Want To Survive the Valley of Suck? Ignore Conventional Wisdom

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I hate it when people don’t listen.  Really, it is incredibly disrespectful and I find myself upset at myself sometimes when I find myself not paying attention to someone speaking.  Of course, it could well be they are not a good speaker or the situation is not conducive or I’m tired.  

But when it comes to those one-on-one moments, I find myself the most upset.  One of the worst culprits is the telephone and being in a store, at the register, and having to wait for a phone call. THAT is really frustrating.  Here I am, trying to spend my money and no! Wait!  Even worse is having an appointment and having it interrupted.  I tell people who meet with me it has to be family for me to pick up the phone when I have an appointment - this is their time.

So I have a lot of empathy and sympathy when people come to me and talk about not being able to have a conversation with God in the middle of their darkest and most painful moments of life.  In the valley of suck, when everything, and I mean ALL of life seems to come down upon us, it can be so disconcerting to call out to God and get…

Nothing.

Dead air.

Silence.

Crickets.

Nada.

Years back, my first response was often to shout louder, pray more, read more, fast, and anything else I could think of or had been taught.  But as I have grown and lived and suffered, I have come to a few other conclusions along the way, ones just as valid, just not often addressed.  In a world so quick to do things, we are hesitant to do no thing.

Here is an important secret: Ignore conventional wisdom in the valley of suck. Here is how:

Realize God Is Listening.

One of Heather’s legacies for me was teaching me how to listen.  She knew I could fix most things and if I did not know how I would surely figure it out.  But Heather would many times tell me, “I need to talk to you and tell you some things but I don’t want your advice.  Don’t try to fix it.  Just listen.”  Thankfully, I was a quick learner (at least, I like to think I am).  I probably graded in at a B- or C+ but that was better than where I started.  

During many days of the valley of suck with Heather, as she declined in health, all I could do was listen.  And I too needed friends who would do just that: listen.  I guess that has been kind of a theme for me only because I’ve learned it is so important.  And, it is important for me to say this: God is listening.

So what if God is silent?  Why do we assume this is a sign he doesn’t care?  Why does it not occur to us God is doing the ONE thing so few people are willing to do - give us their full, undivided attention?  Stop making the assumption God always needs to tell you something.  Maybe, just maybe, God is saying to you, “I know no one else is listening.  I will.  I am here.  Speak.”

Stop Reading Devotionals.

Devotionals can be as good or as bad as memes.  At their best, they get us thinking.  At their worst?  They’re bad one ply toilet paper.  If you don’t think the devotional you’re reading is helping you - STOP IT!  That goes for “My Utmost for His Highest,” “Jesus Calling,” “The Upper Room,” “Our Daily Bread,” and any number of the many more out there.

You do not have to plow your way through these.  They do not contain incantations to gain special privileges from God.  Just because someone gives you one for a gift, it does not mean you HAVE to use it now.  Just because you have used it in the past, does not mean you need to use it NOW.

What may be the case, is that God is pointing you a different direction.  Maybe you need to look for a different devotional you have not read.  Maybe it is simply a book you’re being led to read alongside scripture and prayer.  Maybe you just need to read from a favorite book of the Bible, drink coffee, and say, “thanks, God.”  

If It Sounds Too Good It Probably Is.

I have shared before regarding a local ATL preacher and my cancer but just in case, I’ll drop it here again.  Back in 2000, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  The night before my surgery, flipping channels, I came across a broadcast by a preacher in north ATL who said (and I quote), “The reason bad things happen is because you have taken Jesus off the throne of your heart.”

Wow.  Thanks.  That cleared up so much for me.  It sounds good, right?  So really simple.

Then came the next week.  As I was recovering, I was flipping channels again and came across the same preacher.  I don’t know what he said.  I don’t care - the image was ALL I needed to see.  He was preaching with a cast on one arm.  I guess he had taken Jesus off the throne of his heart too.

It is so hard to hear and see people on their journey of faith come into contact with people and pastors who narrow down faith into such simplistic terms.  Put in the right ingredients, bake at 350, and out will come your perfect Christian life.  Tell me again which of the twelve disciples got out without suffering (and don’t say John - he was in exile, not retirement)?

The Barebones of Surviving the Valley of Suck

I am tired.  Nope, let us just call it: I am exhausted.  I am tired of reading the writings and listening to those in ivory towers who feel it their duty to ask others to have faith and sacrifice. Some of us have and still are. You see, the valley of suck didn’t begin with Heather’s cancer.  It only got harder.

I didn’t enter ordained ministry with debt so as to embarrass myself but my wife and I believed God called us to plant a church and do you know what happened?  In the end, we lost all of our financial savings, our house, and barely kept our vehicles and home furnishings.  We nearly declared bankruptcy.  I had my first panic attack and suffered from migraines and depression.  I DID dream a big dream and we needed God to show up (and I would do it all again)!

And God did.  Just not how WE expected.

In the following years, I would come down with a condition that I wrote about in previous blogs called Ischemic Optic Neuropathy.  In simple terms, it was the swelling of my optic nerves and it has cost me nearly half my vision and none of the treatments available did anything to help recover my vision.  During that time both my kids faced some of their own trying experiences that Heather and I had to help them through.  The only way to get through would be with God to show up.

And God did.  Just not how WE expected.

Then came another appointment to a new church and with it, the anticipation of God doing something new in our lives.  It was new alright, just nothing close to what we expected.  Just 4 months into being at BUMC, Heather was diagnosed with colon cancer and 20 months later she was gone from our world.  The only way to get through this is for God to show up.

And God has, in the same ways I have come to see God showing up, over and over again.

It has been in prayers which never cease.  It has been in the words of Scripture which have never grown too old, and in being with faithful followers of Jesus who keep their spirituality simple.  You don’t have to memorize the Bible to do this (I’m terrible at Bible memory) and you don’t have to pray extravagant prayers with words so grandiose you have to keep a dictionary handy.  

You keep it simple.  
You keep it spiritual.
You keep it focused on Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and  let us run  with endurance the race that is  set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,  who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising  the shame, and  is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The valley of suck will end one day.  It has for Heather and I am so thankful.  I am thankful to have lived with someone who ran with such faith and endurance the race before her.  I ran alongside her as long as I could.  What she and I learned on the race we ran is you don’t survive the valley of suck on conventional wisdom but on Scriptural Holiness - the hallmarks of the Wesleyan-Methodist Movement - the means of grace: Prayer - Scripture - Communion.  For me to give testimony to some other way of spirituality contrary to this would be a false gospel.  

It is a simple spirituality, this gospel of Jesus Christ but it far from easy.  Now, are you ready?  Will you learn to run with me in the valley of suck?

Much love from the valley of suck my friends.

3 comments:

Susan Preece said...

Great post! No matter what stage we are in life, we must cling to the disciplines that bring us closer to God and allow us to know of His grace. I'm trying to run with you! Godspeed!

Susan Preece said...

Great post! No matter what stage we are in life, we must cling to the disciplines that bring us closer to God and allow us to know of His grace. I'm trying to run with you! Godspeed!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

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