Immeasurable

May 25th was the day we all waited for, counting down the months and then the days. The time seemed immeasurable, unbearable even, but the date finally arrived.

Wedding day!

The previous October, my youngest son, Nolan, and his beloved, Madison, got engaged, and everyone was thrilled. Nolan and Madison had dated for almost 2 years, and both families watched as the trust and love between them grew. Madison was the girl I had dreamed of and prayed for since Nolan was born– the just-right mix of godly and sassy in a beautiful package. She’s the girl of Nolan’s dreams, and we couldn’t wait to officially fold her into our family.

On the morning of the wedding, I reflected on a call I’d had the week before with my friend, Lisa. “Tell me what I need to know that I don’t know I need to know!” I pleaded. Lisa’s son had gotten married around the time of Nolan’s engagement, and I knew that she’d give me great girlfriend advice me about how to handle my mama-heart.

Lisa replied with wisdom as I knew she would. “You need to have your ugly cry before the wedding,” she said. “When you feel it coming this week, don’t hold back. Just let it go and cry your eyes out. That way, you’ll feel what you need to feel, but you won’t be a mess on the big day.”

I tried to follow her sage advice. The week before the wedding was busy and filled with emotion. Every time I felt the tears prick, I attempted to let go. I tried to feel the full gamut of emotions: the joy of gaining a daughter, the thankfulness of knowing that Nolan had chosen well, the sadness of the changing season, the overwhelm of all there was to do, and the gratefulness of two God-loving families joining in this union.

As the wedding processional began to plan and I settled in my seat, I felt a little smug. I was good. My ugly cry was over, taken care of the privacy of my own home in the days before the wedding.

And then this happened…

My son saw his bride. Overcome with deep love and awe of her beauty, the tears started. And they flowed, and flowed, and flowed.  I thought my big cry was over, but seeing Nolan’s emotion re-engaged my own and everyone else’s. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Every time I see this beautiful picture, I’m reminded of one of our family’s happiest days. My heart soars over the way this marriage was birthed so full of love.

But I also think of Jesus.

There’s a coming wedding, and Jesus will be the groom at the end of the aisle. When He sees His bride, the church, I can imagine He’ll react just this way out of His deep, deep love for her and in awe of her radiant, righteous beauty that He bought with His own life.

It’s easy to give mental assent to this illustration, thinking of Jesus’ love for the church, but you know that the church is YOU, don’t you?

When Jesus sees YOU, He’ll be overcome with love immeasurable, and He’ll be in awe of YOUR beauty. Jesus is going to look at YOU this way.

That’s what I thought about when my son cried over his bride. My tears flowed as I watched the earthly wedding in front of me and anticipated the heavenly wedding to come.

(So much for mascara and avoiding the ugly cry.)

As we start this series called “Feel,” I want to spend a few weeks on how God feels. Considering His emotions and how He engages them makes my own feel more like a gift. I’ve often treated my emotions as something to be squelched or a problem to manage, but if we follow in His footsteps, our emotions are something precious to be engaged.

So let’s start with the emotion that is God’s very essence: LOVE.

I Jn 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Exodus 34:5-7a, “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.'”

God is love. It defines who He is, and it’s the characteristic that He proclaims about Himself. He also declares its primacy among His gifts to us.

I Cor. 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

God is love, and He gives it lavishly to us.

Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 3:17-19, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

In total, there are 686 uses of the word “love” in the Bible describing God Himself, the way He loves us, and the way we are to love Him. I know “love” has become a hippy dippy word in our culture, describing the rush of infatuation at the beginning of a romantic relationship, but it’s so much more.

Let’s determine now to engage all of loves facets and power in order to knock down the walls of fear, rejection, and hurt that have kept us from divided from others. Let’s pray for help!

Lord, You are love. Because it is the core of who You are, You love us. Help us to begin to love others the way You love, without conditions or limits. We want to be people of lavish love, following the way Jesus loved by laying down His life. Amen.

During the wedding reception, something unusual happened. The DJ stood at the end of the family speeches and gave one of his own. He said that in over 30 years of DJ-ing wedding, he had never seen a reaction quite like Nolan’s, and then he gave my son a challenge. “Nolan,” he said, “if you’ll look at Madison like that every day, your marriage will last a lifetime.”

