When Uncertainty Fosters Hope

Ahhh . . . the clear, Coloradan blue sky.

We recently moved back to Colorado after we concluded that my husband suffers from Seasonal Affect Disorder. In fact, the above photo was taken during one of our visits to Colorado a few years ago, and he kept it on his bulletin board at work to remind him, “Yes, Virginia, the blue sky does exist.”

Notice: No cloudiness. No fog. No haze. No smoke. Only a crystal, clear, blue sky.

If the truth be told, I like clarity. No ambiguity. No uncertainty. Cut and dried. Hard and fast. Black and white. If I had my way, life would be painted with an absence of grays. In fact, I fantasize about my own kitchen and bathrooms being transformed into a color scheme of black and white. Such a perspective results in part from my own upbringing, but as I have aged, grown, and studied, I have learned to embrace other colors (this means that my bathrooms and kitchen contain other hues as well). Yet, if you were to ask those who really know me, they will testify that under stress, I may revert to my old familiar patterns . . . black and white.

Having said that, this week I was sorrowfully taught that there may be occasions where uncertainty has its benefits. A situation that had some confusion—characteristics of cloudiness—abruptly came to an end. I confess I had a desire for clarity, but I did not want an ending. Now, too late I fear, I realize that the presence of uncertainty was accompanied by a presence of hope. In the aftermath of this so-called clarity, I am reeling from this loss. I feel helpless. Powerless. Robbed of my voice. Yes, there is a measure of clarity, but there is also the absence of a hope I once had in the situation.

Yet, this incident is not one of isolation in humanity’s journey in this life. The characters and the circumstances may be different, but the results are similar.

  • If a person hoped for a resolution to an ongoing conflict, a death of the other removes any hope of healing in the relationship.
  • A child may desire respect, affirmation, or approval from a parent, but the parent’s death creates a realization of a loss on top of a loss: this desire will remain unfulfilled.
  • After missing for years, a body is found and identified as being that of the family’s loved one. Such a reality closes the door that the person is still alive.
  • If the marriage has been a constant struggle, then a divorce is a decree that the marriage is over and any semblance of light in the marriage surviving is extinguished.
  • As long as retirement is on the horizon and not a reality, the spouse can keep her head in the sand (by the way, I make a wonderful ostrich); however, once her husband retires, she finds herself wrestling with loss, aging, and anxiety.

Many of us in these types of situations have a longing to turn back the clock as we realize that the uncertainty had a degree of hope attached to it. Now, as we stand in the wake of clarity, we may realize that uncertainty may seem to be better than the ending we now have been dealt.

Unfortunately, when an ending arrives, it may be accompanied by the phrase: Now you can move on.

Frequently, such words are uttered after a person dies from a long illness. Don’t get me wrong: I think we mean well. However, while it may be that the bereaved feels relief, I caution against mistaking this relief for a lack of shock or an absence of the need to mourn. If we were to ask those who have experienced anticipatory grief, many would speak of the shock at the reality of the death. This is particularly illustrated in the first few months of the bereaved repeatedly reviewing the manner in which the person died: the person lying in the bed; the words spoken; the actions taken. The telling and re-telling of the death is how we as humans take our inward grief and make it outward, thereby moving towards healing. Thus, to say, “Now you can move on” fails to provide a safe place to go say “hello” to the death before saying “good-bye” [See Alan Wolfelt’s The Paradoxes of Mourning]. Instead, “Now you can move on” may be pushing the person toward good-bye prior to his being ready. If, however, the bereaved speaks the words herself, “I can move on now,” it is different, and we, as caregivers, may meet the person in that place by inquiring, “What does moving on look like for you?”

I bring this phrase to the fore because in my situation I actually heard, “You can move on now,” which causes me to pause and wonder what this phrase communicates. Is it a telltale sign that we are we uncomfortable with uncertainty as it exposes our own limitations? Are we saying that we believe an ending brings us a measure of control because we feel out of control by the pain? Does the phrase imply that we perceive that the state of uncertainty lacks motion in that we are standing still? But does uncertainty hinder movement, or does it actually generate movement in the form of transformation in the one who is experiencing the uncertainty? Perhaps in our longing for stability and in our eagerness to rid ourselves of uncertainty and pain, we fail to see that the embracing of uncertainty provides movement within our own being.

When I link these thoughts with theology, I begin to see more clearly the benefits of uncertainty when combined with the concept of faith. There is a little phrase in my tradition that I have heard, and admittedly have used, that says: I know that I know that I know. When I have spoken this phrase, I have been attempting to capture in my words an intensity of an experience of knowing. Such knowing is not only with my mind, but it is also deeply sensed within my body. It is as if I am saying that my experience is so real to me that I have moved from the realm of faith, which is mixed with doubt, to a certainty that envelops my whole being. The experience becomes one of truth for me so that all hint of doubt is cast away. It is a way of knowing . . . an epistemology that seems to defy modernity’s upholding of only logical reasoning and head knowledge. It says, “I no longer need to be convinced. I simply know in my knower.” This epistemology flows not merely from my mind but my feelings as well, encompassing my whole body. As James A. Smith notes, this is an “affective knowledge” that is a type of “countermodernity” [see James A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy].

