Tag Archives: suffering

Out of Exile: Day 40 – Goodness and Mercy

Today marks the end of our 40-day journey in, through, and hopefully out of exile. Thanks for walking with me over these months as I’ve sought to help you process the losses, betrayals, setbacks, and outright rebellion that landed you in exile, far from anything that looked remotely familiar, wondering if you’d ever find your way back. 

My hope in writing for these 40 days, and my prayer for you now, is that you would experience the fullness of God’s goodness to such an extent that it would overflow you and into the life of others. After all, isn’t that what God is working into all of us…a generous heart to reveal his goodness to others? 

Let me quoted Richard Rohr one last time:

The soul has many secrets. They are only revealed to those who want them, and are never completely forced upon us. One of the best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up.

In Scripture, we see that the wrestling and wounding of Jacob are necessary for Jacob to become Israel (Genesis 32:26-32), and the death and resurrection of Jesus are necessary to create Christianity. The loss and renewal pattern is so constant and ubiquitous that it should hardly be called a secret at all.

I hope you see by now that loss, or what I’ve been calling “exile,” is not a misnomer…it’s not an aberration that hits people God is upset with or just “bad luck.” Loss comes to us all. It’s a part of life that we need to learn how to recover from and even dance with it gracefully.

When I lived on our farm, one of the many things I learned about farm life is that death is as much a part of the farm as was life. You think of a farm as a place with many living animals. But when you are there 24/7, you begin to realize that death happens all around you. There is almost a rhythm of life and death. I’d imagine people who work in hospitals experience the same thing.

We live in a sanitized world where we quickly remove pain, suffering, death, or anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. We have lost our ability to suffer, learn patience, grieve and then recover well. As a result we become shallow, self-absorbed people who get stuck in exile, having no idea how to return.

But I’m confident that God not only provides a way to return from exile but longs to restore and prosper us.  David was convinced that “goodness and mercy” would “follow him all the days of his life” even though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Psalm 23

When my wife and I moved off of our farm, into town and back into ministry, I was surprised at how quickly the blessings of God came back into my life. That was in 1997, and they continue today. One day I was reading through Psalm 31 where it says:

How great is your goodness that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you have given to those who trust you. You do this for all to see. Psalm 31:19

I felt like God was speaking to me directly, saying: Remy, you think you wasted seven years. You think the world passed you by and life will never be what you hoped. But all the time you were enduring hardship, I was storing up the goodness that you were missing. And now I’m bringing that goodness out of storage for you to enjoy.

I find it hard to believe that God would want any more for me than he wants for any of his children. I have to believe he has goodness stored up for you as well.

My hope in writing for these 40 days, and my prayer for you now, is that you would experience the fullness of God’s goodness to such an extent that it would overflow you and into the life of others. After all, isn’t that what God is working into all of us…a generous heart to reveal his goodness to others?

I haven’t gotten as many comments since I took a break for the holidays. But I’d love to get your final thoughts now that the journey is over. Please leave them below or email me directly.

I’m not sure how much I will be posting in days to come. Much less for sure. But I’d love to post the thoughts and stories of people who are either going through an exile or have found their way out…especially if you are in ministry. People in ministry have their own special exiles and we need to hear from our peers to gain comfort and insight.  Click the mail icon in the margin to email me.

Thanks again for traveling with me. God bless you in your journey.

Out of Exile: Day 33 – Be the Hero

I’m on the final stretch of our journey out of exile.

When you are stuck in exile there comes a time when you need to “be the hero” of your story. A negative way to say this: stop playing the victim.

It doesn’t take any courage to be angry. It doesn’t take any skill to complain, gossip, cast blame, or feel sorry for yourself. Anyone can do that. But is that the story you want your life to tell?

Would you watch a movie for two hours about a person who suffered an injustice, then complained and felt sorry for himself the rest of the movie? Of course not! What makes a good story is when someone faces injustice with wisdom, courage, and grace. We call these people heroes. So why not be the hero of your own story?

