Staring At The Puzzle: Thoughts From Further Down the Valley

I am still staring at the puzzle pieces.

And I really don't enjoy puzzles much either.

Yeah, I have not moved very far in the past few weeks.  I think this is pretty common for widows and widowers.  For me, as a single parent and pastor, I still have to get moving, there are many things to be done.  But also, there are many details after the death of a loved one that surprise you.

Closing accounts and changing names on bills is part of it.  Learning what all your loved one was doing that now falls to you can be overwhelming at times.  Being mom and dad - holy cow!  I just did not know.  And of course there are always new “firsts” that you have to go through, things you never expected would be hard.

During our vacation there is a “junk store” we always visit.  I have been remodeling our front porch - more like redecorating so thought that would be a good place.  Even with my kids, it was “off.”  Another reminder Heather was not there.  There is not really any comfort to be given.  You just have to live through it.

This week’s 1 Minute Meditation featured a Bible verse that really got my attention.  It isn’t usually a “life verse” for folks and I don’t recall seeing it printed on any bookstore items. It comes from Psalm 102:7 and the writer nails the feeling: “I lie awake, and am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.”  Sometimes, in the grieving THIS IS ALL a person can do.

So I am staring at those puzzle pieces that make up my life right now.  I wrote about this idea of the puzzle in my last blog and it is becoming an important image.  When you don’t know what the puzzle is supposed to look like (and even if you do), you have to find the border pieces.  I am not really STARING...I am LOOKING; I am looking for the pieces that make up the border of my life now.

It is scary to admit but I can tell some things have changed.  Some of my “borders” are missing.  Some are here I can see and there are some I do not recognize yet. My faith in Jesus Christ is one of those pieces I know.  I recognize it even though it is a bit different.  I am still a parent of two amazing and courageous young people.  But these pieces are different too.  The one piece not in my puzzle is husband.  That is a hard one to admit because I have been looking for that one so hard but it is the step of acceptance of grieving a spouse - that piece is gone.

There are other pieces that are not borders, yet but may become one someday.  One of my friends (thankfully I still have those border pieces too) pointed out the puzzle may not even be a square or rectangle - this makes it even more a challenge (and you don’t want to take the analogy too far).  

One of the most important parts of this journey through the valley of suck is seeing the reality of the Scriptures as a larger whole. It is a whole which incorporates the entire human experience into God’s revelation.  Just like you can’t skip over Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday, we spend some of our time “like a sparrow alone.”  We NEED to be there and live it before we can really know that “God will turn to the prayer of the impoverished; he won’t despise their prayers” (102:17).

All our puzzles are unique even though they share similarities.  When you don’t have the picture, as many know, it is going to take longer and our society; our world has little patience for giving people time.  No matter how sure someone may have been about their puzzle and you may have been about their puzzle, life has a way throwing it all up for grabs.  And that is when God steps in: slowly and gently, and helps us look at the pieces we now have; not what we wish we had.

Force pieces into place and all you do is break the pieces.  Learn the sparrow's lesson; to lie
awake and to be alone on the housetop.  Look intently and listen just as intently and God will speak and in God’s timing - piece by piece - a new picture will emerge.  This is how God works ALL things to his glory. Those words are not meant when the valley of suck is darkest. They are meant for the days when we can start to sort out the pieces.






Image used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/puzzle-macro-2-1488952 and
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/sparrow-1400611

Piecing Together Puzzles in the Valley of Suck


The story winds its way to the end.  Be it action adventure, romance or tragedy, the end will come and bring resolution.  Maybe there will be a sequel or an epilogue.  But the end will come and the lights go up or the book will be closed and the audience leaves.

What is that? A shadow? No, a shape...a form...an outline.  Someone is left sitting in the dark.  Some of us are left wondering what happens next.

The end is not the end of the story.  Even the epilogue does not clear all the loose ends.  For real human beings and not characters in a story, life continues.  The tragic death of my wife because of colon cancer does not end my story.  It does not end my kids’ story.  I do not even believe it ended Heather’s story (I just do not know what it looks like now).

We are not frozen in time.  We keep living.  We keep “writing” if you will.  But our story is marred by missing one of the main characters, one integral to the story arc.  We did not see it coming.  As authors, the three of us are scrambling and scurrying about many days it feels.  It does especially become difficult at each “first” as it is right now on our first vacation without Heather.