While I revel in the handful of occasions that I have had such an experience, I attempt to resist the urge to lift them up as the norm for the Christ-follower. For me, my experiences of I know that I know fall into the realm of specific revelation, the domain of miracles, which are intense instances of God’s Spirit interacting in the world [see Smith, Thinking in Tongues]. While Pentecostals are known to stress this type of intense divine participation in creation, they also speak of (albeit in my experience to a lesser, and maybe implicit, degree) general revelation, of Jesus Christ sustaining God’s creation. In this way, as Smith points out, God is continuously active in the world for a Pentecostal. Yet, it is this latter understanding for me where I locate myself when I am experiencing uncertainty in my walk of faith.

I have frequently heard it spoken in Pentecostal circles that the type of faith that is necessary for a miracle is that which has no doubt. In light of the above discussion, could it be that our push to expel doubt from being mixed with faith reveals our own discomfort with uncertainty? It is my belief that if there is an absence of doubt, this is not faith but certainty. And certainty sounds an awful lot like my Pentecostal experience of I know that I know that I know. For me, while Pentecostalism frequently underscores a definition of faith that departs from the realm of uncertainty into certainty, I hold that faith exists in uncertainty alongside doubt. This type of faith says, “It is just as much of a miracle that God instantly heals me as God sustains me, and I believe that God is sustaining me because I awoke this morning to find that the earth is still rotating around the sun.” Note the absence of I know that I know. Instead, there is an embracing of an underlying uncertainty that lives out an embodied faith. Herein lies the hope. I cannot see Christ upholding creation, and I will be honest, I have not had the I-know-that-I know experience concerning Christ’s sustaining of me. Thus, there is uncertainty. Yet, there remains hope, a living out my faith that combines with uncertainty to bring hope (Heb 11:1). I cannot see Christ sustaining all of creation or sense it in my knower, but I have a faith combined with this uncertainty which produces a hope simply because I opened my eyes this morning. It is the embracing of this uncertainty that generates growth, movement if you will, so that I may become more genuinely human as God intended.

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Learning from “Curiosity Killed the Cat”

[The picture associated with this blog is one of my favorites of our Mongolian cat, Hobbes. It shows his playfulness and the embodied question that seems to lurk in many cats’ minds when there is an unknown box, a new bag, or newly closed door to a room: “What is in there?”]

Why?

What for?

How come?

How much longer???

The insatiable appetite of the curiosity of children.

Children tend to be naturally curious, inquiring about philosophical issues with the proverbial, “Why?” Of course, their naiveté may generate questions that expose an adult’s ignorance (Why is the sky blue?), or an adult may find the inquiries uncomfortable (Where do babies come from?) or even inappropriate (How much do you weigh?). As such, children may hear this phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat.” While this may not completely deter the child’s curiosity, over time his questions may produce laughter by others with the words, “What a stupid question!” Eventually, the fertile soil of curiosity becomes littered with rocks and hardened due to lack of moisture. In this environment, the child may begin to learn to embrace silence over curiosity because silence, the child realizes, implies the child knows. Unfortunately, silence may also foster an increase in interpretations and expectations. And there is nothing quite like interpretations and expectations to kill curiosity!

What is it about curiosity that we as adults may increasingly resist?

Sometimes it may be a result of our own family system. As humans, each of us has been raised in a family system that is like other systems, such as a solar system, in which there are patterns, rules, or laws that maintain a homeostasis, or an equilibrium to help the system function. When we are born, we are plopped into a system that is already up and running, and as we age, we learn the patterns and the taboos of that system . . . the laws. For instance, ponder with me for a moment being raised in a home in which silence was equated with anger. It seemed like an unspoken rule, a taboo, to inquire if someone was angry; instead, one was to know through the silence that the other was angry at you. As a member of this system, the child learns this well but may be unaware of her budding understanding. As the child grows and forms relationships with those outside this system, he takes this belief, be it consciously or unconsciously, into other relationships. When a friend or a spouse does not respond or interact with her, the assumption is made that the other is angry at her. If an email is sent and a response is not heard directly, the receiver of said-email must be angry at the sender, or so the interpretation goes. The pattern may be so ingrained that the person has difficulty entertaining or holding onto other possible reasons for the lack of a prompt response. It is as concrete as an algebraic equation of x=1, but in this scenario silence=anger.

Why not simply inquire in order to ease one’s own anxiety?

As an outsider to such a system, that seems reasonable, doesn’t it? However, not only may the family system have implicitly placed a taboo on these types of inquiries (after all we are just suppose to know!), but expressing our curiosity makes us vulnerable. And vulnerability increases our anxiety, too.

