Close

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me
(Psalm 23:4; NLT).

1. You are as close to me as breathing.
You are as close to me as dread.
You are as close, Lord, as my heartbeat –
Closer than words unsaid.

2. You are as close to me as weeping.
You are as close to me as pain.
You are as close to me as anguish –
Closer than guilt, or shame.

3. You are as close to me as living.
You are as close to me as prayer.
You are as close to me as panic –
Closer than my despair.

4. You are as close to me as grieving.
You are as close to me as kin.
You are as close to me as dying –
Closer, by far, than sin.

Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us
(Colossians 3:11; NLT).


References 

1.  The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4; NLT).

2. Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me (Psalm 139:1; NLT).

3. The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26; NRSV).

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34; NLT).

4. To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:11; NLT). 

Into your hands I commit my spirit (Psalm 31:5; NIV).

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-9; NLT). 

Entrusted with suffering

1. Introduction

We come into this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. Along the way, we experience many joys, trials and sorrows. God gives us everything we have, but he also takes things away from us. Thus, he tests us to see how we freely respond.  This process reveals whether or not we love him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength.

No one is exempt from being tested by suffering, including Christ. This is why he is able to suffer with us, whilst helping us to find and follow his way of love through every experience. Jesus’ life and death clearly demonstrate that God brings good out of even the most terrible suffering, and the same can also be true for us.

2. Suffering 

When others suffer, we pray that they will be strengthened, helped, and healed. Additionally, we can ask God to bring good from what they are undergoing, both for the sufferer, and for others.

However, when we ourselves must suffer, Jesus invites us to shoulder our cross and follow him. This means we have a choice about how to respond to our situation.

3. Responses to suffering 

A. We may respond to suffering with resentment, anger, bitterness or despair, blaming God for the troubles he has sent us. If suffering makes it impossible for us to maintain our previous understanding of God, we are likely to become disillusioned, rejecting him, and perhaps even losing our faith altogether. Yet such inner struggles can be healed, because God endlessly waits for us to turn to him, longing to help us reach a deeper understanding of him, and of our suffering.

B. Alternatively, we can respond to suffering by learning to face, accept and even welcome it, seeing it as a way of sharing in the redemptive suffering of Christ. By adopting this approach, we can focus on asking God to help us embrace what we must undergo, for it is useless to fight against his will. As above, we can also pray that God will bring good from our suffering, especially for others. Such an attitude might take many years to develop, but we have our whole lifetime to work on it, until our last breath.

4. Entrusted with suffering

Suffering is not imposed on us without purpose. Rather we are entrusted with a level of suffering that is commensurate to the strength of our faith. Like Jesus, our task is to face it in such as way as to be an example, an encouragement and an inspiration to others. This is how God brings good from it, often in very unexpected ways.

5. Suffering as an opportunity 

Suffering can therefore be understood as an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth, a form of service, a privilege, a blessing, an honour and a glory. Such an approach gives rise to a much more positive attitude than seeing it as a random or unfair event, a judgement, or a punishment. We can thank God for it, doing our very best to endure and manage our suffering with patience and love. This approach brings peace of mind, for we can be confident that our approach to suffering will help others, and even ourselves. In this way, suffering is transformed and made meaningful, becoming easier live with, and to bear.

6. Conclusion

Whatever trials and sorrows we face, we can turn to God and ask for his help. Summoning all our courage, we can choose to trust in him, whilst being as joyful, prayerful, thankful and loving as possible. When we have faith that God will support and teach us through all we experience, we can be assured that our suffering will, in time, bear fruit.

God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (Genesis 41:52; NIV).

References

1. Introduction

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB).

The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).

The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 13:3; NLT).

Whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free (James 2:12; NLT). 

He did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32; NLT). 

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested (Hebrews 2:18; NLT).

I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6; NLT).

In all their suffering he also suffered (Isaiah 63:9; NLT). 

Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood (Hebrews 13:12; NLT).

In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).

2. Suffering 

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them (1 Timothy 2:1; NLT). 

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me (Matthew 16:24; NLT).

3. Responses to suffering

A. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? (Psalm 22:1; NLT).

The Lord longs to be gracious to you (Isaiah 30:18; NIV).

The Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion (Isaiah 30:18; NLT).

B. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10; NIV).

If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39; NLT).

