When Cupid’s Arrows Bring Pain

heart_with_arrow-1920x1440I am blessed to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my beautiful bride and love of my life, Heidi. Valentine’s Day 2012 was not so happy. I won’t go into details in this public place but many of our close friends and family know how much we struggled.

I know we’re not alone. Marriage is a gift and, like many gifts, it comes with human heartaches. Cupid’s arrows actually do pierce our hearts, bringing both romance and pain. There’s one very good reason for this, of course. Marriage, as good and holy and fulfilling and intimate as it can be, is a partnership between two imperfect people. Wait … imperfect does not feel strong enough here. Let’s try broken, severely messed up, fatally flawed. 

I agree with authors John and Stasi Eldredge, who say that marriage is a divine conspiracy. God, they say, lures two very different people together—both with different backgrounds and ways of relating and approaches to life. “Our mutual brokenness is drawn together like a match and gunpowder.”* God does this so that he can transform us … and, as the Eldredges say, to get us to face our styles of relating and repent of them. Others have said the same thing: marriage is not meant so much to make us happy as it is to make us holy. I can tell you that’s true.

Several years ago, in the midst of so much uncertainty and pain and heartache, I began meditating every day on Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I had to ask God to help me understand what it meant to delight in him. At first I prayed this in reverse. I asked God to give me the desires of my heart: restoration of my relationship with my wife … and then, when I got what I wanted, I would delight in God’s provision. God in his patience showed me something far better:

When I learned to delight in him regardless of the circumstances, he would give me my heart’s desire, because my desires would finally match up with his desires.

On Valentine’s Day 2012, I wrote these words in my journal:

I know, Lord, that you are in control. I once again surrender all this to you. I thank you with all my heart and I will be filled with joy because of you. Even in extremely difficult life circumstances, I can have joy in you and because of you. I delight in you! And that does not depend on my circumstances or situation. Today I will sing praises to your name, O Most High!

You may be celebrating Valentine’s Day alone, or perhaps you have a sense of uncertainty or you are in a state of pain and heartache. I don’t want to minimize or moralize your pain today with some sugary sweet Valentine’s Day platitudes. Yes, I am indeed blessed that my marriage has been resurrected. We are working on our relationship every day, reconciling with God’s grace, and being restored. We struggle but we do not struggle alone. Yet I realize that not all situations work out as ours has. I have many good friends who are still feeling the pain of loneliness, the lament of “Why is this happening?” the yearning for renewed hope.

My prayer for anyone who is hurting this Valentine’s Day is that you will find your hope … not primarily in a mate or a job or anything else that is perishable and undependable and broken. My desire for you, and me, and Heidi is to find our joy in a God who never leaves or forsakes us—to delight in him and allow his desires to overwhelm our own desires.

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* from Love and War, by John and Stasi Eldredge (Doubleday Religion, 2009).

20 Assessment Questions to Ask When You’re at the End of Your Rope

rope02I often hear people say they are at the end of their rope. If you’re feeling that way, here are some important assessment questions to ask yourself. I encourage you to work slowly through these. Reflect on them, not only with your mind, but also your feelings and spirit. Write your responses in a journal.

  1. What is the other end of this rope tied to?
  2. Where is this rope supposed to be taking me?
  3. Is it tied to the right things, the right values?
  4. Am I sure I’m at the end of my rope or do I just feel that way?
  5. Is it possible there’s still more rope beneath me, but I’m too afraid to look down?
  6. Why do I feel I’m at the end of my rope?
  7. Am I losing my grip because I’ve been working so hard at climbing with my own power? (See my post on using all five fingers to hold on!)
  8. Who told me I’m supposed to climb this rope anyway?
  9. Is it possible this rope-climbing activity is a waste of time?
  10. Do I really feel safer holding onto this rope? Why or why not?
  11. Is there something better in life than rope-climbing?
  12. Would I want to die, still clutching this rope?
  13. What would happen if I let go of the rope I’m clinging to?
  14. Who would catch me if I let go?
  15. In my quiet moments, do I ever hear an encouraging voice saying, “Let go. Come to me you who are tired of climbing. I will catch you and hold you and give you rest”?
  16. Do I trust this one who would catch me?
  17. What would life be like if I were not holding onto this rope?
  18. Do I trust my death grip on this rope more than the one who will catch me if I let go?
  19. Who in my life will help me let go and encourage me in my catcher?
  20. What will it take to let go, to release this and throw my hands up in surrender?

