It Ain't All Bad In The Valley of Suck: Learning to Give Thanks

Too soon?

It is just the end of September, it is not the time for giving thanks yet, is it?  I mean, we have a day for this after all right?  I'll be the first to admit it, I am a little miffed about some things in my life.  I know, pastors are NOT supposed to put that out there are we?  Look, I heard a few grumblings about the phrase "valley of suck," so I know I can rub a few people the wrong way.  Sorry, it is not my intent.

On my journey through the valley of grieving and loss, I have met those worse off than myself.  Sometimes these folks have been bitter but more times than not, I have been amazed by the resilience and faith of so many too.  At times, their optimism has led me to simply stop and give thanks...

...and then I wonder, "why do we not do this more?"  I don't mean putting on "rose-colored glasses" and seeking some "Neverland" to live in.  But why do we always wait to list out our thankfulness till November?!?!

I grew up with a responsive reading in my church every week.  Usually, the reading came from the Book of Psalms.  And as I have been on the journey through the valley of suck, the Psalms have been a fire hose blast of inspiration and emotions that resonate with my soul.  One of those themes I find over and over again is THANKS.

How do we keep missing this?  I am at a loss as to why we in the Church have come to ignore what are words intended to remind us and inspire us to know the fullness of God's love for us?  Name any situation, and I have heard someone say, "I just don't know why God would allow that to happen?"  But when we talk about being thankful to God, the words do not come across as very convincing.

I think it has a great deal to do with our admission we are just a wee-bit prideful about taking credit for the good things.  We like to take full credit for our successes and allow God to carry all the blame for the bad.  I believe our spirituality needs to make room for the full expression of human emotions in relation to God.

The words of the writer of Psalm 105 made me stop and take heed this week and I pray it will do the same for you.  Can you...will you...stop and recognize right now, the deeds God has done for you?  The psalms are reminding us often to stop and give thanks but if we do not do it, then, it is like saying we have love but don't...we're just a banging gong (1 Corinthians 13).

A bad as the valley has sucked, the deeds God has done and continues to do, renew me and renew my hope.  I have had my heart expand to love again.  I have found the strength to be a single parent and I have seen my kids grow in ways I could not imagine.  These are just a few I can name and there are indeed more.

May I ask, what are the deeds God has done for you?  Don't wait till November to name them.  This isn't about God after all, it is about you and me and what role God plays in our lives.

How To Meditate on Bible Verses (5 Simple Steps)

Okay, there is a lot of talk about meditation. We see it on TV and Movies (the Jedi are always doing it!).  It is in the magazines we read.  BUT for some of us it is so confusing because preachers online and in their pulpits tell us NOT to follow in the ways of meditation like in Eastern religions but then the BIBLE says over and over again to MEDITATE!!!  AHHHH!  What do you do?

The Bible says to meditate and so we should but the Bible has something a little different in mind because the focus of the Christian faith is to be in a life-changing relationship with God.  We were made for a relationship with the Divine and Jesus Christ came so we could make the connection with God we could not do on our own.  

So Christian meditation on the Bible helps us listen to the Spirit of God so we can know God.  This is like the other side of prayer, not where we talk BUT where we begin to listen.  So lets stay on target with the first step:

Where are you most comfortable? Your bed? The porch? The breakfast room?  The bathroom?  (Don’t joke, it maybe the only quiet spot in the house!)  Find a place where distraction are the fewest and you can chill out.  I’ve used ALL the places I mentioned before at different times in my life and during the day.  It isn’t something that has to ONLY happen at a church building.
Sounds simple doesn’t it but think this one through.  A digital Bible is just fine BUT with technology comes distractions especially from social media. Think about a real hard copy of the Bible just for this time.  Get one you feel you can write in too if you want.  You don’t need an expensive study Bible but get one you understand.  There might be an idea or voice you hear too so keep something to write with nearby.

Go to the very middle of the book and you’ll show up in the Psalms.  Why the Psalms?  Well, the Psalms are the prayer book (some say the hymn book) of the Bible.  It records 150 prayers in it.  They are real and they are raw at times.  Some of them will seem like the oddest collections of prayers you’ve heard.  You may even wonder how they got in the Bible.

What I hope you’ll learn though is that just about ALL the human emotions you could have toward God are in the pages of Psalms.  From celebrations to catastrophes, form hope to despair, joy to anger, it is all in there.  

  1. READ SMALL SECTIONS (like 1-6 verses)
I’ve got a bad feeling about this...yep, because too often people feel compelled to read the whole book in one setting. Nerf herders.  Seriously, don’t even start at Psalm 1.  Start at Psalm 38.  Then go to Psalm 103.  The point is, there is not a grade here.  You can spend weeks in Psalm 119 after all!  No, go anywhere BUT keep your goal small.

