Q & A: Week Five – Living Loved

Welcome to week five in a series of longish reflections on some of life’s harder questions. We’re having a rich conversation in this space and I am grateful. Last week opened the door to a series-within-the-series, a set of questions that touch on the Big Topic of suffering. This week’s question jumps in a little deeper:

What do we do with our suffering?

Next week: How do I make all the pieces fit? DSC00973

Valentine’s Day has never been a favorite day for me. It’s become over-commercialized and too often leads to tiny heartbreaks instead of warm fuzzies. Yet I find it oddly appropriate that this week’s question should fall on this day. Why? Because at the heart of all that I’ve learned by living this particular question is this strong, clear truth:

The greatest task, and the deepest joy, of the human journey is learning to live loved.

Trusting that despite all kinds of evidence that might, at first glance, seem to be to the contrary, we are loved. Loved beyond reason, beyond our ability to comprehend, beyond imagining.

Why are we loved?

Because we are. Because we live. Because we existed in the mind of God before ever we drew breath. Because each and every one of the billions of us who have walked the deserts and jungles of this planet is beautiful, lovable, glorious and a totally unique bearer of the image of God. A Great God, who is both beyond us and with us, who rejoices when we rejoice and weeps when we weep. 

We are loved.

Everything else begins and ends with that statement.


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On days when the sun is shining, the sky is clear, and we and our loved ones are busy enjoying the good things this life has to offer — on those days, the whole idea of living loved seems possible. Good feelings overflow, endorphins rush through our brains and bodies, and Life.Is.Good.

Yes, maybe we are loved! Maybe this is what love looks like — happy feelings all around, blue skies wherever my eye lands.

DSC00952But when the blue begins to fade a bit, and clouds drift by, when harder things hit us, interrupt the good vibes of blue-sky days. . . well, then that whole idea begins to seem a lot more iffy, doesn’t it? Something uncomfortable begins to intrude, a physical ailment or a ruptured relationship, job dissatisfaction or not enough money at the end of the month — living loved? Not likely. Living ignored feels more like it.

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But here’s what I’m coming to believe. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m getting there, and I’m breathing prayers for grace and patience to live into this truth:

It is when the storm looms large that all the edges of living loved begin to be visible. It is in the storm that we meet God most intimately. And we encounter ourselves there, too. We learn a heckuva lot more about who we are, how we’re built, where our strengths and weaknesses are, and what our own personal shadows have to teach us when we’re navigating through gale-force winds than when we’re enjoying a blue-sky day.

If I’m honest — and I’m trying to be! — I don’t like this very much. I prefer sunny days and happy feelings. I’m grateful for loving family and financial stability and good health and the ability to be generous — and it’s easy to be grateful for all of that. 

But life is not simply blue-sky days. And when the storms hit, gratitude is much harder to find. Sometimes we can go years without seeing a hint of blue in the scene unfolding around us. Life is complicated, often difficult, sometimes filled with pain. What then? Living loved? 

Now, it feels more like living abandoned.

Last week, we encouraged one another to give ourselves permission for the tears that come with all those feelings, all those stormy days. I believe scripture invites us to lament, giving us words and emotions and stories that underscore the reality of human suffering. Biblical faith is not stoicism and it is not saccharine or cheesy, either.

Biblical faith is muscular, tough, stubborn. Joseph held onto hope despite calamity after calamity. Jacob learned everything the hard way. David was great at music and kingship, but lousy at parenting and integrity. Elijah was aces when the big show demanded it, but fell apart when fatigue overwhelmed. Hannah cried out to God when her life felt empty and bitter and then gave up God’s gift when he arrived. Ruth begged and borrowed the very food she and Naomi needed while learning to trust Israel’s God. Mary pondered and sang, questioned and grieved. 

Suffering is never minimized in scripture. It is acknowledged on almost every page. We are never told to ‘rise above it.’ Instead, we are invited to live into it and to learn from it. And to recognize that God is right here with us, in the middle of every sob session, in the heart of every loss, right here in the muck with us. 

