To Forgive and Not Forget

What do you do when people treat you badly? How do you respond when you are in a position to give them a dose of their own medicine? An eye for an eye? Do you bury the hurt deep in your heart and let it simmer till it explodes? Or perhaps try to forget not forgiving what was done to you? Or even try to forgive while trying harder to forget? Like mission impossible?

How about if the people who caused you pain are the people close to you? People you love? How painful, is it not?!

In Genesis 37, Joseph, a young lad of 17, was sold into slavery by his brothers because of jealousy. He became a slave in a foreign land – a long shot from being the favoured son of the family. After becoming the favoured employee, he was wrongly accused of adultery with his employer’s wife and imprisoned. For 13 years, from the pit to the prison to the palace, he suffered a lot – physical, mental and emotional pain, betrayed by his brothers, separated from his family to be among strangers in a foreign land, punished for wrongs he didn’t do.

When time came for him to confront his ‘enemies’ – the brothers who caused him so much suffering, what did he do? How did he treat them? What did he say?

Genesis 45:4-9

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping.  But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt.

Joseph forgave his brothers because he saw the God behind all his sufferings – the God who saves, the One who sent him to save lives, the God who was with him throughout the journey. God in His providence, provided the way for Joseph to forgive without any regret or bitterness.

To forgive and not to forget – it is mission possible – only through the lens of the Godly perspective.

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The Good Old Days

When life is hard and you’re down in the pit, how do you cope? When all you have is taken from you, when you are not in the best of health, when ‘friends’ mock you, when you wish you were not born or hope for death sooner, what do you do?

I’ve been reading Job the past week. His first response when he lost everything was praise (Job 1:21) He went through a week of silence (2:13), then he had lots of conversations with his friends. Before that he had a short conversation with his wife: You’re foolish. Should we only accept the good from God and not the bad? (2:10)

He also had lots of one-sided conversations with God. God did not reply him until chapter 38. It must be difficult to hear nothing from God and all condemnation/justification from his friends on why he’s suffering.

Job coped with having lots of self-reflections as well. He spoke out his thoughts to his friends even though they were not good counsellors at all. He told them: you’re all sorry comforters. What a comfort you are to me. (16:1-2, 19:1-2)

Today I read chapter 29. Job thought of his better days. He recalled the good old days when God blessed him with good things, when friends and family were with him. He remembered the good things he did, how he helped people. He reminisced how he was treated by people all around him – how their favours were upon him.

I believe this is one good way to cope when one is in the valley of the shadow of death. When I was deeply in despair, when all seemed dark and grey, it helped me cope to remember the past when God saw me through. It helped me to focus on God’s faithfulness – that He always comes through for me. It is good to look back and remember.

Dear friend, when the way is dark and the tunnel seems long and unending, when you cannot see what is ahead, it is good to look back – to remember there is a Light behind you. Jesus said I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12). It does not mean that we will not experience hard times, but it is an assurance that we will find our way when we get lost. Jesus shows us the way to go through dark times.

 

Aging with Grace

We often say ‘Life is short.’ when someone dies unexpectedly, especially when he/she is too young or not old enough to pass on.

On the other hand, for many elderlies, the days drag on, and time passes so slowly. 
A Chinese saying comes to mind: 求生不得,求死不能. I ask for life but I cannot have. I ask for death but it is not possible.

Such is our mortal body. A long life filled with physical infirmities is such a weary life. An old soul without a mate or friends to talk to is such a lonely life. A helpless and useless life without a sense of purpose is such a meaningless life. A person, young or old, without Christ is a lost soul without hope of experiencing peace and joy even in the best of circumstances.

I pray that when I get old, I will remember to rejoice in the Lord always. May the joy of the Lord be my strength. I hope to be a cheerful person so that I will be a friend to the lonely. Let me be a prayer warrior so that life is still purposeful and meaningful.

My mother is my example. Even when frail, she went about doing the tasks of a wife, mother and homemaker. She bonded with friends; and shared the good news of Jesus whenever possible. She prayed with friends over the phone. She prayed for her children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. She also often prayed for my mother-in-law and my sister’s too.

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Please Lord, help me remember that even when I am old, you are my Hope, my Peace and my Joy. In You, I will be strong living life with a sense of purpose – to be light and salt to the people around me.

Written April 17, 2015

I wrote this piece less than a year after my father-in-law passed away. These thoughts came when I saw how my mom-in-law lived with dementia and how our family struggled with this challenge. It’s been 4 years since she was widowed. Today at 94, by God’s grace and mercy, she is weak but healthy. She has a good appetite. She is often sleepy. Although she’s not chatty, she still responds when talked to. We are thankful for these blessings.