Using Brené Brown’s definition of vulnerability . . . It is a risk to be curious; there is uncertainty how the other will respond to our curiosity, and we are emotionally exposed when we express curiosity. We may be exposing what we do not know. We may be allowing the other to see our finitude. Thus, curiosity may be like stepping out on a limb that extends over a deep chasm. It is dangerous, and it is not a secure place from which to explore, and so, we have learned to protect ourselves and avoid that limb of uncertainty.

This means, then, it takes courage to be vulnerable and express curiosity. Such curiosity may defy any shame inside of us that screams,“Danger! Danger! Appear like you know!” Expressing curiosity of the other’s experience flies in the face of our fear of the other’s reaction. Remember in junior high or high school of being too afraid, too embarrassed, or may be too ashamed to admit, “I do not understand” because of our fear of being laughed at or scorned? Similarly, anxiety may be repeated over and over again when we interact with others . . . so we make judgments, interpretations, assumptions, or place certain expectations on others.

In many ways, curiosity invites others into our lives. That is risky because I do not know how she will respond. Through curiosity I am opening myself up to being hurt but also the possibility of being healed and changed. I have no control how he will hear my expression of curiosity. I am allowing my story to intermingle with the other’s story which may change both of us. I am opening myself up to learn from the other, and in so doing, there is a possibility of teaching, too. I am receiving a piece of the other’s story as I unfasten the bolt that helped to protect me, and this makes room to possibly giving of myself. Through curiosity, then, I am attempting to release my interpretations and expectations about the other by inviting her into my life. I am inviting his very being into my being. Thus, curiosity is not safe . . . after all, it did kill the cat. 😉

With curiosity we are trading our interpretations for an invitation. We are giving up expectations by inviting the other to simply be. This is an invitation for us and for the other to come and sit together and be. We are opening ourselves up to a possible connection with the other. We are taking down the walls and inviting the other to sit with us. We are allowing our stories, the essence of who we are, to perhaps be challenged, to potentially be changed, to possibly transform our interpretations and/or our expectations. With curiosity, we are leaving behind labels and discarding preconceived notions. We may be saying, “I do not know you, and I want to know you. I want to trade my interpretations for learning.” In many ways, curiosity is a way to become a child again. To see the wonder of another human being. To be influenced by his story. To take a risk. To plunge into uncertainty. To allow ourselves to be emotionally exposed.

As a Christ-follower, I turn toward the Scriptures and wonder about Jesus and curiosity. Jesus embodied vulnerability [see blog #9 on vulnerability], so it would seem that he also demonstrated vulnerability through curiosity. I find no fear in Jesus who invited the other into his story or invited himself into the other’s story through the expression of curiosity.

In some instances, curiosity became an invitation for healing to transpire in the space between Jesus and the other. For instance, Matthew 20:29-34, the crowd was irked by two blind men who kept calling out to Jesus, causing the crowd to tell these men to be quiet; however, the two blind men were not to be deterred—they shouted even more loudly. Unlike the crowd who were not open to these men, what was Jesus’ response? He inquires, “What do you want me to do for you?” Here is the absence of an interpretation that these blind men would want to be healed. Instead, Jesus invites them to himself by the way of curiosity. As a result, it is through this expression of curiosity that Jesus is moved—he has compassion on them, which means he suffers with them—feeling deep within his gut for them—resulting in Jesus’ action of healing them. It is in this space that was provided by curiosity that there was healing.

Sometimes Jesus uses curiosity as a teaching moment, such as verses 24-28 of the same chapter. Here the mother of John and James desires to ask a favor of Jesus, and Jesus responds with, “What do you want?” After the request that her sons be placed on Jesus’ right and left in his kingdom, it is interesting that the other ten disciples respond with anger. Thus, Jesus perceives that all of his disciples have a lesson to learn about serving rather than desiring power and authority over others. In a subtle way, Jesus’ expression of curiosity in this pericope embraces this very attitude of serving.

While space only allows me to note a couple of instances from Jesus life, there is one instance that recently generated an audible laugh from me, which I want to include. On Easter I was reading each Gospel’s accounts of the resurrection when I read Luke 24:13ff. In this story, the women had reported to the disciples about their encounter with two angels, and Luke writes that their story “seemed like pure nonsense” to the hearers. This is followed by an experience of two men who are walking away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, discussing the events of the last couple of days when Jesus joins them. Luke notes that the disciples looked sad, and Jesus inquires, “What are these matters you are discussing so intently as you walk along?” Notice: here is an invitation . . . an offer to listen . . . a request to enter into their world. At this point, the man named Cleopas asks Jesus, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?” What is Jesus’ response? Another question: “What things?” Personally, I find this amusing. I wonder if he asked this question with a twinkle in his eye that went unnoticed? Although I am assuming Jesus knew, let us not overlook that this question is an invitation: Tell me your story. Tell me of your experience. It allows Jesus to listen to them, to walk with them in their despondency. To be present to them in their sadness. To form a connection.

