Wednesday, 8 February 2012

You know how I feel

Max Lucado is lovely.

I imagine you think so too.

I've read his books to my children; one of their favourites is the one about the Wemmicks - it's called, 'You Are Special' and it's a wonderful, gentle book about the love that you have for us, Father God. In fact, it's about 'The Audience of One', really - a lot for me to learn as well, and keep on learning. The only opinion that matters is yours, even if other people weigh me up and find me wanting. 

But I was on Amazon a few days ago and I found myself exploring the rest of Mr Lucado's books and I came across one that intrigued me. Reviews for this book were outstanding and so I bought it and started it the other day. It turns out that the author writes just as easily for adults as for children and he seems wise and insightful and gentle and yet really woke me up. I think this will be a book with a message for me. Or maybe more than one, I'm hoping, since I've only read the first couple of chapters and stopped in my tracks a couple of times already.

It's called, 'In the Eye of the Storm', and it's a detailed look at one day in Jesus' life - a day that the author thinks may have been (aside from the crucifixion) one of the most stressful days of your time down here. 

Jesus, I have never really considered that your life might have been stress-filled.  Yes, I know that you were afraid in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I know that you were angry with the money changers in the temple. I know that you were moved to tears when Lazarus died and I know that you were filled with compassion for the people who needed you. I know that you went through agonies both physical and spiritual in the last few days of your life. But stress

This is the day that you found out that your cousin, John the Baptist, was dead.  I have read this passage many times and I've never stopped to consider that particular part of it. Max Lucado opened my eyes with this:
'...the man who came closer to understanding Jesus than any other is dead. Imagine losing the one person who knows you better than anyone else, and you will feel what Jesus is feeling. Reflect on the horror of being told that your dearest friend has just been murdered, and you will relate to Jesus' sorrow. Consider your reaction if you were told that your best friend had just been decapitated by a people-pleasing, incestuous monarch, and you'll begin to see how the day begins for Christ.' 
Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, p28

Not good then.

I've always sort of assumed that nothing got to you, Lord. That because you were God, you weren't surprised by anything, or wrong footed, or taken aback, or even particularly bothered. I imagined that you knew what was to happen to John the Baptist and so it didn't shock you. I thought that you were probably so supernaturally prepared for your own fate that it wouldn't scare you that hot on the heels of this news came the news that Herod was after your head too.

So bereavement and a death threat in the same conversation. 

I don't think I ever really credited you with feelings. Sorry about that. Insofar as I've actually considered it at all, I've sort of had an image of you as gliding through life totally in control, completely prepared, unshakeable. If you felt extremes of emotion then they would only be positive ones. That a negative thought never entered your head. That you were just full of peace and love and hope that you were unaffected by the nitty gritty of human life. I think I've always (and still am) a bit confused by the God-and-man thing. How much man were you? How much God?  Is there any way for someone with a small, human brain to grasp the idea that you were fully man and fully God? 

So if you were fully man, you must have been devastated by the death of your friend. Someone who saw you for who you were. Someone who understood (a bit). If I got that news, it would be the end of my day. I wouldn't function. If I heard that someone I loved had been killed, and the murderer was looking for me, that would be it. Too much, twice over.  Can't really get my head round it. 

All it says is that you went off on your own somewhere. 

But not for long. Suddenly the disciples came back. They surrounded you and all wanted to regale you with tales of miracles and healings and wonders that they had seen and performed an been involved with. They were exuberant and full of joy. They wanted to celebrate and they needed you to join in. You had empowered them; made simple fishermen into great leaders who could do great things. They were amazed and happy and full of enthusiasm. You'd just heard that your friend was dead and your life was in danger. So what did you do? Did you turn away and say, 'Not now. I've just had bad news. I can't be doing with all this right now. Leave me alone.'? 

Nope. You found it in yourself to celebrate with them, somehow. 

And there's more. Hot on the heels of the disciples is a huge crowd who are overjoyed to find you. They wanted a piece of the man who the disciples had talked about. The guy who had started all this. They all had needs and wants and you went from an attempt to find some peace and solitude to being engulfed in a large crowd demanding things from you.

No wonder you signalled to the disciples that they should get away with you for some rest. You climbed into a boat and sailed off. But when you got where you were going, it turns out the crowd had followed you. They want to hear you speak, listen to your teachings, have you heal the sick and do wondrous things. If ever there was a time for saying 'I can't do this now. Come back tomorrow,' that was it. But the Bible tells us that:

'When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.'
Matthew 14:14

'He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.'
Mark 6:34

'He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.'
Luke 9:11

You must have been tired. You wanted to get away, we know that, because you tried, twice. Once and your disciples found you, and then again in the boat away from the crowds. And yet, when your plans were thwarted, you didn't lash out or insist on your own way, you felt compassion for the demanding crowds, and you allowed your plan to change. 

I wonder if anyone asked you how you were? I bet they didn't. It makes me think of how I act so many times each week where I feel swamped by demands (and I know that many of these oppressive obligations might be in my own imagination). There are times when I'm patient, times when I cheerfully put aside what I want to do in order to do something for someone else. Those are probably in the minority, I suspect. There are the times when I respond to a need with bad grace, with much huffing and puffing and scowling and grumbling. That is a pretty frequent occurrence. 

