Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shattered Dreams - God's Unexpected Path to Joy

by Dr Larry Crabb

There are people who don’t want to talk about God when they are in pain, and others who don’t want to hear you talk about God when you are in pain. Indeed, pain is a precious but precarious journey to take with God that confounds many, especially when we romanticize the view that God should permit only pleasure, not pain.

SHATTERED DREAMS is as difficult to read as the verse ‘Consider it pure joy ...when you face trials of many kinds.’ The verse suggests that not only is it not problematic for pain to co-exist with God, but if we would persevere and not give up on Him, we are promised that we would not lack anything to get on with a meaningful life.

Drawing illustrations from Naomi’s life through the book of Ruth, Crabb [don’t be deceived by the name, he’s deep] shows us that we can really get crabby when no longer in control [sorry, can’t help the pun]. How about losing a spouse and two sons in the span of a decade? Naomi’s dream of walking into the sunset with her husband died when he did. The sounds of laughter she would imagine while playing with her own grandchildren were silenced forever when her sons died. 

It is hard to review a book about finding God while living with the pain of uncertainty or loss without sounding glib and presumptuous in offering solutions. In fact, this book offers no quick fixes, or formulas for a problem-free life. Rather, it persuades any reader not to run away from facing anguish and agony, and the place of intense loneliness. It reminds me that God always creates a safe place to receive me with my raw, unmentionable thoughts and emotions. The reward of such honest encounters with Him often is comfort, hope and yes...sustaining joy – a quiet and calm contentment, not euphoria - that is hard to generate on my own.

I’ll highlight below what I feel are 3 key chapters of the book for me:

[chapter 10 The Elusive God]

Naturally, we demand to know why God doesn’t show up on demand and respond to our needs so that what we fear will never saddle us with misery. However, even when our world collapse, we can still find God in the rubble... if we dig in. ‘An honest look will first reveal the rubble of our efforts to make life work without God, of our terror that keeps us from naked vulnerability to anyone, of our construction project that has create a false self that we hope will stay together through life.’

‘If we’re to encounter the divine Presence, we must enter the interior sanctuary of our heart and, like Jesus in the temple, become indignant over what we find. The process is what spiritual people call brokenness and repentance.’

The result is a release of heaviness and hurt that frees us to love and worship Him, even when our dreams are crushed.

[chapter 11 Abandonment and Confidence]

A newborn depends on and trusts its parents for love, protection, feeding and care. It rests in this dependence as it has many needs it cannot meet on its own. To me, this is a gift: to abandon or surrender to God when circumstances that are beyond our control cave in on us. True abandonment involves ‘giving ourselves to God in utter dependence on His willingness to give Himself to us... It allows no room for control. It includes no claim on God that obligates Him to do anything. Only suffering has the power to bring us to this point.’

How is that a good deal? Well, ‘The Presence of God is not naturally discerned. It involves an experience that takes us beyond the realm of our five senses. It calls on our capacity to experience spiritual, not material, reality. ...a beyond-words awareness of unseen reality, an awareness of a presence that is not sensually awareness that emerges out of deep pain as Warm Truth, and becomes more real as pain grows deeper.’

We usually come to this private place of meeting God to vent our bitterness, anger and frustration. But the upshot is the likelihood of ending up on cloud nine even on a cloudless day. That has been my experience when I would throw myself to encounter God instead of spending days stonewalling Him.

Finally, I’d like to go back to an earlier chapter at the start of the book.

[Chapter 2 We need a good story]

Pity kills people. Sometimes, it is self-pity, sometimes it is pity from other people.”

“When life throws an unexpected curve our way, when the second shoe drops soon after the first...a more visible self-concern surfaces as the strongest passion we feel. It takes many forms - often self-pity, sometimes a hardened determination to survive, perhaps a relentless demand that someone see our pain and care. More often it’s a decision to hide, to let no one see our real struggles. A few commit suicide. Many renounce all responsibilities that require them to put someone else's needs above their own. Most of us just get on. Whatever way we can, we live to dull the pain. Whatever the means, the goal is the same: Handle pain!”

However “as long as the goal is to handle pain, relationships suffer. We pull back. Sometimes, all that separates Christians from non-Christians is our understanding of how to produce ...good feelings. The pursuit of soul-pleasure remains primary. We contribute to want something or someone more than God. We don’t think that’s our biggest problem, but it is. (Why? Because) when the One we depend on to give us a good time doesn’t do His job, we feel betrayed, let down, thoroughly disillusioned. He neither reverses the tragedy nor fills us with peace and joy. Eventually, we may learn to hate Him.

How do we trust a sometimes disappointing, seemingly fickle God who fails to do for us what good friends, if they could, would do?"

Naomi’s life story teaches us that “shattered dreams open the door to better dreams, dreams that we do not properly value until the dreams that we improperly value are destroyed. Shattered dreams destroy false expectations, such as the ‘victorious’ Christian life with no real struggle or failure. They help us discover true moves us away from demanding what’s good...toward desiring what’s better...until heaven provides what’s best.”

THIS BOOK DELIVERS A FRESH REMINDER that when things are going well, God is just a passing thought; but when bad things happen, He is immediately blamed. Ultimately, persuades the author, ‘we are not defined by the things we suffer’, we can surely be refined by the experience if we do not lose heart and our faith in a loving God who has the final say.

If you're going through an exceptionally trying time and need a good challenge to stay the course, pick up this book!