The good and the bad

Question… Shall we accept good from God and not trouble? What is your answer? What kind of question is that, you ask. Well, it is a rhetorical question asked by a real person in the Bible. In Job 2:10, Job asked this question after he said to his wife: You are talking like a fool. Why? Because his wife told him to curse God and die so he would be free from his suffering. (2:9)

This question has been on my mind often. It is a reminder to me of important truths about my faith.

First, Job acknowledged that both the good and the bad come from God. It might sound heretical to say that bad things come from God who is all good. It sounds complicated but it is simply how life is lived and viewed through the lens of faith. Job believes that both the good (his wealth, his children, good name, fame, the good life) and trouble (his loss – death of his children, physical sufferings) in life are from God.

Second, Job accepted both the good and the bad. It is easy for me to receive all the good things in life – thank God and praise God for all the blessings he gives. It costs me nothing. It is human nature to be happy when life is bright and sunny – when all is well… no fear, no worries, no problem, no sickness, no trouble. But when bad things happen, when disaster strikes, when sickness comes knocking, it is human nature to cry out in pain, to cringe in horror, to run away and hide. How can a normal sane person accept trouble without the natural response inherent in his being?  His faith!

If God gives me good things, I rejoice and praise him. When God allows bad things to happen to me, I cry out and cling to him. That is how Job coped in his sufferings. He acknowledged that his troubles came because God allowed it. He believed in his heart that his life is in God’s hands – both good and bad come from his creator.

Let me illustrate with a simple example how I appropriate this important question in my life. I love my husband. He is a good man. As with all men, he has his strengths and weaknesses. We have been married for 30 years now. Today, I still struggle to accept the good and the bad in our marriage. I admire many of his good traits but I am also pained and angry with his shortcomings. Yet i realised that in both the good and the bad, God does work all things for my good. Through the pains in life, God wants me to be a better person – a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better follower of Jesus.

It is through the storms of life that I grow to be strong. It is in helpless situations that I depend on God to help me. It is when pride is hurt that I learn humility.

So shall we accept good from God and not trouble? Can we? Yes, we shall and yes, we can. How so? Because we know that in all things (good and bad) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom.8:28). What is his purpose? His purpose is for us to glorify him – that all people will know God through our lives – in all things (good and bad).

Romans_8-28

Getting up from the mud…

What do you do when things do not go the way you want them to? How do you react when people are rude and inconsiderate? How do you feel when your actions were misunderstood, criticised and taken negatively in spite of the good intentions you have?

What do you do in the face of all negativity that surrounds you? Do you complain about it? Talk to a friend? Do you retaliate in kind? Give the people who offended you a piece of your mind? Defend yourself? Do you passively ignore them? Do you pray to God to vindicate you? Do you even pray for God to avenge you? So after doing any one of these things, what next?

I have at one time or another experienced one of the scenarios above. At one time or another, I might have responded in similar ways to one of the above. What did I learn from all these negative, unpleasant situations that life brings? I learn resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, to be elastic and stretchable. It is being adaptable and adaptive to circumstances that life brings to us. It is refusal to stay in the mud and mire. It is picking myself up from the mud, washing off the dirt and start walking again.

How do I do that? First, I stop complaining about it. Let me illustrate. When my driver/chauffeur of 10 years resigned suddenly without advanced notice, I was taken by surprise and mad. I was angry at his disrespectful behaviour. I was insulted he sent me a resignation letter delivered by his brother-in-law addressed “To whom it may concern.” I suspect it was written by his new employer. I complained about it to his brother-in-law (who is employed with me) and my friends. Then my husband told me: I guess he’s embarrassed to come personally to us to give his notice of resignation. I realise that putting myself in his shoes helped me to be less angry. It made me stop complaining. I learn to be happy for him – if he is in a better job, then good for him.

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I then turn to the positive aspects of the situation. One driver less is less expense for us. My daughter can drive herself to work, get parking reimbursement from her employer, and we save on gasoline. The driver does not need to take her to work and go back for her after work. She gets to manage her own time. There are 4 of us in the family who can drive. One driver can serve our needs. If necessary, I can drive for my children or my children can drive for me. We get to have more bonding moments in our rides. My driver gets to earn more. We increased his salary for his added load and to encourage him to do better.

