The journey of the Lenten season took on a new dimension for me recently.
Using Joni Tada’s devotional book, Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls, this week I came across the following wonderful hymn by Anne Steel . . .
refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel
In recent months, my family experienced a frustrating and shocking set of circumstances resulting in a lot of pain - from just a few individuals. But a few people can do a lot of damage.
In twenty-five years of marriage and thirty years of working for churches, we’ve never seen such middle school girl drama normalized among adults . The harassment was something my wife and son endured for months, and it continued growing. My wife described it numerous times as feeling like we were in a witch hunt.
Wounded people often wound people. Such a true statement.
As Christians, and as healthy humans, at times we have to determine, at what point do I stop submitting and working for peace, and at what point do I say “no” to punitive behavior, draw boundaries, and walk away.
When gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call Thee mine
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline
Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust
And still my soul would cleave to Thee
Though prostrate in the dust
Our Suffering ServantAs we moved into Holy Week, the words of Isaiah 53 (ESV) have been fresh with meaning for me:
despised and rejected by men”
He knows what it means to feel rejection, misunderstanding. He knows what it means to feel like someone has knocked the wind out from you, unable to reclaim your breath.
“a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”
Due to the choices we made to protect ourselves, it caused a separation from many relationships. That causes great sorrow, and now we are dealing with grief.
Grief over unwise decisions by a few people
“and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not”
People who distance themselves from you because they don’t know what to do. People you thought would check on you who choose silence.
As our family – and extended family – walked through and processed these events, I remember Peter’s recollection of Jesus:
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23 NIV).
While my flesh has wanted to pursue the world’s ways of handling deep offenses, my spirit knows this is a new opportunity to entrust ourselves to Jesus. Not being able to defend self, but trusting Him.
And then Isaiah tells us the wonderful assurance, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV).
My grief. Our griefs. I realize this Holy Week that I can lay my griefs afresh on Jesus. The pain of seeing our children hurt. Of seeing extended family numb. Of experiencing the dirty underbelly of the politics of a system. And of realizing how unnecessary was it all.
The author of Hebrews offered these tremendous words: "We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (4:15-16 NIV).
offenses on Him. Remembering that His atonement covers not only our sins – but our
griefs and sorrows.
not bid me seek Thy face,
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace,
Be deaf when I complain?
No still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner's prayer
Oh may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there
Kevin Ford and Jim Singleton write about the nature of such systems:
“Disagreements are inevitable among groups of people. And the very nature of leadership, which involves moving people toward goals and embracing change, opens the door to experience some levels of conflict. As organizations experience anxiety, one automatic emotional response is called triangulation.
Systems create scapegoats to preserve their status quo – even if the status quo is dysfunctional. We will almost always choose the known dysfunctional option over the unknown healthy one. Our tendency is to look for the scapegoat to help preserve the status quo. Who can I blame for what’s going on? When we are coaching a pastor or consulting with a leadership team, we rarely take the ‘identified problem’ as the actual problem. The actual problem is typically rooted within the system.”
An unhealthy system will always find a scapegoat for its pain. And when those systems experience anxiety, they often react, instead of responding wisely, to do at the moment whatever they think will protect the system. This is a classic response in anxious systems.
No one knew that better than Jesus, our sacrificial Lamb. Leviticus 16 tells us how the priests symbolically put the sins of the people on the scapegoat, who left the camp to become a sin offering. Jesus Christ became our scapegoat: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV).
We’ve picked up a number of books the last several weeks for our own catharsis and to get our mind on a good path . . .
Wounded by God’s People: Discovering How God’s Love Heals our Hearts by Anne Graham Lotz;
When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse by Chuck DeGroat;
When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People by Gary Thomas;
When the Hurt Runs Deep: Healing and Hope for Life’s Desperate Moments by Kay Arthur; Necessary Endings:
The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships that All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward by Henry Cloud.
And we’ve found strength and comfort in the psalms . . .
“You have seen this, O LORD; do not keep silent” (35:22 AMP).
“Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall” (55:22 NIV).
“I am in the midst of lions . . . whose tongues are sharp swords. . . . My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music” (57:4,7 NIV).
“In God I trust; I will not be afraid” (56:11 NIV).
Psalm 129 reminds us that God stays with us, in spite of the actions of others. Eugene Peterson wrote,
"That 'he sticks with us' is the reason Christians can look back over a long life crisscrossed with cruelties, unannounced tragedies, unexpected setbacks, sufferings, disappointments, depressions - look back across all that and see it is a road of blessing, and make a song out of what we see. . . . The central reality for Christians is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment God makes to us. Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God's faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us." (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, IVP)
mercy seat is open still
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet,
Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet
- Anne Steele, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul,” 1760
Thankful that we can lay our whole selves on Jesus. Worshiping Him this week as my scapegoat, my grief-bearer, my offense-taker.
Pictures courtesy of Pixabay and Pexels
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