Comfort for the Oppressed

1275416Again, I observed all the acts of oppression being done under the sun.Look at the tears of those who are oppressed; they have no one to comfort them. Power is with those who oppress them; they have no one to comfort them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)

I feel this way sometimes, glimpsing oppression around the world today. I don’t see it all. It would be too overwhelming if I could. I feel anger, compassion, and justice swell within me.

Young girls being sexually exploited, fathers separated from their families to work for wages that only keep them trapped, mothers who are taken advantage of when their only goal is to care for their children. People, treated like objects, a means to an end.

Solomon declared there is no one to comfort them. And when I think of the oppressed in situations where they are isolated, I wonder where they might get comfort. What they believe as comfort isn’t the same as what you and I would see as comfort.

We cannot fix all the ills of the world, but we can do something. We can refuse to be silent. We can pray. We can keep our eyes open for warning signs. We can refuse to believe we can swoop in and save everyone, but we can persistently find ways that will truly help in the long run. We can be patient but refuse to be passive. We can get informed.

We can see, and we can notice, and all of our efforts together may just count as a balm of comfort.

But God

indexBe gracious to me, Lord, because I am in distress; my eyes are worn out from angry sorrow—my whole being as well...But I trust in You, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” (Psalm 31:9,14)

We’ve all felt it at one point or another: distress, anger, or sorrow that wears us out.

…but God.

Distress, anger, or sorrow changes us; at least, what we do with it changes us. When we sit in it, it becomes attached to us. It begins to define us. Oddly, we might even begin to get comfortable with it, as if we can’t imagine our lives without it.

But when we trust God through it, we let His perspective ease our own. His truth ebbs into our experiences. We claim His authority and trust Him to guide our next steps, no matter how blinded by darkness and confusion we might be.

No matter what we experience, we can claim, “You are my God,” then trust Him.

 

Revenge

50de6fce2b9596cfc111e5bbced8ba12We often wait a long time for revenge, to pay back what has been done to or slighted of us or someone we love.

Absalom didn’t say anything to Amnon, either good or bad, because he hated Amnon since he disgraced his sister Tamar.

Two years later…

Absalom has planned this ever since the day Amnon disgraced his sister Tamar.” (2 Samuel 13:22-23a,32b)

Through the time we wait, the revenge, discontentment, and anger takes root. It not only affects us but also others. Whether we realize it or not, what is going on inside of us spills onto others, and it’s not pleasant. It might make us feel good, but feelings betray us. We might think we’re allowing for a safety release, but what we’re releasing isn’t safe. We might think we’re justified, but taking control rarely is. Self-control that’s God led? Yes. God-control? Yes. Control based on our own limited understanding, strength, and feelings? No.

Whatever is eating at you from the inside out is too much for you to handle. But it’s not too much for God.

Fear Robs Us

Fear-1-ProblemSometimes fear and anger keeps us from moving forward. We get stuck for a short time or a long time. Either way, we can miss out on a blessing because of our fear.

When they came to Nacon’s threshing floor, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and took hold of it because the oxen had stumbled. Then the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and God struck him dead on the spot for his irreverence, and he died there next to the ark of God. David was angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah, so he named that place an Outburst Against Uzzah, as it is today. David feared the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” So he was not willing to move the ark of the Lord to the city of David; instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in his house three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his whole family. (2 Samuel 6:6-11)

Living with fear and anger, the kind that separates us from God, robs us of a blessing. It robs our relationship with God, because instead of stepping closer to and relying on Him, we choice to stay put. When we refuse to move and grow, we cannot follow God well, wherever He might lead and however He might provide.

The Words Weren’t True, But They Had Power

“Everything that goes wrong in this church seems to have your name attached to it.”

The words stung. I knew they weren’t true. I knew they were being spoken from a place of hurt during a rough season in this person’s life, including challenging situations at church.

I knew the words weren’t true, but they still entered my ears, my mind, and my heart.

