Act Like You Know Him

I’ll never forget Mark’s first day of fifth grade. It was a unique situation because the building was completely new to him, but the teacher wasn’t. She had previously taught Mark second and third grade at another building but had transferred to a new position at the same school Mark had been moved to.

I did everything I could to make the transition as easy as possible for Mark. I reminded him repeatedly that, yes, the building would be new and so would all the other students. But I reassured Mark by reminding him that he would have the same teacher whom he already knew and loved. I even made two separate trips to the new building during the summer, so that Mark could become more comfortable with what would be his new school.

He was proud to be starting fifth grade and excited to see his favorite teacher once again. So, I was honestly taken aback by his reaction when the first day came. In fact, I think his feelings and actions took both myself and Mark by surprise.

Together, we entered the cafeteria where all the students had been asked to gather on the first day. But that’s when I felt Mark’s clasp on my hand turn from relaxed into a death grip. And when I glanced down to see what had happened, I noticed he wasn’t breathing. He must have started to hold his breath prior to digging his fingernails into my right hand because I noticed his cheeks were beginning to turn the same shade of purple as his backpack. Oy.

It was packed and as loud as you can imagine one room filled with over five hundred excited and anxious children would be. But I did my best to find a bit of privacy. The very last thing Mark needed was to add embarrassment to everything else that was already overwhelming him.

“Mark,” I said as calmly but as loudly as I could so that he would be able to hear me. “You’ve got to breath, Sweetie. Breath.”

When that didn’t work, I relied on an old standby; I started blowing puffs of air into his face. Thankfully this worked, but after a few hard blinks, Mark suddenly took a loud gasp of air and proceeded to let out a blood curdling scream.

“Mark, calm down,” I said as I rubbed his arms, trying to relax his stiff, tight muscles, “What’s wrong? Tell Momma.”

“I…Uh…I…Uh…Uh…” he uttered repeatedly between sobs. I could tell he was close to passing out and could do little more than stutter at this point.

The not-so-small peanut gallery of other kids and several adults that was now surrounding us didn’t escape me, either. Neither did it help. So, I grabbed Mark’s hand firmly and guided him through the crowd back to the school office.

It took some doing. The office staff did not want to call his teacher down to the office. They wanted to protect her last few minutes of free time before the start of the school day. But I knew that she knew Mark and loved him as much as I did. I also knew that if Mark could just see her, he could remember that in the middle of all this newness, all this chaos, all this emotional suffering and distress, he could know that everything was going to be okay.

Fortunately, I was convincing enough. Either that or Mark’s inconsolable tears and incomprehensible stuttering did the trick. Who knows? Maybe both helped. But it took little more than a few minutes from the time the teacher was called to the moment she appeared in front of him, kneeling down to make eye contact with Mark on his level.

“Mark,” she said so softly I could barely hear her myself. “It’s my first day, too. Can we go into the cafeteria together?” And with that, there was a transfer of security. Mark’s now sticky-with-sweat and shaking hand transferred from mine to that of his teacher. In an instant, my own blood pressure likely dropped a good 30 points!

The situation didn’t change at all. Mark was still terrified and suffering terribly. But now he knew he wasn’t going to face the day alone. He knew his place: In the middle of this new and scary situation, yes. But also in the caring and proven hands of a teacher whom he loved, knew and trusted.

The same is true for us.

We can suffer well if we also know our place. Like Mark, knowingly stepping into a most uncomfortable situation, but comforted by knowing that he isn’t alone. Our place is with God. He is our rock (Psalm 18:2), our shield (Proverbs 30:5) and He “knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7).

What a profound privilege.

What a peaceful place to be.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

The Certainty of Suffering

I won’t identify the pastor I was listening to because I don’t think there’s value in that. Let’s just say that I think it’s always important to know God’s Word and to listen to others with a “thoughtful” ear, meaning take in the teaching, but don’t just leave it at that. Think about it, compare it to what we already know from our own Scripture studies. In other words, don’t just take things to heart and head no matter who says them. Instead, hold everything accountable to God’s Word before we allow them to take root in our lives.

I say this because I was listening to a podcast from a pastor just last night, and sadly I think it could do a lot of emotional harm to many.

