The kids couldn’t ride with me in the truck because I couldn’t figure out how to disable the passenger-side airbag. So I
got had to drive cross country by myself. I know each of the kids would have enjoyed some time in the truck, and my Wonderful Wife would have appreciated a bit of a break. I, on the other hand, really enjoy my time alone on the road. It always gives me time to process.
(this is the missing piece from last week’s post found here)
After dealing with the ordeals of liquidation, packing, moving, and leaving our Oregon life behind, I had two huge fears. First was the fear of mechanical failure in the truck and van. The other was my fear of traffic, motor vehicle crashes, and the loss of my family.
The truck was overloaded. In fact, we left several nice items behind based purely on weight (I kept thinking about all the covered wagons on the Oregon Trail that tossed out prized possessions along the journey). The radiator leaked, I wasn’t too sure about the engine – with over 250+k miles, and the rear tires don’t have much tread left on them. I was actually “OK” with a breakdown, though the prospect of unexpected financial costs were somewhat daunting. It was the fear of a catastrophic accident that frightened me – and leaving my family fatherless.
I read recently that “all emergency responders are wounded.” The PTSD is cumulative. We, paramedics, firefighters, EMTs, and police officers, see things no sane person should see – and few of us remain sane after seeing all of this. Whenever I see loved ones get into a car, a twinge of fear goes through my heart. This is the fear I had for my family driving cross country. Despite my own paranoia, driving does remain on of the most dangerous activities any of us will participate in. I never feared death until I had a family – now, I fear their deaths, and my own.
After realizing the fear and sorrow of this whole ordeal, confessing and admitting it, I was better able to hit the road – but the above fears continued to haunt me. But a few days into the journey, I experienced a breakthrough.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Larry Crabb speak at a conference in Denver. I was impressed with his views on community and God’s love. I bought a couple of his books and MP3 audio presentations, but due to our hectic life over the past six years, I never really took the opportunity to explore his material – until last week. After two days of driving, I pulled up the audio version of his book, Finding God.
I love the synchronicity of perfect timing. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the book before, and I’m certain it would have spoken to me, but the healing power of this book was made more powerful after the perfect storm of fear I experienced during our exodus from Oregon.
Dr. Crabb opens the book with the story of his brother’s death in a plane crash and his subsequent grief and struggle with making sense of this. Obviously this story leaped into my heart – for this is the scenario I’ve been wrestling with.
- How would I deal with the loss of one of my children?
- How does one make sense when someone close dies prematurely? My Wonderful Wife?
- How would my children fare if I were to die or be killed?
- Would I, could I trust God to sustain me and/or my family through the aftermath?
- Could I trust that God is Good if He “allowed” this to happen?
- Why would a “good” god allow this?
- When would the pain end?
- Who is able to experience this sort of loss, and carry on?
- and so forth, and so one, et cetera – the questions are endless….
It’s impossible for me to share with you the explicit answers he explains in this book, or to do those words justice, without simply cutting and pasting the entire text of the book below – and that would be foolish. Suffice it to say, the reviews of this book on Amazon, are overwhelmingly positive.
Too often in the past, I have “medicated” my pain, confusion, fear, and sorrow. Sometimes the medication is warranted, like taking ibuprofen for a headache, or sleeping when I’m tired, but too often I have sought remedies that were mere anesthetics. Self-medication through drugs, alcohol, TV, food, and even more harmful activities. Dr. Crabb suggests this is because I don’t trust God and I don’t believe Him to be good.
Instead of dealing with these two roots, I seek remedy from the pain instead. Situations, and more importantly, our attitudes towards those situations – and the behaviors we seek to fix these situations – should be viewed as indicators of our trust in God. Or lack thereof?
For instance, when I’ve experienced significant pain in my life, my first instinct was to stop the pain. Pornography and alcohol were the most powerful medications I had access to as a young adult. They numbed the pain and distracted me from the situation. Overtime, I sought more powerful anesthetics and distractions – and in a few years, I found myself addicted to many things.
I could have chosen another course however. Instead of numbing the pain and denying the event(s), I could have chosen a more socially acceptable path of healing. Through psychology and counseling (which I did engage in somewhat), I could have discovered the scars and wounds of my life and delved into them more fully to better understand the patterns and triggers that caused me to free fall out of control – emotionally, spiritually, or through addiction.