What about when I quarrelled with my husband? It is always stressful to argue, to shout and vent our anger on each other. It is not pleasant to keep myself from defending my rights, and not get what I deserve. There is a need to have the last say. It is difficult to shut up and fume inside. It takes lots of energy and self-control to bite my tongue so the argument will stop. What do I do? I rationalise. I think how right I am. I get angry and say to myself – how wrong he was. Or I think how wronged I was. I cry. I sob. I indulge in self-pity. I learn both these responses do me no good. I dry my tears. I get up from the couch of self-pity and anger. I drove myself to watch a movie. It doesn’t matter what the movie is about – a drama, a comedy or a thriller – so long as I like it. One time I watched Phantom of the Opera. It was cathartic to continue crying in the movie – for something not my own sadness. Another time I watched King Arthur – the legend of the sword. The plot and action scenes in the movie made me forget my own angry tales. Then I bought myself my comfort food to bring home to eat. I ignored my husband the rest of the night. I went into the bathroom the next morning and hugged him to say I’m sorry. And he said ‘I’m sorry too.’ That’s the end of sad story… until the next one.

158411-Dolly-Parton-Quote-I-ll-be-wearing-my-high-heels-even-if-I-m-up-to.jpgReality of life is that there will always be difficult circumstances in our life – unavoidable or not, things within our control or not. Our mortal body (diseases, death) – with our sinful nature … in an evil world (war, prostitution, terrorism, oppression, etc.), in the natural world under the forces of nature – famine, typhoon, tsunami, earthquake, etc.; all these are often beyond our solutions to solve, beyond our abilities to handle to avoid or run away from. We have no choice but to face them as they come. But we do have a choice how we face them – how we respond to them with our attitude and perspective.

It is natural to feel sad when hurt, to feel angry when wronged, to feel anxious when sick. Grief is part of the emotions that God created in man – what are tears for? Today I still grieve for my parents. They died within 5 months of each other last year. How do I cope with grief. I think of our happy times. I look at old photos of us together. I remember my childhood days. I treasure the legacies they left behind. I honour their memory when I live out these legacies – the legacy to be diligent and responsible, the legacy to be prayerful, to be positive and encouraging, to be resilient when times are hard.

choose joy

Yes, it is easier said than done. Practice makes perfect. Everyday is a choice. If there’s a will, there’s a way. For Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, our counsellor and guide. He guides us and enables us to get up from the mire and to continue walking.

Thirsting for water

 

Psalm 42
For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42 is a song of praise and a song of lament. I love this song. It is a love song. It speaks of the deep love the psalmist has for God. vv.1-2

It is also a lament. A lament is a psalm expressing deep sorrow and asking for God’s blessing or intervention. How sad it is to have tears for food day and night! How does it feel to be mocked – where is your God? Why are you crying? v.3

What to do when it seems that I am thirsting for water – and the solution to my thirst seems to be out reach? What helps me in my sadness? vv. 4-6 show us the secret to crying out our sorrows to God by praise. How to do that? I remember as I pour out my tears. Remember what? Remember the good times – the good old days when I used to sing with joy at the grace and mercy of God. v.4 Then I say to myself, why are you down and out? Be hopeful and praise. v.5
v. 6 puts it quite neatly together: I am sad but I will remember the good times.

vv. 7-12 is a passage of interplay between joy and sadness, praise and lament, remembering and hoping. It is being realistic and optimistic. It is remembering the past with gratitude, acknowledging the present with candour and looking with hope to the future.

Are you down and out, my friend? Read the Psalms and learn from the psalmist, to sing your way out of the gloom, to hope that things are going to get better because things were good in the past.

 

More than adultery…

Adultery lang?! (Just Adultery?!)

The story of David and Bathsheba is perhaps just as well-known as that of David and Goliath. Whereas David killing Goliath was David’s first heroic act in his career as a soldier on the way to become king, his adultery with Bathsheba was David’s most shameful act as soldier and king. (Read 2 Sam. 11)

Lessons from this story.. As I think about this story, I realise that it is more than just adultery that David’s story can teach us.

1) When all is well, sin creeps at the door. David was at the height of his reign. He had an army of soldiers fighting for him. He was home in Jerusalem and woke from bed to walk around the roof of his house. He saw a beautiful woman bathing. Indeed sin starts with seeing… and at the heart of it is ‘lust.’

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2) One sin leads to another. Adultery turned to murder. David tried to cover his track. He tried to get Uriah to go home to his wife and make love to her. So that in case Bathsheba gets pregnant, Uriah would cover for David’s act of adultery. Alas, when Uriah refused to go home, David had a worse plan. Let Uriah die in battle.

3) I wonder how David felt after he did two crimes. No mention of it until Nathan the prophet came to rebuke him with a story. (Read 2 Sam. 12). In spite of David’s immoral behaviour, he should be given credit for his sense of right and wrong when Nathan presented him with the story of the rich oppressing the poor. (vv.5-6) More than that, David was quick to admit his guilt. Psalm 51 is a popular psalm written by David confessing his sins and his contrite spirit – being truly sorry for the wrongs that he did.