His joyful report of the healing of his premature little girl was no doubt encouraging and uplifting. But I couldn’t help but think of the parents whose children hadn’t experienced the same. What would they have taken from that evening’s message? More hurt? Frustration? Maybe even fear that their own faith and prayers weren’t quite enough?

Yes, I know that God is all-powerful (Matthew 19:26). And I genuinely believe that He still steps in to perform miracles today. However, when we focus on these stories alone—the happy, joy-filled stories of miraculous healings—I can’t help but think that we’re rather missing the point.

Suffering is a sure thing. It’s going to happen.

Maybe the point isn’t to try to pray our way out of it or to do everything in our power to avoid it entirely. Instead, maybe the point is to rest easy in God’s will—no matter what that is. After all, isn’t that what Jesus modeled for all of us in the first place (Luke 22:42)? Thank God that His Son didn’t shy away from suffering, otherwise none us would have any hope at all.

When hardship threatens my joy or the pain of suffering starts to cut a little too deep, I try to remember that suffering is part of God’s plan. Our suffering is never for not (Romans 8:28). We can know that God will not be frivolous with our pain. This is true even when we don’t know the “why” behind it all.

And as I listened to this pastor’s story as tears of joy fell down his face and tears of pain ran down mine, another Scriptural truth came to mind:

God placed the rainbow in the sky as a visual reminder of His promise to never completely destroy the earth with water again (Genesis 9:13-15). But that doesn’t mean that rain will never come. In fact, a rainbow is just a reminder that even when the rain storms come—no matter how it may beat down upon us, no matter how high the water gets, no matter how close we feel to drowning in it all—it will not be the end. And even if we suffer and face hardship throughout our entire life, we can know that God’s got a greater tomorrow in store (Revelation 21:4).

Choosing Joy

A lot has happened as of late, and as a result I haven’t been updating this blog as much as I would like. But I’m going to be much more purposeful about changing that because—well—change doesn’t just happen. We have to be intentional about it.

I’ve learned that joy is the same way. Joy isn’t something you find or stumble upon. It’s something you can choose to have. It’s something you practice. And while practice doesn’t make perfect, it does make better. So, in the middle of—and I’ll be completely honest here—crappy circumstances, I can opt to practice joy, even when in the middle of messy, stressful stuff.

So, rather than go on a rant about what’s been happening lately, let’s focus on how exactly you, me or anyone can be intentional about practicing joy…

Practice being mindful of God’s presence—always.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11 (ESV)

There have quite literally been countless times I have had to walk Mark through painful, scary situations and procedures. The only thing I could do was simply be with him, a powerful, stable, calming presence, a presence that reminded him that—no matter what—I was with him. And this seemed to have helped him tremendously.

God’s presence can do tremendously more for each of us—if we choose to focus on it, instead of allowing our circumstance, challenge or the chaos around us to compete for our attention.

Recognize that joy does not depend on things being easy. Joy depends on Him.

For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Psalm 33:21 (ESV)

There are admittedly days when I feel like I can’t catch my breath. My worries run away with me. But then it gets even worse because I realize that all my worries are based on factual knowledge about Mark’s future. Many days, I wish I simply didn’t know what I know. Peering into the future is not always a good thing.

It’s on days like these that I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter how things are now or how they will be in the future. It doesn’t matter because I already know Who matters: the very One who controls it all and will work all things for good (Romans 8:28).

So, we can suffer and things can downright suck. But it doesn’t have to affect our joy because our hope—and our lasting joy—can only be found in him.

Invest in growing joy!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (ESV)

No garden flourishes without being tended, and neither does joy. So, invest in your joy-filled harvest by being purposeful about planning time to just be with God.

Honestly, I think I’ve been woefully lacking in this as of late. Sure, I faithfully read and study my Bible, but I’ve been so busy taking care of all my responsibilities that I’ve not made time to really rest in and enjoy God.

It helps me to be more intentional about this when I think of a seed buried deep within the dirt. It may look like nothing’s happening, but that’s far from the truth. While in hiding, it sprouts and takes in nourishment from the soil so that it will later have the strength to push through the surface and grow into all it’s intended to be. Likewise, we can make time to hide in God’s presence (Psalm 119:114) and be strengthened (Isaiah 40:28-31), too.