What storyline do we take now?  

What do we do next?  

What do I do next?

Conventional wisdom following the death of a loved one, especially for widows and widowers, is to make no major decisions in the first year.  Of course, this also presupposes said widows/widowers are in retirement or near about.  But what of the new single adult or the new parent? How about when necessity demands decisions to be made?

Or let's consider another word picture such as a puzzle. When the pieces aren’t coming into place and don’t match the picture on the box, at some point, a somewhat sound person stops and sees there is no progress.  We look carefully and observe the pieces of our puzzle and the image on the box are not the same ones.  

Assuming we cannot return the puzzle, do we quit, do we try to put together the puzzle on the box, or do we try to put the puzzle together with the pieces we have?  The first two options are what is so very tempting to do.  Quitting would just save us a lot of headaches.  Trying for the picture on the box is the way it is “supposed to be done.”  If it doesn’t work we can just blame the box, the pieces, the company, the employees, the lighting in our house, etc.

The third option is the hardest.  It sucks that we don’t have the pieces to match the box.  We might even cry about and shout about it but we know there is a COMPLETE puzzle here...we just don’t know what it is supposed to look like.  But it can be done.  Some have puzzles with pieces and a picture to match.  Good for them.  Give them a cookie.

Right now, I feel like someone keeps taking my puzzle and changing it again and again.  Just when I get the border done, I look away, turn back and a whole puzzle is in front: a bunch of pieces for the wrong picture.  That is what I feel like on this first vacation without my wife.  

I’m not wired to give up and I found, as tempting as it is, blaming others or trying to put together the picture with pieces I don’t have is futile and no fun.  Even more futile, for me, is trying to do this without God, without faith.  Some think this is ideal and feel it is their role to try to destroy other’s faith.  Rather than focus on their own puzzle, they go messing with other people and their puzzles.

These days after death are a time where many caregivers are forced to face their futures far too soon.  The puzzle of their life, once on its road to completion, is now a mixed up jumble of junk.  Only, it isn’t junk - it is our lives, thrown about through chaos, confusion, and catastrophe.   Our story’s outline is nothing more than toilet paper and fire starter.

But words can be rearranged and even a puzzle without a picture can be put together.  It will take time.  It will take tears and it may take a few years.  The draft you had made of the future is gone and like many other drafts of literature, it gives way to a new story.  I have a new story to discover.  You have a new story to discover.  Look intently at the pieces you have and start moving them around.

Before you know it, you will find a word or piece move into place.  A new sentence is written, a new piece joined to another.  This is prevenient grace - God’s Spirit working before you and I even knew it.  



Image used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/open-book-1424269
 http://www.freeimages.com/photo/puzzle-1624119

A Cheat Sheet for the Valley of Suck: Personal and Group Reflection


I've written a good bit about the personal realities of going through the deep grief of a loosing my wife to colon-cancer. Many have experienced their own time in the Valley of Suck but it isn't easy to face it. This week is the one month anniversary of her death and I've gotten some clear indications from some, I need to "get over it." But grief and suffering doesn't work that way. It isn't something that is unhealthy, in fact, it is the exact opposite. So from my own study, experiences, and conversations with others, I've tried to help put together a curriculum of sorts here. A video is included to go along with the Bible references and reflections for personal and group study. Please take and use as you find it helpful.

Much love from the Valley of Suck and May the Force Be With You! ========== 1. What hero or heroine in a book/movie/play is your favorite?  What is it about them you connect with?

2. What time(s) in your life have you felt most isolated or alone?  Why do you think this was the case?  What did you do or what was done to help you out the situation?


Stories have a way of helping us express our own inner struggles/fears/hopes.  While I am a big (huge) Star Wars fan, other stories also connect with me deeply.  We know from science, the right side of our brains are where our emotions are stored, where our creative ideas really come from, and where stories connect with our lives.  


Our lives are full of stories.  From childhood through our teen years and beyond, stories are what we share with others.  It we identify ourselves as husband/wife or single, by our career, or our hobbies, all of these conjure stories in the listener’s mind.  They may be accurate or created in the mind.  Accurate or not, these stories can be very powerful for the next steps of a relationship.


