I’m in a relationship with Jesus, and it’s complicated

About four months ago, I decided I wanted to grow much deeper in my faith. I had just come out of a years-long spiritual desert and was ready to learn how to walk in the fresh outpouring of the Spirit that I sensed was finally falling upon my heart. So I bought some study books and kicked off my new spiritual journey with a week of prayer and fasting.

Since then, I’ve seen God do some incredible things in my life. He’s expanded my faith exponentially. He’s deepened my understanding of the gospel and strengthened my spiritual gifts. He’s given me favor on the job. He’s brought greater health to my body and peace to my heart. He’s answered several of my prayers in miraculous ways. I should be on top of the world, right??  

You’d think so. Instead, I’m lying face-down in a shattered mess on this thing called the cornerstone.

See, it seems the closer I draw to Christ – and the more powerfully he works in my life – the more everything around me seems to fall apart. My husband’s schedule with the Navy has gotten crazier in the past several weeks, adding to my workload at home. My son has become even more active and aggressive, to the point where he often hits and kicks me. (Remember that post I wrote about gentle parenting? Forget it!) My demanding life between work and home has forced me to drop nearly all of my volunteer activities at church, which I feel has cut me off from most ministry opportunities. (What’s up with that, God??) At the same time, I’m facing an extremely stressful situation in my family, in which my parents need my emotional and moral (and, at times, financial) support. So far, I have only been able to offer said support to my mom. I’m so physically and emotionally maxed out, I haven’t yet mustered up the gumption to reach out to my dad.

My stress level is so high, I recently had to go on medication for constant migraines. Every nerve is fragile. Taut. Stretched to the breaking point.

Meanwhile, it seems the lives of everyone I care about are falling apart, too. A close coworker recently miscarried a pregnancy for the second time. My next door neighbor has undergone two surgeries for bladder cancer. Several of my friends are hurting and asking for prayer. If only I had the strength to pray.

Sometimes I open my mouth, and the only thing that comes out is a squeak.

I’m not abandoned. I feel Christ’s presence with me. But it’s a bit like I’ve entered into an all-out slug fest with the devil while Jesus, my boxing coach, watches from the sidelines. When I fall to the floor of the ring exhausted and bruised, he picks me up, looks me in the eye and asks, “Will you trust me?” Occasionally, I have to think about that for a minute. At times, I can’t even verbalize an answer because the wind is knocked out of me. All I can do is nod. And then he helps me back up to take another beating.

I can do it over and over again as long as I can remember that this battle has already been decided. I know who wins.

But it’s hard. Sometimes the blows come so quickly that I can’t focus on what comes next. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in this ring. Sometimes I think the devil really is going to wear me down.

Back in July, I attended a leadership seminar at my church. As part of our homework one week, we attendees were asked to write five personal faith confessions that we could recite on a regular basis. One of mine was based on John 15:2: “Anything that is not of you [Christ], I allow you to cut off and cast away.” For a couple of weeks, I read it every day. Then I had to stop. I had to stop because every single time I read it, I had a horrible, no-good, really bad day.

I’ll read it again someday, but I’ve got all the bad I can handle right now. I suspect Jesus is still cutting.

Does Joel Osteen have a book on this?

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13 responses to “I’m in a relationship with Jesus, and it’s complicated

  1. Oh, April, I know exactly how you feel. I am walking with him in the valley and it’s not easy, sister! I can share with you some wisdom a teacher of mine just shared with me the other day. When we are in a test, we can tell it’s of God because He brings us closer, He grows our character, and He prunes and saves us. The only tests from the enemy shame us, destroy us and cut us off from God.

    It is difficult to keep our faith and wait on God’s promises, but being in a relationship is a two way street. If we expect God to be faithful, we must, too, be faithful to Him. Continue to pray, continue to ask, continue to knock. And be honest with God, too. He can take your frustration, your anger and your tears. He is a big God who will uphold you with His right hand.

    Praying for you, April.