As I consider Jesus’ vulnerability and a way in which he exhibited it through curiosity, I pray, “Lord, may I participate in what your Spirit is doing with those I come in contact through curiosity. To embrace my vulnerability and finitude. To offer an invitation. To create space for a connection. To allow you to heal and to teach.”

God, Where Are You?: A Response to an Age-Old Question

A 40-something father dies of a brain tumor leaving behind a wife and three children.

Where are you, God?

A school shooting. The shooter is dead, and some students are injured while others are killed.

God, why didn’t you stop this tragedy on behalf of the families of both the shooter and victims?

A vibrant 20-year old Bible college student is tragically killed in an automobile accident.

God, why didn’t you protect her?

A child experiences ongoing sexual abuse.

God, doesn’t this bother you?

A small toddler has cancer.

Don’t you care, God?

Apparent abandonment . . . by God.

In my last four blogs I have included thoughts about abandonment, blame, shame, and the atonement. I have noted that the sense of abandonment is an interpretation of another’s action . . . of an unmet expectation of presence. I posited that the tyranny of blame and the sense of shame may find healing in Jesus Christ, or we may say, in the atonement. In this blog, my final blog prior to Easter, I continue with a related subject during this Lenten season: being apparently abandoned by God and God’s response through the atonement.

I recognize that as a Pentecostal, one who emphasizes a theology of the presence of God, this subject may appear to be oxymoronic. However, if I am going to be true to the Pentecostal upholding of Scripture (of which Pentecostals have a high view); if I am going to be Christocentric (which Pentecostals are); and if I am going to be genuine to human experience (a central feature of Pentecostal theology), then it seems I cannot avoid talking about a scripture in which Jesus experiences being apparently abandoned by God.

Being apparently abandoned by God. It is a fear that is common to humanity whether acknowledged or not, implicitly or explicitly. We see it explicitly exclaimed in Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” We, then, see this experience validated and normalized by Jesus from the cross when he shouted with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Mt 27:46 and Mk 15:34). In that moment, Jesus normalizes our longing for God to intervene and our seeking for answers concerning God’s providence. In that moment, Jesus’ cry from the cross is an embracing of humanity’s question that has echoed down through the centuries, both before and after Jesus’ time on earth.

However, it is interesting to me that when we talk about atonement, some of the more well-known theories do not lift up this sense of being apparently abandoned by God. For instance, many of us are probably aware of the story Paul Harvey told each year during Easter about a boy who captured a sparrow in a birdcage, and the preacher offered to buy the birdcage with the sparrow from the boy; however, what you may not know is: this story is an allegory for an atonement theory called Christus Victor theory [for those of you who are unfamiliar with this story, see http://paulharveypodcast.libsyn.com/s01-e12-ph-paul-harvey-the-easter-story-the-boy-and-the-bird-cage ]. In a Star Wars fashion of light against dark, the Christus Victor theory relates the cross to a battle between God and the powers of evil. A scriptural foundation for this model is Mark 10:45 that speaks of the Son of Man’s life paying a ransom for many; thus, Christ’s death becomes a payment to the devil for humans who are death’s prisoners. The devil, believing he will become more powerful, unsuspectingly receives Christ’s death as payment and then is astonished by Christ’s resurrection, which defeats the evil one. The resurrection, then, demonstrates that Christ is victorious over evil, namely sin, death, and the devil [see Joel Green and Mark D. Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross:  Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts, 118-125].

Another view of atonement is the Satisfaction theory, which is based upon a medieval world of lords and vassals in which a lord protected the vassals under him and in turn the vassals honored the lord. Here, sin is seen when humans who do not bestow the honor to God that is owed to God; therefore, in order for this sin to be forgiven, it must be punished so that God maintains God’s honor. This penalty or debt, however, can be paid only by a sinless human who must also be divine. As a result, out of love for humanity, the Godhead planned for Christ to die on our behalf (it is important to note that God did not force Christ to die), and Christ chose to honor God by dying to save us [see Joel Green and Mark D. Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross:  Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts, 126-131].

While these theories are important in our understanding of God’s love for humanity and helping us form Christian theology, how is it relevant for the one who is suffering? For the one who wonders in the face of pain, “Where is God”? Where is the answer for this persistent question, as embodied in Philip Yancey’s book titles, Where Is God When It Hurts? and The Question That Never Goes Away?

Thus, if we were to be honest, this question endures inside our hearts which may be seen in the variety of ways humans respond to this explicit or implicit question. Sometimes people turn inward to find the answer, “What did I do wrong?” A related response is also detected when another tells the inquirer: “It is your personal sin or your lack of faith,” or as declared from bumper stickers, “If God seems far away, who moved?” in which the intended response is obvious—it’s not God. Sometimes the answer is seen by rejecting a belief that God exists, and at other times the answer appears in refusing to admit the question exists. Sometimes the answer entails a continued belief that God may exist but with a qualification: God is not involved in the affairs of this earth—we are abandoned to our own devices. Other times the person embraces a belief in God and God’s participation with humanity while embracing the unknown and humanity’s finitude.

