As I think about this idea of “hanging on to faith” it does not seem very compelling. Who wants to just hang on to anything? It feels like an energy drainer and a passion killer. If that is all this faith journey is, then count me out. There has to be more. In fact, I know there is more, because I have seen glimpses of it. But even as I say that, I know there are seasons where just hanging on is all I’ve got; times where waiting for those moments, those windows where God breaks through, is the best I can do.
Over the last several years my son has been on a tough journey—a journey that has continued to assault him with one dream-crushing disappointment after another. After his junior year in high school he was being recruited by several division one basketball programs. Two of those programs were part of this year’s NCAA tournament. But after his junior year, a rash of injuries hit him and started a multi-year frustrating journey for all of us. What has followed the last four years has been three surgeries, multiple doctors visits literally all over the country, countless hours in physical therapy, and one set back after another. Now I could write a book about this journey. Just a month ago we met with a specialist in Florida, and had great hope of improvement. Then, while I was on a trip meeting guys from the RHYTHMinTWENTY and Rogue groups I work with, I got news he was in the emergency room with pain.
Now perspective is critical. This is not life threatening, and there is so much to be thankful. He has become a young man who is much deeper, and is a steady anchor for many others who are in rough waters. As a result of what he has been through, he has a weightiness to his life that is just different. But it has been four years, and it does not change the disappointment and or explain the seemingly relentless quiet that comes in response to the prayers and the questions.
As a as a dad who has turned over every stone to help him get better and to chase his dream, my choice now seems to be to hang on, or to say, ”Forget this. I am done with trying to understand where God is at in the midst of the challenge, struggle, and disappointment that life throws at us.”
Facing the cliff, and at times just hanging on, has caused some random thoughts over the years. —lessons from the edge, so to speak— on this specific issue:
- I have a son who is stronger, resilient, and steady, and more ready for whatever life throws at him, as a result of his time of hanging on.
- Through the last several years, there has been a cumulative effect of other struggles that have made this one even more difficult. But through it, I personally have pursued God, sometimes in anger, but always far more , when I’m hanging on, then when I am on the downhill or coasting. And
- Finding a place to get brutally honest with God, and with trusted others, has been absolutely key. For me, as I have watched him, and others go through things like this, time with my journal, an occasional micro-brew with good friends, and staying connected to things and places I am most passionate about has been a difference maker.
- Keeping my eyes, ears, and emotions tuned in, listening, watching and remaining open to experience those badly needed “God moments” has been critical as well.
And, no doubt about it, those moments have happened. More on that later. For now I am hanging on…
Sometimes this faith journey is just about hanging on.
Yesterday I was on a much needed bike ride, on a rare warm February day in Nebraska. As I crossed a railroad bridge, my mind flashed back to this place my friends and I would venture to during our teen years.
There was a long, old railroad bridge that crossed the Platte River. We would climb to the outside of the metal section of the bridge, and when trains would go by we would hang on. It was quite a rush. That entire old bridge would shake and we would hang on, literally with our fingertips, with all the strength we could muster. If the shaking was too great, the only danger was falling a few feet into the river, although our accounts of the adventure claimed that we were at risk of a much higher fall.
That is often what the journey of faith is like. Sometimes, it is just about hanging on. I have been close to a few couples lately who have been down the heart breaking road of infertility. One of those couples, after years of trying, and after walking through so many disappointments and heartbreaks, finally saw that miracle arrive. I know the last few years have been tough for them. Lots of questions and understandable struggle. Many times they were just hanging on.
I remember another couple I heard about who had waited years for a child. After their daughter was finally born, complications set in and they lost her. The answered prayer became much more painful than the unanswered prayer ever was. What do you do with that?
It is hard to know what to say, or what to do in situations like that. There are just no words for it. With all that life can throw at us, sometimes we really are just hanging on. I have had a few of those moments—well, really longer than moments, more like seasons over the last few years where I was just hanging on in the faith journey. So many questions… and during those times God has seemed so silent and detached. And I wonder why? Why does it have to be that way? Why so often does it feel like he leaves us hanging?
I will write about some on those in the next few weeks. For now, I am going to head back out on the bike and find that bridge again. Yesterday was a great reminder that sometimes you just have to hang on.
This coming week represents one of those significant moments in life. For me, these moments of significant change in close relationships have always been a challange to navigate.
I have loved being a parent. Even before I was married I remember being really excited about someday being a dad. I always knew that it was a role I was gifted for and passionate about. Though some of the transitions and changes have been hard, I have loved all of it. (Well… most of it.) I have poured myself into being a dad, and I have few regrets. But through the years, those significant moments of transitions like the 16th birthdays or sending my kids off to college, have pushed me into some deep reflection. I have sometimes personally struggled with releasing my kids into that next season of life. No matter what my personal desire in those moments has been, change still came. Change is always the constant.
