Thursday, June 30, 2011

One Thousand Gifts: The Hard Eucharisteo


I sit on the back deck in the early morning and let dew settle on my skin. The moon is a sickle and it lies on its side—a lopsided grin. The sky is starting the slow blush and this is my favorite time—earth waking up. The tree swallows are soaring and diving into the lush green of the meadow and their broad swoops and bold plunges make me catch my breath.

I am thinking my prayers; plucking them like apples from trees. But they are not coming neatly--I can’t seem to gather these thoughts. About a friend who lost a husband too soon…a father of two boys not too far in age from my own. About cousins whose world will never again be the same. About a man who fell and a boy who cannot walk now and an unborn baby who never had a chance and a little girl fighting for her life.

Bad things happen in this world.

It makes me think about grace.

It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace…emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy…(Ann Voskamp, OneThousand Gifts)

I have read Job and I know that He gave that prowling lion permission. I know the scriptures about glorying in suffering and rejoicing in pain. I have felt the deep, transforming power of transcending the hard stuff.

And I know that grace compels us to respond. The Work is done but forgiveness asks us to join in completing the work. The Work is both done and being done. It is a beginning, not an endpoint.

Just when we have given up all—when we are stuck at the crucifixion, blinded by the crosses we bear—what seems the end is revealed for what it is: a new beginning.

And knowing him gives the strength to muck through the darkness.

He knows.

“He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”  (Mark 16:7) Our good Lord goes ahead of us in this world. There is no place we can go that he has not already been.

…It is dark suffering’s umbilical cord that alone can untether new life. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)

Do I believe this? If I ask for a fish, will he give me a snake?

A few years ago during vacation Bible school one of the kids I am teaching asks why. Why does God allow us to suffer? Why do children die and daddies leave and lives break?

The world is broken, I tell her. But he wants us to choose him. We are free not to.

The powers of the world—the powers of death and sin are at work, never sleeping, relentlessly prowling this earth.

I can’t pretend to understand all of these things. There are only glimpses of knowing that light the way. I do not believe that all suffering comes from the hand of God. But, I do believe He uses it.

Pain can transform.

Do I tell this to my friend as she buries her husband?

…take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into a joy that fulfills all emptiness. I have glimpsed it: This, the hard eucharisteo. The hard discipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty. The hard discipline to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good…(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)

I tell my friend that she is held. That she is loved with a love so big. And trust God with the other parts. When bad things happen, love gives eucharisteo when I cannot. We hold each other. And He holds us.  

This is the fifth in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are.  Join me this time next week for a reflection on Chapter six.

Related:
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Two 
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Three
One Thousand Gifts: The Now Sanctuary

15 comments:

David Rupert said...

We have grappled with pain and suffering from the beginning of time. It's never easy and there are no pat answers. It hurts. Its supposed to. And all we know is that grace is a nameless, faceless force of God that picks up all the pieces. It doesnt give all the answers, but it gives us hope and understanding.

Nancy said...

I'm reading in the book of Job this week, and I'm praying about those cousins and finding words like yours and others here wrestling with the question of "Why?" Yesterday, the words to an old hymn kept running through my head:

O cling to thy Redeemer,
Thy Savior, Brother, Friend
Believe and trust His promise,
To keep you till the end
O watch and wait with patience,
And question all you will
His arms of love and mercy,
Are round about thee still.

Sometimes, all I have to offer is "Cling," and "Question all you will."

(O, Heart, Bereaved and Lonely--I like the version by Sandra McCracken)

Cassandra Frear said...

I wrote this recently in my journal. (But I would not say it to another.)... "Suffering helps me."

It transforms. I carry from it a new cleaness, a fresh clarity, in my soul. I cannot see it right away. I do not feel it in the midst. But later, I notice that more of God's truth and power are carried over from it -- because I have been shaped by it.

I almost feel that it is a terrible secret, one I should not share.

Megan Willome said...

I agree with you, and Ann V., and Cassandra. Seriously, have I ever gotten closer to God in the good times? Our whole relationship is built on suffering--His mostly.

And now I'm gonna have to post that thing that I don't want to, that Cassandra inspired.

Lyla Lindquist said...

This is the thing, Laura, that she is held. That you are holding and showing her that.

Yes, pain transforms. Better than anything does. But in the midst of it? Transformation does not seem an adequate incentive for me. I'd rather be held and contemplate the transformation later.

Beautiful, compelling stuff here. I've been delaying your posts on 1000 Gifts as I haven't yet been able to pick up the book from my desk and read. But I couldn't resist forever... Love to you Laura, as you hold tight your friend.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

The "hard" chosen suffering (at least that's been the case for me--the chosen part). I've been reflecting and writing about it in recent days. Just yesterday I wrote these words...