And then there are the times when I stamp my foot (either metaphorically or physically) and raise my voice and snarl, 'No. What about me?  When do I get to do what I want to do? I can't do this now, come back later. Or preferably don't come back at all.'  

But you didn't. You had more need to find peace that day than I've ever had, and yet you had compassion on the people who demanded things from you and you responded with love and patience. You found a reserve of energy when surely you must have been running on empty. 

And guess what?  Out of this enormous crowd, how many of them thought to bring a packed lunch? Nope. Not many. They wanted you to feed them too. You asked the disciples to sort this one out, thinking maybe that their recent exploits would have taught them that God wouldn't let them down - but no. They looked at you with incredulity and so you had to step up once again. If you want something doing, do it yourself, hey?

I am thankful that I have never had news that someone I love has been murdered. I have never heard on the grapevine that someone is looking to kill me. I have never had twelve people descend on me at the moment I want to run away and grieve and ask me to join in the celebrations for amazing happenings and miracles that they have done in my name. I've never had a crowd of thousands asking me to heal their sick. 

What I have had are moments where someone is speaking to me, the children are clamouring for help, snacks, toys, computer passwords and assistance in the toilet (I know, there are only two of them but sometimes it feels like many more), the oven timer tells me that the dinner is ready, the doorbell rings or the phone goes, and I need to reply to an urgent message I've just received and I feel like screaming. Sometimes these moments erupt from nowhere; just before the onslaught I was quietly pottering on my computer with a coffee and there wasn't a thundercloud in sight. Next moment, the heavens open on top of me. My heart rate goes from a steady trundle to a sprint. 

Did you get up that morning with any inkling of what sort of day it would turn out to be? Did you climb out of bed and stretch and look at the blue sky and feel all serene and peaceful, only to be hit by the juggernaut coming your way?

Do you really know how I feel? Always? Really?

Max Lucado reckons that you do.
'His pulse has raced. His eyes have grown weary. His heart has grown heavy. He has had to climb out of bed with a sore throat. He has been kept awake late and has gotten up early. He knows how you feel.'
In the Eye of the Storm, p31/32

He goes on to suggest that it's hard to believe that you did feel all our headaches and heartaches. That we generally believe that you suffered pain and fear and sorrow, but not the day to day hassles that we go through. 

Can it really be that you felt frustration and irritation and disappointment and bad temper and self-pity? Did you really have achey joints or an upset stomach or long to stay in bed? 

If you did, nowhere in the Bible does it say, 'And Jesus went from that place very grumpily and stamped his foot and threw his mug against the wall and refused to come out again until they said sorry.'

So maybe your self control was amazing. Maybe you felt those things but your capacity for love was, well, superhuman. Maybe you were God as well as man. That's where we started. 

'For we do not have a great high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin.'

Hebrews 4:15

It makes sense that being who you were, so in tune with the Spirit, that the fruit of the spirit in you must have been a tremendous crop. No wonder you were overflowing with 'love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control'. (Galatians 5:22/23). It was you that Paul had in mind when he wrote that. So the thing is that you felt all those things, all those crowding-in emotions, all the trapped, resentful, selfish, irritable, self-pitying emotions that I feel and yet you kept on giving? Kept on going, kept on smiling, kept on loving.

That seems a big ask. 

I can't do that without you. And to be honest, even if you help me I can't guarantee I won't give in to the bad temper and scowl and mutter 'What about me?

But I want to try, because I don't want to be the one who's always bad-tempered and cross and inward-looking. I want to try because I want my children to be kind, patient, compassionate people and not irritable and selfish and stampy.  I want them to do better than me. I want to try because that's the sort of person I want to be, too. And I want to try because you want this for me and I want you to be pleased with me. 

So help me remember that you have been here ahead of me and even the negative emotions that I feel every day, you know those as well as the noble ones, should there be any. Help me to remember that you were a man, a real one, not an airbrushed one. You probably didn't have shoulder length bouffant beautifully conditioned hair and a manicure. Help me to remember that there were times when you felt cross and wanted to get away and you had good reason, but that you loved people too much to turn your back on them to meet your own needs. Help me to be inspired by that and not discouraged, because I am so different. So far from there. 

Lord, thank you that you are not a distant God who looks down on us without any understanding of the rubbish we wade through here on earth. Thankyou that you knew about demands and stress and overwhelming emotions. You came down here and you lived as we did, and if I believe that then I believe that you lived as we did in every way. You did feel the way we feel, but you didn't give in. Thankyou that you walk next to me when I'm struggling and that you have promised to hold me up. 


God-and-man. Still can't get my head round it. I think that cleverer people than me can't get their heads round it either. 

By the way, Max Lucado says that you might have had acne or knobbly knees. 

Surely not. Surely you weren't that human. 

Were you? 

1 comment:

  1. Great post Helen. Looking forward to reading this book :) x


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