to the room, she told everyone to leave her alone with him. When they got out in the hall and closed the door, they could hear her through the wall, yelling at him: “Why did you do this? I’m so angry with you!!! Why did you do this?” She said what everybody wanted to say. She did what they all wanted to do.
It’s the art of honesty.
He talks about the empty place. The place that is left when your resources are depleted, when you are dry and burnt: the place that is left when you have suffered or are suffering. When that empty place is there and people ask ‘how are you doing?’ It can be a difficult question to answer. You have a choice. You can say “Yeah, I’m doing ok or fine thank you” or you can let the empty place open up, you can practice the art of honesty. It may be uncomfortable for us or for the listener who did not expect it, but in Proverbs 24:26 it says, ‘An honest answer is a kiss on the lips’ and for the one of whom the question is asked perhaps the art of honesty allows us to feel a kiss from heaven on our lips. Perhaps then we need to consider our responses to an honest answer.
Does our response to honest answers like, ‘I feel nothing but sorrow’ or ‘I am empty’ or ‘I don’t know who I am anymore’ open a door to heaven for the person who is answering or does it shut them down?
Are we equipped to open up our empty place to share in someone’s suffering or do we run away from it, not knowing what to do? The truth is when you are suffering there are times when nothing anyone says makes you feel any better but there are times when what someone does or doesn’t say can help or make you feel worse.
I am not saying it is easy. It’s not. It’s hard.
If we are careful with each other we can open up each other’s empty places and encourage fruit to grow and creativity to flow and faith to be born out of even the emptiest places. It matters how we respond to those who are suffering or grieving.
We all have our own theologies around why God allows suffering. You may align yourself with one theology and that may help you manage your suffering. You may completely disagree with another thought and feel that anyone who thinks that surely hasn’t suffered like you have. I think it’s helpful in times of pain to make peace with God in a way that sits easily with you. As long as it is not in conflict with the word of God, as humans we have to find our own peace and our own understanding of who God is and who we know Him to be.
I know He loves me because the Bible tells me so. I know He does miracles because the Bible tells me that too, but as for the details: ‘the ifs, whys and buts,’ I just don’t know. My circumstances have left me feeling confused, but does that mean that I will stop expecting him to do something miraculous?
I can’t accept that God is not on my side or that he doesn’t hear my cries. So I have to change. God will not change: I have to.
If He is the God of miracles I have to let myself be changed and shaped until I have seen it with my own eyes. I have been shaken but I will not move unless He tells me too. If we look at honesty as an art, there must be creativity involved. If we allow heaven to kiss our empty places or if we open a door for another to experience the kiss from heaven, we are practicing honesty as an art and it’s possibilities have no limits. God only knows what will come out of the empty place. I should imagine so many movements, organisations or initiatives were born when someone allowed their empty place to open up and let heaven kiss it.
In his book Rob Bell encourages us to change our questions from “why did this happen?” to “what now?”
What are we going to do now?
Well, life is the answer! We are going to do life and we are going live with each other in this heavenly community, the family of God. We are going to lead each other to life giving water and together we are going to bring our empty places to life.
I have loved watching Africa with David Attenborough. I am awestruck at the creativity of God in creation, which incidentally was born out of an empty place. (Genesis 1:2) Just ponder that for a moment, the whole of creation happened when an empty place was opened up and as the Spirit of God hovered over it heaven kissed it and brought it to life!
I was impacted by a plant called The Resurrection Plant. This particular plant had been dead for 100 years. It was withered and had suffered extreme dehydration. The defining feature of this plant is it’s ability to cope in it’s environment. This was an extreme desert condition. As I watched a sand storm, the wind picked up the plant and tossed it across the sand. Perhaps that is how Job felt, spiritually sapped of life and tossed about in a sand storm. The wind carried the plant into a puddle and the second it landed in the water it opened up and came back to life: it was resurrected! As the time lapse unfolded the plant was given life from the puddle, it bore seed which the winds took and spread around and planted and they grew, but just a few hours later the sun had dehydrated them and the young plants died and the old plant was uprooted from the puddle and blown into barrenness again until they would all be resurrected again when they were lead back to life giving water.
100 years that plant had been dead. But in the emptiness of a desert all it needed was a puddle for new life to spring up. This film was a piece of art. This plant endured extreme conditions and sometimes we face extreme conditions. There is no point pretending we don’t or not acknowledging the emptiness in these places, but in our honesty, if we are able to say ‘I am dead inside’ ‘I need water’ what can our God do? He can make all the winds and storms lead us to a puddle of life. He can use us to carry each other to water, where truth flows, where resurrection happens, where we are brought back to life. These puddles are made up of the presence of God, the truth of his Word and the worship of Heaven. If we can get to these things, we will be revived.
I want to be someone who can open up my empty places and encourage others to do the same. I want to practice the art of honesty and let creativity flow out of it with a kiss from heaven. Nothing is wasted. It may take time but no pain is wasted unless you allow it to be.
Our God is the God who wastes nothing.
There is still fruit waiting in the emptiest of places if you can just find a puddle and ask God to help you open up.