What questions do you get “hung up” on? I encourage you to use #19 to talk to someone you trust–a good friend, a counselor, a clergy member, or a doctor, for instance. Talk through your responses to these questions. And don’t forget: your goal is to let go of it!

What Do You Do When Life Isn’t Making Sense?

questioning GodWhen you are walking through a dark valley or when the circumstances in your life are not making sense, it’s vital to ask the right questions. What kind of circumstances? I’m talking about living every day with a disease such as diabetes or cancer, relationship issues, or any other life difficulty.

I was reading through the psalms in the Bible one day and came across a very relevant passage. It seems the people, in the midst of difficult and seemingly unfair life situations, were dismayed and confused. “Does God realize what is going on?” they asked. “Is the Most High even aware of what is happening?” (Psalm 73:11, New Living Translation).

This is the question many people still ask. I’ve found through my experiences that this is especially true for those who follow God from arms length, people who may associate themselves with God somehow, because of their upbringing, perhaps, or maybe simply because they would not call themselves atheists. The same is often true for the Sunday-morning church-goers who have never counted the cost of being an authentic follower of Jesus.

People look at their circumstances and ask, “Where is God in all this?” But when we ask such a question, it reveals more about our own hearts than it does about God.

Let me explain what I mean. When I am walking closely with God–making my relationship with him my #1 priority, I don’t ask that question. I know God knows what’s going on, because I’ve talked to him about it, and I know he was listening. I know he is aware of what is happening because I know he knows everything. I know he cares about the situation because I know he is my loving Father; he is a compassionate shepherd who wants to give us peace and rest. I know he can change the circumstances if he chooses to, because he is all-powerful. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have questions. I do.

And so this raises the question that I do ask. This comes from my journal during a particularly tough time during my life:

God, I don’t understand. In my human understanding, I don’t know how this is all going to work out and I can’t see how you are working in this. What are you doing? How are you going to work all this out for the good? Please, Lord, show me just a sliver of your plan and purpose.

 Regardless, Lord, help me to hang on and to continue to trust in you, to continue to trust in your timing….

The interesting thing is that the questions I ask God can actually draw me even closer to him, which, I believe, is part of God’s big-picture purpose when we walk through these dark valleys. Later in that same psalm, the writer said, “Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand” (v. 23). I love that image. Even, perhaps especially, when life circumstances are hard, God is that close. He’s holding my hand.

Are you struggling? Talk it out with God. Discuss it with a godly friend. Find a group who will support you and allow you to ask tough questions. Stretch out your hand. Let God hold it … and you. You are not alone.

What Do You Do When Life Sucks? (The Power of the “But”)

What do you do when life sucks? What do you do when it seems everyone and everything is against you? What do you do when your marriage isn’t what you want it to be or you are struggling with your kids? What do you do when your pile of bills is way bigger than you can pay? What do you do when your health is bad and it seems you’re running out of hope? What do you do when you feel totally discouraged, hurt, and afraid?

Have you been here lately? Are you here now? I want to encourage you–and me–today with some lessons from a very old story.

A man named David was talking to God about his dire situation, and he opened up about how he was feeling about it. He said he was exhausted from crying for help (Psalm 69:3). At that point, David’s life sucked. And he wasn’t afraid to tell God how he felt about that.

After talking on and on about all of his horrible circumstances and how he felt so hopeless in the midst of them (how often do we do that?), David finally said an important word: “But.”

This is one of the biggest buts in the Bible.

“But,” he said, “I keep right on praying to you, Lord, hoping this time you will show me favor.”

When life sucks … keep right on praying … and hoping.

But what if you’ve prayed about something, and yet God does not seem to be answering? Very common question, and I don’t have all the answers, because this is just one of those “only God knows” kind of things. But let me try to explain what I do know about this.