Here are some powerful, beautiful words from Fred Buechner that begin to summarize what I want to say today:

 “The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back, and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits soar. I know this to be true of no one as well as I know it to be true of myself. I know how just the weather can affect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.

It is in Jesus, of course, and in the people whose lives have been deeply touched by Jesus, and in ourselves at those moments when we also are deeply touched by him, that we see another way of being human in this world, which is the way of wholeness. When we glimpse that wholeness in others, we recognize it immediately for what it is, and the reason we recognize it, I believe, is that no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us. It is part of what the book of Genesis means by saying that we are made in the image of God. It is part of what Saint Paul means by saying that the deepest undercurrent of all creation is the current that seeks to draw us toward what he calls mature humanhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
— Frederick Buechner, from a sermon included in the book, “Longing for Home”

Wholeness. Living loved brings us as close to that as we can get this side of heaven. Choosing, every single day, no matter the weather, to believe that God loves us — and to learn to love ourselves because God loves us — this is the only path I know that leads to wholeness, to healing.

That means jettisoning a lot of bad theology along the way. It means choosing to hold the tension of God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness loosely and humbly. It means choosing to live with unanswered questions. It means letting the tears loose, crying ‘uncle,’ stomping our feet on occasion or shaking our fists in heaven’s direction. And then. . . sitting still long enough to hear the gentle whisper of love echoing in our hearts — right there, in the middle of our frustration, our rage, our impotence.

DSC00968It also means refusing to put suffering on a sliding scale of any kind. If you find yourself in the middle of deep personal pain for any reason — ANY REASON — then you are suffering. Please do not undervalue your own struggle by looking across the aisle, or across the newspaper, or across the world to someone else’s struggle. You will always find someone who is ‘worse off’ than you are. I promise. Instead, fully inhabit your pain, as much as you are able. Release the anguish of it, take it to God and say, “See this? Do you see this? Do you see how hard this is? Are you God or aren’t you? Can you fix this or can’t you?”

Yes, go ahead. Pour it out.

And then — shut up.

Sit by the side of the road and listen. Listen to what God has been teaching you about love and about yourself. Really listen. “I am with you always,” God says. “I collect your tears in a bottle.” 

DSC00968 - Version 2

And remember that when these times hit — and they do, they will — that you are in such good company, the author of Lamentations to name one. He rages and sobs. . . and then he remembers. He listens to what he knows:

13 He shot his arrows
    deep into my heart.
14 My own people laugh at me.
    All day long they sing their mocking songs.
15 He has filled me with bitterness
    and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink.
16 He has made me chew on gravel.
     He has rolled me in the dust.
17 Peace has been stripped away,
    and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
    Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”
19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
20 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

The LORD is our inheritance.

Can you still ‘dare to hope?’ No matter what sort of crap life hands you? Do you know how loved you are, even when the s**t hits the fan? Do you know how to love yourself when the pain level rises? Can you release the temptation to write off your own pain because someone else’s may be worse? 

And here’s the question I need to ask myself right now, in the middle of the muck that we’re wading through: can I remember that there is only one Savior and that Savior’s name is Jesus? Can I release my need to be the giver of help and begin to receive what I need to get through this round? Can I believe enough in the immensity of God’s love for me that I can make good choices, ones that lead to health and healing? 

I’m workin’ on it. 

You?

Next week, we’ll continue to delve into this enormous and complex topic by asking:

How do I make all the pieces fit?

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Comments

  1. Oh Diana, Diana. THIS. This is where I have been these last weeks. The part about minimizing my own pain. “After all. It could be worse.” Spare me. I swear I will scream the next time I hear those words. But it is so ingrained. Actually I would like to craft a response that is respectful but true.

