Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Recycling Suffering into Peace


This small paper bag's contents are all that remains of my faithful sewing machine. The machine that served me so well was diagnosed with a broken shaft. This diagnosis is the sewing machine equivalent of a broken leg for a horse. When I went to pick up my unfixable friend, I noticed a sign about recycling hanging on the shop wall. I was able to empty the bobbin drawer and leave the machine behind. I like the idea that the metal from my machine might be reborn into some other useful tool. I hope that in her second life, she receives better care. She was a faithful servant who helped my daughter create beautiful formal gowns for dances, repaired my husband's and son's clothes, and provided me with much stress-relieving activity during grad school and covid.

The human version of recycling is, of course, reincarnation. I don't believe in reincarnation, but I can see its appeal. It might be easier for us to tolerate suffering when we can imagine a better life next time around. The sufferer is also comforted at the thought that his persecutors might find themselves in a less enjoyable life. When we suffer, especially at the hands of others, we want an explanation, and furthermore, we want our brand of justice to prevail. Yes, reincarnation is a logical man-made solution to suffering, but its lack of truth leaves us empty.

Our pastors are preaching on the seven letters for Lenten services. This week we hear about Smyrna, a community that persecuted its Christians from several sides. Here is part of their letter:

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. Revelation 2: 10-11

 In this letter, Jesus does not promise the church relief from suffering. Instead, He predicts more suffering. This message is not the kind of justice we have in mind! When we suffer, we want comfort and a promise of relief, not a prediction of ten more days of something that is likely to be worse. 

Yet, even in this response, we see God's benevolence. God is bigger than our suffering. He knows what we are experiencing and what we are losing, and He knows how long it will last. He also has a plan for that suffering. We will not experience a second death but live forever with Him. Oh, and many of those who persecuted us will be with us in heaven, as will those who received ill-treatment from us. What kind of justice is that?

It is not justice; it's justification. The crown of life is not justice because it is not the punishment we deserve. It is an unimaginable grace. The crown is ours because of Jesus' death and resurrection.

Our suffering draws us close to Christ, and He sends the Spirit to pray on our behalf. The Spirit is not concerned with who or what is persecuting us. The Spirit is concerned with our faith. Our suffering does not promise a second chance at a better earthly life. That is the kind of goal devised by the human mind. Our suffering promises us a perfect life that will never end.

I look forward to hearing the Word tonight at Lenten services. I will listen to my pastor's teaching and let God recycle my weariness into His peace and joy.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Never Ignored


After returning from my ophthalmologist's office, I looked for this image online. I wanted to see what he was explaining about the retinal tear in my eye. A while ago, after falling asleep to flashing lights, I woke up thinking my eye had become the embodiment of Luke 6:41 because it appeared I had a log in my eye. The doctor reports that while the tear in my retina will heal, the fuzzy spot in my eye will not.

A week later, I can comfortably work with the fuzzy log in my eye, even though I am acutely aware it is there. I understand that my brain can inhibit noticing this abnormality, but it seems to be taking its time getting there.  Just don’t ask me to remove a speck from your eye.

It is fascinating to me how the inhibition of sensory memory works. For every waking moment, our brain is sifting through tons of sensory information and deciding what is worth attention and what will be inhibited. If this didn't happen, we would be unable to think through all the sensory noise. For instance, if you feel a tiny rock in your shoe, your brain will not likely inhibit this information. You need to get rid of the rock to protect your feet. But, if you are in a place where it would not be polite to disrobe your feet, you will find difficulty ignoring the rock. Once you take care of things, you immediately stop paying attention to the feel of your socks. This action clears up space in your brain allowing better learning and interaction.

I wonder if so many people dream that they find themselves in public without pants is because once our brains make sure we are wearing pants, we stop paying attention to the feel of them. So, if we are not noticing the feel of pants in a dream, it would be logical to assume they are missing. I don't know because I studied cognition instead of dreams in my psychology classes. But I do know that our brains are very good at ignoring things that are always there.

My peace is that even though God designs my brain to learn to ignore, God never ignores me.

Wondrously show Your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at Your right hand. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings. Psalm 17: 7-8

Packed into these verses of Psalm 17 are two ways God does not ignore us. First, His love is steadfast. A steadfast love is not only unwavering; it is active. This love is the polar opposite of ignoring because it is a love that misses nothing. Steadfast love also pays close attention because it constantly acts on our behalf. Steadfast love is one of my favorite descriptions for God because steadfast is everything I’m not.

The second assurance in these verses is in the phrase “apple of your eye.” The apple refers to the pupil; we use this phrase to indicate someone we cherish. Our eyes are precious because of the information they transmit to the brain, but they must be exposed to the world to work. Because of this, our body diligently protects the eye. Any movement will cause us to blink or turn our heads. Even when we are not actively thinking about our eyes, the brain is still alert to protect them.

Think about the peace involved in being the apple of the eye of a steadfast God. He is always there. He is always paying attention. He

is always acting on our behalf. We are loved and loved fiercely.