Why?  Because the point here is to listen for know experience God.  God is not giving out gold stars for reading all of the Book of Psalms.  God wants to know you and meditation on the Bible, I have found small sections like 1-6 verses in plenty.  Sometimes longer is just fine but let this be kind of a guideline.

Now I did it.  Yep, as you read keep this pattern in mind:
-WHAT catches my attention - good or bad?
The good is encouraging and the bad is convicting.  We need both and sometimes God wants to deal with stuff in us we’d just assume ignore.  But that is a poor way to come to meditation.

Just why does it encourage you?  Why does it convict you about some behavior?  Don’t look it me, I don’t know - you are the one in conversation with God now so take it to God.  Reflect on it. Think on why it is doing what is doing in you.

-WHAT does it mean?  The clearest most basic meaning matters
Here’s Your Sign!  You don’t have to over spiritualize any of it.  The most clear, basic meaning is most likely WHAT you need to pay attention to.  A study bible will just make you tempted to, well, start studying.   Don’t.  When you get the probably have the answer.

TOO many times people take all this and do nothing with it.  But I suspect you don’t want to do that so here is the bonus that makes all the difference...ask yourself and God one more question:

HOW do I LIVE this?  An authentic faith doesn’t stay in sanctuaries, synagogues or solitude.  You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t go to your neighbor.  You can’t love your enemy if you don’t see your enemy.  You can’t love your loved ones either!  The lessons of meditation are meant to be lived in real time and in the real world.  

There you have 5 simple steps to do Christian Meditation on Bible Verses plus the bonus, which, if made part of the habit, will move the lessons of God’s Spirit from the head and heart to our hands and feet where you can change your world.

What Does Spiritual Faith Look Like When Life Sucks?

"Spiritual faith does not come by saying, 'Show me a sign, God. Answer my prayer. Perform a miracle.' It begins by believing simply that God is - and He is above His creation."  - Clement of Alexandria

I suppose you can look at it any number of ways but in light of the destruction left by Harvey and Irma, just what does YOUR faith look like?  Of course, sitting here in north Georgia, we don't have it all that bad.  Yep, no electricity and no water.  We're making do with poor cell coverage and limited hotspots and wifi still out.  My family is safe and no damage to the house either.  So many others are far worse off and have endured so much more.

So, here is the thing that gets under my craw...those good Christian folk who claim they are "blessed" when little happens to effect them and who exhibit no empathy for those who are also good Christian folk and lost everything.  They may even go so far as to say, as I heard one pastor say, "The reason bad things happen to people is they took Jesus off the throne of their heart."

Uh...yeah, I got nothing.

And I don't think Clement would agree, nor do I think would Jesus.  He asked of folks their thoughts about the Tower of Siloam (see Luke 13:1-4). Nope, Jesus said we all need to be in right relationship with God.  You don't get a pass on the Valley of Suck because your spirituality provides you some kind of spiritual force field (which I am STILL looking for.  Destroyer droids were evenly matched against with Jedi because of that!)

Clement keeps it simple and raw...spiritual faith is believing God is God by the simple defining element that God is supreme.  You and I may not like that.  You may choose the path of unbelief even and cast off the belief in faith.  I got no argument with you on that one.  I wish you all the best.

We need to hear of the faith that holds on when all hell breaks lose.  I know that I NEED to be with those who can name pain and suffering and still CHOOSE FAITH.  John Wesley was once told to "preach faith till he had it and because he had it, to preach faith."

In the Valley of Suck that I have walked I continue to seek God even when life sucks.  Some days it even feels no one else has an understanding.  So be it.  I'm reminded today my faith is in a God I believe in and life does suck but I CHOOSE...again to seek God.

Can I Ask?  What have you found to hold onto when life sucks?  What quote or Bible verse has renewed your faith?  Share it in the comments below!

You can get Ken's NEW book: "Life Sucks Seek God" for just 99 cents at Amazon for further thoughts and helps when it seems your life sucks.  CLICK HERE or in the link to your right.

How to Make Your Way Back When You Walk From God In the Valley of Suck

I hate it when I don't take care of myself.  I sometimes ignore my food allergies or neglect to drink enough water.  The effects of these are always negative and I know it.  It sucks.  A couple of years ago now I did the "Body for Believers" diet and learned how to eat so much better.  Still, I go my own way.

And I hurt when I do.

Thing is, I do the same thing when it comes to my life and my convictions too.  It is not hard to do.  Even though I have sought and fought to be true to my faith and my God, I have too many times gone my own way and in so doing, I walk away from God and what I know.  There are at least 3 things that I find that have tripped me up most on my journey in the valley of suck...

