I do not believe we can truly enter into our own inner pain and wounds and open our hearts to others unless we have had an experience of God, unless we have been touched by God. We must be touched by the Father in order to experience, as the prodigal son did, that no matter how wounded we may be, we are loved. And not only are we loved, but we too are called to heal and to liberate. This healing power in us will not come from our capacities and our riches, but in and through our poverty. We are called to discover that God can bring peace, compassion and love through our wounds. –Jean Vanier
Sojourning in Habakkuk’s Vineyard
I’ve spent a few years in Habakkuk’s Vineyard.
I believe many in the Church have sojourned there, or are there now.
The Prophet Habakkuk described his captivity there like this:
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17-18 KJV
Joy without Healing?
I don’t think so.
How do you get to Joy, without traveling through all the stages to healing?
I guess you can try to fake it–but that flimsy band-aid won’t hold for long.
So then, I believe God is realistic enough to provide a “place,” where life slows and healing (the deep kind; the lasting kind) can take place.
As I pondered over, and over, the words of Habakkuk 3:17 I realized, “Yep, this vineyard? This is the place!”
“Take the very hardest thing in your life – the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.” ~ Lilias Trotter
It’s a place of isolation from “What was.”
I found it baffling at first, and not a little overwhelming, but you know what?
Though I hated it in the beginning–it was what my soul desperately needed.
I call it a “captivity,” because it is where, for whatever the cause that brings it about, the crisis in your life takes over and is now, by God’s sovereign hand, calling all the shots.
What your life “was” is gone.
But, you are NOT alone.
He has NOT FORGOTTEN YOU.
Scorched earth and fruitless vines
This “vineyard,” I am trying to describe, can be any place where a “captivity” has become your only place of habitation. And believe me, if you are living as a captive among scorched earth and dead vines, you will know it.
When I first journaled about my time there, years ago, I was dealing with a great deal of confusion, pain, and disillusionment, as I tried to fit the fragile pieces left in my life, with the Bible promises I had always trusted.
It was one of the most painful experiences of my life–and unfortunately, I don’t think that I am any kind of exception.
Never have I seen a day, where dreams and dreamers, smash and crash with such devastating frequency.
It’s hard to pick up a newspaper, or check your Facebook or Twitter accounts, or listen to The Evening News, and not be confronted with some new and heartrending story of people’s lives smashing to pieces.
An Awful Grace
When Robert Kennedy had to address an angry crowd after the assassination of Martin Luther King, he quoted an ancient poem by Aeschylus,
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Perhaps the time has come for addressing the awful grace of God.
Jesus commanded us to bind up the brokenhearted; to remember those sitting in prison. He didn’t say, “But only if you think they deserve it, or you feel like it, or it will bring you some special benefit.” He just said, “Do it.”
The Church is no exception
We, too, have our brokenhearted dreamers.
If we really want love people, all people, then we need to address the frustration and disenchantment many believers feel when their lives fall apart–for whatever the reason.
Perhaps, it’s time to give some deserved credence to their angry frustrations, rather than dismiss them as irrelevant flotsam, collateral damage, or worse, worthless throwaways.
We need to step up and acknowledge their legitimate feelings of isolation and loneliness when ignored, or dismissed as “just too messy or broken,” and therefore, made to feel like people of “little” value, or worth.
So, having said all that…
I hope to make two points:
First, I want to acknowledge the reality of angry and disillusioned believers.
(I don’t think the Church likes to talk about them very much.)
Yet they are everywhere; within the Church, and without. And, as with all serious problems, they won’t go away by simply ignoring them, or disparaging them as “misfits or disgruntled riff-raff.”
Truth be told, ignoring them can open the door to much bigger problems.
If you have lived through the holocaust of a church-split, you understand the folly of dismissing people in great pain, begging for help, yet receiving only blind contempt.
A God designed captivity
Secondly, I want to bring some redemption and validity to these Believer’s complaints; their right and real lament over their awful predicaments.
To have your life “taken captive” creates great frustration, despair… and sometimes, even feelings of righteous anger.
(Read David’s psalms or Job’s laments if you doubt it.)
We in the Church like to expect from our believers, an “oh-so-spiritual” response to suffering, but frankly I find that to be a little “pie-in-the-sky” unrealistic.
There are multiple stages to grief, and there is a stage called Anger, acknowledged by grief counselors to be one of a number of legitimate stages to a healthy journey to healing.
Shunning the “lepers”
Lepers have always been feared or treated with distain or contempt. It was certainly that way with Jewish society in Jesus day and not much has changed.
I believe churches that takes a sanctimonious or superior attitude to the broken, or suffering believers, just pile on more guilt and isolation to people who are already deeply hurting. Certainly asking them to stuff their anger, or pretend it’s not there, is not in the least healthy, or the Bible’s way of dealing with the brokenhearted. Scripture itself, is full of loud and vociferous lamentation, and by some very Godly men.
I refer, of course, to Job, David, Jeremiah, the Apostle Paul, and even Jesus Himself.
Perhaps, because of the Bible’s implied blessing on lamentation, it’s time for the “triumphant Church” to also grant some much needed grace to these folks; listening with love and compassion to their complaints, as they try to process their pain.
Suffering in silence?
Since Jesus had great compassion for the Lepers of His day, shouldn’t we also?
If not here in The Church, then where exactly, are our social Lepers and captives supposed to take their angry frustrations? Especially, when the silent message to them is often, “No one wants to hear it.” Or worse, a superior and judgmental attitude that says, “You must have done something to deserve this!”
I believe most captives simply suffer in silence–it’s far safer. They take the “wax lips” approach. They slap a stoic smile on their face as they pretend everything is “fine,” when in fact, just the opposite is true.
Whether you believe their present captivity is deserved or underserved, my hope regardless, is that the Church should bring the tender relief of basin and towel, along with some deep-down understanding, hope, and compassion, for those among us who are angry and hurting.
Isn’t it high time they stop feeling ignored, dismissed, or forgotten? After all, their experience; their story; might also be yours, someday.
To that end, let us seek to learn how we might grant some patient grace and sow a little tenderness. We just might be “paying it forward” for ourselves.
May we be more like Jesus to all who are the wounded and hurting among us.