Healthy stories challenge us to be active characters, not passive victims or observers. John Trent

Being the hero requires a choice: a heroic choice. It means stepping up and saying, I’m not going to let my past control me anymore. I’m going to take responsibility for what’s happened to me and move on with my life.

Heroic choices free you from getting stuck in exile and open your life up to new possibilities. They make your story compelling. Engaging. I like what John Trent says about the power good choices have on your life:

Healthy stories challenge us to be active characters, not passive victims or observers. Both the present and the future are determined by choices, and choice is the essence of character. If we see ourselves as active characters in our own stories, we can exercise our human freedom to choose a present and future for ourselves and for those we love that give life meaning. Choosing to Live the Blessing.

Trent makes the case we should be proactive in choosing our future and not let our future simply happen to us. He builds on this idea of choice when he says:

We can curse the past like victims of circumstance, or we can bless it like victors over our circumstances. It’s up to us. It’s our choice. In some of the strongest and most compelling stories, the main character makes life-and-death choices. These choices give the story energy. They make the plot intriguing. They also change the character.

The character who doesn’t make choices is weak and passive. So if we want our lives to tell strong and compelling stories in which the characters grow into people of blessing, then we – the characters – have to make choices. Choices that are sometimes difficult. Choices that are sometimes painful. Choices that are sometimes critical, where something important is at stake.

If you think of the movies that touch you, they most often reach a moment of decision for the protagonist. In the beginning of the story she struggles with a problem, but there is a “make or break” moment. Against all odds she decides to take a risk and do the right thing.

The risk adds tension to the story because it adds a level of doubt. Can she do it? Will she regret her choice? In the end her choice pays off. You breathe a sigh of relief. Her choice enables her to overcome her struggle and become the hero. That’s a story you are willing to pay money to see.

Think of your life as a story half written. Half the book is full. You can’t do anything about those chapters. But the rest of your book has all blank pages. You determine how your story will end. What will you write?

Remember, the most compelling stories are turn-around stories…stories where a person was down for the count and made a comeback…even in the eleventh hour. So never give up on your story. (adapted from STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships)

My question for you today is: are you making choices that will tell a good story?  

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It’s good to be back from the holiday break. I look forward to closing out the last seven days of this 40-day journey. Please take a minute to share your thoughts below. Thanks.

 

 

Out of Exile: Day 32 – Peace in the Pain

A few days back I said it was time to return from exile and I was going to show you the way out. I’ve started us down that road, but maybe you don’t like the path so far!  Naming your losses, facing your nakedness, being silent and listening: not exactly a fun or fast track out, is it? Well, you’ve probably noticed that nothing much happens fun or fast in exile. Leaving it takes time too.

Today I want to look at how to find peace in the pain of exile. With all of the honesty, stripping, and nakedness going on, it is a pretty raw existence. Life is more like chaos where nothing is settled and it FEELS like it never will be. 

Peace doesn’t come from taking control or having someone (even God) fix what’s broken. Peace comes by being fixed on God.

Jesus said he came to give us peace, but not a peace like the world gives it.  His peace keeps us from feeling troubled and anxious (John 14:27). God spoke a similar word through Isaiah – that if we aligned ourselves with God we will have peace like a river (48:18). Combining the two thoughts…the peace of the world is temporary. The peace of God keeps flowing and never stops.

Peace typically leaves us when three things happen: something changes, conflict arises, and/or we lose control.  This is when most of us kick into control mode:

  • Plan A: we work to take back control by what ever means necessary.
  • Plan B: if we can’t take control, we ask or pay someone else to do it for us.
  • Plan C: if Plans A & B fail, we often go into denial by ignoring, minimizing, or escaping our pain.
  • Plan D: we ask God to fix it.
  • If all plans fail, we fall into despair.

