Archives For hope

Loving When It Hurts

February 6, 2017 — 2 Comments

Have you ever purchased furniture that comes in a box? Our office is full of IKEA desks and bookshelves from the Swedish furniture titan.  As I begin each assembly, I open the manual, look at the simple pictures, and review the short list of required tools. Filled with unbridled but unfounded optimism, I naively dive into the assembly.

However, as each project unfolds, my frustration inevitably grows.  The simple pictures are never simple to follow. In fact, I’ve never reached the end of a project and thought, “That was easy!”  Each piece takes far more time to assemble than anticipated, eroding my patience to pitiful levels and causing me to mutter Swedish words.

This doesn’t just apply to furniture assembly. For many of us, when we first stepped out into the work of loving and serving others, we had a simplistic (and perhaps naïve) vision of just how easy it was going to be. Turns out, loving others is far more complicated and difficult than we originally imagined.

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a summit designed for families walking through adoption and foster care. I imagine that most of the attendees found themselves in the same place that I did: armed with the ardent conviction of our call to love and care for orphans, widows, and vulnerable children. God has been unmistakably clear in His charge to the Church to care for them. To Laurel and I, our next step seemed obvious: Kids in crisis were in need of a safe place to live, and we had room in our hearts and our home. The math was simple, and love rooted in the Gospel compelled us to respond.

But cheerful brochures with smiling children hide the reality that between those moments of giggles are a lot of tears.

Our family took a deep breath, and plunged head-first into a world of addiction, hurt, and pain. We opened up our home to provide respite care, knowing that loving people is an inherently dangerous thing to do. We genuinely believed that we were ready.

Nothing could have prepared us for what was coming.

Our experience in welcoming a child turned into the single most painful season of our lives. I experienced fear like I’ve never felt it before. Pain and resentment became constant companions—and the most wrenching pain that I experienced was watching the people that I love the most become deeply wounded.

Here is what I’ve come to believe: There are no simple ways to love others. Love is costly. Indeed, as people invited to incarnate Christ in a broken world, if our love looks anything like Jesus’ love, it could cost us everything that we’ve got. Faithfully loving others like Jesus loves them inevitably means that you will experience hurt.

Stepping out to welcome the foreigner, protect the widow, defend the fatherless, and love our brothers and sisters living on the fringes of society isn’t comfortable or safe. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and motivated by the same wild, scandalous love that once rescued us, we are called to step into the good works that God has prepared in advance for us. If you have embarked on a journey to love the vulnerable and found it to be more difficult than you imagined, do not lose heart!

How are we to respond to the pain that accompanies living lives marked by costly love?

 1. Expect that loving others is going to be hard.

Don’t believe the IKEA manual claim that the task ahead of you will be simple, or that trite explanations and simple solutions are going to fix all the problems. Real life rarely presents itself in a sanitized, comfortable way.

Instead, lean into the truth that the world is broken. We know that Jesus has won the war—but the battle rages on. We shouldn’t be surprised when life is painful. We shouldn’t be surprised when relationships are difficult. We shouldn’t be surprised when hurt people hurt us.

We are to go into our service with our eyes wide open that “in this world you will have troubles” (John 16:33).

What’s the benefit of expecting it? It helps us to more fully enter into the beautiful moments of life—the hugs, the smiles, the “I love you’s.” Enjoy these moments. Savor them. But don’t be surprised when they’re intertwined with heartbreak.

When we expect challenges, we increase our ability to savor the moments of joy and cling firmly to the second part of the verse from John’s gospel: “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

 2. Call for help.

IKEA manuals always have the same last picture: Call someone.

Pierre, a friend of mine, told me that in rural Rwanda, it’s common knowledge that you always need at least four close friends, people you can call at any time, day or night. It’s four, because that’s the number of people it takes to carry a stretcher.

Strong lifelong friendships don’t just happen; they take intentionality and commitment. Invest in the relationships that matter, and they will sustain you in all seasons of life.

When we reached out to a friend in the midst of the pain of adoption, she responded, “We are going to walk this together, and while we don’t know God’s big picture or the end result, I believe many lives will be changed and hearts will be saturated with the reality of true Kingdom loving. Don’t look ahead. Just do the next thing. Trust and obey. One loving act at a time.” In that moment, it was exactly what we needed to hear.

3. Look up. Constantly.

In moments of incredible trial, where do we fix our eyes?

  • We might look back and obsess over our past. Previous failures and “if-only” scenarios can crush us, if we let them.
  • We might look forward and fret over our future. This is especially easy when we still have questions about what is going to come in the next moment, let alone the next month or next year.
  • We might look inward and become paralyzed by our hurt.
  • We might look side-to-side and ask why other people seem to have it infinitely easier than we do.

Yet we are to be a people of hope who look up. This is not a cliché. These are true words. When life feels impossibly hard, we remember that we have nowhere else to go. As we read in Psalms 121, “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth.” Look to Jesus, the One who perfectly shows us what wild, scandalous, costly, fearless love looks like in practice.

Friends, as you step out in the significant work of loving others, do it empowered by the Spirit and saturated in grace. Do it surrounded by a community of people cheering you on and supporting you. Do it knowing that God has promised to use all things, both the moments of great success and moments of heart-wrenching pain, for our good and His glory.

My hope is that we will be known as people who run to the suffering and the hurting, instead of running away. That we will stop to make time to respond to the needs all around us—even though doing so will bring both beauty and pain. That we would be prepared to live fearlessly and love boldly. And that we will continue to press into the dangerous work of loving like Jesus.