I wonder though how I would feel and think should I get to live to her age. Not exactly something I look forward to. 😀 I hope Jesus returns soon.

 

 

Joy in Pain

“But it is still my consolation,
And I rejoice in unsparing pain,
That I have not denied the words of the Holy One. Job 6:10

Job is a wealthy man living in the land of Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil (1:1). … God boasts to Satan about Job’s goodness, but Satan argues that Job is only good because God has blessed him abundantly. So God allowed Satan to inflict calamity and illness on Job to test him. His wealth (flocks of sheep, oxen, donkey etc) and family (10 children) all died in one day. He was stricken with painful boils from the head to foot.

At the height of his suffering in the pit of his pain, Job’s comfort and joy is the words of the Holy One. It is not being a masochist to be celebrating pain. Only the strength from the knowledge of the Holy One enables Job to find consolation and joy in the midst of pain.

Scholarly studies have been done that connect spirituality with pain management. Not only physical pain but emotional and mental as well. Here’s a link to one on spirituality and pain medicine. https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/…/1/51/2460400

“…. spirituality can be broadly defined as an experience that incorporates a relationship with the transcendent or sacred that provides a strong sense of identity or direction that not only has a strong influence on a person’s beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and behavior but is integral to a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

From this framework arises the concept of spiritual well-being. In this state, a person has a sense of peace, comfort, and strength that arises from a sense of meaning and purpose that is often linked to a connection to the transcendent but also arises from these other activities and relationships. Therefore, in the sense that we all have relationships and activities that provide us with varying levels of a sense of meaning and purpose in life, a level of spiritual well-being is common to all.”

Job’s relationship with God provides a strong sense of his being – naked I came from the womb and naked I shall return. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Job’s main purpose in life is to worship God… even in the ashes! Job credits all that he is, all that he has – the good and the bad come from God. His life events are not random. He believes ‘nothing comes from nothing.’ Everything is from God – even unsparing pain!

Are you suffering, my friend? Is life full of challenges? too much to bear? Take it to the Lord in prayer. Cast your cares on Jesus because He cares for you. Job did it. You can do it too!

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The Comforter

Have you ever felt helpless and speechless going to a wake? I have. I have also witnessed the bereaved comforting the “comforter!” Hubby once went to the wake of a friend’s young daughter. Minutes after sitting beside the friend, he started crying. I can still picture in my mind, the hand of the friend going behind hubby’s shoulder and patting him gently. What a scene!

Job 2:11-13 record for us the profile of what seems to me to be the ideal comforter.

Job’s three friends all came from different places and they agreed to go together to comfort him. Don’t we often do this? We accompany each other to wakes. It’s easier not to do this alone.

When they ‘saw’ Job, they ‘raised their voices and wept’. They even tore their clothes and put ashes on their heads. They came, they saw and they mourned.

Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

And how did Job describe these 3 friends? “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” Read Job 16:2. What happened? It started when they opened their mouths! Read all about their great debates from Job 4-15. The point of their argument is: Job is suffering because he did something wrong.

Lessons to ponder…

To mourn with those who mourn is to ‘see‘ – to realise how great the sorrow and pain of those grieving.

It is also to be in the ‘shoes’ of those grieving – to feel as they feel, to cry as they cry.

7 days and 7 nights – it’s even as long as the longest wakes I usually hear of. In the Philippines, ‘lamay’ usually lasts for 3 to 7 days.  Journeying with others in their suffering takes time – time which is often a luxury for us to offer. During the wake, the bereaved is in the company of friends who come to comfort. It is a temporary period where pain and grief seem a little bit more distant or bearable. What about the days, months and years after?

To See

More than time itself, what is my attitude when I offer my time? When I am grieving, the presence of a friend holding my hand, patting my shoulders and giving me a tissue to wipe my tears – these are treasures more than words can offer. What motivated Job’s friends? ‘for they SAW that his pain was very great.’ Again, to mourn with those who mourn is to ‘see’.

Am I willing to sit on the ground to grieve with those in grief? When I feel helpless and speechless, when I ‘SEE’ how great her pain is, then perhaps it’s when my grieving friend gets most comforted!

Lord, open my eyes that I may see.

Not a word

When you do not know what to say, it is best not to say anything. I have been on both sides of the fence – to comfort the bereaved and needing comfort as the bereaved. When my mom passed away, the story of Job came to mind. I did not feel like narrating the story of how my mom passed away again and again. I did not feel like talking at all. I just wanted to sit quietly with my friends.  So I wrote a note to let them read: Thank you for coming. Thank you for sitting with me quietly.

