Have you ever just had one of those days? Thursday was one of those days for me. I started the morning at 7 trying to find a baby who had been born prematurely. I had the last name wrong of the mother and the nurse would not let me into the NICU. Thankfully, a supervisor intervened and I was able to bless the little one.
Then traffic. And more traffic. Oh, and our internet and phone service at the church just stopped cold turkey. It took two days for Comcast to find the problem. Someone had put a sign in the ground and severed the chord. Two days without internet and I was so afraid someone might be dying…Routing the office through my cell phone.
Then a man in the parish came home from the hospital only to find his 42 year old son dead on the floor.
And I am sitting in traffic and those thoughts start.
God, what did I do wrong to deserve this day? Have I messed up somehow? Am I being taught a lesson?
Did you know that Jesus actually got stressed out? Well, the word was larger in the ancient language of the New Testament but stressed is a decent translation…distressed, weighted down, feeling the burdens of life…
He says in the gospel “I have a baptism with which to be baptized and what stress I am under until it is completed!”
He has come to wash the world of sin and he is stressed out…under pressure, until it is done. The chord from God to humanity was severed and he wanted to restore the communication but he was under great pressure and the pressure just kept on mounting until his life was over.
Funny isn’t it? We Christians follow a Savior who suffered, gave away all that he had, healed the sick and ministered to people until he was dead tired, and even died on a cross for love and we say that we want to follow him. We are baptized into his life. But when our days go bad or things get hard, we worry that God is mad.
We are prone to thinking that difficulty and suffering are signs of God’s displeasure. That is one of the chief myths that Jesus came to dispel. You are not struggling because God has left you. God is WITH YOU.
I have come not to bring peace but division, Jesus said. Life will be hard for my followers. Hard. Swords and conflict and houses divided. Look at Moses. Look at Samuel, Elijah even David. Serving God is HARD. It is not easier to follow Christ. It does not make your life easier. It makes it harder.
In his incredible novel, The Great Divorce, CS Lewis writes about people who are transitioning from Hell to Heaven. Hell is a place of ghosts, eternal twilight and rain, where people live in imaginary homes and there is no substance or physicality to anything. People are nothing more than their neuroses and selfish obsessions. They are ghosts.
A bus takes a man up to heaven. Heaven is gorgeous but there is one problem for the ghost. To walk in heaven is painful. The ghost needs to become solid. Everything in heaven has substance and, for the ghost, it is as hard as diamond. The blades of grass bite into his feet. A leaf brushes his leg and bruises him. He is in pain.
But the angels tell him to continue to walk anyway. The pain is part of making him more real, readying him for the journey to God. He will get stronger. The pain will lesson but he must leave his self-pity and obsessions and worries behind. He must take the path to giving his life away.
Remember the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit? The rabbit wants to be real but the process of becoming real is painful. It hurts.
I cannot tell you how many times people have come to the church ready to devote their lives to Christ. And at first it’s all excitement and joy, but then they begin to suffer roadblocks. Someone in the church is rude to them. They lose their job. Money is a problem. They don’t have a good response when they try a ministry. And often they come to me ready to quit.
This is hard, they will say. I must be doing it wrong. God is not answering my prayers.
But following Christ IS hard. It just is.
Suffering is part of the race, part of the journey to God.
This world that we live in is not heaven. It is not designed to be heaven. God is not mad at you if you suffer. It is part of the fabric of life. And for those who follow Christ, the suffering is even more. But the reward is also greater.
Run with patience the race that is set before you, writes the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.
My husband used to compete in Ironmen triathalons. The majority of the race was sheer pain and I found it hard to watch. But people could be incredibly supportive of one another, particularly because everyone knew how hard it was.
But the best part happened at the very end. In order to become an official Ironman, a person had to complete the race in 17 hours. That’s 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a marathon. The cut-off time is midnight so everyone comes back to cheer on the final few who are struggling to make it across the finish line.
In Idaho, we went back to the finish line at midnight and there was this woman who had just hit a wall. She was so tired and in so much pain that she couldn’t walk. She was crawling, on her hands and knees, trying to get up, taking a few steps, falling and then crawling again. From a distance we saw her struggle. So we began to cheer. We screamed and pounded on the bleachers with our feet. We hoped that by the sheer force of our enthusiasm, we could carry her over the finish line.
She crawled over just in time, tears streaming down her face. It was so hard, but she made it.
When things are difficult for you, instead of imaging that you have done something wrong and that God is angry with you or abandoning you, think of Jesus along with all the great saints of old and even the people who you love who have died and picture that they are cheering for you. They yell even harder when things get really rough and you can hardly walk. They cheer and stomp and scream and shout.
For you. Its all for you.