It is of these words of Jesus that renown theologian Jürgen Moltmann argues, “All Christian theology and all Christian life is basically an answer to the question which Jesus asked as he died. The atheism of protests and of metaphysical rebellions against God are also answers to this question” [The Crucified God, 4].

Interestingly, Jesus’ cry on the cross is a reverse of Genesis 3:9 in which God calls out, “Adam, where are you?” and today it is the cry of humanity, “God, where are you?” In Jesus, these two questions meet. Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, so Jesus embodies both the question of humanity and the call of God to humanity while being the answer to both questions. So while Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” Jesus also embodies the answer to that question in that he is both fully human and fully divine. He is God searching for humanity. He is humanity searching for God. He, then, becomes the answer to both questions: I am here.

Similarly, Jürgen Moltmann, considers both the presence and the absence of God to be within the divine-person Jesus Christ. Moltmann theologizes that Christ is Emmanuel, God-with-us, but at the same time is forsaken by God in his crucifixion; therefore, in Christ’s crucifixion, the disciples beheld the divine being abandoned, while in Christ’s resurrection, they peered upon the “nearness of God in the god-forsaken one” [Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, 198].

Herein lies our hope. Jesus is human’s answer to God’s question, “Where are you, Adam?” Jesus is God’s answer to the question, “Where are you, God?”

He is Adam’s response to God when we feel shame. We may feel shame, both healthy and unhealthy, which causes us to believe God has abandoned us. We may believe we are too sinful for God to embrace us. Thus, when God calls out, “Where are you,” like Adam, we may try to hide; however, Jesus responds in our stead: Here I am.

He is God’s response to our fear of being apparently abandoned by God. Because he is human and because he was resurrected and ascended, humanity is in God, in Christ; thus, we are in the divine life because of the atonement, which includes not only his life, death, and resurrection, but his ascension as well. We are theologically ascended with Jesus Christ, wrapped up in the eternal complete love of the triune Godhead. Because Jesus is divine, humanity is present with God in the person of Jesus Christ.

As a grief support group facilitator, many times I have heard someone say, “I now get it when someone dies who is close to you now that I have lost someone close to me. I now regret how I previously responded to others who were mourning.” Jesus’ cry from the cross is not necessarily about God now getting it. It is about we, as humans, now knowing God gets it. We may be rest assured that God suffers alongside us in the person of Jesus Christ; we may be rest assured that our sufferings are in the divine life—they are in the very throne room of God. God is present with us, and we are present with God.

I leave you with this:

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:14-16).

#metoo #apentecostalresponse

On March 2, Nicky Reagan-Boyle, a twenty-something character on Blue Bloods on CBS, entered the workforce as an intern where she experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. We then see the empowerment of validation being visibly displayed on the television screen as Nicky immediately walks away from her job and is joined by other women, who, too, had experienced similar violations.

Herein lies a demonstration of the embodiment and empowerment of #metoo.

In recent weeks and months we have heard and read of similar scenarios being displayed in real life situations with real people across our nation. For instance, we became astonished and outraged to learn of the Olympic female gymnasts who were sexually abused by a team doctor, Larry Nassar. A demonstration of validation was shown several months after Rachael Denhollander reported how she was sexually molested at age fifteen by Nassar as other survivors of the women’s Olympic gymnastic team joined Denhollander by publically telling their stories.

Herein lies a demonstration of the embodiment and empowerment of #metoo.

This is only one example of the power of the Me Too movement, a movement that has widespread meaning as it seeks to assist survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. While Blue Bloods and the headlines currently highlight sexual harassment in the workplace, the Me Too movement envelops the sexual violation of children and teens at school as well as sexual abuse in their own families.

As I consider this significant movement, I ask myself, “How am I, as a Pentecostal, to respond to those in the midst of my tradition who would type the words #metoo? Is there anything within my own tradition that may speak to, and support, Pentecostal survivors of sexual abuse?”

I think so.

As Classical Pentecostals (i.e., our roots are found in the Azusa Street Revival), we adhere to a theology of healing in the atonement; thus, it seems appropriate during this Lenten season to reflect upon our understanding of this particular tenet of our faith. While this belief originally embraced only physical healing, many contemporary Classical Pentecostals include emotional healing in their understanding. On the one hand, this understanding is in itself a message of hope: through Christ being at-one-with-us, we have hope for spiritual, physical, relational, and emotional healing. On the other hand, I know of stories of Pentecostals being informed, “Your healing from sexual abuse or assault is complete, and the devil can no longer use it against you.” While I will not deny that such healing is not impossible with God, such blanket statements may overlook how Christ is ministering to an individual, thereby avoiding an opportunity to genuinely participate in Christ’s ministry of healing in that person. Such declarations may be ignoring the experiences of many survivors and in some cases may be in danger of stressing an overrealized eschatology that believes the not-yet is now. As a result, this understanding can play into the shame (I am bad; I am not good enough) and blame (as referenced in my previous blog) that is often already present in many Me Too survivors. In such cases, instead of hope for healing, there may be an increase of shame and self-blame when the survivors find themselves unexpectedly triggered and reliving the sexual assault instead of “walking in victory and healing.”