When we are in grief, pain, and suffering, people make determinations from their experience and knowledge to form narratives for us unless this story-making is interrupted by the real story.  I’m writing this during the week of the first month of my wife’s death from colon-cancer.  If I tell you nothing more, you will likely begin to form a story from your experiences (you can go back and read some of our story on the rest of blog from this past year).


Take a moment and watch my video on “A Cheat Sheet” for times when life sucks.


3.  I use the term Cheat Sheet for the Psalms because these writings reflect those who have been in deep grief, pain, and sorrow.  You heard me read from Psalm 6:6 and share how I have experienced this type of grief.  How have you experienced it?  Have you felt people understood it?  How about God?


4.  The idea of being “securely oriented” is an almost passionate pursuit for some.  How do you see this lived out in your community, our nation, and our world?  How do leaders and politicians use this desire to manipulate?  Do you see “pits” being created for those who go contrary to this?  How?


5.  Dr. Brueggemann also describes “the pit” as a real place where we have no help or hope.  This is where “painfully disorientation” takes place.  It may or may not be created by “enemies” but this isn’t the point.  Take a look at these verses: Psalm 69:15; Psalm 88:6; and Psalm 143:7.  Feel free to read the whole chapter if you’d like.  How does it help you to know people in the Bible have felt this helpless feeling?  Why do you think we don’t hear more about verses like these?


6.  I bring up crucifixion and resurrection as something more applicable to ALL followers of Jesus and not Jesus.  That might sound odd but look at Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23.  What does Jesus say?  What does that mean to you - what will taking up your cross look like?  Can you do it without pain?  Why or why not?


7.  The Good News is that there is a resurrection - new life - a surprising reorientation in our lives.  Think of other images of growth and pain.  Can you think of other Bible verses that talk about this?  How about life lessons you have learned?  (think of a “seed must die” or how about “growing pains” that children have).


8.  Who do you know that is grieving right now (it could be you)?  Did you know it is expected that the period of painfully disorientation - what Dr. Kubler-Ross calls the Stages of Grief (and others) - will likely take up to (and beyond) a year?  From my experience (and others), within two weeks to one month, we expect people to “get over it.”  Why do you think we are so quick dismiss other people in grief?  Do you dismiss your own?  How do the Psalm verses help you have more patient view?


9.  God does not waste anything; not even grief and suffering.  Knowing what we know from science and health, grief work IS work and it can be healthy.  For each of us, what we need to do can be different to help heal.  Emotional wounds, like physical wounds, take time to heal.  How can you “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)?  


10.  If you are grieving, how can you participate in your own healing?  What might “reorientation” look like for you in the next month?  Six months?  A year?  What would you want it to look like?  Consider journaling and talking with God about it more in the weeks ahead.


May I Suggest:
Pray the following Breath Prayer throughout this coming week:

“Healing Lord, comfort the wounded soul inside of me (or the name of someone you know).”



The Beduin Hunter and the Valley of Suck

A Beduin set out one day with his son to graze his camel and look for wild herbs to bring back for his wife to cook.  On their way home,  a herd of gazelles appeared in their path.  Quickly the father stopped the camel and slid from her back.  Warning the boy not to stray, he moved toward the gazelles, which streaked off as soon as he stepped toward them.  But the Beduin was a keen hunter, and he eagerly followed on their trail.

As the child waited alone, a She-Ghoul, that monster of the wilderness who feeds on human flesh, spied him and with one leap sprang upon and greedily devoured him.

The father hunted long but could not catch a single deer.  Resigning himself, he returned to his camel to find that his son was gone.  On the ground he found dark drops of blood. “My son! My son is killed!” he shrieked. And in sadness, he led his camel home.

On the way, he passed a cave, where he saw the She-Ghoul dancing, fresh from her feast.  Taking careful aim, the Beduin shot the She-Ghoul dead. He slashed open her belly, and in it he found his dead son. He laid the boy upon his cloak, pulled the woolen cloth around him tight, and so carried him home.

When he reached his tent the Beduin said to his wife, “I have brought you back a gazelle, dear wife, but as God is my witness, it can be cooked only in a cauldron that has never been used for a meal of sorrow.”