It is useless for you to fight against my will (Acts 26:14; NLT).

You are hurting yourself by kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14; NET). 

It’s foolish to fight against me! (Acts 26:14; CEV). 

If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Romans 8:17; NLT).

Submit to God and be at peace with him (Job 22:21; NIV).

God teaches people through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes (Job 36:15; GNT). 

Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last (Luke 23:46; NLT).

4. Entrusted with suffering

From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48; NIV). 

Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13; GNT).

God chose you to suffer as you follow in the footsteps of Christ, who set an example by suffering for you (1 Peter 2:21; CEV).

5. Suffering as an opportunity 

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation (James 1:12; NLT).

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10; NIV). 

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more (John 15:2; NLT). 

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4; NIV).

6. Conclusion 

Trust in God (John 14;1; NLT).

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NLT).

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ (Ephesians 5:2; NLT).


 

Beyond all weariness

All glory to him who alone is God, our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen (Jude 1:25; NLT).

Beyond all weariness and pain
Is Christ,
Who died, and rose again.

Beyond all worry and dismay
Is Christ,
Who shows us how to pray.

Beyond all anguish and despair
Is Christ,
Who teaches us to care.

Beyond all fear and loss of hope
Is Christ,
Who always helps us cope.

Beyond all ignorance and sin
Is Christ,
The Lord, who dwells within.

Beyond all darkness, war, and strife
Is Christ,
Who gives eternal life.

He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good.
(Romans 2:7; NLT).


I feel so empty

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
(Psalm 22:1; NIV).

Lord,

I feel so empty
And despairing.
I cannot pray,
But thirst for you in vain.

How can I live
Without your constant presence?
Let me become
Your dwelling-place again.

How can I face each weary day
Without you?
Nothing but dust,
I long for death’s release.

Show me, once more, your light,
And love, and mercy.
Answer my prayers,
And give me your perfect peace.

My peace I give you
(John 14:27; NIV). 

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you
(Isaiah 26:3; NLT).

________________________________

Seek the Lord

If you seek him, you will find him
(1 Chronicles 28:9; NLT).

Seek the Lord
For he is near;
Take his hand
Each time you fear.

Seek him
When the path is steep;
Let him hold you
When you weep.

Seek him out;
Accept his care;
Stay with him
When you despair.

Seek him
When the way is hard:
He will comfort, love,
And guard.


I will take you by the hand and guard you
(Isaiah 42:6; NLT).


 

Temptation (#1 of 2 linked prayers)

Hear my plea
(Psalm 28:2; NET).

Father God, in weakness,
Jesus, in dismay,
Spirit, in temptation:
Hear my plea.

Father God, in anger,
Jesus, in alarm,
Spirit, in temptation:
Come to me. 

Father God, in sorrow,
Jesus, in distress,
Spirit, in temptation:
You are near.

Father God, in failure,
Jesus, in despair,
Spirit, in temptation:
You are here.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me
(Psalm 23:4; NLT).

Made of dread

Image: Leigh Heasley, Pixabay


🖤

I’m just a worm, less than human
(Psalm 22:6; CEB).

1. I’m made of dread,
Instead of dust,

2. And cling to you in doubt,
Not trust.

3. I plead through pain,
Instead of prayer,

4. And serve you out of pride,
Not care.

5. I offer sin,
Instead of good,

6. And wait for you with fear,
Not love.

7. I seek the dark,
Instead of light –

8. Lord, may I walk by faith,
Not sight.

🖤

We walk by faith, not by sight
(2 Corinthians 5:7; NIV).

Dealing with hurt

This blog is about dealing with hurt feelings. In three short articles, it charts my learning over a period of several months.


 1. My dilemma – written on 19.8.20.

Image: level17-design, Pixabay


The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me
(Job 30:27; NIV).

Introduction
During the summer of 2020, two people hurt me badly, on separate occasions. I decided to be direct with them, and did so as lovingly as I could. However, both reacted to my feedback with anger and blame, and neither was willing to work together towards reconciliation.

My dilemma: Should I speak out, or say nothing?
This breakdown in two significant relationships left me ruminating for many weeks about all that had gone wrong, generating a constant sense of dread. Sadly, this was not a new experience. Dealing with hurt feelings has posed a serious dilemma for me throughout my life: is it better to speak out to those concerned, or to say nothing?