Sound familiar? In one sense, there’s nothing wrong with this process. It’s natural. But at some point it’s important to realize that you are chasing the wrong end. The reason God often doesn’t answer these prayers (Fix it!  Get me out of this jam!) is that he is looking for something deeper from us.

Peace doesn’t come by getting God to bring all of your chaos under your control. 

Peace comes when you bring all of your chaos and place it under God’s control. 

If you leave exile without learning this lesson, you left too soon and your exile experience was a waste. Isaiah has more to tell us about peace:

You, Lord, give true peace (wholeness) to those who depend on you, because they trust you. So, trust the Lord always, because he is our Rock forever. Isaiah 26:3,4

Notice the source of peace. Peace doesn’t come from taking control or having someone (even God) fix what’s broken. Peace comes by being fixed on God.

My point in all of this is to point out that returning from exile should never be your goal so “I can get my life back” or “I can be happy again.” Exile IS your life for a season and you need to find a way to experience peace and joy there, not hold your breath and run through this season hoping to exhale on the other side.

No matter what you might be suffering today, God has a peace that will “guard your heart and mind” (as Paul promised the Philippian church – 4:7).

What is your process to take back control in your life? Can you relate to the plans I laid out above?  Have you been asking God to bring control to your life rather than bringing your life under his control?  Let me hear about your quest for peace by leaving a comment below. Thanks.

Out of Exile: Day 30 – Admit

Today is Day 30 on our 40 day journey in and out of exile. I’m currently helping you see what it takes to return from exile.

So far I said it helps to have a name for what your are experiencing: exile, more commonly called “loss.”  And that means you need to grieve the loss, a step many people skip and pay the price for it.

Then on Day 29 I said you need to learn to be silent and listen. Make space in your life to see what God wants to show you about your life and hear what he has to say.

Now today, let’s talk about admitting.  When God shows you who you really are, you need to admit it. Ouch. That’s not fun. We put so much energy into NOT going there.

Some of us spend our entire lives ignoring what is plain to everyone else that meets us. Isn’t that true?  Someone can meet us and, in just a matter of minutes, discern a character defect that we defended, excused, or ignored for decades. Why is it so hard to admit what is so plain to others? 

 Someone can meet us and, in just a matter of minutes, discern a character defect that we defended, excused, or ignored for decades. 

A few months back I was preparing my Sunday message and I wrote in the text that “I’m a bit of a workaholic.” I was going to laugh when I said it, a little chuckle to show my guilty pleasure of nursing a habit that I know is wrong, yet prized in our culture.

But God convicted me that I was making light of a problem that I have always had. I’m not a “bit” of a workaholic. I’m a workaholic, in recovery just like any addict. Either it’s wrong or it’s not. I can’t cover it with a knowing laugh and hope people look the other way.  But that’s what we do isn’t it?  Rather than change, we put all kinds of defense mechanisms in place.

When God apprehended the apostle Paul and struck him with blindness, his quick response was:  ”What would you have me to do?”  He immediately recognized that his blindness was an exile given by God to reveal to him what he was unwilling to see on his own.

In the same way, the story of Samson tells how he lived his whole life blind to his selfishness and greed until the Philistines burned his eyes out of his sockets. Only then did he begin to see what had been wrong with him his entire life.

My guess is you actually know what is wrong. You just haven’t been willing to admit it. If you truly can’t see, you might want to invite trusted people to give you anonymous feedback to help you. Either way, if you want to find the way out of exile, you need to admit what’s wrong.

What keeps you from admitting your character defects? What can you do to help fully admit them and begin the healing process? Leave a comment below.

Out of Exile: Day 29 – Listen

I live about a mile south of a freeway. I don’t think much about it. I never hear it. But some days in the summer, if I sit outside and I’m quiet and think about it, there it is. I hear it. It’s this constant hum in the background.

I hear a lot of things when I’m quiet. If I focus on bird calls I hear all kinds of birds I didn’t even know were out there. 

To be told to “be quiet and listen” is almost offensive to people who expect a solution to every problem.