The woman went from tent to tent for the loan of such a pot.  But one neighbor said, “Sister, we used the large cauldron to cook the rice for the people who came to weep with us when my husband died.” And another told her, “We last heated our big cooking pot on the day of my son’s funeral.” She knocked at every door but did not find what she sought.  So she returned to her husband empty-handed.

“Haven’t you found the right kind of cauldron?” asked her husband.  “There is no household but has seen misfortune,” she answered.  “There is no cauldron but has cooked a meal of mourning.”  Only then did the Beduin fold back his woolen cloak and say to her, “They have all tasted their share of sorrow.  Today the turn is ours.  This is our gazelle.”  (from “The Spirituality of Imperfection”)

No one gets out without grief.  It is not going to happen.  In our lives, we are going to know sorrow.  However, we must choose if we will invite it in as a guest or a friend or turn it away as a stranger or enemy.  We do have the choice.

As I have journeyed as a pastor with many and have befriended others along the way, I have seen both responses.  Our society and culture however, tends more often to confuse the two.  Culture assumes we will grieve, maybe take a week or two and then we will be done with it - back to work we go!  Some will stand stoic, rigid even, and such behavior will be seen as “troopering through.”  In the traditional sense of the grief cycle, this is step one - denial - and sadly many stay there and are applauded by both church and society.

But there is another option, and it is welcoming sorrow and grief as our guest.  If we welcome well, grief may even become a friend and, in due course, a trusted companion.  The valley of suck and the shadow of death is the time when sorrow, suffering, and grief will knock.  We may deny the presence (it is outside the door - we don’t have to ‘see’) but the knock is the giveaway - we hear it.  We can ignore it but it will not stop...ever.  It might get dulled by time.  It may blend in like a dripping faucet, but it is there as an enemy.  Or as our friend.

Walter Brueggemann offers a simple schematic of how we often view our faith life and in turn, our relationship with God:
  1. We are securely oriented,
  2. being painfully disoriented, and
  3. being surprisingly reoriented. (‘‘Praying the Psalms”)

I smirk just a bit as I read Brueggemann’s description, “the mood of much of the middle-class church,” is grounded in a theology of secure orientation.  God is where God is and not bothering us.  We are settled.  If we do the right things, then God blesses us.  My dividends come in.  My kids do, basically what I want them to do.  My debt is manageable.  I give and it God blesses.  Sorrow has no place in this world.  It cannot be from God.  I don’t like to feel sorrow so I must not be growing if I have sorrow!  God wants me happy.

We often take growth for granted - that it is a given thing.  Do the right things and growth naturally occurs.  Things will grow for sure, but generally, it is out of control and makes a mess of things along the way.  Or it too is stymied.  Withhold nutrients of sunlight, water, and air, plants will die.  Harvard Professor, Robert Kegan writes, “All growth is costly.  It involves the leaving behind of an old way of being in the world (215, “The Evolving Self).”  

It was just over 18 years ago that Heather gave birth to our son.  She wanted to do natural childbirth only she began having back labor.  While the sounds of a baby’s first cry can bring joy to ears, I can tell you that Heather’s cries were anything BUT cries of joy.  But from them came a new life.  

Heather’s cries still bring new life.  Our journey through the valley of suck was and is a time of being painfully disoriented.  For me, it is a time, even now, of being overwhelmed, feeling nearly destroyed; humiliated and being brought down broken to my knees.  You don’t get to the good news of dawn and a new morning without first…

“...every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. (Psalm 6:6)”

Jesus was pretty adamant that there is a very serious, a very REAL death we must come to experience if there is to be true salvation: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).”  There must be crucifixion before we can know resurrection.  This is what C.S. Lewis termed “the deeper magic.”

Like the classic story of the man who tried to help the butterfly out of its chrysalis too soon, we deny and hurt one another by advocating or encouraging a denial or an aborting of what real growing looks like both as humans and as followers and seekers of God.  

Do not...do not...do not...tell people to get over it.  Do not try to skip to a resurrection without a crucifixion.  The human journey is marked with sorrow and to deny this is to deny both covenants of the Bible.  The Table of Thanksgiving is what it is because of sacrifice and by our own willingness to die and to follow.  

