Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When you're surrounded by suffering...

It seems a bit "Pollyann-ish" to "count it all joy" when surrounded by suffering.
After all, doesn't Proverbs teach us that a person who sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes away a garment in cold weather?
I get that.
Sometimes you need someone to just sit there and listen, or better yet, to cry right along with you, when your world is falling apart.
Trying to cheer someone up who's world has just come crashing down can be down right insensitive.
But in the ministry, if I was sorrowful every time someone I care about was going through a dark valley, then I'd have to walk around in sackcloth and ashes 24/7.
Yet, I do feel their pain.
On Monday, Columbus Day, the Hubs took an extra day off.
We had just had a weekend long, joyous celebration/dedication of our new church building.
We were tired and happy.
The weather was clear, mild, beautiful.
Our three year old, blonde, blue-eyed granddaughter was at our house for a long promised sleepover.
Chunks of pork and barbecue sauce were simmering away in the crock pot, filling the house with savory smells.
My heart was full of joy and contentment.
Yet there, in the back of my mind, was an ever present knowing, that people in our own church, people that I care about, were going through their own personal nightmare. 
Trials that twist your stomach up in knots as you try to fall asleep at night, and wake you up with sinking dread in the morning.
In the back of my mind was a twinge of guilt that I was having a good day, while they were suffering.
I felt this when I was in Ghana.
I wondered how I could co-exist happily, joyously, on the same planet with all of this poverty and need, and not walk around with perpetual guilt that I was born in a world of more than enough, while they lived in the land of not enough.
Yet, how does my guilt help them?
How does it help relieve the suffering of people I know and love, or the Ghanaian across the world?
Then flashes of memories from Ghana clicked into place like pieces of a puzzle and gave me some God perspective...
...a "driveway",  red clay and rutted, leading up to a home there in the city of Koumasi, and planted along both sides of the drive, a narrow row of scraggly flowers... a village, poverty so thick you could smell it, touch it, and hanging in the doorway, decorative strings of pop bottle lids, clacking against one another in the breeze... Homabenase, the village where we're building a well and irrigation system, there on the corner surrounded by homes made of the red clay mud, one young mama puts another young woman's hair up in curlers...
I realize as these pictures flood my memory, that whether I'm surrounded by the suffering of others, or in my own valley of suffering, by counting my blessings, by noticing the beauty in the midst of the mess,
 I'm "planting flowers" in the middle of poverty,
 I'm stringing pop bottle lids to make music when the winds of adversity blow,
 I'm putting curls in my hair while wearing rags,
 I'm refusing to give in to hopelessness, to despair.
I "count it all joy"
-by counting, literally, the blessings in my life in spite of any trials going on around me, or that I'm going through myself
-by bearing other's burdens and laying them on the shoulders of the only One big enough, capable enough to handle them
-by acting in obedience to help in tangible ways, cooking a meal, sending a note of encouragement, making a phone call, giving a ride, giving financially. 
 It's tempting to give up, throw my hands up in despair, and give in to the hopelessness that the needs are too many, too much. 
 But there's always some small thing I can do. 
 If I pray, God will show me what it is.
And so I pray, and then I obey.
It's the least I can do.

Still following,


  1. Beautiful blog! I'm stopping by from "Getting Down With Jesus!" Nice to meet you new friend!

  2. I just wanted you to know that what you are saying really helps and comforts me. Thank You

  3. A good reminder that we are to be lights in the place God has put us. Sometimes it's the smallest outpouring of love that can speak the loudest.
    Thanks, Elizabeth!
    Mary Alice

  4. I have felt like what you describe...the guilt, then remembering as Ann writes so beautifully in her book, to give and I were on a similar path with our posts today...blessings, Elizabeth :)

  5. Wow, good blog. Our guilt doesn't always help them, but those experiences sure help us, because in our comfort we can tend to whine too much, and take it for granted everything God gives to us. And those experiences don't leave us. In the right time we can do our part to help them even just a little bit.

  6. A lot of people put down the Polly-annishness of reacting to our circumstances... I first saw that movie as a young child and it was life changing. I have come to believe, when things aren't working out just as I thought was best, that perhaps God's better plan has to go this route. And then I just believe Him to work it out, and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven...
    and this is one of the secrets... by noticing the beauty in the midst of the mess,
    I'm "planting flowers" in the middle of poverty,
    This has been my goal since I was six and the joy it brings is inmeasureable!
    a wonderful post!

  7. I like your point. I do believe that it is fine to be happy and I believe that God delights in us enjoying his goodness just like we like to see our kids happy with our gifts to them. If we were sad all the time who would desire to be a Christian if we were always sad. When others see God blessing us and the joy that we have they will more likely want to share in Gods love. We can be happy and help others and you made the point in a beautiful way.

  8. Oh that wild understand of how joy & trials could possibly mix! Yet they dance, nevertheless. Together. And when we know this, we don't run away from, but toward our difficulties. Knowing this is where His grace is. This place our weakness meets His strength. And it is there...we find joy in suffering. Despite what the world tells us.

    Beautiful post my friend.

  9. Hello, I came to your blog via 'Our Story Together' and it was so good reading this post today. I work in what I guess would be best described as Social Work with multiproblem families (I live in The Netherlands) and lately I've been feeling overwhelmed. By children who grow up in bad circumstances, parents for whom it is so hard to make the changes they want and need to make... It is hard for me to enjoy my time with my fiance and friends, relaxing and be happy during the weekend while those problems are not ALL solved. So thank you for your post and the message about 'planting the flowers'... Praying that God will help me do my part when and where I can. Have a blessed Sunday!

  10. oh friend. this is something i've struggled with too. i guess sometimes i feel like i'm being more "devout" when i'm sad, but perhaps it's the other way around? it takes more faith to have joy?


The best thing about blogging is hearing from you!
I'd love for you to leave a comment! Click subscribe by email if you want me to be able to reply to you.