Every morning this week when you wake up, I want you to pause a minute before you roll into your day. Imagine Jesus, your bridegroom, looking into your eyes with greater love than my sweet son (or any human) could ever muster up. Every day. That’s the way your Savior loves you. Not just for a lifetime but for eternity.

Living in the light of that loving look will change you. And me too.

ps. I knew you’d want to see a picture of the beautiful bride, too, so here’s the whole happy Carroll family on wedding day!

 

 

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Numbed Out

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Have you ever caught yourself saying or thinking things like this?

The news stresses me out too much. I’m not going to watch it anymore.

I can’t think about that problem. It’s too big for me, and I’ve got enough of my own stuff to handle.

Man, this has been a day. I need ___________ (food,  binge-watching, a substance) to help me relax.

Being close to people always ends in pain. I’d rather be alone.

I’ll go ahead and confess that I’ve had each one of those thoughts at one time or another.

None of us likes to hurt or feel pain, but numbing out has become an American obsession. It’s reflected in shelves full of pain relievers, the way we shelter our kids from adversity, and how quickly we turn to entertainment to dodge or dull our pain. There are times when all those choices may be appropriate, but we’re a people (I’m person) who too often chooses numbness over pain.

Pain has a purpose.

In his book Where is God When It Hurts?, Philip Yancey uses the physical disease leprosy to show us that pain can be a gift. People with leprosy lose feeling in their extremities. Their hands, feet, nose, ears and eyes become numb. The tissue damage that’s symptomatic of leprosy isn’t caused directly by the disease. Instead, tissue damage happens because there’s no feeling to let a person know that they’re damaging themselves. For example, one boy with leprosy lost a finger because of turning a key in a sticky lock. When the key wouldn’t turn, he just kept pushing, not realizing that the metal was lacerating his skin. Pain would have kept the boy from injuring his finger beyond repair.

Other physical diseases also prohibit pain, and Yancey says, “Insensitivity to pain dooms such people to lives of constant peril.”

Emotional pain is the same. It’s an indicator that’s something’s wrong or that something has been lost. Although it’s not pleasant and is sometimes downright devastating, pain lets us know that losses and evils like death, divorce, financial ruin, racism, wandering children and sexism are not part of God’s original plan. These things, and many others, are the problems of our broken world.

Pain points to our problem.

When we turn away from pain, blocking it complete from our lives, we actually miss out. Tender hearts feel pain by definition. Numbed out hearts don’t feel, so they can’t:

  • Solve problems
  • Empathize with others
  • Connect through relationship
  • Feel joy either

Numbing may seem like a solution, but it only works temporarily and it brings greater consequences down the line. One is the absence of joy. Jerry Sittser, in his exquisite book A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, tells the excruciating story of the year after the loss of his wife, mother, and child in a crash caused by a drunk driver. At the end of the book, he says,”Yet the grief I feel is sweet as well as bitter. I still have a sorrowful soul; yet I wake up every morning joyful, eager for what the new day will bring. Never have I felt as much pain as I have in the last three years; yet never have I experienced as much pleasure in simply being alive and living an ordinary life. Never have I felt so broken; yet never have I been so whole…. What I once considered mutually exclusive– sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, death and life– have become parts of a greater whole. My soul has been stretched.”

If we’re to make a difference in our world, we have to engage our hearts fully in both pain and joy, so that we can connect with the people we want to help.

In the series that I’m doing to develop tender hearts and strong voices, you’ve heard the four steps.

  1. Listen.
  2. Feel.
  3. Do.
  4. Speak.

In my Christian circles, I believe feelings have gotten a bad rap. Yes, it’s true that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9) But it’s equally true that God created us with emotions–the whole range including pain– that are meant to be gifts.

In the “feel” part of the series, we’ll talk about how to leverage emotions rather than being led by them. Next week I’ll write about God’s emotions, so please pray for me as I study!

How about you? How do you process both the gift and curse of your feelings?

Note: I don’t want to leave those adrift who are currently in deep pain or feeling like I’ve minimized your suffering here. In the year after my friend Linda died from breast cancer, the two books I quoted in the post, Where Is God When It Hurts? and A Grace Disguised were a life-line to me in my grief. They are my most highly recommended and most often given when people I love are in pain. Yancey’s book is more of a theological textbook, though it’s easy to read. Sittser’s book is a first-hand account. It looks unflinchingly at grief, but it’s full of hope even though it’s not a bit sugar-coated. Both were exactly what my heart needed–truth and understanding– as I grieved my friend.

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