What did Jesus say and do?
As always, when I don’t know what to do for the best, I looked for guidance in the teaching and example of Jesus. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt, criticism, and injustice, which I have always found confusing.

For example, on one occasion he stated: If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3; NIV). 

Yet he also said: If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also (Matthew 5:39; NLT).

So, what happens when I try to follow each of these two apparently very different approaches?

Speaking out
Experience has taught me that when I speak out directly to someone who has hurt me, it almost always backfires. In response to my feedback, they turn on me with anger and blame, or end our relationship. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic endless sense of dread.

Saying nothing
On the other hand, when I say nothing, I allow the other person to hurt me without protesting, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. This makes me feel powerless, worthless, and depressed.

Thus, whichever approach I try, I generally end up feeling as if life is not worth living.

Forgiveness
Fortunately, Jesus was absolutely clear that whether or not we speak out, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never acknowledge what they have done, and never apologise. Forgiveness gives me something positive to work on during the months of emotional distress which follow each time someone upsets me.

Conclusion
When people hurt me, I see myself as having only two basic choices: to speak out, or to say nothing. Either way, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health. Not knowing how to resolve this dilemma has plagued me all my life, and remains a serious problem to this day.


After writing the piece above, I began to talk my dilemma over with a few, trusted people for the first time ever. Gradually, my thinking about it began to change, as described in the next article.


2. My action plan – written on 30.8.20.

Image: Jackson David, Pixabay


If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God
(Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).

Introduction
After writing the above article, I spent a long time working out how to improve my ways of relating to those who hurt me. From the insights gained, I gradually put together an action plan to follow whenever a crisis arises.

My action plan
Rather than seeing my response as a stark choice between speaking out and saying nothing, I decided to tackle each situation in a series of stages.

Stage 1: Withdraw, pray, reflect
When someone behaves unacceptably towards me, I will not confront the person involved immediately. Instead, I will simply tell them that I need time to reflect on what they have said or done. I will then withdraw to sleep on the matter for at least one night. Taking time out will enable me to pray, discuss the situation with someone I trust, and think carefully, before responding. This should help to prevent me from reacting angrily in the heat of the moment, with a high risk of permanently damaging the other person, our relationship, and myself.

Stage 2: Decide whether or not to be honest
During the time out, if I decide it is pointless, or inappropriate, to speak directly  to the person concerned, I need take the matter no further. Instead, I will work on praying for them, and forgiving them.

On the other hand, if I decide to tell the other person how their behaviour has affected me, I need to remember that they may have had no intention, or awareness, of upsetting me, and might therefore be very taken aback when I raise the subject.

Stage 3: Speak out briefly, and lovingly
When I decide to give direct feedback, I will do so as briefly and lovingly as possible. I will remind the person of what they said or did, and be honest about how it has hurt me. Anything beyond this is superfluous.

Stage 4: Wait to see how the person responds
If the other person reacts badly, there is no need for me to do anything further. We are all responsible for our own behaviour, and I can’t expect everyone to respond exactly as I wish.  Instead, I will try to put the whole matter behind me, though I admit that I have always found this impossible.

On the other hand, if the other person reacts positively, and apologises, I will accept this immediately, forgiving them completely. We can then be reconciled, and the whole matter will be resolved.

Stage 5: Start afresh
Finally, however badly things turn out, I can try to start afresh each day. Every time I find myself ruminating about what happened, I will remind myself that the matter is now closed, and that it’s time for me to move on.

Conclusion
From now on, when someone hurts me, I have an action plan to follow. My overall aim will be to maintain a careful balance between being speaking out, preserving relationships, and protecting my mental health.


After finishing this article, I made further progress in dealing with hurt feelings, as described in the final piece of this series.


3. My further learning – written on 23.1.21.

Image: Manfred Antranias Zimmer, Pixabay


Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves
(Philippians 2:3; NLT).

Introduction
Despite my hopes, putting together my action plan didn’t make me feel any better about my two shattered relationships. I was still living with constant dread, which drained my already very limited energy. My sleep and dreams were disturbed, and I began to slip into depression. Clearly, my approach to dealing with hurt feelings was incomplete.

Then, one day, I suddenly realised that when I’ve been honest with someone about their behaviour towards me, and they have taken it badly, or stopped speaking to me, there is one more step I can take, in the hope of resolving the situation.