Instead of a carte blanche proclamation of instantaneous healing for all Me Too survivors, I suggest naming the shame and underscoring the at-one-ment that is in Christ. I believe the commonness of shame in the lives of Me Too survivors provides a place of connection with the atonement of Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of God’s empathy that leads to empowerment and hope for ongoing healing.

In order to grasp the concept of shame, it may be helpful to remind us the main difference between guilt and shame. Guilt focuses on an action that one has committed while shame sees one’s being as flawed, such as “I am bad. I am not good enough.” Brad Binau notes that guilt is afraid of being punished while shame is afraid of being abandoned (see “When Shame is the Question, How does the Atonement Answer?” in Journal of Pastoral Theology, 2002). John Bradshaw believes there in a healthy and an unhealthy shame. A healthy shame is a human feeling that reminds one of her finitude; in essence, it allows her to be human, permitting her to make mistakes and admit that she needs help (see Healing the Shame that Binds You, preface); however, unhealthy shame is “the all pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being . . . the self becomes an object of its own contempt, an object that can’t be trusted” (Bradshaw, 10).

As we turn toward a brief examination of the atonement of Jesus Christ as seen in both his life and death, we see how Jesus identifies, becomes at-one-with-humanity’s shame, while healing it. For instance, during his life we see how he is called “Mary’s son,” in Mark’s Gospel, suggesting he is an illegitimate child. We also read how the religious leaders question his association with the sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. As C. Norman Kraus writes, “[Jesus] identified with the socially excluded and despised and shared the stigma of their inferiority” (Jesus Christ Our Lord, 217). Therefore, while he did not live a life of cultural honor, he defied the cultural systems of honor and shame, seeking to bring honor to those who were dishonored. In other words, he embodied God’s empathy concerning humanity’s shame which then produced the healing and empowerment for others to be the human beings who God had intended.

Not only do we recognize his at-one-ment with our shame in his life but also in his death. The cross is said to be such a shameful form of execution that Roman citizens were not to be crucified. Unlike the tame images that depict Jesus on the cross with garments covering him, in a Roman crucifixion, the person is completely naked. Kraus points out that Jesus would be unable to control his body’s excretions or swat the flies that hover or land on his bloody, sweaty body. The cross was also a place of ridicule as people walked by and hurled hurtful words of scorn, and in Jesus’ case they sneered, “He can save others but he cannot save himself.” Kraus notes that such words dishonored Jesus by portraying him as weak, ineffective, and a failure (216). The identification with us is further seen as Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” These words illustrate that not only has Jesus identified with a Me Too survivor’s shame, but he also has identified with the fear that the survivor’s shame produces—abandonment.

It is here, in Jesus Christ’s embodied identification with our shame, that we are healed and empowered.

As Christ validates our shame and makes a connection with us, healing comes. Empathy does that. As Brené Brown has demonstrated, the healing of shame occurs through empathy. Jesus Christ’s identification with humanity’s shame, his at-one-ment, is a path towards healing for us. Jesus Christ embodies the empathy of God when he identifies with and validates humanity’s shame in his life and death, making a connection with humanity, and more specifically, the shame that is experienced by Me Too survivors.

But Jesus Christ’s at-one-ment with humanity goes one step farther as seen in the resurrection. The atonement of Jesus Christ is not only in his life and death but in his resurrection as well. Thus, Jesus Christ provides a way towards healing and a hope for complete healing as well as empowerment through his resurrection. God has made a connection with us through Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ, God’s connection with humanity, there is healing. Thus, in the atonement (life, death, resurrection), or in Christ’s at-one-ment with us, there is healing and a pull towards a future of complete healing as signified by the resurrection.

Christ is then the embodiment of identification, of connection, and of empathy, which leads to empowerment.

As I write, I also type #metoo. Thus, I, too, say that Jesus Christ is my own hope of complete healing in the atonement as a Pentecostal. I currently grieve the losses that I have experienced as I perceive Jesus Christ’s embodiment of an identification with my shame. This is in tension with the pull toward a future of my own complete healing, my own resurrection because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Lord Jesus, may I see how you are ministering both to the other and to me and participate in that ministry through your Spirit as together we walk in the hope that you provide for complete healing.

 

 

Webs, Spiders, Flies, and Blame

It probably was not my most shining hour. Truthfully, that sentence may be an understatement. Without boring you with the details, I had three conversations with three different people from one company and one conversation with another person from another company that had me running around in circles. It is kind of like when you are a little kid and your mother says, “Go ask your father.” When you go ask your father, he says, “Go ask your mother.” This causes you to want to yell, “Seriously, people, can’t you talk amongst yourselves?”