That’s what happens when you stop to listen: you hear things you don’t normally hear.

If you want to return from exile, you need to learn to be quiet and listen. There are so many things to think about when you are walking the desert, far from where you ever imagined you’d be. You think about:

  • all the mistakes you made to cause you to end up in exile
  • all the people who did you wrong and the ways you hope they get theirs
  • all the worst case scenarios and how life will never be good again
  • all the Bible verses that you were “claiming” but didn’t come to fruition
  • all the plans to take back your life and show people who no one can put you down

With all that going on in your mind, it’s hard to be quiet. Sometimes we call our obsessive thinking “prayer” because we direct a lot of our thinking at God. I’m not so sure it’s prayer if it’s just you venting without giving God equal time to speak back.

If you want to return from exile it’s important to learn the discipline of silence. Turn off your obsessions. Stop judging yourself and/or others. Stop planning. Stop regretting. Just shut it all down and create space in your mind for new thoughts.

I read Henry Cloud say that 90% of our thoughts every day are the same as yesterday. We just keep rehashing them. We need to cease thinking to create space for new thoughts. Better thoughts.

Richard Rohr talks about silence as a form of prayer:

Prayer is largely just being silent: holding the tension instead of even talking it through, offering the moment instead of fixing it by words and ideas, loving reality as it is instead of understanding it fully. Prayer is commonly a willingness to say “I don’t know.” We must not push the river, we must just trust that we are already in the river, and God is the certain flow and current.

Sometimes we try to hard to fix our situation. We are desperate to gain back control. But maybe that’s one of the big reasons you ended up in exile: God wants to show you that you are not in control. He is. Rohr continues to explain…

…the way of faith is not the way of efficiency. So much of life is just a matter of listening and waiting …It is like carrying and growing a baby: women wait and trust and hopefully eat good food, and the baby is born.

To be told to “be quiet and listen” is almost offensive to people who expect a solution to every problem. I’m not saying there isn’t a solution to your exile. I’m just saying that the solution to your exile probably isn’t in your brain when you first get there. That’s one reason you ended up there in the first place. You need to make room for God to reveal new things to you. Before he can do that, you need to create space through silence.

How good are you at silence and listening? What keeps you from it? What can you do to create that kind of space in your life?  Join the discussion by leaving your thoughts below. Consider sharing this post on Facebook. Thanks.

Out of Exile: Day 28 – Grieving Your Loss

On Day 27 I said that you will start your return from exile by naming it for what it is: loss.  What do you do with loss?  You grieve it.

As straight forward as this may seem, we don’t always see our losses.  We get too caught up in other aspects of our exile. We might spend time blaming others, regretting mistakes, fixing problems, or wandering around disillusioned. We overlook the obvious: your expectations for life weren’t met. That’s a loss. Losses hurt. You need to give yourself permission to feel the pain of that loss.

Let me walk you through what grieving your loss means.  The grief cycle was first created to describe what happens when you lose someone to death.  But these stages are true for any loss:

Denial – your first reaction is to minimize or ignore the loss so you don’t feel the full pain of it. You hope you’ll wake up some day and find it didn’t happen or what happened doesn’t affect you.  If you are unable to ignore the loss on your own, you might look for help by immersing yourself in things like: travel, a new person, a hobby, exercise, drugs and alcohol, religion, blaming others, excusing your responsibility, etc.

Anger – When you finally come out of denial, you realize  the loss still exists. It hasn’t gone anywhere and that leads to anger. You thought you could outfox the loss with denial. But there it is, staring you in the face. This blog series is primarily for people in ministry. Spiritual people don’t like to admit their anger.  They will act like the loss is not a big deal. They’ll spiritualize the loss and say things like, “I gave it to the Lord. It doesn’t bother me.”  Maybe. Or maybe that’s a cover up. It’s worth considering.

Depression happens when you believe the lie: Life will never be good again. 