One more step
I can write to the person concerned, saying how sorry I am about everything that has gone wrong between us. I can tell them that I’m praying for them, and for our relationship, and let them know that I long for us to be reconciled. Even if they don’t respond, I will then know that I have done all I possibly can to put things right between us.

This insight enabled me to write carefully and lovingly to the two people who had hurt me. To my delight, one responded with great generosity of spirit, though sadly the other did not reply. However, by sending these letters, I finally managed to stop ruminating about all that had gone wrong. In consequence, my abiding sense of dread slowly began to diminish.

The teaching of Mother Theresa
At this point, I believed my action plan was complete. Some weeks later, though, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s teaching about how to deal with exactly the kind of hurtful situations that had destroyed my peace of mind for so many months.

In  her book, “The Joy in Loving” (Penguin Books, 2000), Mother Theresa offers brief but powerful advice on how to become more humble, and therefore more Christ-like. The wording varies slightly in different editions of the book, so I have amalgamated the most relevant points into a single list which hopefully maintains the spirit of her approach:

  • Do not dwell on the faults of others.
  • Accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
  • Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.
  • Accept insults and injuries.
  • Accept being slighted and disliked.
  • Accept contempt, being disregarded, and being forgotten.
  • Be courteous, kind, and gentle, even when provoked.

Inspired by the simplicity and clarity of these teachings, I began to absorb and practice them. Not long afterwards a friend unexpectedly censured me for something which was not under my control. Feeling hurt, I began to defend myself, but quickly recalled Mother Theresa’s wise words, “Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.” I stopped speaking, and turned away. Overwhelmed by despair, I started to weep. To my friend’s credit, she quickly realised how much she had hurt me. She approached me, apologising profusely. We clung together for a long time in great distress, comforting each other. Eventually I was able to explain how afraid I had been of her sudden anger, and how much her words had upset me. I told her that I loved and valued her, and we were fully reconciled.

Humility, acceptance and courtesy
This was a deeply healing experience, unlike anything  I had previously experienced. Moreover, it was not followed by dread, or depression, which seemed little short of a miracle. I therefore resolved to adopt Mother Theresa’s approach of responding with humility, acceptance, courtesy, kindness and forgiveness whenever someone hurts me.

Conclusion
These three linked articles have described how I resolved my lifelong dilemma about the best way to respond when someone hurts me. I no longer see myself as having a straight, binary choice between speaking out and saying nothing. Nor do I need a complex action plan that relies on how the other person reacts at each stage. Instead, from now on, whenever I am criticised or attacked, I will use the simple, humble approach encapsulated in Mother Theresa’s teaching.

To my delight, this completely resolves my original dilemma, as it is entirely in accordance with the spirit of Christ’s own words: Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also […] Then your reward in heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High (Luke 6:27-9, 35; NLT). 

There can be no finer action plan than this.


Acknowledgements

My warmest thanks to all those who engaged in discussing this issue with me, especially Alan, Dianne, Rosemary, and John. Their contributions have been invaluable. Many thanks also to Ber, whose technical help and personal encouragement enabled me to write and organise this document.

Teach me

Image: Rondell Melling, Pixabay


Lord,

1. Teach me, when I’m foolish;
Forgive, when I’m unkind.

2. Save me, when in danger;
Soothe, when I’m maligned.

3. Brace me, when I’m tempted;
Console, when I’m afraid.

4. Warn me, when I’m angry;
Calm, when I’m betrayed.

5. Hold me, when I suffer;
Support, when I despair,

6. And guide my soul in death, Lord,
T0 meet you in the air.

 


References

1. Teach me how to live, O Lord (Psalm 27:11; NLT).

Forgive us our sins (Luke 11:4; NLT).

2. Save me and rescue me (Psalm 71:2; NLT).

Let your unfailing love comfort me (Psalm 119:76; NLT).

3. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13; NLT).

With his love he will calm all your fears (Zephaniah 3:17; NLT).

4. Don’t sin by letting anger control you (Ephesians 4:26; NLT).

I begged my allies for help, but they betrayed me (Lamentations 1:19; NLT).

5. Your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:8; NLT).

From the depths of despair, O Lord, I call for your help (Psalm 130:1; NLT).

6. Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4; KJV).

The Lord will guide you continually (Isaiah 58:11; NKJV).

We […] will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17; NLT).

The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).