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On Sunday morning, I go to church. The songs of worship are encouraging, and good for my soul, and most of the congregation enters into the lovely singing.
But last Saturday? Saturday I entered a building that didn’t look one bit like a traditional church building. Inside of it, I had the privilege of getting to help lead the music portion of a worship service with some friends. And that day, as I opened my mouth to offer up my little vocal contribution to the song we were about to sing, the sound waves from my mouth went out about one inch into the room, and were practically shoved right back down my throat, as they collided with a wall of sound that nearly flattened me back against the wall behind me. The joy in that room was boundless, unable to be contained in the smallness of the room itself. The praises went up, and a bit of heaven came down, as the Spirit Himself moved, and hearts filled with gratitude gushed forth praise and love to the One who’d saved their souls.
Where was I when this pressure-washer spray of thankfulness get released?
|Deacon D., wearing the Cone of Shame, in Puppy Prison. Not quite the same thing.|
The Tennessee Women’s Prison, to be precise.
Through their songs, those women showed me that they have learned the secret of worshiping where they are. Because if you can worship when you hear electric locks clanging shut as you walk into your room, if you can worship when the fence around your house has razor wire running along the top of it, my brothers and sisters, then you can worship where you are.
As I was reflecting on that experience, I was reminded that suffering can be its own kind of prison. And doubt can be a jail. Each can be isolating, and paralyzing in its own way.
When I’m in pain, you can’t really feel what I’m feeling. I can try to describe it to you, but really, I’m on my own with my pain. Be it physical pain, or emotional pain, pain, by its very nature, isolates the sufferer.
Suffering and pain can be catalysts for doubt.
And doubt is not particularly well countenanced in many Christian circles. If you have questions, hard questions, many folks would prefer you to not to ask your questions, at least not around them. Your doubt makes them uncomfortable. And as such, if you could kind of keep your pesky little questions on the DL, well, their boat wouldn’t get to rocking, at least not quite so hard.
“Pipe down, Thomas, or he’s going to have to rebuke the wind and the waves all over again!”
But you know, a couple of examples from scripture came to mind as I was thinking about pain, suffering and doubt, that have given me some hope, and some comfort. So I thought I’d offer them up to you, in hopes of giving you a little encouragement, too.
When we think about the week that Christ was crucified, Christians remember that on Good Saturday, when Jesus was in the tomb, His disciples really had no idea what was coming on Sunday. Scripture leads us to believe that in fact, his disciples were in deep mourning. They didn’t understand what Sunday would bring. Would they not have doubted during that time? Yet, despite their doubts, they did not cease to belong to Jesus. I’m sure God the Father’s heart went out to them in their despair. He could have told them how things were going to turn out, in explicit detail. But He didn’t. He just loved them, in their doubt, knowing that Sunday was coming. Sunday: the day their mourning, suffering and doubt would turn to rejoicing.
In the same way, I’m reminded of a situation in Jacob’s life. The last time he had seen his brother, Esau, many years earlier, was when he had cheated him out of his birthright, and hightailed it out of the land where they were living, fearful for his life, fearful that his brother might kill him. That night, we’re told, Jacob wrestled with a mysterious being all night long, and scripture calls this being a man. Jacob refused to let the man go till the man had given him a blessing. The man gives Jacob a new name: “Your nameBB)’> and yet my life was spared.”
Doubt seems to me to be our human struggle to wrestle with God. God not only allowed Jacob to struggle with him. He blessed him for the struggle. He blessed him for being willing to engage, to enter in, to wrestle. In fact, I recently learned that in Hebrew, embrace and wrestle come from the same root word. There is an intimacy in wrestling: skin is all over skin. So don’t be afraid to wrestle with God, to bring your struggles, your questions, and your doubts to Him. In so doing, you will find yourself in His embrace. And if you persist, bringing to Him your honest doubts and questions, you may end up walking away, like Jacob did, with a limp, yes, but with a blessing as well.
And the blessing is worth the limp.
So worship where you are:
In your prison.
In your suffering.
In your doubt.
Engage with your Creator.
He loves you, with a love that won’t let go.