I crossed the proverbial Mason/Dixon line from December 31 to January 1 completely and utterly exhausted. Obviously, this is not the kind of emotional state you would desire to embrace the turning of the year, but sometimes, you don’t have a choice. If you try to overpack a beast of burden too heavily, they simply fold under the weight and will not be moved, no matter the beating or blandishment. Just so. I mentally collapsed, and refused to get up.
Looking back, I’m amazed I lasted that long. 2018 was a heavy year, prophetically and practically. A lot of things breathed their last, so the general tone was not up-beat. It was a season of intense, concentrated mental creativity as I finished the last in a trilogy of books. There was the combination of practical challenges in life-style; grappling with spiritual conundrums of ministry, and the final coup de gras; extended stress over the decisions of those close to me.
There are some seasons in your life when the Lord is bringing a particular issue to your attention. Last year, it was the sheer, energy-taxing, joy-sucking cost of negative patterns of behavior or deviant, corruptive components between people. This was my burden. Of all things exorbitantly expensive, nothing comes close to the cost of a dysfunctional relationship. Medical science can’t even extrapolate what it sacrifices in long-term wellness or mental health. I really started to pay attention to actions that seem small but have huge ripple effects on our ability to love, communicate, negotiate or cooperate. They are “the little foxes that ruin the vineyard”, and they’ve got to go! Emotional gratification is a hard-fought plunder of victory on the battle-ground of relationships. In other words, you have to kiss a lot of frogs in order to find your prince. Here are the frogs.
All of us have been wounded, and hurt people are prickly, churlish, and downright suspicious. As amazing as it sounds, some homo sapiens simply cling to misery like a mascot, under the "better the devil you know” policy of fear. Many hold difficult relationships hostage; unable to accept responsibility and pay the cost of improvement while equally terrified to let go. There are emotional manipulators; shape-shifting rogues swinging erratically between demanding and victimized, operating with a selfish abandon that makes you tear out your hair. Life stockpiles any number of casual acquaintances who are happy to be in the know, but secretly sneer our lifestyles behind our backs; hangers-on who bask in friendship, but change horses without a backward glance. It also doesn’t spare us the lesson of the perfidious bosom buddy to whom loyalty proves much too costly.
Hold your hat, because I’m just getting warmed up. Sadly, we’ve all experienced relationships where you have to keep proving yourself to the dubiously cynical who are never satisfied, no matter how many hoops you jump through, or how many proofs of your success you manifest. (Give it up, because you are never going to be good enough). There are others, so internally wounded that they unable to honestly express their hurt, anger or contempt; stunted in emotional vulnerability. Instead, they content themselves to vent repressed emotion in a myriad of infantile passive/aggressive maneuvers that poison any kind of increased emotional bonding. Don’t forget toxic authority figures who fail to provide righteous encouragement and mentoring because it might tarnish their own gloss or cost their conceit. Leaders, whose heart long ago left their task, but can’t bear to relinquish the status or benefits their position grants them. Our lives are full of these kinds of challenging people and grueling situations where solutions are not rapidly forthcoming. No matter how sincere we are, how much effort we expend or how hard we pray, we find ourselves stuck with the load for protracted seasons. Somehow, we have to handle them without letting their destructive force take over our territory. If we’re not careful, the entire perilous landscape of romance, family and friendship can turn us into hardened and bitter sceptics, unable to process love and true, passionate devotion in any form that does not destroy.
So, before we consign the whole lot to the outer edge of perdition, let’s consider solutions. We’ve got to remind ourselves on a continuous basis that Jesus has already dealt with the full range of the provocative and perverse. Sin, death, disease and dysfunction all got nailed to the cross. Their day is done. How we actualize this life-changing truth is what really delivers us. Recently, I stumbled across a very familiar passage from Isaiah, but with the problem of a weighted spirit and burden over people fresh in my mind, I considered it again.
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 5:4-5 KJV
When I studied the words used here for ‘griefs, sorrows, burdens’ I realized it included the whole ground of mental pain, suffering, anguish and regret that is generated as we navigate forming significant connections. I saw the accumulated burden of days that weighs so heavily upon us as we age, causing great disillusionment, all carried by the Lord. Love is costly and it’s messy, and no one knows that better than Jesus. Of all burdens, the Cross was the heaviest. If I have both repentance and forgiveness in my heart why am I still suffering? Maybe, resurrection power hasn’t reached that area of my life in a profoundly tangible way. I’m still working on it, and thankfully, the Lord hasn’t given up on me! But I think the frog-kissing is going to stop. I've already found my Prince.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22 NKJV