There was a time when we told people to trust God no matter what, buck up, and get over it. This was the message in our churches, but it sent a very stern image of God and His Church. It wasn’t all that helpful either. Then, starting about 30 years ago, churches began to take a more proactive approach to healing and recovery. Pastors, counselors, and psychologists encouraged people to go into their pain and discover its roots. But this too has proven shortsighted – as it leaves the power of the supernatural out of the equation.
In fact, modern self-help, and church-based counseling and recovery, frequently leave God out of the mix – except to offer God’s comfort and compassion. By making our pain relief the focus of these recovery efforts, we become selfish and self-centered.
Dr. Crabb suggests that we should seek God – not for pain relief, but for understanding. Not for understanding the situation, or the pain – but for knowing God. This will usually require that we go through the pain – with God’s love and compassionate guidance – and to emerge on the other side. Though he didn’t mention these stories, I thought of Moses’ 40 years in the wilderness, Paul’s shipwreck, and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Too often we go to the center of our pain, mull it over, explore it, discover it’s roots, and then learn to deal with it. In this process over the past 30 years, I’ve learned that my childhood was filled with emotional abuse on many fronts. I was bullied. I experienced attacks and received scars that I didn’t deserve, and my parents didn’t have the tools to help me deal with these situations. As I matured, let go of the denial and poor coping mechanism, I was able to shed my addictions – one-by-one. This was helpful – there’s no doubt about that – but I continued to be baffled by God’s role and response to all of this.
As I listened to this book, I became convinced that my focus on my own pain, my own suffering, and my own relief from this is arrogant and self-centered. My focus instead should/could be on what I can learn through this – about myself and my God.
I learned, essentially what I learned the Friday we left our house. That is, I’m a mess. I’m broken, scared, and paralyzed by my fears and grief. That part was easy – God, my Wonderful Wife, and I wrestled with that already. I stared it in the face and confessed it. I realized how immature I am in this arena.
But part two didn’t come until listening to Crabb in this amazing book. As I listened to him reading, I realized – and admitted – I don’t trust God and I’m not so sure He really is good.
As our time came to a close in Colorado Springs, I now realize that many of my decisions were driven by fear. I was afraid of being without an income. I was afraid of losing our house. I was afraid for my family as we prepared for our Smiling Son’s arrival. I was afraid for the people at Common Ground. I was afraid for the vision God gave me for the church. I was afraid that God didn’t have it all under control and I would need to defend Him.
As I began to experience political pressure at our church in Scappoose, I began to make decisions based on fear. I dug in my heals, I became emotional, and I flip-flopped on my issues. I felt alone, scared, and backed into a corner. I relied on biblical promises and when I was terminated, I wondered what value those promises possessed? I didn’t understand God and I was in severe pain. I wanted to be angry at Him, but I didn’t know how – so instead, I defended God and turned inward – trying to make sense of what just happened.
Out of fear, I now believe, I chose to re-enter EMS. It seemed perfect and I was actually excited to continue the story I started 35 years earlier. Over time, it started to become apparent that I was either not a good fit, or they didn’t want what I had to offer. But out of fear, I pushed on. Again, concerned about providing for my family’s needs, I didn’t see anyway out of the situation. I prayed for relief, but no relief came. Again, I doubted God’s ability – or His goodness – and life continued to spiral in self-centered attempts at rescue, recovery, and pain relief.
These self-centered attempts to find relief, along with the doubt in God’s ability to provide, are not just harmful – they are at the root of all human attempts to live without God. We want to live on our terms, with God’s assistance. Instead, He asks us to live on His terms and to join Him in the journey. Unfortunately, or unwittingly, somehow we’ve come to the understanding that God exists to enable us to live our lives. But this is not about us. It’s about Him.
My goal is to seek God. To know Him. To follow His path. Not so I can understand my life, but so I can understand and know Him. When pain or confusion crop up in my life, these are opportunities to understand my brokenness and to seek God. Prior to this, I’ve been asking God to “fix” my life, my circumstances, and to relieve the pain in my life. I now see how messed up that is.