    At least I am aware of it but oh how strong this is. And damaging. I still find it hard to take in the comfort others offer me. I learned to minimize my own pain this way. Pain minimized is never fully dealt with. I am learning to deal w pain but wow. This is a big one for me. This needs to be said over and over. I feel a post coming on.

    • I SO know those feelings. And I have a story I may tell some day about an almost angelic visit I had once that helped me to learn to keep this in perspective. It is very, very hard to be on the receiving end. But sometimes that is where we find ourselves. And that’s where you are right now! Even in the midst of all the caring for others that you’re doing, there is also CAROL, who needs to feel loved, to be helped, to know that others are caring for her. And that has to begin with you, Carol. For me, it starts with me – telling that frightened little girl who learned so early to ‘take charge’ that everything will be okay, that I will no let anything hurt her. But man, it’s hard to do, isn’t it?

    • “pain minimized is never fully dealt with” – an excellent observation. I will endeavor to remember this.

      • Susan,

        While I am unexpectedly caring for my dad (he can’t be left alone) and loss of retirement income, Iam also grieving the unresolved loss of two siblings as a child (nine months apart when I was 12 years old.) And my little 12 year old heart, from observing the grownups around me, got two messages about this pain and pain in our lives in general:
        1. things could always be worsee. (My brother could have grown up and rejected God – actully said in the midst of the events surrounding my 2 1/2 year old brother’s death – my mother trying to rationally make sense of what happened, I suppose.)
        2. And as I mentioned last week here – we need to be thankful for (whatever) and then we will feel better.

        Pain is minimized by this thinking. And since we didn’t talk about how we felt about all of this, for years I saw it as my parents grief, not mine. I did not process that grief and did not begin to process it until after my one remaining sibling died 8 years ago. I am now in the middle of processing that grief in a therapy group. In some ways it is very hard and scary, yet it is also a relief to that 12 year old child, who has been carrying sadness around for a very long time (I am 66 years old.)

        This series has been timed just for me – OK, I know it’s for all of us. Funny how God does that.

        • Carol, I have been traveling and just now am reading this. My heart is with you in this precious, intense journey. I wish I could give you (present day you, and 12 year old too) a hug; I’m glad you are making this journey in community — including the one here on Diana’s blog. God is so good to bring us what we need 🙂

  2. Diana, I really appreciate your wisdom as well as your reaching out to so many people to allow for this space to share. Knowing you are loved can be so fleeting. Sometimes it seems there is never enough love to fill the need. I have a community in Nicaragua where I know that I am loved. The last time I was there was close to my birthday and at the going away party they surprised me with such love. Imagine close 75 children surrounding you singing a beautiful birthday song while they handed me a big sheet signed by everyone with words about how much they loved me. The song went on for about 5 minutes while I stood there in tears. It is wonderful to feel loved, but it is fleeting. Knowing you are loved by God is the rock under the doubt of human love, but I don’t always put my feet down. Anyway, thank you for this wisdom. It truly is the key to withstanding suffering. The physical suffering can be tollerated in a variety of ways, but not feeling loved cannot be tollerated. It is constant pain. Loving ourselves helps us love others, as you know, and is our first duty every day.

    • Oh, what a lovely story, Newell. I can picture it in my mind and I’m so glad you have this story as part of your life. It IS fleeting, this ‘feeling loved.’ It is. But learning to live as though we are loved, leaning into the truth of God’s love – these are, as you say, bedrock. And none of us — not one — keeps our feet planted securely 24/7. That’s why we need to encourage one another, I think. So, I thank you for your encouragement here.

  3. Here’s the evidence that I have some problems with my lived theology: I could not figure out where you were going with Living Loved alongside suffering. Sheesh! You’d think I’d have gotten more clear on this dichotomy by now.

    Thanks, as always, for being our Internet Pastor.

    • Hey – this is not cast in stone! And if it doesn’t make sense to you, tell me. I’m open. :>) It’s a tough line to find, I think, and we keep slipping off it!

