Daily Death

In A Gospel Primer for Christians, Milton Vincent reminds us of this hard truth:

I should expect every day to encounter circumstantial evidence of God’s commitment to my dying; and I must seize upon every God-given opportunity to be conformed more fully to Christ’s death, no matter the pain involved.

When my flesh yearns for some prohibited thing, I must die. When called to do something I don’t want to do, I must die. When I wish to be selfish and serve no one, I must die. When shattered by hardships that I despise, I must die. When enticed by allurements of the world, I must die. When wishing to keep besetting sins secret, I must die. When wants that are borderline needs are left unmet, I must die. When dreams that are good seem shoved aside, I must die.

Not My will, but Yours be done,” Christ trustingly prayed on the eve of His crucifixion; and preaching His story to myself each day puts me in a frame of mind to trust God and embrace the cross of my own dying also.     [page 41]

Death to self is a true death–there is loss and pain and fear, and it is not easy or comfortable. But in God’s economy, death is the necessary precursor to resurrection, and so we embrace this daily dying as the means of God’s sanctifying, transforming work in us.

Not a Quick Fix

In our worship service this past Sunday, we sang a Sovereign Grace song called Shine Into Our Night. That’s not the first time I’ve heard or sung that song, but one line in the chorus caught my attention. It’s a song of confession, acknowledging our sinful hearts that are bent away from God, and the chorus is a prayer and plea for God to shine the light of His glory into the darkness of our wandering hearts.

That plea is a cry for rescue, but I tend to think of rescue as something that “fixes” my problem or makes it go away. Or even if the problem doesn’t disappear, to be rescued is to be taken out of the midst of that problem.

And so the line that stood out to me is what the songwriter gives as the means by which we are rescued. That method of rescue is to: “Bind us to Your cross, where we find life.” Wait a minute! The way to be rescued is to die?!? I’m not sure I like that methodology. I’d prefer to just have my problems fixed or taken away. But that is not how God seems to operate.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Galatians 2:19-20

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” Colossians 3:5

God doesn’t do quick fixes. He is not in the business of surface solutions. He does hear my pleas for deliverance and rescue, but the way He brings that deliverance about is not always the quick and easy way that I might imagine or desire. Instead it’s usually a slow and painful dying to myself and to my ways and my plans. And that death to self does indeed bring deliverance, but it’s the deliverance of resurrection following death rather than a deliverance that prevents death in the first place.

Aragorn’s Encouragement

My wife is reading aloud The Lord of the Rings to our youngest now, and I usually manage to hang around near the living room while she’s reading, so that I can hear it too–that story, and the Chronicles of Narnia, are ones I never get tired of hearing.

She just started into The Two Towers (the second book in the trilogy), and was reading the chapter about the riders of Rohan. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas have been tracking the pack of orcs who kidnapped Merry and Pippin, but they aren’t able to catch up to them in time. After several days, they happen upon riders from Rohan, who inform them that they slaughtered the band of orcs but did not see any hobbits among them. Downhearted, the three trackers come to the conclusion that Merry and Pippin were killed and burned along with the orcs, and thus their quest has failed. The following conversation ensues…

“We can do no more,” said Gimli sadly. “We have been set many riddles since we came to Tol Brandir, but this is the hardest to unravel. I would guess that the burned bones of the hobbits are now mingled with the Orcs’. It will be hard news for Frodo, if he lives to hear it; and hard too for the old hobbit who waits in Rivendell. Elrond was against their coming.”

“But Gandalf was not,” said Legolas.

“But Gandalf chose to come himself, and he was the first to be lost,” answered Gimli. “His foresight failed him.”

“The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others,” said Aragorn. “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark. But I shall not depart from this place yet. In any case we must here await the morning-light.”

“There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.” That line from Aragorn encouraged my heart. I do not know what will come from our adoption of Anah, or whether that end will be dark or light, but our choice to adopt was not based on us having a comfortable life, and I believe that this adoption was better to begin than to refuse, even if it doesn’t end in the way we imagined or hoped.

 

Will this ever get easier?

This is what I wrote in my journal a few days after receiving our adopted daughter in China:

This adoption is more wonderful than I could have imagined. And this adoption is more difficult than I could have imagined. There have been some very precious and joyful moments in this first week with Anah, but in other ways it has been hell.

Now, almost 3½ years later, rather than things gradually getting better (as we assumed it would), in many ways it feels like it has only gotten harder. The difficult moments are far outstripping the joyful ones, and sometimes I wonder, “Why in the world did I do this?”

Some time ago, a good friend who’s walking this same hard journey with us (of older-child, special-needs adoption) gave us a link to a blog post that was encouraging in its raw honesty.

