Suffering: God Does Keep Us

It's been a very heavy few months in my world.
Death and destruction are the headlines in our community.
And even though maybe I shouldn't, I carry these things around in my head and in my heart.
They are so heavy.

I sit down in the mornings to pray over the people in my life and the families in the news, and words seem to escape me.
Sometimes all I can manage is the simple phrase, "Lord have mercy".
My head is dizzy with the suffering of the world and I whisper the ever popular question, "Why?"

I have yet to hear the audible voice of God, but He never fails to speak to me or answer my questions in His own way and time.
Recently, as many times before, it is through His Word and the anointed words of others that I find peace.
I have been using Jim Branch's 2011 Watch and Wait devotional to walk through Advent this year.
Jim has arranged this second week of Advent to focus on the groaning of our hearts, the groaning created by Christ Himself as He wills us each to long for Him and long for the Kingdom.

I have found mercy, peace, and quiet for my aching soul in some of the excerpts Jim shares this week.
I wanted to share them here in case you too are struggling to find the joy that is typically present in the Christmas season.

I do see the sweetness in all this.
It is good to be still and wait on the Lord.
Sometimes the Christmas season is too rushed to slow down and make room for His coming, but in the midst of deep sorrow and suffering, our hearts demand stillness, our souls ache for the sign of hope that is the birth of the Christ Child.

So, every morning, I hand my heavy heart over to my Jesus and He gives me hope and peace in exchange.
He did come!
He was born!
He walked this earth, felt our pain, struggled the human struggle!
Then made the greatest sacrifice so that we could have hope while we are on earth and life afterwards.
Praise Him!
I cling to this truth, that:

Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.

Ultimately the season of Advent is a season of groaning: the groaning of our hearts and the groaning of our God. It is the groaning that comes from a deep longing for all to be as it was intended [shalom]. Thus, it is a season where we fully recognize and embrace our sadness and frustration that all is not as it should be; rather than attempt to escape, avoid, or deny it. The world has gone terribly wrong, it is filled with decay and death, suffering and sadness, sorrow and pain; and yet, in the midst of it all, God meets us in a way that we couldn't be met otherwise -- making this groan both a trust-filled embracing of where he has us, as well as a deep yearning for so much more -- for deliverance and restoration and wholeness.
Therefore, Advent is a season in which we watch and wait. It is a time in which we are filled with hope and longing -- hope that our Creator will finally intervene, and longing that He will enter this world and set everything right once more; restoring all things to their creation intent.
-Jim Branch

To every heart set on this journey of love comes seasons of great pain due to an awakened heart not yet answered. God awakens longing for himself within us and then very purposefully delays satisfaction of that longing. Our hearts find an all new thirst, and we begin to burn with the holy expectation of His coming to us to quench what He himself has slain us with. No longer contented by any other pleasure, we cry out for what we are certain He will impart to us: eternal love from His heart. Yet, instead of divine satisfaction, we find greater heartache. We find ourselves caught in that great chasm between longing and fulfillment. Instead of encounters with our Lord, we find Him seemingly more absent than before.
Understanding God's own longing keeps us from hurt and offense at the Lord when He does not immediately answer the pain of our heartache. Our proneness is to think that God must not answer us immediately. When we do not understand that our longing originated in His own heart, we are prone to believe that He has left us alone in this painful delay out of lack of sympathy for our suffering state. Our misunderstandings tell us that if He did know the pain we were in, He surely could not bear to leave us in it. Quite the contrary, when we trace our longing back to its source, we find the wounded-by-love heart of God. It is from the deep of His heart that our own deep groans come forth. He knows that without longing we cannot enter into the fullness of His love, and therefore, in His absolute kindness and jealousy over us, He places within us this dagger of desire for Himself.
These periods of unfulfilled longing are inexpressibly necessary to our journey of love. Of what worth is water without thirst? Of what value is fruitfulness without barrenness? What is desire satisfied without desire unmet? How our hearts need to go hungry before we are fed. We must encounter the depths of longing's ache in order to ascend to the heights of divine exhilaration. He carves us out and enlarges our capacity through hunger and desire that He might fill us with Himself.
When we are flooded with the pain of unanswered desire, we often forget that this Divine wound originated in His heart and not our own. We view our pain as the absence of God's answer instead of the presence of it. God does not give Himself except to the hungry and destitute of heart, yet we cannot produce hunger for God. It is He Himself who causes hunger to arise and the prayer for fulfillment to emerge. He establishes in us the desire that He intends to satisfy. As surely as the pain of our longing is the certainty of his coming to us. When we begin to feel our own hearts moving in desire and in painful reach for God, we may rest assured that He will answer us. Where there is Divine longing, there is Diving fulfillment. Though they may be separated by a time gap, the two are so interwoven and undividable that you cannot experience one without soon knowing the other.
To the seeking heart, longing is often mistaken for emptiness, the pervasive feeling. We touch these places of frustration where the barrenness within us is crying out to be filled. Because we don't feel sweetness as we think longing should feel, we assume that our hearts are only dry and unfruitful. We feel we can't even "long" for God. Yet one of longing's most common faces is emptiness. It is the dry side of desire and the empty side of love. There is no sweetness about it, only raw barrenness lifting its voice. This frigid form of longing is yet indeed longing though it is a lovesickness devoid of swooning and thick with the frustration of dissatisfied desire. When longing comes in its dry attire, we so often do not recognize it, and we lose heart very quickly. Yet we must learn to recognize this face of longing and receive it with an open heart, just as we would if it came with tears and sweet tenderness. 
-Dana Candler

This is not a declaration that our tomorrows will be free of travail and suffering. The people of Haiti who struggle today with the aftermath of an earthquake may continue to have one heartbreaking experience after another. My son may not return alive from his military duty in Afghanistan. Those I love may get medical test results that indicate their last days are near. The matters about which we are anxious may have outcomes that traumatize us to our very core. Still, God is with us in these tomorrows we do not welcome. God does not keep us from suffering, but God does keep us. We can rest in the assurance that as our world and we come unhinged, God remains steadfast in love and in sustaining possibilities for renewing the work of hope in the world and in our hearts.
-Luther E. Smith, Jr.

That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more that waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better that we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Romans 8:18-28, The Message

Loving God, the earth moans, in need of your healing. Help me be a peacemaker today, one who carries your vision and takes the small actions that contribute to healing for the world. Amen.
-Beth A. Richardson