There are few greater gifts than the gift of friendship. Today, I’m thankful to introduce my good friend Andrea Gurney. She’s a professor at Westmont College, Ph.D, psychologist, and friend for over two decades (how is that possible?). If you enjoy the following post on gratitude, be sure to check out Andrea’s blog, Stand in Love.

By Andrea Gurney

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A grateful heart changes everything.

It’s no surprise, then, that Jesus reminds us to be grateful 150 times in Scripture. Science is trying to catch up to Jesus (as often is the case!), and studies are beginning to reveal the importance of being grateful. Repeated empirical studies indicate that when we practice gratitude, we have higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. It’s hard—if not impossible—to be stressed and grateful at the same time, after all! Practicing gratitude also leads to increased feelings of connectedness, improved relationships, greater empathy, and even altruism.As a clinical psychologist who has studied resiliency in children and families, I can attest to the power of gratefulness. Two people can undergo the same hardship, pain, or trauma, and their attitude can make all the difference in the world. I have seen this in my clinical office, and there is a burgeoning field of research indicating that gratitude mitigates the trials and tribulations of life.

When we follow Jesus’ call to gratitude, an inner shift of consciousness can occur as we focus on what we have, rather than what we have not. This is when hope emerges. And, in a 2004 study conducted with 5,299 adults, both hope and gratitude were found to be strongly correlated with life satisfaction.

How then do we cultivate gratitude in our own lives? Robert Emmons, a lead researcher in the study of gratitude, purports three simple steps:

  1. Look for the good.
    On a daily basis, we need to be mindful of the simple blessings that surround us. A call from a friend, chirping birds, a kind word, laughter among children, ladybugs, long walks, shared ideas . . . We live in a world that is full of both beauty and suffering, and we can readily become overwhelmed with what’s hard, painful, stressful, and tragic. It’s easy to focus on the clouds, but our challenge is to realize that it’s the sun that allows us to see the clouds. The simplest form of gratitude is joy.
  1. Receive the good.
    We need to take in, absorb, and savor the good. This is grace. We are so quick to move from one activity to the next these days that we forget to stop and see the wonder of this world. We need to slow down, breathe deeply, and savor the good around us. Next time you see something that makes your heart grateful, pause for one moment and relish in it. And then . . . share it!
  1. Give back the good.
    This is where we pass on the good by sharing it, speaking about it, and serving each other. This is one way we can love one another. When we speak of the good around us, it becomes more real and tangible. Unfortunately, our natural default is often to speak about the hassles and annoyances in our day, especially with those we are closest to. May we all be mindful, though, that when we make known the good, we are taking a step in the direction of mental health, blessing others, and following God’s call to be grateful.

So see it, savor it, and speak it on a daily basis. Try this for two weeks, and let me know if you see a difference in your own life!

andrea

Andrea Gurney, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, an associate professor at Westmont College, and an author. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with her husband and their two daughters.

Connect with Andrea: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Blog

Headlines often paint one image of Africa—a portrait of poverty, AIDs, and war.

That’s unfortunate. There is so much life, vitality, and beauty.  I recently had a chance to visit three countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Burundi, the Republic of Congo, and Rwanda, and I came away with images of hope, not of despair.

Burundi Millionth Loan photos 133

Here are just a few of the things I loved about visiting these countries:

  1. Dancing. From a HOPE community meeting to church services, the Congolese I met took every opportunity to break out in spontaneous dance. I know that I can’t dance, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy trying.
  2. Relationships. At the end of staff devotions in Brazzaville, I saw each staff member shake hands with every other person. A striking contrast to our “let’s get things done quickly” culture, this simple act was a beautiful way of valuing each person.
  3. Maracuja juice. Made out of passion fruit, simply there is no better beverage in the world. If anyone knows how to get some of this liquid gold in the U.S., please tell me. I’m an addict.
  4. Ceremony. When we went to church, there was a whole team of individuals assigned to “protocol.” We greeted the church leaders before the service and then followed up with the proper greetings afterwards.  The ceremony accorded an atmosphere of respect to everyone.
  5. Hospitality. The archbishop of the Anglican Church in Burundi welcomed us with a meal of rice, beans, chicken, and gracious enthusiasm. It was obvious that he had a love for his country and a plan for how the Church can contribute to rebuilding this nation.

While there is suffering, war, and poverty in Africa, we must remember to look beyond the headlines and see its beauty and that we have many reasons for hope.

If you are interested in learning more, watch the incredible Ted talk by Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story.

This week teenagers (and perhaps my wife) will flock to see the opening of the vampire-romance film, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn,” once again unleashing vampire mania around the country.

While vampires have caught the public’s imagination, they aren’t the only fascinating creatures in mythology.  In high school, I took a course on European history and heard about valkyries.  Valkyries were mythical creatures who fought bravely, but they fought in the face of defeat (they already knew they were going to lose the battle). 

Sometimes it’s easy to feel the same way about HOPE’s work.

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There are days when it seems like lasting change is impossible.  Governments in developing countries make assisting the poor difficult.  Insecurity threatens to unravel progress.  But I refuse to believe that we are in a losing battle.

In sharp contrast to the valkyries, we believe that we know the end of the story.

In Revelation, John writes, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Revelation 21:4).

So we roll up our sleeves to fight valiantly in the face of the day that is to come.  God has called us–and equipped us–to play a part in the story of restoration!

Every week I have the incredible privilege of hearing this story of restoration being carried out: Individuals in poverty are encountering the love of Christ and  God has called them to use their gifts and talents not only to provide for themselves, but also to love their neighbors and transform their communities.

See stories of transformation here.