  4. Ro elliott says:

    This is right where God has been taking me….winning my heart over…living loved…I for far too long lived under the weight of performance….earning….and thinking God was mostly disappointed with me…and a little ticked off…but Grace and love wins the day and coming to know…deeply know how loved I am …just because I am and He is…..nothing I can do can add or subtract from that love…the best picture to me is holding your new born…all the love that pours out of your heart the moment that child is born…they have done nothing to earn that love…if anything…up until that moment they caused great pain….but Love covers all that pain …and before they take their first breath …your heart explodes with love…and that is human love…we can not fathom the depths and width of God unconditional love for us…we can never earn it or lose it…Why do we have such trouble receiving this most simple but profound truth…GOD IS LOVE…like you said Diana …I think we do have to shed some wrong theology that keeps us from embracing this foundational truth…if we don’t truly believe God is love and everything comes through his heart of love…we filter the sorrow and suffering of this world with the wrong lens…it’s knowing we are loved that buoys us in the seas of the unknown..it hold us through the dark…this revelation of His love have transformed my relationship with Him and others…not that I have arrived…but this scandalous love of His has change the trajectory of my life and has brought be to a greater place of rest. I feel like I have just put my toes in the waters of His great ocean of love and we have now and eternity to dive into the depth of the sea of His Love. This is long….sorry…but oh I could go on and on….thanks for the conversation Diana

    • Gwen Acres says:

      Befinning and ending with God’s love and grace. Otherwise I am a squirrel running the never ending performance race, which I never win. Thank you Ro for expressing the message so beautifully.

    • Ro, you echo my thoughts here, “I feel like I have just put my toes in the waters of His great ocean of love and we have now and eternity to dive into the depth of the sea of His Love.” Amen ~ I can’t wait! I’ve been wading through the analogy of water, seas of suffering and tides of transformation as I’ve pondered and written about this topic. Now you remind me of ‘Love vast as the ocean’ which is limitless in its ability to flow freely into every circumstance and place we may find ourselves in.
      The struggle to see myself as loved has haunted me for years. Yes, Jesus loves me..and when I came to faith I wore stickers proclaiming its truth. Yes, my beloved husband and family/friends love me. But…I hear with ears alone and the receiver in my heart fails to truly get the message. Maybe being too weighed down with worries, problems and concerns means my days have been too darkened by despair to appreciate being equally circumscribed by grace.
      There are glimmers, there are hints lighting my pathway, there are words that whsiper close. One day, I pray I’ll drown in God’s sea of love and feel it making me buoyant above all else. For now, I am strugglng not to drown in suffering’s seas. Barely keeping head above water some days. Didn’t think I could write about it..yet here I am, one blog post and one comment in! This forum draws forth words as water. Sorry for going on at length…Seems we are unstoppable once the lid is lifted, cork removed and permission to spill forth granted. Thanks, Diana, and everyone for your patience. Think I’ll shut up now…

    • I love the picture of holding your newborn babe to picture God’s love for us. This is a lesson that takes a lifetime to learn and can easily be forgotten when the storms build. So the more we can ‘practice’ our living loved muscles, the better we’ll survive the bad weather. Thanks for these lovely thoughts, Ro. And thanks, Joy and Gwen, for encouraging her and the rest of us.

  5. Another great Q & A. Some random thoughts:

    I love that Buechner passage. Dang, that begs to be read again and again.

    Faith that is real, lived out in scripture by bible characters that are SO real, who I can relate to – just one of the many things I love about following after God and believing. Thank you Lord for your word.

    You mention a sliding scale when it comes to suffering. VERY good point. We often are too quick to minimize what we’re facing, going through right now – or at the other end of it – maximizing it. Lord help us to see clearly our situations and then open up our hearts to you and let it pour out. THEN we can open our hands to receive the grace we need for that moment.

    Finally, speaking of hope, a friend shared this quote yesterday, and I think it is a dandy.

    “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” G.K. Chesterton

    okay, now I need to go back and read the comments. As always, thanks Diana.