Bargaining – Bargaining is when you try to take the short-cut to overcome your loss.  You might plead with God to let someone live by saying you’ll be more spiritual. You might promise your spouse you’ll do better if they don’t divorce you. You might try a network marketing scheme or a lottery ticket to get out of a financial jam.  Bargaining is an act of desperation to keep you from experiencing the full effect of your loss.

Depression – Depression happens when you believe the lie: Life will never be good again. The power of this lie is that it’s close to the truth. It makes sense. If you lost something significant to your joy, then how can life ever be good again?  The truth is…and what you need to come to realize is…life may never be the same…but life can be good again, even if it’s different.  It’s a faith issue because you need to believe in God to be convinced of this. You need to believe that God is good and he wants to bring fullness back to your life. If you can’t believe in God or his goodness, it’s easy to slip into terminal despair.

Acceptance – Here you fully accept the new you and believe that God is with you and for you. You believe that life can be good again. You are not the same person you were before the loss. But even though you are not the same, you are not less of a person. You are just different. Life is different. Many people refuse to come to this place. They fight it. They dig in their heels. They don’t want to be different. They think denial, anger, and bargaining will help. They won’t. Accepting the new you is the only way to bring true peace back to your life.

Grieving your loss is a process. It takes time. But it won’t happen if you don’t first see the loss.

Here are a few questions for you:

  1. What are the losses that you’ve been unable or unwilling to see?
  2. Where are you at in the grief cycle?  Where have you gotten stuck? Why is that?
  3. Do you believe that life will ever be good again? Why or why not?

I hope you’ll take a minute and share your thoughts below. Thanks.

Out of Exile: Day 27 – Return from Exile

We spent twenty-six days “in exile.” I think it’s time to head home. In the remaining days I want to give you some practical ideas how to find your way out of exile.

The first step is to simply NAME it.

One of the reasons I called this series “out of exile” is because I want to give you a name for your season of loss.  Last year I spoke some of these ideas at my home church. Someone stopped me and said, “Thank you for this series,” as if I knew what she meant. I asked why she liked it and she said, “I guess it just helps to have a name for what I’ve been going through.” 

…most people think that someone has to die in order to grieve so they never think to apply traditional grief and loss remedies. Naming your loss  ”exile” gives you permission to realize you have a common problem that has concrete solutions.

That’s true, isn’t it?  It’s like going to the doctor when you are sick and they tell you you’ve got the latest Asian flu. There’s nothing you can do about it but some how it helps to give it a name. It helps to know that you aren’t abnormal or imagining things. What you’ve got is common to all people and you’ll eventually get over it.

For example, last spring I suddenly lost a lot of energy. In fact, it caused me to stop blogging for a number of months. I didn’t know what was wrong. There were a few Sunday’s that I couldn’t stand to speak  at church so I sat through my sermons. Before I spoke I felt so depleted I just wanted to cry. I had all the blood tests done but nothing was found.

Around here, when you can’t find a diagnosis, people assume it must be Lyme’s disease…a mysterious disease brought on by being bitten by woodticks. So I started researching that.  It really bothered me to not KNOW what was wrong. I remember thinking, I don’t care what I have. I just want to know what it is. Just tell me so I can deal with it. (I never did find what was wrong. After two months my strength returned.)

That’s how we feel emotionally too. It helps to have a name for what we experience. Technically, what I’ve been talking about is traditional grief and loss issues. But most people think that someone has to die to grieve so they never think to apply traditional grief and loss remedies. Naming your loss  ”exile” gives you permission to realize you have a common problem that has concrete solutions.

As I mentioned early on, you can end up in exile for a variety of reasons. It might be your fault, the fault of others, the calling of God, or just the way the chips fall in your life.  But even though the causes are different, the lessons learned are often the same.

Now that you have a name for your loss, you can do something about it. Come back to learn what that is. (I’ve listed a number of related posts on grief and loss below that might get you started.)

Does it help you to have a name for the loss you’ve experienced? Leave your thoughts below.