It is at times like these that it is so easy to assign blame.

Blame.

It is ubiquitous, and these days it seems that there is plenty of it to go around.

The culture is blamed. The president is blamed. Congress is blamed. Conservatives blame the liberals. Liberals blame the conservatives. The media is blamed. The schools are blamed. The church is blamed. Parents blame their kids. Kids blame their parents. The spouse is blamed. I blame myself.

Blaming is as old as the Garden of Eden. Adam blamed God and Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.

As I ponder the concept of blame, I am reminded of poem written by Mary Howitt in the 1800s in which the opening line says, “‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly.” For me, blame is like a web, woven by a spider to hold a fly hard and fast. This grip of the web is due to a negative or neutral energy that is drawn by the positive electoral charge that is produced by a fly as it flies. In this way, the web has power over the fly. Similarly, blame has a power in that it seems to promise us a power over: Power over our sin. Power over the other. Power over our shortcomings. Power to produce a positive change. Yet, this is a specious power for its promises are empty. Like a spider’s web, blame captures us and holds us fast, and at the risk of sounding morbid, it slowly eats us alive.

You see, if I blame the other, neither of us is motivated to change. Transformation requires mourning, and blaming usurps that while simultaneously implying a need is going unmet. Needs are universal qualities that when met, allow humanity to thrive, such as security, protection, being heard, health, peace, connection, respect, etc. When I blame, there is something for which I long (a need) that is absent. If the situation is going to be transformed with forgiveness and healing, that unmet quality is to be recognized and its loss mourned. The problem is: blame avoids mourning, as Robert Karen in The Forgiving Self describes. Through my negative charge of anger and defensiveness by blaming, a space for mourning for both of us is demolished. Instead, it sometimes results in shaming the other, and, as Brené Brown has described, shaming does not produce a positive change. Through the blaming of the other, I am covering up the loss that I have experienced and have inadvertently declared, “Mourning is off limits!” In this way, I resist embracing my own vulnerability and my own humanity by remaining mired in the grasp of blame.

If I try the tactic of blaming myself, I am not inspired towards transformation either. Instead, I remain stuck in place, powerless to move. Now, one may think that if I tend to blame myself, the transformation for which I long would occur. I mean, does it not appear that I am taking responsibility? Does it not seem that this would generate positive results? But keep in mind that blame is deceptive. Thus, ironically, a person who blames herself remains trapped in the web of blame. Take for instance a person who apologizes repeatedly for almost everything. In an extreme example, if a gigantic asteroid is hurling towards earth, the person would definitely take the blame for it. But all this does is turn his anger and his shame inward which sometimes transforms it into depression, and depression, as we know, does not nurture the transformation for which he desires. Instead, it avoids his sense of loss and his ability to mourn that loss and covers up his own shame. If someone would attempt to point this out to him, he more than likely would blame himself for blaming himself. He is essentially being eaten alive from the inside out by blame and shame.

What is this draw that we have to blame?

For one, it simplifies life and gives the appearance of control, and it does this by fostering a black and white reality, as The Forgiving Self also describes. I smile as I type this because I am reminded of a Sunday cartoon from years ago by Bill Watterson’s strip Calvin and Hobbes. Recall that the Sunday funnies are in color; however, on this particular day, each frame is in black and white until we read the last one, which is in color. In this frame Calvin’s father says, “The problem is, you see everything in terms of black and white,” and Calvin protests, “Sometimes that’s the way things are!” (smile)

This is the reality of blame. It avoids the complexity of humanity. In this world of black and white, the appearance of power over is exerted. The appearance of control in the face of uncertainty is displayed. But alas, it is a façade. We are complex human beings who live in a complex world who experience unpredictability at every turn.

But there is another attraction to blame that I see as a Christ-follower. As I turn towards the Scriptures, I do not have to read very far in the book of Genesis to see a reason for this attraction. Genesis 3 informs us how Adam and Eve eat of the tree that is forbidden by God, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What entices them? To be like God. As I consider what this means for me, I see the attraction for a desire to control. To take power and have power over my world, over others, over my circumstances, and over me, and somehow, blame seems to promise that. It can temporarily appear to relieve me of my responsibility and shift it to you, or it can also temporarily appear to take responsibility and offer power over my own sin and shortcomings. But in its wake, it destroys me. It nurtures anger. It fosters fear. It creates a prison from which I am unable to free myself or you.