Today marks one month since Heather’s death and I continue to eat from the cauldron of sorrow.  I am still disoriented but not so much in despair.  Dying and denying our separated by only two letters.  Dying now welcomes suffering and offers new life.  Denying now offers only dying later.  One of the unexpected offers in the valley of suck is that when you become friends with grief and sorrow, you have a connection with all those who also have eaten from the cauldron of sorrow and then they too, become friends.


Photos used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/beduine-tent-1206840

Playing T-Ball in the Valley of Suck

Remember T-ball?  Everybody wins at T-ball.  “Atta-boys” and “Atta-girls” abound.  Flub up at the plate?  “Keep your chin up!  You’ll get it next time!”


The valley of suck is not t-ball.  Come off it.  This isn’t even the major leagues.  Even if you’re the last out in the World Series, you go home that night.  You pocketed how many millions?  You get another shot next season.  Pressure?  Please.  Spare me.


Watch this person who you have loved suffer.  Watch them pray and weep.  Watch them suffer the humiliations of being prodded and poked.  Carry them to the bathroom.  Wipe their rear end.  Clean up their bed, their puke, their hair falling out.  Lay beside them or sit beside them every night and try to not second guess EVERYTHING you’ve ever done or not done as they struggle to breath.  Do it everyday.  Do it for weeks.  Do it for months.  Do it for years.  Do it waiting, longing, praying, fasting, crying, hoping for ONE good report.  


Pressure?  


I’ll take that last at bat if it means when I strike out, I can go home and hug and kiss my wife again.

Pressure?

Then try day after day to listen to voices say things like:


  “Be Positive!  They aren’t going to get better if you’re negative.”
  “Look at the positive side of things.”
  “Look on the sunny side of it.”
  “Don’t worry, they’ll beat this!”
  “You can’t feel that way.”
  “You can’t talk like that (or cry) in front of her!”

Pressure? You think?


Friends, there is no magic pill in the valley of suck!  And for me to say these things is not a lack of faith.  It is not a faltering of my belief and trust in God.  If anything, my faith in God is more resolute and more resilient because I am not ashamed of the God I believe in NOW.  

The God I believed in two years ago is not even the same God...or (truth be told), I am not the same person.  How is God different?  I am not going to let you nail me down on that just yet because that is just the thing, I cannot put this God in a box or mold.  This God has, in fact, completely wrecked my world.  I’ll get back with you on it as life unfolds or in my case, unravels, every day.


Tonight, I’m writing because I need to get this out.  I’m writing as I’m preparing to preach for the first time since Heather died.  I am so reluctant.  It is another first, in this continuing, unexpected firsts.  She believed in me like no one else did or has or could.  Now she is not here and there is little; no, there is no comfort in the past tense.  SHE is NOT here. I cannot explain it. It just is. Period.  Pressure?  You bet.


Here is the saving grace in it all.  Tomorrow, I am going to get up and talk about Jesus.  Tomorrow, if you dare to get up and face the Gospel message then you will come face to face with the One who wrecks worlds in ways supervillains could only dream of doing.  I am going to be talking about a God who does not ever let anything go to waste - life or death.  We are dealing with a God who does not allow the holiest of women or men get a pass on suffering and pain.   Pressure?  Sure thing.

I am going to get up and preach about a God I am seeing again for the first time.  I am preaching about a God who knows the pain of the caregivers, widows and the widowers.  I am preaching as one who is learning just why widows have a special place in the heart of God.  I am preaching about a God who wrecked my world and loved me and my family through it all.  God was - is - and will be in it.  No magic pill will be offered.  Pressure?  You have no idea.  


Only the promise that God is Emmanuel - God with us.  God with me.  


Even when I go down swinging,

God is enough.

God is all I have.


Photo used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/concentration-1439556

The Power of Compounding Interest in the Valley of Suck

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/texture-steel-cable-1466444

This week I felt like I was coming unraveled.  This was way BEFORE the terrorist attacks and the shootings in our country.  It seems this is where people’s use of social media forms can become oppressive at times.  As a clergy, I cannot NOT hear the cries and the pain.  I cannot NOT be impacted and influenced.  I suspect, as a white US American male, I may well have been more so because of the suffering and pain I already experience and what is a very painful time facing my own grief and demons in the valley.