"... Perhaps my night walk through cancer has been, at least partly, on behalf of others who are frightened to walk the same. That God in his infinite mercy and willing cooperation would endow me with the gift of his Spirit so that I could cross waves and cut through currents to become heaven’s extension of grace. A sacred bridge linking the dying, fear-filled soul to the living, faithful God."

Really, isn't that it? To let God have it all and to say "use me", most days inspite of me?!

There is purpose, Laura, in our hard surrenders. Mine is surfacing in manifold witness. And I am exceedingly glad for the suffering I have known in this last year. I wouldn't change it. As I've written before, cancer will not be my undoing; it will be the threshold of my emerging.

A better version of me; why not?

peace`elaine

Warren Baldwin said...

Challenging post. Who wants to suffer? None of us do. Yet it is often in the suffering that we grow closer to Him, grow stronger, and even grow wiser.

I saw Ann's book at a book sale at a Bible Camp this week but didn't get it. Sounds like good reading.

Kara said...

I loved this Laura.
This Truth was what won me over to Ann's book.
She was saying the hard thing.
Thanks in the midst of the deepest pain.
When we came home from the hospital, leaving our daughter behind. I crumbled on my bed and read Piper's poem of Job.
I remember thinking it was the last thing I wanted to read.
But--swallowing that Truth--
God is good always, in all things...there's real strength and real hope and real healing in that.

This piece was just beautiful and it really spoke to my heart.
Hard words to write or share...but so much strength in them.

Thank you...

Linda said...

I use a little devotional with passages written in the 19th century. It strikes me every time I read it that they accepted suffering as a part of living. Somehow they didn't have the expectation we sometimes have that we deserve to be happy. They see suffering as something the Father uses to refine and build us up. In truth, I was a little "afraid" of it all at first. It is difficult to embrace suffering. It is something we learn to accept with trust in the One who loves us perfectly.

Sandra Heska King said...

I wonder where I'd be, who I'd be, now without the suffering. Without the limp. Your words, your heart, make me hunger.

Diana Trautwein said...

Yes, yes, this is the hard part - the draining, enervating, dangerous part - when we walk into that dark valley (whatever its cause) and we feel those walls closing in and we wonder: is God there? Am I seen? Am I heard in my lament?

And the very best thing we can do to help another who is in that place is to hold them, as you are doing with your friend. For then, we become the means of grace, God's grace, flowing through us to another.

These words grabbed me: "I can’t pretend to understand all of these things. There are only glimpses of knowing that light the way. I do not believe that all suffering comes from the hand of God. But, I do believe He uses it."

This is where I am, too - I just couldn't quite tell if that was where Ann is. In the video interviews with the Bloom Book Club women over at (in)courage - they asked her that pretty directly and one of them even said something like..."I can give God thanks IN the death of my baby girl, but I cannot give God thanks FOR that death." That was the question I was left with at the end of chapter 5 - and for me it's a foundational one. Maybe that shows my more Lutheran leanings rather than Reformed/Calvinist??

So, I thank you for your thoughtful work with this chapter, for your beautiful writing and for your great heart. And @ Nancy - LOVE that hymn you quote, and your sweet offering in that last line.

And @Cassandra - I do get the part about suffering helping us to grow and deepen. But I'm 100% with you that those words are not to be offered to someone in the throes of it. So wise.

And @Megan - I guess I would have to say that yes, I have grown closer during the good times. BUT that closeness is undoubtedly there because of some of the hard, hard things we've walked through - which serve to put the beautiful parts in sharp relief. And in that sharp relief, I see a beautiful, good God. I cling to that truth in the dark places, but I sing it out loud in the light.

A Joyful Noise said...

Why do bad things happen? I like your line: "The world is broken, I tell her. But He wants us to choose Him. We are free not to." That and knowing that there are reasons and answers that we will never know here on this earth.

clairesteaparty said...

'The Work is both done and being done. It is a beginning, not an endpoint.'

So true L, and we are also being undone, unraveled, so that we can be re-done, re-made. Only better.

Thank God for day by day grace in the doing and the undoing!

Cxx

Jennifer @ GettingDownWithJesus.com said...

In awe of your writing.

In gratitude of your prayer for us. (How can I ever thank you?)

And ... just soaking up all the wise, wise words here in the comment box. (Cassandra Frear ... Wow.)

Laura, I love your Wellspring community.

Jerry said...

Laura, My wife and I have Voskamps book. I started reading it and put it aside. Before bed I will find it and listen.
I haven't been to your place since the new layout...nice...moved to wordpress and lost connection with a lot of my blog friends...God bless you. I'll be back for another visit.