  6. As with physical pain, we all experience emotional pain differently. Emotional pain cannot be seen, or compared. We empathize and console by gently walking alongside.

    • So true. Thanks for this wisdom

    • I will echo Newell’s ‘so true,’ Gwen. My own struggles with this issue often center around emotional pain I carry, often about the sufferings of others whom I love. So I know this is true for all levels of pain and suffering.

    • Absolutely, Gwen. Well said. And how grateful we are for those who “console by gently walking alongside”! So many prefer to throw a verse or two our way as though we can heal by simply catching Scripture and absorbing by osmosis. The word alone does have healing power, but we also need the comfort which being understood and supported by others brings. Jesus knows we walk wounded and He consoles just as you describe. Thank you.

  7. Gwen Acres says:

    One last thought… We usually want to hide our sin and suffering from others. We don’t want to bother someone else or share our shame. Yet I have found my deepest comfort and the redeeming of my down falling has been in the sharing of it. When a fellow traveller who has fallen into the same pit knows she/he is not alone there can be deep healing, for both. To live in grace and let go of pride we are able to truly carry one another’s burdens.

    • Amen to that, Gwen. Being able to share at that level is a rare gift, I’m sorry to say. But when we find it, it is pure gift. To share our shame opens doors into our souls like nothing else. Thanks for this addition to the beautiful bouquet of comments here.

  8. Diana, I have these words ‘Learn to Live Loved’ in a little frame on my dresser. I made the piece after I read “The Shack” (the questionable theology book with a few really great points in it :0. The part I struggle with in realizing God’s love is constant and sure is NOT the physical circumstances–suffering, challenges, what not, but the lies I struggle with in my head about God’s forgiveness when I fail yet again. I struggle with condemnation, as if Jesus’ blood wasn’t enough to pay for my sin……..as if! As if my groveling and feeling bad will make it better. (We looked at Romans Chapter 9 at our Home Group the other night…this is fresh in my brain. 🙂 Does that make sense? My greatest giants are the ones I fight in my head but I’m getting better at throwing the truth at them, much more early and often.
    ~~~~~~~~~~
    on another note:
    So much of what you shared on this is quotable, Diana, I don’t know where to start.
    May God continue to flesh out in you these truths as you struggle with your own (blasted!) foot brokenness. I mean that in the nicest way.
    thank you!

    • I know those lies inside well, Jody. And that is also a form of suffering, one that most of us experience on an almost daily basis. I know I’ve written about the parishioner whose father used to say, “I have met the enemy, and he lives inside my head.” Spot on. Exactly right. That’s where we meet our fiercest attacks. Thanks for your continuing encouragement, my friend.

  9. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me. For so many years, I said Jesus loves you but I wondered how he could love me when I couldn’t get my crap together. It wasn’t until I understand and embraced His love that I even came close to having my crap together and then it wasn’t important to me as it had been before. I love living loved, being whole. I was once so broken. God is faithful. Always.

    • Ah, yes! Getting the order right – that’s at the base of so many of our problems with this concept, I think. Believing so deeply that we have to earn love sets us up for constant failure and feelings of abandonment. So grateful to read of your healing in this area, Dea. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  10. Thank you, our internet pastor (I loved that). This is so rich, I need time to process it more.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

  11. Gwen Acres says:

    So neat that the retired pastor is not retired! Especially for those of us many miles away from Santa Barbara!!

  12. Learning to feel loved is a life-time quest for so many, and that’s why we do such silly things. The Buechner quote was fantastic, as it shows the dichotomy of living in this world, between one existence and another. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to be a struggle. And if I really embodied the fact that I am loved, then that changes everything !

Trackbacks

  1. […] here with Diana and other questing souls as we are #livingthequestions and […]

  2. […] there room for my tears here?                                       (February 7) 5. What do we do with our suffering?                                  (February 14) 6. How do I make all the pieces fit?                                       […]

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