In the end, I put the note away, because it was so unorthodox and did not jive with our culture of grief. Ours is one of words. We often think we need to say something – to offer solutions, words of advice and comfort. We feel the need to break the silence: a culture of denial—showing a brave face, a strong spirit, covering the sadness with chatter, pushing away the grief with words of “comfort.”

My parents died within 5 months of each other. My mom who was 13 years younger went ahead of my dad. In the months that followed their sickness and passing, God sent my sister and me many companions to be with us on our journey.  In hindsight, I realise that the most precious gift they offered us was their time—listening to our prayer requests, uttering a kind word, visiting my parents when they were sick and praying with them, being present when we needed them most.

I know that these friends were motivated by their love of God and their love for us. Love compelled them to open their ears to listen to our grief without faltering. Love opened their eyes to see our need for encouragement and companionship.

In the Chinese culture, bereaved people avoid going to visit friends’ homes, because it might bring bad luck to the household they visit. Because of this belief, a friend was greatly comforted when a family friend told his mom, “You can come to my home wearing your blackest attire anytime.” Indeed, no journey is too hard to bear as long as we know we are not alone.

When God created Adam, he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are not meant to live our lives alone. We need people to walk with us through our challenges, reminding us that God is always near to us, and the Holy Spirit is our guide and counsellor along the way.

 

During my grief, I received many words of well-intended “comfort.” Someone sent me a text: “Move on.” This came as a shock. Move on? To where? “Slowly,” I replied.

Moving on implies leaving something behind, getting it over with. Perhaps the only people who think there’s a time limit for grief have never lost a piece of their heart. I do not really want to “move on”—but if I do, I hope I will be moving from being sad and emotional to holding my grief with joy and strength.

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When someone asks, “What happened?” I sigh with weariness. I’m exhausted from going through the whole story, beginning to end, sickness to death. What happened? Death happened. Sickness happened. My response is—nothing. I do not bother to reply. It would be better to say nothing at all.

When someone asks, “How are you?” my canned reply is: “Better” or “Up and down.” At least this question helps me to assess myself and reply honestly about how am I coping. The question, “How are you?” became a steppingstone toward deeper reflective time with God and with myself.

But when a classmate ended her words of condolences with the words, “no need to reply,” I welcomed them with relief. I sensed her empathy. She must have known how tiring it was to respond to every word of sympathy and inquiry. These words told me that she understood I needed to be silent.

Silence is often the best response we can give to one another.

Henri Nouwen wisely observed: “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”[i]

My godmother comforted me with: “No words.”

I appreciated a friend’s, “We do not know what to say.”

A grieving friend wrote: “When you do not know what to say, please say nothing.”

Benjamin Allen said, “When someone says, ‘There are no words…’ it is there I will find them and we will meet in the silent language of grief.”[ii]

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Amen. 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (NASB)

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[i] Henri Nouwen. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations of the Christian Life. (Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2004).

[ii] Benjamin Scott Allen. Out of the Ashes: Healing in the Afterloss. (Reno: Senssoma Publishing, 2014).

Where is God when it hurts?

Question… If you were to wake one day and all that you have were taken from you in an instant: all your possessions, your wealth and even your children, how would you respond? If you were left with nothing but pain and suffering, physical, mental, emotional torture in your soul, what would you do? If you believe in God, what would you say about him? What would you say to him?

Job is a Biblical character known for his great suffering sandwiched between his two great periods of prosperity. (See Job 1:1-5; 42:10-16) He started very wealthy. He had lots of animals and servants. He died at 140 – an old man full of days. He was greatest of all men in the east. Why? Aside from his great external resources, he had great internal values.

He was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (1:1) Job was first and foremost described as a good man. He had great integrity. There was no guilt in him. He believed in God and because of his belief, he did not want to do anything wrong to offend God. He even made daily sacrifices for all his ten children – saying perhaps they have ‘sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ (1:5)

So what started his suffering? Who started it? It all started when God ‘bragged’ about Job to Satan: Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.  Well, of course he is good – you have blessed him so much. Take away everything. He ‘will surely curse You to Your face.’ 

This was the first challenge. God ‘allowed’ Satan to test Job. (1:12) “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” `

What happened then? Long story short, in a day, no more oxen and donkeys; dead sheep and camels… and last but not the least, goodbye sons and daughters! (see 1:13-18)

What did Job do? Job stood up, tore his clothes and shaved his head. That was the custom of their day when one is in mourning. He fell to the ground and worshiped. What did he say?