Even though I knew the context in which the words were spoken, and I was able to let go of every other word-dart thrown at me during that conversation, that one sentence stuck with me. I caught myself second-guessing my leadership decisions, filtering and re-filtering my words before speaking, carefully choosing which ideas to share and what discussions to emphasize, especially when this particular person was involved in any way. I didn’t want to give her any more ammunition.

But I already had. I had given her some power in my life that I didn’t need to relent. I knew what she said was untrue, but I went on the defensive, avoiding words and situations instead of living offensively. I don’t mean offensively as in aggressively attacking. I mean simply moving forward. I didn’t want to offend her, but I didn’t need to avoid her and her allegations either.

To be honest, those words were said in such a heated moment that she probably doesn’t even remember them. It wasn’t as if it was characteristic of her. Why would I isolate something in her life? In fact, isn’t that what she had done with me in some way?

Perhaps I should thank her. After all, the second-guessing, filtering, and carefully choosing that I consequently did wasn’t all bad. It was good exercise in discernment and patience. It probably helped some relationships and interactions, not to mention my patience and humility.

No matter what, there is always something to learn in every situation. I’m thanking God for His reminder…and I’m moving on.

All Criticism Is Not Created Equally

criticismReceiving criticism isn’t an option. It often occurs when you’re most vulnerable, irritable, and discouraged. While you don’t have control over when and how you’ll be criticized, you have choices in how to respond. Some types of criticism carry more influence than others.

Critical to Be Cruel. We might think once we’re beyond junior high and high school, the mean kid stuff is going to stop, but it doesn’t. Some people hone their “mean” skills almost to an art form. They criticize you because they can. They want to see you squirm. We want to believe the best in everyone. Christians are supposed to be nice, right? We all have struggles, and chronic criticism tends to be some people’s main struggle throughout life. How should you respond? Acknowledge the person’s communication with you without accepting the burden of what she’s saying. That’s not to say you should completely ignore what’s being said. There might be a thread of truth from which you can learn and grow. Listen and sort through what is consistent with what others have said. Just because the way something is presented is ugly doesn’t mean there’s no truth somewhere within it.

Critical to Be in Control. Some criticism stems from a need for control. By being the “expert” about something, always having the best solution for every situation, people who criticize to be in control are similar to armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers. They might appear to know it all, but in reality, they’re rarely willing to step in and actually do the hard stuff they’re telling you to do. Leadership is easier from the sidelines. How should you respond? Realize it’s not all about you when someone criticizes you. There are (at least) two people involved. While you need to consider your involvement in the situation, also consider the other person’s patterns and possible motivations. Be careful, because it can be easy to dismiss someone based on their past interactions with you and others.

Critical to Be You. Some criticism is rooted in jealousy. Whether or not you believe you’re jealous-worthy, there are people who see your responsibilities, opportunities, and relationships and believe what you have is better than what he has. People often don’t know how to appropriately handle jealousy. They know they shouldn’t be jealous. They don’t want to admit they’re jealous, so it begins to surface as anger, judgment, or avoidance. How should you respond? Telling someone she is jealous of you when receiving criticism isn’t going to be very helpful. In fact, you might not even be able to easily identify this type of criticism, because you can’t know someone’s motives. Listen with respect, and respond with affirming ways whenever possible to help others the worth God has given them.

Critical to Be Critical. Some people criticize for no other reason than they enjoy criticizing or have created such firm habits of criticism that it’s difficult to stop. Sometimes people who have been or are constantly criticized think criticism is the norm, so they perpetuate the cycle. How should you respond? Let the majority of this type of criticism roll off of you, but when the patterns continually impact you, you’ll need to speak up and try to develop new patterns.

Critical to Be Helpful. Now this is the kind we want! We’d like all criticism to be constructive. We’ve all learned lessons from people throughout our lives even when the advice or instruction has been difficult to hear and accept. The problem is we’ve often built up our defenses so much against the unhealthy and unhelpful types of criticism that we have a knee-jerk response when we encounter something constructive. We let our discerning muscles atrophy and throw all types of criticism out (or absorb it all much too easily). How should you respond? Despite the hurts you’ve experienced in the past, remain open to potentially helpful criticism. Intentionally invest in people you can respect and trust. When criticized, ask yourself, “Can accepting and applying this criticism help me grow in God-honoring ways? Is it consistent with God’s instruction?”