4) Finally, there is a lesson to be learned from David – how he faced the consequences of his sins. Nathan told him what God is going to do as a result of his sins. (vv.7-11).
a) David said I have sinned against the Lord. (v. 13) No excuses. He was quick to admit it. He faced the reality that his child, the result of the adultery, got sick.
b) He prayed to the Lord about it. For 7 days, he put on sack cloth, he fasted and prayed for God to heal his child. (vv.16-17)
Such was David’s relationship with God, he believed that God is merciful in spite of his sins. He hoped that God would spare his child.
c) After 7 days, the child died. God did not hear his prayers. What did David do? Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. (v.20)

What was David’s rationale for all that he did and how he responded to this crisis in his life? His servants asked David:
“Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

David accepted God’s punishment for his sins. He knew he did wrong. He also believed God is gracious. So he prayed for God’s mercy. Finally, he accepted God’s answer. He got up from the ground, went into God’s house and worshipped him. (v.20)

Something on prayer: It struck me how two people responded differently in two prayers they uttered under different circumstances in their lives.

Hannah prayed for a son – with fasting and sadness. After praying, her face was no longer downcast. David prayed with fasting and sadness for his son to get well. He continued to do so for 7 days.

Hannah went on and ate something even before her prayer was answered. She cast her cares to the Lord in prayer.
David got up and ate something even after his prayer was not answered. He accepted his dues from the Lord in prayer.

What kind of attitude do I have in prayer? Let me learn from both Hannah and David. Prayer is drawing close to God with the desires of my heart. Prayer is leaving to God what he deems as best to give me. Prayer is worship of God no matter the answer – whether yes or no.

Abiding in the Shadows

Psalm9112

What is a shadow? A shadow is a dark area or shape formed by an object when it blocks the light. When light is shining on one side of an object, it casts a shadow on the other side.

As I look back over my journey through the darkness, I am grateful to my Good Shepherd for leading me through the shadows of life, for comforting me in my sorrow, for healing my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds, for teaching me lessons that I would not have learned in the bright light of the sun.

After my mom passed away, my father told me, “Din mama ya gaw.” (Your mama is very capable.) “Ee yah kut lat.” (She was very hardworking.) Each day, he grew more sad and more quiet. As he grew more frail, each visit was a test of my courage and perseverance. Every day I visited with a heavy heart. When he would say, “Amen,” at the end of prayer, I felt comforted. It grieved me to see him grieving and getting weaker.

For two months before he died, Papa had dialysis twice a week. Each time I passed through the corridor of the kidney institute, I was reminded that life goes on in the hallway leading to the dialysis center. Many sick people sat on the bench, sitting or sleeping in their wheelchairs. I wondered if some of them were waiting for a dialysis slot to open, because they could not afford to pay for the procedure on their own. I was reminded of life’s insecurities and the many blessings I have that should not be taken for granted.

During dialysis, they hooked my father’s weak and frail body up to a machine, sucked the blood out of him, and then pumped it back into his body, a procedure that took four to five hours. My heart ached to see Papa so tired and weak. I felt comforted when I could watch him sleep soundly.

During this time, I experienced the pain of love and realized that when we love someone else, we are willing to bear their pain and step into their shoes. At one point, my father was so sick, he was pooping through his mouth. Standing by his bedside, watching helplessly as the nurse gave him something to vomit into and then wiped brownish stuff from his mouth, broke my heart over and over again.

He bravely consented to go through peg insertion and dialysis just so it would not be hard for Marian and me to make decisions. He taught me that courage was not the absence of fear, but a willingness to bear fear and pain and to invite others into our fear.

When Papa fell at home, trying to go to the toilet on his own because the helper was out, he lay on the floor until the helper came back. The next day, when I visited him, his whole body shook with fear as we coaxed him to go to the toilet. When I learned that he had fallen the day before, I prayed with him, and he said “Amen,” then calmly said he was no longer afraid. I recall similar fear many years ago when I accompanied him home from the hospital after his prostate surgery. His hands were shaking in mine as we climbed five floors of stairs to reach home.