With my daughter, there has always been something special, something extra to protect. She tends to love the things I love: travel, hiking, biking, the mountains, new adventure, impacting people.
Well, in a couple of days I walk her down the aisle.
It is odviously an awesome moment for her, she is excited, and it’s an incredible moment for them to begin to tell a new story with their lives going forward. But there is no doubt things are about to change. These last few weeks I have felt like I am in a fog, , not really ready to face or embrace the change that is coming. I feel like I am in this scene in the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
There is this great moment between the main character Aragorn and Théoden, King of Rohan. The enemy is attacking, fully intent on destroying the people of Middle-earth. The King is ignoring the reality in front of him, and has decided to gather his people and retreat to the mountains. When Théoden says that the risk of engaging the enemy is too great, Aragorn looks him in the eye and says, “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.”
So in my reflective moments, I am facing the reality… change is upon me, whether I willingly face it or not.
Given that reality, what is my next step? Well for now, a little more time with my journal and another cup of coffee are in order….
What do you do when God is silent? I mean extended wilderness kind of stuff. The kind of silence that makes you doubt.
I know a lot of the stories. I have actually preached on many of them. Moses spends forty years in the desert doing pretty much the same thing every day… forty years! Then one random day God seems to show up. Noah hears from God, then spends forty years building the ark before there is confirmation of the calling. Sarah waits for decades until she has the son she so longed for,David runs, hides and waits for his time to be king… you have to wonder how quiet all those years of waiting were.
I wonder why it has to be that way. I wonder why God seems to stay so quiet, so mysterious, so silent. I wonder why we have to endure those lonely times, those long times in the wilderness wondering if He is real, asking if He still shows up, or if he still speaks to people. I recently had a talk with one of my kids who feels God has never really “shown up” in his own life. I have seen God in his life time and time again over the years, but that is my perspective. He wants to know if this spiritual journey is real, and if it is, why God seems so uninvolved, so silent, so seemingly disengaged in his life and in his perspective…in the lives of others around the world.
I have asked that question many times myself. Over the years, I have walked through deep disappointment at God’s silence after relentless prayers. I have watched the fate of so many around the world who are suffering and dying just because they are Christians… and I wonder why God doesn’t show up and make things right. I have a lot more questions than answers today, so I am not even going to try to wrap this up well. But I do know that throughout history this faith journey has been a struggle for many who chose to follow it. I do know that there have been times when people just needed to move to the edge, and take a step on faith alone. Those often are the times when God showed up in incredible ways, and the times when there was a crack in the deafening silence. That has certainly been true in my own life. What I have seen in others is that those who keep moving, keep believing, keep taking steps of faith that seem to make no sense, those who keep pursuing God through all of it… they have a peace, a strength, a weightiness to them that is different. They act as almost an anchor to others when times get really tough.
I want to be like that. Sometimes it is the only thing that makes sense.
I was back in San Diego this week. Back to a place that holds a ton of memories for me both personally and for the work I am so passionate about. This place has been the setting of some iconic moments for my family, friends, and for the guys who have been part of the Rhythm and Rogue groups that have journeyed here.
San Diego is a place of incredible contrasts in my own journey. It represents perhaps the most difficult season of my life, and at the same time, it was the place of my most profound spiritual breakthrough. We have now brought fourteen RHYTHMinTWENTY and Rogue groups to this place. Here we have wrestled with what it looks like for a leader to drop anchor and deeply connect with God, and with others and with things that bring us life. We have discovered how important it is to listen and to follow the unpredictable “holy wind” when it comes.
In this place I am reminded again of just how mysterious this God we follow really is. Sometimes this faith journey seems so unpredictable and filled with extreme contrasts, yet I long for the consistency and steadiness that faith brings. For me San Diego is a constant reminder of the best… and the absolute worst of times. Years ago, I was on this boardwalk, trying to make sense of some of the worst circumstances I likely will ever face. Yet it was in that place that God showed up in a radical and real way. Somehow through that time, I gained new resolve to stay the course.
Yes, this faith journey seems filled with contrast and extremes. Things that make sense… and things that absolutely make no sense. Times of deep disappointments… and times of incredible breakthrough. It is good to be back, and remember. In the remembering I am gaining some needed perspective and resolve to take the next steps.
Being here again reminds me to keep coming back….and it stirs me to keep chasing the moments, no matter how illusive they may be.