And then I kept coming across words which added ever increasing guilt.  One, in particular, came in the form of a meme of Martin Luther King Jr, that read: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”  Oh.  Uh.  Yes, I get this.  But...

It was like a cinder block added to the weight I already carry.  I know I am not the only one who felt it.  I am dealing with the deep darkness of the valley of suck.  I am facing the guilt and failures of my life as a husband and father; now a widower and a single father.  This past week was my first Sunday back at my church and this Sunday is my first Sunday preaching.  My son turned 18, the first birthday without his mom and on the 12th of July is the one month anniversary of Heather’s death (just a month?!? It feels like a year.)  I cannot carry much more.

Silence is not slighting.  Silence can be the sound of sorrow. Standing beside can be a sign of solidarity.

In a recent article at Modern Widows Club, Joy Kirsch writes:
Widows, according to experts, lose as much as 20 percent of their brain power when they are grieving. As a result, widows experience “widow brain”. (https://www.modernwidowsclub.com/2016/07/05/a-widows-unexpected-independence-day/)  For this reason, widows are encouraged, if possible, not to make major financial decisions if they can avoid it.  

All well and good, so what am I supposed to do?  I have to go back to work.  I have to help two young adults make decisions about college and career.  I know all too well this “widow brain” reality (probably should say “caregiver brain” too).  Let’s add to that “widow/caregiver soul” as we wrestle with God.  And “widow/caregiver gimp” because we are physically impaired because our bodies are tired and worn.  And how about “widow/caregiver heart” as we live with hearts already broken and drink a cup of bitterness.

Now, to that, we add the guilt and shame of our failures and feelings.  There is the anger and fear of our families and our futures.  The wounds of the past which beat at us deep in the darkness of the night hours when everyone sleeps and we are awake with the one we love.  There we are, by ourselves, listening to the labored gasps, the sporadic twitching, the groans, and the silent grimaces which tell of pain we cannot know.

I realize there is a compounding interest at work in the valley of suck.  Just like with investing our money, as we put more money into an interest bearing account, we draw more interest as the principal grows, it happens emotionally in the valley.  The more emotions erode, mental capacity is strained, physical needs are neglected and spiritual passions are sapped, there is compounding interest on the caregiver and widow/widower and it is not a positive thing.

Silence is not slighting.  Silence can be the sound of sorrow. Standing beside can be a sign of solidarity.  

The terror of this week is too real.  The hate is overwhelming.  My silence maybe the best thing I can offer for I know pain and I know suffering.  Do I know your suffering specifically?  No, but then I couldn’t know that before these events either but I do know pain.  I do know what it is to be not understood in my own way.  I do know what it is to have my actions and words misconstrued.  I do know what it is to be isolated and alone.  

By being silent, I can listen to your suffering and I can hear more clearly the words of sages and prophets in our midst.  I know this because I know people have not been silent for me when I wish they had been.  When I wanted people to hear they happily spoke over me.  

I am the widow.  I am the widower.  I am the caregiver.  I have been in this valley of suck and I have learned the sound of silence.  Here in the valley, I have had all the grief and suffering and emotions I can handle and the compounding interest of the valley has nearly broken me.

I need to say this to my fellow caregivers, widows, and widowers who feel this same guilt, you don’t have to carry it.  You have something to offer of great value. It is this: my silence is not betrayal.  My silence is love. My silence is solidarity.  I can listen to you and I can hear you because I no longer have words to speak.  


Your Superpowers Don't Work in the Valley of Suck

The Bible is full of some great word pictures which, while a bit archaic, still retain meaning.  The potter and clay (Jeremiah 18:1-6, Romans 9:21), refiner’s fire (Proverbs 25:4, Isaiah 1:25), and iron being sharpened (Proverbs 27:17, Ecclesiastes 10:10).  And while we might like to quote these, rarely do we want to actually live them.

Now contrast these with another image: “The throne of your heart.”  Can someone please give me a chapter and verse reference for this because I cannot seem to find it (and don’t bring up passages on idolatry).  I bring it up again (I mentioned it in a previous blog) because it continues to be used but more importantly, it continues to be used as a way to shame people.  So instead of using actual inspired Scripture, we’ve created our own word picture and “theology” to tell people bad things happen because you took Jesus off the throne of your heart.

Wrong.