God will often use people in your life to confirm God’s direction for your life. While you should always respond to individuals with respect, you don‘t have to absorb every person’s opinion of you. Learn to discern among various types of criticism. Keep criticism in perspective and let God grow you through it.

A Lesson in Selfishness: Trees and Roses

What does selfishness have to do with trees and roses?

I learned when I recently spent the night in a hospital.

I wasn’t the patient. I simply wanted to be available for someone close to me. Nighttime hours are busy for nurses, and sometimes it’s difficult to get their attention and care. (Although we pretty much had the best nurses…in our opinion.) Plus, doctors start rounds super early in the morning…too early for me to get up and make the drive to the hospital with any certainty of hearing their updates.

So, I stayed in a waiting room that served several wings on the same floor of the hospital. I learned not everyone in the room had family members on that floor. Some had commuted from other floors. The first time I stayed in the waiting room, there were only a few of us who spent the night. But this time was a different story. Every (semi-comfortable) chair and couch was taken. Every tv was set to a different channel with scattered remote controls. But the lights were automatically dimmed at 11 p.m. and raised at 7 a.m., so that was promising.

roses treeMy “neighbor” seemed friendly as I struck up a conversation with her before the lights were dimmed. She also seemed quiet…until the lights were dimmed. I quickly dozed off after a long day, but it soon woke up in a groggy fog. As I remembered where I was, I wondered, “Why is someone talking about trees?” I didn’t open my eyes until I was fully convinced I wasn’t hearing things or dreaming. Then, I looked around and found my neighbor having a phone conversation while browsing the internet in the corner of the room. And she was talking about trees. I couldn’t put all the pieces together, but I learned a lot about trees…for an hour. The conversation stopped, but not before she said, “Okay, but if you have time later, give me a call.” I thought she meant later in the day. I was wrong.

Her phone rang one hour later and lasted an hour. She returned to the computer for more research. This time, the focus was roses. I got to learn about a lot of different kinds of roses, where they can grow, what soil they need, and…I won’t bore you with the details. At the end of the hour, she said, “Well, I need to get up at 7. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

I hated to break the news to her, but it was already tomorrow.

I didn’t sleep as well as I had hoped I would. But I wasn’t as irritated as I was perplexed.

I just couldn’t figure out how or why she thought it was okay to talk through the night with a roomful of tired people who had experienced who-knows-what that day. And the topics of choice were trees and roses?

I laughed as I recalled the story to several people the following day. It still seems ridiculous when I think about it. But I’m sure it didn’t seem ridiculous to her. Like so many of us, when something makes sense to us, we can’t imagine it doesn’t make sense to someone else. We might declare, “Well, that’s just me!” to justify what we do, yet say, “She has no right!” or “What was she thinking?” about someone else. One thing is for sure: we can have very different perspectives and values from others.

We don’t have to completely understand others’ behavior or perspectives, but it’s important to call ourselves out on the similarities. While we might not do exactly what “they” are doing (nor would we, we declare with arrogance), we can always find selfish tendencies. That’s really what most of our issues boil down to: selfishness. If we don’t see any selfishness in us, pride (otherwise known as selfishness) is the cause of our blindness.

I’m not saying we’re always selfish, but it’s a huge reason for the chasms we create between ourselves and others. If you follow my blog at all, you know I take a stand on my faith in and the truth of Jesus Christ and His teachings. I believe there are absolutes. There’s a difference between truth and Truth. Could my belief be seen as a selfish perspective? Sure…if I let it divide me from others. But differences in beliefs, opinions, values, faith, priorities…and the list goes on…doesn’t have to bring out the selfishness in me. In fact, it can do quite the opposite. I can choose to dismiss others because they are different from me, or I can stand firm on the truth of God’s Word while having conversations with others, learning their perspectives. I can disagree with someone without dismissing him or her.

After all, there are a lot of trees and roses out there. If I listen, I might just learn something.

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20)