Thursday, June 18, 2015

When Quoting Scripture Can Be Like Salt In The Wound

Hey Friend,
I have had a long and unending season of pain in my foot.  I had surgery on it over a year ago when I decided I had had enough of the pain. I developed a rare, post-operative nerve condition and have had a series of excruciating injections attempting to kill the nerve.  I have prayed.  My family and friends have prayed for healing.  After a short period of less pain I began having intermittent bursts of radiating pain in my foot again.  They make it very difficult and painful to walk.  To say that I am sick of this is an understatement.  It's been almost two years of pain. 
I know that people care and are well meaning, but when a few people quoted Joshua 1:9 to me in an attempt to encourage me, it ended up feeling more like salt in the wound.
"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  (Joshua 1:9) 
It's a great verse, when used in the right context.  In this situation it just made me feel worse.  I felt guilty because I definitely was discouraged and I certainly didn't feel strong and courageous.
In an attempt to learn more, I looked up the first chapter of Joshua (from which this verse was taken) which talks about Joshua being installed as the next leader after Moses.  I wanted to know the context of why this was said and by whom. 
In the eight verses preceding Joshua 1:9, the Lord, himself, is telling Joshua that He will give Joshua every place where he sets his foot.  God elaborates on how great the territory is going to be that He will deliver into Joshua's hands. He tells Joshua that no one will be able to stand against him all the days of his life because He (God) will be with Joshua just as He was with Moses.   God promises Joshua that He will lead him and His people to inherit the land He swore to their ancestors. 
After that pep talk, by God himself, of promises about victories, God delivers the line found in Joshua 1:9.
If, after hearing all that, I think even I could muster some strength and courage and not be afraid or discouraged.
Does that mean that we shouldn't quote scripture in an attempt to encourage the down trodden?  No, but I think that we really need to use wisdom and discernment about the verses we choose and the timing of those verses. 
It made me think about all the times that, I too, have plucked scriptures (often out of context) and thrown them out there.  Why? 
I think because I sincerely wanted to encourage someone and wanted to ease their pain.  Honestly, though, I think it is hard for me/us to be around those who are really hurting or grieving.  It makes us uncomfortable because we don't know what to do or say.  Here in America, people like to "fix" things and when we can't fix it, we often resort to what we feel is the next best thing, which is to quote scripture or say something like:
*Telling others to just be thankful that (and then name something worse)
*Encouraging others to "count their blessings"
*Offering platitudes that are cliché
*Telling them "it's all in God's will"
*Telling them that God won't give them any more than they can handle

(It's good to remember to be thankful and count our blessings...and to know our lives are in Sovereign hands, but how well timed is the reminder? Hmmm....)
Really, when you get right down to it, we can be downright insensitive.
So what, then, are we to do?
For that answer, I like to look at "what did Jesus do?"...
We enter the scene...Jesus has just traveled to see the sisters, Mary and Martha.  They are distraught with grief because their brother Lazarus (who is described as the one whom Jesus loved) has died.  The whole town is in mourning over the loss and the sisters are looking to Jesus for comfort. 
Jesus, who is the only man in history that could truly "fix" things, does something much more poignant and moving instead.  He doesn't quote scripture to Mary and Martha and the mourners; He doesn't tell them to count their blessings or offer platitudes.  No, there at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus' tender and affecting manner is overcome with compassion and grief...and what does He do?  He weeps.
Perhaps the shortest, but most powerful verse in the Bible is: Jesus wept.
Jesus set his own pride and interests aside, allowed himself to feel what the mourners felt, and then He wept with them.
The next thing Jesus did was pray to His Heavenly Father.  Then, as the triune God, He raised Lazarus from the dead. 
He "fixed" the situation last, but the first thing He did was to weep.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly (in humbler condition).  Do not be wise in your own estimation.  (Romans 12: 15-16)
* We are to share commonality in other's joys and sorrows
* Like Jesus, we are to be tender and affectionate toward one another
* Remember: It diminishes one's sorrow when others are sympathizing with you
* Enter into each others' circumstances in order to try to see how you would feel
* Don't condescend
Jesus had the power to fix make it all better... yet He wept.
I think we would do well to follow Jesus' example. 
Jesus, I'm sure, was silent.  No words were uttered.  He probably held his friends and simply shared in their pain.  Sometimes actions are needed more than words. Jesus was just there for them.
When offering words of scripture, also do what Jesus did.  First He prayed.  Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment for what is about to come out of your mouth or from your pen onto the page.  Pray with your friend who is hurting.  Then commit to continuing to pray for them.
Pray for God to strengthen them, to help them, and to uphold them.  For these are promises God mas made to those who are suffering. 
Model Jesus to them...
Dear Lord, Thank you for your promise that you are always with us, even in our suffering.  When others are suffering around me, help me to be like Jesus - to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  Jesus set the ultimate example.  Help me to follow it, especially in times when I'm not sure what to do.  Help me to walk, if even for a short time, in another's shoes.  Let me be a fountain that pours out Jesus' love on others.  In Jesus' name I pray, Amen. 

Be blessed...

ps.  Since I initially wrote this post, I saw one of the leading foot surgeons in this area, only to get the news that the probability of "fixing" the problem is slim at best and that further surgery could result in worse pain.  To say that this is disheartening is an understatement.  I know that God is still in the business of miracles and that is what I'm praying for.  I would certainly appreciate any prayers you would offer on my behalf...thanks!

pps: Update Redeemer Christian School:  About 20 more children are seeking refuge at our school (we currently serve 30).  We want, and need, to be able to offer hope to these precious children as well.  Did you know that $10/month (or $120 over 1 year) will pay for one child to benefit from an education and the love they will receive at RCS??  That's all it takes to get them off the streets and into the classroom.  Soon we will be providing profiles of specific impoverished children who need your help, so in the meantime would you please give it some prayerful thought as to whether God is calling you to sponsor a child in order to give them an education, hope, and Jesus' love?

If you would like to join us in our mission and contribute to RCS...

Send checks to:  Bev Rihtarchik (put RCS in the memo line)
                            103 Silver Lining Lane
                            Cary, NC  27513

* Note: RCS is not yet a registered 501c3 non-profit organization (for tax credit purposes).  It will take many dollars in legal aid to do this and our priority right now is the children.