  2. April. This might sound really odd to you, but I have been going through this same sort of thing over the past year—and another boot fell on this little cockroach called “me” last week when I learned that my job was going to end in about 5 months or less. I have been having some really frank talks with Jesus about:

    1) Why are you sending me and my family through this meat grinder?

    2) Why are you standing by so casually and uncaring while someone or some thing else is putting me and my family through this meat grinder?

    3) Why don’t you intervene and stop this mess?

    I have no answers other than “Sometimes bad things happen to good people.” I think that classic sentence must apply to you because I do not consider myself to be a good people.

    I find myself asking Jobean questions: “What sin or combination of sins are you punishing me for?”

    But here is the really important thing. You’ll probably think I am totally nuts for saying this, but I had a powerful vision when my daughter was being born, and a voice spoke to me just as she popped out of her mom. This is what the voice said:

    “She will chase the evil away. The evil in this world will rue the day that she was ever born.”

    In the years that followed, a related vision has come over and over again out of the blue and for no apparent reason—and it still comes. It is focused on an odd single line from a Martin Luther hymn. The line is “And a single word shall fell him.” In the vision, there is this horrid looking beast that is sort of like a cross between a dragon and a pig, and it is belching out all sorts of threats, puffing fire, and acting really belligerent—enough to scare the wits out of anyone. Then my daughter steps forward bravely towards this beast (Jesus has already asked her if she would please be so kind as to perform the honor on his behalf), extends her right arm with her index finger pointed out at the beast, and she calmly says this one word to the beast: LOVE. Immediately the beast collapses and dies with a giant “thud.”

    I sometimes wonder if the forces of darkness have fallen upon us for some last, desperate attempt to disarm my daughter and end her mission by making our lives miserable. My daughter is 19 now and in college. She is already a formidable adversary and is growing stronger every day.

    You think I’m nuts. Right?

    • No, not nuts. We can recognize visions that come from God when they speak to our divine purpose in Him, which is to share in Christ’s work of redemption and claim victory over the enemy. The important thing to remember is that the fulfillment of said vision may look differently than you (or anyone else) expects, and God must be the one to bring about the fulfillment in His timing. I would urge you to be like Mary, mother of Jesus: store up these things and ponder them in your heart as you watch over your daughter. Always be listening for the voice of the Lord as he arranges these events to his liking. Don’t give a foothold to ego or impatience. This is a powerful vision, which means you’re destined for a few meat grinders along the way. My apologies, but it comes with the territory.

  3. Sister April,
    It’s been a while since you and I have connected via blog, but I’ve been reading your posts and connecting deeply with your present journey. Your present experience reminds me of the hymn by John Newton.

    I asked the Lord that I might grow
    In faith, and love, and every grace;
    Might more of His salvation know,
    And seek, more earnestly, His face.

    ’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
    And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
    But it has been in such a way,
    As almost drove me to despair.

    I hoped that in some favored hour,
    At once He’d answer my request;
    And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
    Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

    Instead of this, He made me feel
    The hidden evils of my heart;
    And let the angry pow’rs of hell
    Assault my soul in every part.

    Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
    Intent to aggravate my woe;
    Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
    Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

    Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
    Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
    “’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
    I answer prayer for grace and faith.

    These inward trials I employ,
    From self, and pride, to set thee free;
    And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
    That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

    These are tough words, and I don’t know if it all applies to your current situation, but I’ve learned recently that begging God for growth in our faith is a somewhat dangerous invitation. I join with others in praying for your present trials in hopes that He would be better known and that you would have peace.

  4. I am reading a wonderful book by Margaret Feinberg, Wonderstruck. It talks about focusing on the “Who” and not on the “Why”. Not saying that is easy, it is not at all!! It is a wonderful book if any would want to pick it up.