As I watched my father suffer, I reflected on the pain that God must have felt when he watched his Son suffer on the cross. In Fookienese,爱(love) and痛(pain) sound alike. The greater the love, the greater the hurt. To love means that we bear one another’s pain and suffering. It was torture to see my parents suffer while they were sick and dying. Jesus not only bore physical pain, but also the pain of having his father turn his face from him. In His agony, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

During my season of darkness, I felt like I was encased in a dark cocoon. Like the humble caterpillar, I had to squeeze and wrestle my way out of the cocoon so that I could emerge into new life. So often I wished that God would free me from a difficult or sad situation, or change a difficult person to make my life easier. Instead, God changed me by inviting me to dwell (linger) in the shadow of His wings. He showed me that it was possible to rest in this dark time by trusting him to be my light. As I stopped struggling against the darkness, I realized that I was dwelling in the shadow of his wings.I write about memories of this dark time, because I do not want to waste the trials and lessons of my life. My hope is that by sharing these stories, others will be comforted and will praise God.

Thank you, Lord, for being a light to guide me through the darkness. Help me abide in your shadow. In the shadow of your wings, I will praise you, O Lord. Amen.

 

What should I do?

What should I do? A friend asked.

I often think that what is difficult about living life is not problems themselves. It is difficult when I do not know how to face the problems. It is not easy when I do not know what to do or my attitudes towards problems perhaps make it more difficult. Just like cooking… for me, to decide on what to cook is more stressful than the cooking itself.

This morning as I read the Psalms e.g. 6, 8-10, 14, 16, 19, 21, I observed how David coped with problems. He prayed. How did he pray?

He complained to God. He told God about his fears, his tears and all that is in his heart. He narrated to God what his enemies were doing to him. He poured it all to God. For women, this is cathartic – to be able to pour it out. More often than not, we do not really seek answers. We just need to release the pent-up anxieties and tell someone who would listen without judging with full attention and empathy.

More than just telling it all to God, David turn it all to God. He called on God to do something. Bahala ka na, Lord. Here I am surrounded with my foes. Avenge me. Take care of my concerns.

David prayed and praised. He prayed with a dual lens of reality – his circumstances and his God. Both are real. He cried out his fears but he also sang praises to his God. The God who rescues, the Avenger who takes care of the afflicted, the orphans, widows and the helpless.

David is a man of prayer. He lived out his challenging life in prayers. He sought God with his heart, body and soul. He prayed in the midst of hardships – running for his life, hiding from his enemies. Many of his psalms were written when he was troubled, when he sinned, when he was sad and burdened.

In spite of all these, he prayed in praise of his God. So many psalms of praise – singing out the wondrous works of God: His creation and salvation, revealing God’s character – His compassion and love for His creatures. (Psa 8, 9, 19, 21)

Are you troubled, dear friend? Is life giving you a hard time? Are you in despair asking What should I do? Turn to the Psalms – learn from David. Pray and praise. Tell it all to God. He listens. More than just listen, God shows us what to do.

Getting out the deep dark pit…

鑚牛角尖: this is a Chinese proverb I learned in high school. Its literal meaning is 鑚 (to drill) 牛 (cow) 角 (horn) 尖 (point).
It means to take 鑚牛角 pains; to study an insignificant [insoluble] problem; to get (oneself) into a dead end; to get into a blind alley.

I remember this proverb during the period of my deep depression. It was literally like drilling myself into the edge of the bull’s horn – and turning deeper and deeper inside and getting nowhere out.

While it is true that a cheerful heart is good medicine, a sad depressed heart is a reality in life. I experienced how hard it is to tell myself to be happy; not to worry; to think good thoughts – whatever noble, pleasant, worthy of praise etc. And it did not work. I was sad and there seemed no way out.

I remember Rev. Stephen Kwan once preached about depression and it was found to be the no. 1 killer (not cancer). Depression leads to suicide. I never thought to kill myself in the darkest pit of depression. I wished for Jesus to return sooner so my depression would end.

I recall Rev. Stephen Tong once preached on sufferings. Two truths comforted me: 1) Suffering shall pass. 患难会过去。2) Suffering is universal. It is not only me.

Rev. Johann Lai impressed on me that in suffering, rather than ask ‘why’, ask ‘how’: Lord, how do I go through this suffering? What lessons do you want me to learn? Show me how – what to do? I remember Jesus said: In the world, you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world. So Jesus, show me how to overcome troubles.

I also remember Rev. Lai shared a personal story. He said when he was a pastor in Manila, his daughter was just a little girl. One hot summer, his girl came running, “Papa, it is very hot!” He told her: Papa knows. Yes, papa knows it is very uncomfortable.

Truly, it is a comfort to know that my heavenly Father knows. He knows everything. He made me; he knows exactly how I feel when I am sad. He knows what I am going through. So when I am sad and depressed and beyond words, how to pray or what to say to him, it comforts me to know that he knows. Somehow that is enough … to know that He is with me no matter and He gets me through… He gets me out of the tip of the bull’s horn – I don’t need to 转牛角尖.

Praise the Lord!