I believe in a God who is the creator (regardless of how he created), the Alpha, the eternal designer, the archetypal architect and author of all. As such, I believe he has a design for how life is best lived. It’s not so much about rules and regulations, can and can’t do’s, but about living this life we’ve been given to the full.

So, when I choose to live according to God’s plans and am going the way he wants me to go, the Bible says his hand is ready to help me (Psalm 119:173). That’s an awesome promise! But it is conditional. The verse continues, “for I have chosen your precepts.” God’s promises are conditional not because God puts fine-print terms on his love, as we humans tend to do, but because he sees the big picture. He knows when his help will truly help us (when we’re doing things his way) and when it will ultimately harm us (when we’re doing things contrary to his design).

Why would a loving father give us something that he knows would ultimately hurt us? Our Father God’s ultimate desire for us is to live in a trusting relationship with him–to choose his way of living life. That’s why he “works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). He sees the big picture. He knows what is ultimately best for us. And he wants that. He loves each of us so much that he’s willing to sacrifice to make it happen.

God is working, regardless of what you have done or are doing. He is at work, regardless of how you feel or the circumstances you are in. He cares for you and has a plan for your life no matter how long you’ve been asking and waiting.Trust him, regardless of how things seem or how you feel. Take a walk outside and delight in God’s creation. Hold a baby and delight in God’s miracles. Care for a friend and delight in the opportunity to serve.

Sometimes life sucks. That’s not God’s fault, although he often takes the blame. Often life sucks because of the choices we or others around us (even others now generations removed) have made.

I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 42+ years. Yes, that sucks. I’m not sure why I have it. It may be genetic, although I’m the only one in my family who has it. I look at it as a life circumstance. It’s the hand I’ve been dealt.

My response is to keep on praying. For a cure? Sure. But (there’s that all-important “but” again) mostly I ask for the ability and strength and fortitude to make the right choices each day. I know that having diabetes sucks for lots of people, so I pray for them. I volunteer with the American Diabetes Association in Louisville to keep working toward a cure. I ride my bike as a Red Rider. And none of that stuff sucks. It’s actually pretty sweet!

It’s the power of the “But.”

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More Posts on Dealing with Trials

Thankful for Temporary

Diagnose How Well You Are Handling Your Diabetes

How to Look Past the Obstacles

I Am Thankful for Temporary

triumphant disabled manTemporary is a sweet sweet word.

I have had type 1 diabetes for 42+ years, and I am very thankful that it is temporary.

Yes, perhaps someday I’ll be the recipient of a working pancreas transplant or a robotic pancreas or some other “cure.” Or maybe I won’t. Either way, my diabetes is temporary. Someday, it will be gone, and I’ll have a body that can metabolize blood glucose.

No more finger pricks and shots and pumps and counting carbohydrates. No more need for Hemoglobin A1Cs or endocrinologist visits.

I’m ready to celebrate! 

But diabetes is not the only thing that is temporary, of course.

To my friends Stan and Chuck, MS is temporary.

To my sister Kathy, Rheumatoid arthritis is temporary.

To my friend Terra, loss and grief are temporary.

Loneliness is temporary. Depression is temporary. Chronic pain is temporary.

Cancer: temporary. Abuse: temporary. Dementia: temporary.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading the Bible is that I believe it displays the bigger picture of life for us. It provides perspective. From beginning to end, it’s easy to see that all the bad circumstances of life are just temporary. The Bible describes life as a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

See, when Jesus told people not to worry about their lives but to seek the kingdom of God, he was telling them, and us, that stuff is only temporary.

When Jesus healed people of their diseases, he was telling them that their sicknesses were only temporary. All these people eventually died of something, and yet all of it was temporary.

When Jesus’ close friend Lazarus was deathly ill, Jesus didn’t immediately run to his rescue. Why? Because Jesus knew it was all temporary.

Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” In other words, this is just temporary.

My circumstances and yours are temporary, no matter how difficult they are or impossible they seem. Even if healing or reconciliation or freedom or stability never come in this lifetime, it is still all temporary.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

I’m ready to really celebrate! 

What does temporary mean to you?