  5. Jesus taught his disciples a communal prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer, but he prayed his own prayer in the Gethsemane. When enough Christians pray the Gethsemane Prayer, then the Kingdom of God will be established on earth. Until then the way to the Kingdom of God will always be through, not around, the Cross:

    God of My Bitter Hours
    by Karl Rahner

    You knelt in the Gethsemane garden
    In the final hours before your death,
    The sweat of bloody regret on your brow.
    We, too, have our painful episodes
    When the bitter taste of obvious defeat
    Barricades any hope of comfort and release.
    You join us in our bitter hours of struggle
    When opposition, discontent, or lament
    Block the corridors to our peacefulness.
    You reassure us, “This, too, will pass.”

    Living Paschal Mystery

    Central to understanding Christ is to understand the Paschal mystery. However, we tend to think of it only as Jesus’ passion and death. Actually, the Paschal mystery is Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and Pentecost. What were historical events became ongoing process and is at the heart of Incarnational spirituality.

    No longer limited by time or geography, the Risen Christ has created through His ongoing Incarnation in us real-time, on-line continuity with Jesus’ earthly Incarnation. Especially with His passion, death, resurrection and gifting us with His Spirit. When we enter deeply into this Paschal mystery, we experience Christ on two levels.

    First, we are connected more intensely with Jesus in His passion and death. When we prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ passion and death, not as something outside of us but as something inside of us, we are not just creating concepts and images of the suffering and dying Christ in our minds. We are unleashing a dynamic process. We are unleashing the indwelling of the Risen Christ, Who gifts us with His Spirit Who pours the love of God into our hearts. Through this process, we identify more closely with the sufferings of Jesus such as those in the Garden of Gethsemane and His death on the cross.

    Second, in encountering the Paschal mystery we are connected more intimately to the Risen Christ as we live our own lives with their many passions, deaths, resurrections and transformations by the Spirit. In his book, Intimacy with God, Cistercian Father Thomas Keating explains the connection in this way.

    As Christians, we believe that Jesus in His passion and death has taken upon Himself all of our pains, anxieties, fears, self-hatred, discouragement and all our accumulation of wounds that we bring from our child hood and our childish ways of trying to survive. That is our true cross. That is what Jesus asks us to accept and share with Him. When we enter deeply into our experiences of the Paschal mystery, we are entering into something that has already happened, namely our union with Jesus as He carried our crosses. Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is our cry of a desperate alienation from God, taken up into His, and transformed into Resurrection and gift of the Spirit.

    Again, we unleash a dynamic process as we identify our many passions and deaths with those of Jesus. Gradually we place our faith in the Indwelling of the Risen Christ and place our hope in Jesus’ victory, entrusting our wounded lives to Him. Gradually, the Spirit strengthens our faith through the gifts of wisdom and gradually enlightens us with self-understanding, enabling us to fathom our compulsions and weaknesses. Gradually we experience being healed of our emotional wounds and the wounds we have inflicted on our conscience. All of which leads us to greater love of Christ.

    However, the impact of our entering deeply into the Paschal mystery does not stop at our own self-healing. As the love of the Spirit is poured forth in our hearts, we bond with others in the Body of Christ and act as channels of the Spirit’s healing of the world. Fr. Keating writes “We will not know the results of our participation in Christ’s redemptive work in this life. One thing is certain: by bonding with the crucified One we bond with everyone else, past, present and to come.”

    In our spiritual journey we will invariably encounter many deaths—the death of our youth, the death of our wholeness, the death of our dreams, the death of our honeymoons. They can be Paschal deaths, deaths that are real but do not end possibilities if we take them to the crucified One and set in motion the process of identifying with Jesus and allowing the Spirit to empower us to live our new lives. If we allow them, our Paschal deaths will open up Paschal resurrections and achieve greater intimacy for us with Christ.

    First Posted June 19, 2001
    2001 NY Cursillo (English).

  6. http://www.lifestyleoflearning.org

    I can’t recommend them enough. I have some disagreements with them (I think they hold onto homeschooling too tight), but their parenting that begins with our broken relationship with God is a jewel. And their parenting techniques transformed me. Again, I’m not endorsing everything. But you might check out their FB group or whatever else free to get introduced.