When you hear people talk about adoption, you hear about how beautiful it is, this Gospel picture. I say it myself. The idea of redeeming a child from pain and suffering and hopelessness is undeniably inviting. To be a part of bringing hope and life to a child is one of our callings as followers of Christ. Beautiful indeed.

 What we do not hear a whole lot about, however, is the ugly side.

 Without tragedy, there is no need for adoption. If something were not broken, there would be no need to fix it.

 If it were not for the fact that something went terribly wrong, adoption would not be necessary. Be it death or abuse or abandonment, intentional or otherwise, there is a tragic reason this child is in need of a different family from the one that shares the same bloodline and facial features. There is a broken past with every single adopted child out there and it leaves a mark. Sometimes that mark is a faded scar that is barely noticeable to the untrained eye.

 Other times, it is a gaping flesh wound that needs constant attention and care.

 God chose to give us the latter.

 And it has been ugly.

God chose to give us the latter as well, and it is Anah’s need for “constant attention and care” which brings us again and again to the brink of total exhaustion and despair. Down Syndrome is not her biggest hurdle. English as a second language is not her biggest hurdle. What IS her biggest hurdle is that all her formative years were spent in an institutionalized setting (an orphanage), therefore what is ingrained in her long-term memory (which is typically very strong in children with Downs) is that people will do everything for her therefore she doesn’t have to think for herself. It feels like what is most child-like in her has died—there is almost no innate sense of curiosity or exploration or desire or self-expression, but simply a mindless repetition of that which requires the least amount of thinking and engagement.

This means that we have to teach her everything, even basic things like how to play with toys, and if we do not sit constantly with her and keep her engaged, she will quickly resort to mindlessly sitting and staring at the toy. With a typical child, if we as parents need to work on something else, all we need to say is “Go and play” and they are quite happy to oblige. But with Anah it’s the opposite, therefore it feels like there is never a break unless she is in bed for the night (and somehow that bedtime seems to keep getting bumped up earlier and earlier).

So will this ever get any easier? Three years ago I believed (and hoped) it would, but now I’m not so sure. Right now it’s just hard. And I’m tired.

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help… But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!”  Psalm 22:11 & 19

Songs for Real Life

Here is a profound statement: I am very thankful that Psalm 22 falls in between Psalm 21 and Psalm 23. Now, before you dismiss this as simply stating the obvious, allow me to explain what I mean.

Psalm 22 contains the anguished cry that Jesus quoted in His darkest hour on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (vs 1). It voices a serious complaint in verse 2: “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer…” It expresses a desperate plea for God to be near in the midst of trouble (vs 11).

I can relate to that cry and complaint and plea. Sometimes God seems far off. Sometimes my cries for help seem not to be heard. Sometimes I feel very alone.

And so I’m thankful that God in His sovereignty included Psalm 22 in the book of Psalms. It helps me to express the pain and the longing of my soul honestly before God. But I’m also thankful that God sovereignly orchestrated the ordering of the psalms such that this raw song of need is placed in between two songs of great comfort and joy.

In Psalm 21, King David is rejoicing in God’s strength and salvation (vs 1). He is thanking God for giving him his heart’s desire, and for meeting him “with rich blessings” (vs 3). He proclaims that God “makes him glad with the joy of His presence” (vs 6).

Psalm 23 is the beloved song of the Lord’s gentle shepherding. It is a psalm of comfort and peace because the Good Shepherd is present and capable, even in the midst of the dark valley.

If all we saw about David’s worship of God was Psalm 21 and 23, the joy and the comfort, we probably would start thinking, “This guy is from another planet!” And in fact that’s sometimes how we react to other Christians who seem to always be happy and problem-free. Rather than being drawn in to their enthusiastic worship of God, we almost feel repulsed by their happiness that seems out of touch with reality.

And so to jump from Psalm 21:13 (“Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.”) to Psalm 22:1 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) is somehow refreshing to me because it reflects what often happens in my own heart and life. One day (or hour, or moment) I can be flying high and praising God for His goodness, but then the next day (or hour, or moment) I can crash into the depths of despair and feel alone and helpless.

That is the reality of the life we live in–it is up and down, and we feel joyful one moment and despairing the next. But what makes these psalms to be “songs of real life” is not only that they acknowledge the reality of pain and trouble in our lives, but also that they bring that reality to God. “Real life” doesn’t just mean “life that is hard.” But “real life” also means “life that is lived in the reality of God’s sovereign presence and rule.” And so David doesn’t just complain that God has forsaken him–rather, he calls out to the very One from whom he feels forsaken. That is real life, and that is the kind of song I need in the midst of the reality of my own life.