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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What was the challenge again? Take away everything from him and he will surely curse you to your face! Ding! Round one goes to God. Job did not curse God. He blessed God. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (1:22)

Job did not sin. Curse God – that is the sin. How about blame God? Surely, God caused his trouble. To blame is to ‘ascribe unseemliness to’ (NASB footnote). To blame is to credit responsibility for something wrong. Yes, God was responsible for it. He allowed Satan to take away all that Job had. (1:12) Job blessed God because he knew one truth: He came into the world with nothing. When he dies, he takes nothing to the grave. All that he had came from God. If God is the one who gave, he also has the right to take away. There is no wrong in that.

Job knew his God. The God who gives. He did not know God’s conversation with Satan. He did not hear God said “Only do not put forth your hand on him.” But we do. We need to remember that even in suffering and trials, God extends his mercy.

So here comes round 2 of the challenge: God again praised Job to Satan. (2:3) Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Yes, but a man would do anything to save himself. “However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” (2:5)

God said “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Again God is merciful.

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.

What happened next? Mrs. Job had something to say to him: Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die (2:9). End your misery!

You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

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Job was consistent with his knowledge of God. Just as God gives and takes away, God gives both the good and the bad. Another truth to learn.

So here are the two important lessons we can learn from Job’s response to sufferings.

Our Being

In suffering, we need to remember our being. We came into the world in our birthday suit. When we leave this world, we take nothing with us.

Our God

Our life begins and ends with nothing. Everything in between comes from God. Through this lens comes a different view to suffering. Just as God allows suffering, he extends his mercy. Suffering does end.

Our World

The reality of the world is that it is filled with both good and bad. It started very good. God created all things good. Sin came into the world because of man’s disobedience – because of the desire to be like God. God in his mercy still made animal covering for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. God in his mercy sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. There is so much evil in the world, so much suffering because of so many bad things sinful men do. Man has a choice to do good or do evil. God allows it.

Shall we accept good from God and not adversity? This lens helped Job in his suffering. God is in control. He gives and he takes away. He gives good and he allows evil. He allows evil and he extends mercy. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Where is God when it hurts? He is with me in my suffering. He loves me. He loves you too.

 

Joy of a different kind

Question… what makes a joyful church? What do churches of today celebrate about? Anniversaries mostly. They are happy when they have built bigger and grander places for worship and assembly. They pride themselves for being mega churches with thousands of membership and being globally known all over the world. They raise their hands in praise to the sound of grand accompaniments, with worship leaders in big air-conditioned and beautiful sanctuaries – in much comfort and ecstatic feeling of being together with so many people – so festive and elating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being big in resources whether human or material.

Yet a blessed church is more than just about the external and the quantifiable – the tangible ‘blessings.’ In the early church recorded in the book of Acts, it was a different kind of joy that believers celebrate. I previously wrote about their joy of sharing their resources – there was no needy person among them because they had one ownership of everything they had. Everything they had they gave to benefit the whole church.

Another kind of sharing that brought them joy is the joy of sharing in the suffering for Jesus’ name.

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Acts 5
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

So what happened here? After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and they were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus. Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus. The early church led by the apostles of Jesus was growing in numbers. Miracles were happening – the sick healed, the needy provided for, thousands were added to the church (Acts 5:12-16) in spite of deep and severe persecutions from those who opposed Jesus. The apostles were imprisoned, threatened and flogged. (5:18, 40) Even after all these, Peter still preached and condemned them for putting Jesus on the cross. The temple leaders were so enraged they wanted to kill the apostles. They were released only because Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a respected leader stood up to give this advice:”stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (38-39)

So how was it to be ‘rejoicing’ after being imprisoned, threatened, flogged and shamed? For what? These believers had a different kind of motivation – they pride themselves for being ‘considered worthy’ – that they were good enough to suffer for the cause of making Jesus known.

Today, many of us believers are too comfortable living our faith – we only hear of persecutions in other places – of lives being taken, of imprisonments, of the horrors of suffering for being Christian. Yet it is often those suffering Christians who are more joyful than those who are living freely and comfortably. How sad…

So how do I apply this lesson? I need to be more grateful for the things I take for granted – freedom to worship, freedom to share God’s Word, freedom to make my life count – to further the cause of the gospel. I need to beware of taking life too easy – complacent in my comfort zone. I must learn to choose joy when things are not to my liking or expectations. Suffering or problems in life are relative – there is always the issue of comparison – with what or with whom are we comparing our issues and challenges?

To reflect… how do I rejoice when life is not easy? What do I consider to be worthy to be joyful for? What causes me to celebrate? What is the purpose of my existence? Motivation and purpose of living – this directs our perspective and influence us in the way of joyful living. Is it for the cause of Jesus?

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