I suspect the root of this comes from the “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet.   I get the use of this to help people understand the human condition as the Christian faith has tried to explain it. I know a number of folks who have come to follow Jesus through its use.  But like so many word pictures and stories and illustrations, it can only take you so far.  It does not explain the entirety of our lives and God’s revelation.  

And yes it is also a good word picture for describing idolatry.  We do set up things in our life before God.  Above anything else, we do place ourselves there and make our authority the driving factor in our lives.  We alone know best what will please us right?  Well, no.  At least that is not Christianity’s understanding of our situation.  But again, there is no speaking of a throne in our hearts.  A good word picture to a point but not enough to establish a faithful answer to theodicy: the problem of suffering and evil.

In “The Spirituality of Imperfection,” the authors note, “As children learn (and not least from stories), reality comes with suffering...as the very word signifies, is to be done to.  Thus it is that, in a very literal sense, suffering makes us real, for it defines our boundaries” (pg 235).  It is in suffering we come up against not ONLY our sinfulness and pride, but against our humanity and limitations.  There are boundaries which we come against because we have likely not really ever admitted, in our physical state; we are mortal - finite.  This has nothing to do with the throne of heart and everything to do with admitting just that we are human.

And you know what?  This sucks.  I think this is one reason why we love superhero movies so much these days.  I do not think it has to do with cheering for good guys or cool special effects.  We dream of super powers because we long for divinity here. NOW.  The fight between Superman and Batman in “Dawn of Justice” could easily symbolize reality pulling down fantasy.  Invincibility is an illusion.  I’m not sure there is a storyline of Superman coming to grips with grieving his parents death.  But for Batman/Bruce Wayne, that story arc has been dissected every which way - he is an imperfect hero but one most like us because he has walked the valley of suck, a million times over.

We’ve made putting Jesus on the throne of our hearts as something paramount to becoming a superhero.  We’ve created a work of fiction, a world of our own making, and we can insulate ourselves in it, rewrite it, rework it, and reboot it anytime we want.  

Only we cannot.  Death is still the equalizer.  Suffering is still our reality.  The valley of suck is not a made up journey, but the real road we often travel but refuse to name for fear people will find out the truth: I am Batman and I am human.  I am Bruce Wayne and I have no superpowers.

Well, this is kind of awkward isn’t it?  I sound like quite the pessimist.  I prefer realist but whatever, put whatever label you want on me.  You can even deduce I have taken Jesus off the throne of my heart.  I have suffered a lot lately so yeah, if that is YOUR theological construct that helps you sleep better, okay.  I took Jesus off the throne of my heart.  

And so have you.  

Jesus did not ask us to put him on the throne of our hearts, Jesus asked us to follow him and go into the world.  Jesus did not call us to pray the sinner’s prayer, he asked us to confess our sins regularly and come to the Table: to eat and drink and turn from our way to Jesus’ way.  He asked us to love our neighbor - even the one we hate - just like we love ourselves (and we all, in our own way, LOVE OURSELVES).  Is that playing semantics?  

Maybe or maybe it is a way of reorienting us once again.  You see, the “throne of our hearts” has a tendency to do something we are really good at: It makes it ALL about us again.  Following Jesus keeps us looking at Jesus.  Loving our neighbor puts our eyes on our neighbor.  Loving an enemy means focusing on love and not so much the hate we are harboring.

Those word pictures of iron, clay, and refining fire take us through the valley of suck where what is not needed is removed.  We are stripped of wastefulness, of extras, and of dullness.  We do not have to create suffering to walk this valley, it will come on it's own.  Jesus does not even promise us it gets easier if we put him on the throne!  You may not even have a place to lay your head as Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58).

It is hard to get anywhere if you are just sitting down.  Jesus did not set himself up to just rule us and rule our hearts.  His example was to be a servant (not a ‘servant-leader’).  He came to “seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).  The Spirit of God even led Jesus into the desert (Luke 4:1), so how do we follow if we refuse to face deserts ourselves?  The journey we’re on is not to discover our superpowers but to realize, to admit, and to accept how much more we need God than we ever thought.  Whatever is your weakness, the valley of suck is like kryptonite, it will bring you back to ordinary.  And when we get to ordinary, then we are ready to start being a servant.  Only then can we become like Jesus.




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