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Good times can be hard to release.


When crisis is absent, relationships are in sync, my health is good and finances are balanced, I can unconsciously decide to try to preserve that moment, that state.  Knowing God is a given, no maintenance required, but those pleasures must be protected.  So, even as I move away from the Lord, ironically I still expect, even feel entitled to, the pleasure and peace I enjoyed while with him.  While the possibility of stress and fear of discordant outcomes doesn’t seem significant in his presence, once I make my move, that perspective is quickly dispersed and the pressure begins building.


The truth is, beyond being futile, gripping my present so tightly harms my future.  If I resist God’s good work to grow me up in favor of staying put, I’ve again wrenched back control from his perfect will and begun managing the elements of my life to form my vision of a good future.  From his endless affection, Father still gives wonderful gifts to me, but I tend toward dismissing their power; enjoying the benefit but ignoring the source.  I suppose that could be a decent seven-word summary of idolatry.  I’d love to say I recognize what’s happening right away and quickly turn back, but it is only when I have traveled a few miles and been sufficiently disturbed by hazards that I realize the error – the repeated error – I’ve committed.  Somewhere along the way, those gifts became my reason and purpose.  With my smiling approval, they became my gods.


As my eyes shed their fog, shame and embarrassment pang; my foolishness is distressingly familiar, and I stare, incredulous that I could again voluntarily choose blindness.  Yet even this he redeems!  As I return to him much like the wayward son in Luke 15:17-20, understanding sprouts through the soil of my repentance.  I rediscover his heart and his character as he hugs me tightly, and after a terrible, lost moment, I hug him back.  He suffocates my fear with his love.  The healing from the new wounds will take longer, I know, but I feel no doubt it will come.


After several trips through this craggy trail of godless striving I’ve begun to see his intent.  God will always allow our brash interpretations and headstrong wills to take us away from his heart into struggle and suffering and pain – not to punish us, but rather to bring repentance, restoration and peace through letting reality burn away the dross of our foolishness.  And despite apprehension of the experience, I am grateful.  And I’m awed by the agonizing, deliberate restraint of a father who can remove the suffering, but for our sake does not, because he knows it will not last forever, that we will emerge more alive than ever before.  So he suffers with his children through the inevitable shock, accusations and desperate pleading until we collapse into his arms, finally surrendered.  He never takes offense or throws up his hands in exasperation.  His grace, the beautiful, pure grace of the only complete father for his children, never runs out.

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I don’t like pain. It makes me grumpy, distracted, and it messes up my plans. But pain is in my life, in all of our lives, because sin is in our lives. Not the “naughtiness” idea of sin, but rather the rejection, the disdain, the spurning of the pure, free, brilliant life offered by God. 

I want to avoid (ideally, eliminate) my pain and suffering, so I seek and pursue what, in this world, appears to offer the opposite – though I’ll settle for neutral if I can get it. All the while, the one who conceived of my heart and entire being – who gave everything and suffered more than I am capable of fully understanding to rescue me from the doom I ignored – he calls to me, draws me into his strong arms to rest and be restored. He calls out for me to follow him, to walk with him, to learn to see reality without running away, to enjoy his love, and to love him. Painlessness is not part of the invitation but the promised reality when this world is in my past; in fact, I’m warned there are unavoidable agonies ahead. 

It’s a little bit like physical therapy. If you’ve ever had the experience, pain from therapeutic routines can rival the pain of the injury that made them necessary.  Some might even say they are worse since they continue on excruciatingly for minutes or hours.  Still, there is no compromise or easier alternative route; the truth is, healing hurts. As unpleasant and merciless as physical therapy feels, it is the only real path to restoring the injured part of the body.

Jesus is all about restoring me, undoing the damage that’s been done to his creation.  While I walk with him, he sets about removing the poisonous slivers in my mind and soul that have accumulated over the years, carving away disease and healing me. And when I cringe and grit my teeth and cry out at the deep cuts from his hand, pleading with him to end it, to deliver me from the pain, he weeps and tenderly sings his love while he kisses my wounds.  In time, the dark squall of loss and suffering begins to recede, and still I hear his intimate words and feel his heartbeat.  He stays, holding me as light returns, and I can finally see that he truly is raising me to life. 

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