This story, this Cosmic Conflict, isn’t about me and my survival. It isn’t about us, our comfortable lives, or the success of our churches. This whole journey started with Adam and Eve – and it continues today. Are we going to trust that God is good, or not? Do we trust that God’s ways are good ways, or are they not.
God wasn’t joking when He asked/told Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit of that one tree. He had a plan and He had a purpose. But Adam and Eve chose to ignore God’s plan and take matters into their own hands – literally. One way to get rid of a nagging temptation is to give in to it. How well I know that path. It is painful to deny temptation. It is a struggle to avoid something even when we know it will hurt us. Some of those hurtful things do not have immediate consequences – but some do.
Eating a pint (quart?) of ice cream may actually bring us joy – tonight; and when we’re young, we may notice no ill effects. But long term use of ice cream to satisfy our urges, mask our loneliness, and comfort our boredom will have multiple long-term consequences. Diabetes and heart disease may be the least of these long term consequences. Continued sexual intimacy with someone we don’t want to be emotionally intimate with will also have consequences. Sure, there’s the immediate and obvious gratification of being sexual, but long term, as we continue to sell out to this pleasure, we lose parts of ourselves that can never be regained, and quite possibly lose opportunities for a more satisfying and full relationship with the “right” person.
Using drugs or alcohol to self medicate is proven method to destroy one’s life. Using TV, food, pornography, or any other addictive behaviors can more subtly destroy us. Unfortunately, in many circles, churches have focused on the morality of certain behaviors – and not the disconnect these activities indicate in one’s relationships. The biggest one being our relationship with our Creator.
These pain relieving efforts are symptoms of our disconnect with God, and, unfortunately, can lead to a greater disconnect. When we resort to pain relief, rescue, recovery, and healing – as our primary purpose – we forget what our true purpose on this earth is – and that is, to be in relationship with God.
If my spouse annoys me, offends me, or even pushes me away, I have some thinking to do. Too often, without thinking, I simply seek relief. I can sulk in front of the TV, spend a few hours mindlessly wandering Facebook, or I can seek to reconnect with her on her terms. I’ve found that seeking reconciliation on my terms is rarely successful. She perceives it as selfish and painfully dispassionate to her needs. However, when I seek to meet her where she is, ignoring my own needs, the results are almost always astonishing.
The same can be said of God. Too often we seek to use Him, His power, and His ways to feel better. And there is some merit in this. However, if we truly want to transcend the ordinary and mundane journey we continue to cycle through, it has to be on God’s terms and in a journey to connect with Him. This is where it happens – and this is our purpose on earth.
Towards the end of the book, Dr. Crabb explains how as he better understood this huge disconnect he was experiencing, and he made the choice to pursue God no matter what, he experienced pain relief, understanding, and healing. Instead of using God to experience these things, He sought God, without conditions, and a couple of years later he realized that he was not resorting to self-medicating behaviors or grieving in self-centered attempts to fix the pain.
As I listened to this book between Butte and Miles City, Montana, I felt myself trusting once again that God is good. With this, the fears lifted and I felt peace. This doesn’t mean the possibility of catastrophe was removed. In fact, I or my family will live under this threat as long as we live on this planet. However, my trust that God is sufficient to meet all my needs is restored. It may not be easy, it probably will be uncomfortable, but He is sufficient.
Pain is not only to be expected, but it is necessary. Don’t just embrace the pain, but walk through it in your journey to seek God.
This was the information I was lacking. This was the piece that I failed to find. This is the message most Churches don’t (won’t?) teach. This is the message you won’t hear from your political party. In order to be elected, or to keep one’s job as a pastor, men and women in these positions will experience real pressure to preach a message of peace, safety, and prosperity. If these leaders don’t preach this message, they are usually ostracized, imprisoned, killed, or worse. It is the rare individual, or group, that will accept a message of pain as a positive path to spiritual enlightenment, self-actualization, or peace – however it is defined.
So taken by this message, I re-listened to the book the next day as we drove from Miles City to Valentine. I still prayed for safety; I still cringed when big trucks passed my family in the van; and I still wondered what was next in the lives of my homeless and unemployed family – but the fear has been tamed (I’d be lying to say it was completely gone – I’m not that spiritually mature yet).