1. People.
Sometimes, I have sought to put my faith in people.  Truthfully, more times than not, this has been the most difficult let-down.  People have their own concerns and while you may be a friend, even a close friend, putting our faith in others can lead us farther away.

2.  Situations.
Those of you in the Valley of Suck know too well, during grief and pain, we make bad decisions.  Even if you aren't, it is easy to not ask enough questions or examine a situation further and BOOM!  I did that with a recent car purchase.  I now own a vehicle that constantly disappointments but I can't hope to get back what I put into it.  It is easy to sense the dark clouds closing.

3.  Advice.
Bless ALL our hearts!  There is no advice good for every situation.  We need to heed wise advice but just because it is given, it doesn't mean it applies EXACTLY to what we are facing.  One word or meme does not fit all occasions but it is hard to know that in the midst of the journey.

So what do you to make your way back?  Consider these 4 tips...

Stay closely connected to those who have demonstrated a concern for you.  Look at their network of friends too.  Good people hang with good people.

Keep things as simple as you can in your life. Don't step into new ventures or large purchases if you don't HAVE to do so.  And that is the key, IF YOU DON'T HAVE TO.  You may not have a choice so keep it simple and slow.

And, be careful with applying advice, mine included.  If it sounds to good, it probably is.

Finally, just as I am convinced: Life Sucks Seek God, it is easy to neglect the spiritual by focusing on just what sucks.  When we do that, we usually drift away or walk away from God.  So be intentional about your spiritual journey.  The breath prayer above, is a very intentional way to start this.  

Consider checking out this YouTube video on Breath Prayer: 

SO...MAY I ASK?  What have you found to be helpful in your journey?

7 Challenges to Consider As You Journey Farther Down the Valley of Suck

We do not get the same life as anyone else.  You might think this is fair but it is the reality we must come to face.  Just this week I was worrying over both my young adult kids for differing reasons as they have been facing some harsh realities of becoming “adults.”  I do a disservice to them though if I try to shield them from what they are facing.

The thing is, it is no different for me.  As my kids reach their “rites of passage” to adulthood, I’m living my own life and making the transition toward an empty nest.  There remain thoughts of what was planned when my late wife, Heather, was alive, and then new thoughts and new plans as I consider a new life and a new relationship.

As I was thinking through all this, I started to consider some of the things I have been finding helpful.  It seems to me there have been 7 Challenges to Consider, seven topics that I have found helpful...

  1. Be real with yourself.  How are you changing? What did matter most to you?  What does matter most now?  Don’t back down here, really, you’ve got to be flat-out honest with yourself!  Enough of the crap people say to make themselves feel better.  You must take your next steps and not everyone in your family and friends is going to be in agreement with you and your decisions from here on out.  A good journaling habit and or a counselor might be a good idea.

  1. Do what you need to do.  Do you need to get away for awhile?  To binge watch TV?  Sit out on your porch and drink beer?  I don’t know what you need to do.  I can tell you that NO ONE else knows though.  You need to do things and take part in things that help you heal and move forward.

  1. Choose your flock.  Who are you hanging with and what kind of influence are they in your life?  Who has stood by you?  It is time to let some people go.  Chances are, they already self-selected out of your life while others you didn’t expect, showed up.  You choose who you get to hang with and when.

  1. Consider your life philosophy.  Carpe Diem?  Life sucks and then you die?  The one who dies with the most toys wins?  Maybe you haven’t really asked that question before, well, now is a good time to do it.  This might be the time to discover what it WAS so you can consider what it IS now.  It is okay if it changes.  

  1. Consider your financial status.  I know this is no fun and it sucks to do this but it must be faced.  How are you going to provide for yourself moving forward?  What is it going to cost?  Who might help me?  Is there someone I can trust with my best interests?  You may not have much or you may have an abundance.  Regardless where you fall on the spectrum, be honest with where you are in this area.

  1. Start imagining the future.  What do you see your future becoming?  What does it look like?  You get to shape what is next. It does not matter how old or young you are - you do get the freedom to choose.  Times of pain and change provide the times we most often are able to grow and change.  

  1. Where is God in all of this?  My life philosophy became the title of my first book, “Life Sucks Seek God.”  In some ways, I have been all over the map, from being angry with God to falling down helpless and hopeless before the Divine.  How do you see God in your life?  It may be that it is time for your image or personification of God to be tossed aside.  God is bigger than any box you and I can make.  Maybe you need a break from God too.

No matter how greener that grass looks, the manure we each leave behind provides the nutrients for what is growing there.  A bit disgusting an image?  Well, we do often learn from the mistakes of others!  Look, remember that it is okay to leave behind those things, those convictions, and those beliefs that may no longer serve us well. What no longer serves you now, may be what helps another person find healing and wholeness.  And it might well be, in leaving old things behind, you are truly experiencing grace you never knew and are being really born again.

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