And this, for me as a Christ-follower, is where I see the gospel’s power, particularly as we are in the Lenten season. Jesus comes to this earth as the human-divine one, and by so doing, he embraces the complexity of humanity and the uniqueness of each human being through his own uniqueness. Since Jesus did not come to the world to condemn it (John 3:17) but to give us life, we do not find blame in Jesus. Instead, we see that Jesus embodies a power with humanity by his being both human and divine in his very person. He also demonstrates a power over the grip of blame as he is faultless. Thus, Jesus frees us from our prison of blame. Unlike blame which keeps us in a prison, the grace of God, as embodied in Jesus, is about freedom. In Jesus we are set free to be transformed and not held fast in the sticky web of blame. Unlike blame, in Jesus there is a space to mourn as Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4). We are free in Jesus Christ to grieve our losses and find forgiveness and healing, to embrace our vulnerability and our humanity, and to embrace who we are.

I find it interesting that Jesus’ words, “So if the son sets you free, you will be really free,” are placed not long after the religious leaders had brought a woman who was caught in adultery to Jesus. Whether or not this story was written by John or later by a scribe is debated. With that being said, I want to note its place in the context and how the Spirit may use this story to speak to us about the freedom in Jesus Christ. While the religious leaders were blaming the woman (notice the man was not with her), their purpose was to use this blame to weave and catch Jesus in their own web of blame. As a side note, let me just say that blame is addictive, and it fosters more blame. If I begin blaming someone or an institution and you share a similar perspective, you can easily be drawn into my blame so that we can start a blaming party. This is how social media can be so effectively enticing. However, Jesus did not take the bait. He has power over blame as he embodies grace and truth (John 1:14). Grace defeats blame. More specifically, grace through empathy destroys blame. Jesus embodies empathy as he identifies with humanity while remaining differentiated through his divinity, and he does this without being pulled into blame’s web.

Thus, it is here in Jesus I find freedom from the tyranny of blame whether it’s when I blame others or I blame myself or others blame me. It is in Jesus I can mourn, weeping over the losses created through sin while being pulled toward a hope that I have in Jesus because of his resurrection. His resurrection bubbles forth a strong pull towards a future of a new heaven and a new earth where blame will be forever absent.

As I live in this blame-filled world, Lord Jesus help me to live out your grace both with others and with myself.

(the above picture is from pexels.com)

Space in Me, Space for You

The words stung. They were unexpected. My soul had been sliced open as if by a knife. I was shocked, hurt, and angry. I became silent as tears rolled down my cheeks. A gaping, bleeding wound had impaled not only my being but a relationship as well.

Within a few days it will be Valentine’s Day. Hearts. Chocolates. Flowers. The color red. These all dominate this holiday. While the entertainment, restaurant, floral, and chocolate industries highlight romance, Valentine’s Day points to a celebration of a diversity of relationships where there is the presence of love and care. Parents will give cards to children and children to their parents. Grandparents exchange cards with grandchildren. Friends will celebrate friends. Even grade-schoolers will set aside their differences and will trade Valentines with their classmates. And your local Hallmark store supplies cards for each kind of relationship.

Expectations run high on this particular day, no matter the type of relationship we are celebrating. As children in grade-school, we look forward to the warm sentiment and the heart-shaped candies. This anticipation seems to continue as adults. We want to feel the emotional high of love. The goose-bumps. The elation. The positive feelings. The euphoria. The sense of being cherished as well as cherishing others. The bliss.

And we should.

But, you know, expectations in relationships may also take us down another path of feelings. An additional connotation to the color red: Woundedness. Bleeding. These are the consequences of unmet expectations.

Where I expected presence, I received absence. Where I expected understanding, I received indifference. Where I expected open dialogue, I received suppressing statements. Where I expected to be heard, I received angry words. I had a longing, and it was unmet. There is a loss in the relationship. As such, the relationship is on a new trajectory, and I am grieving that loss. That is, the relationship has entered a new normal and will never return to the old normal.

Andrew Peterson captures this when he sings “I Want to Say I’m Sorry” from the album The Burning Edge of Dawn (2015):

Well, I want to say I’m sorry but I don’t know how
But I’m sorry, I’m so sorry now
I said some words to you I wish I never said
I know words can kill ’cause something’s dead . . .

Well, I want to say I’m sorry but it’s not enough
To close the wounds I opened up
So now I’ve got this sorrow and you’ve got that hurt
And we can’t go back to who we were

As the song implies, it is not only a journey of loss/grief but also one of forgiveness, if we choose to take this path. Forgiveness, as Robert Karen comments, is when I let the other into my heart once again (see The Forgiving Self; I am also following Karen’s lead in that I am speaking of forgiveness in the realm of everyday relationships, not the complex wounds of the injustices committed as in the Holocaust, Rwanda, or systemic oppression).

Navigating this journey of grief and forgiveness is tricky. Contrary to some of the messages I have heard, forgiveness is not a snap decision, like succumbing to the impulse to buy a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup at the checkout stand. As in the journey of loss/grief, it is a healing process. One of reflection. One of self-awareness. Ouch.

It means recognizing and naming the expectation and the need that went unmet. It entails embracing the limitations of humanity. However, the embrace is not simply embracing the other’s limitations but requires the acknowledgement that I, too, am finite. It involves recognizing my own fallibility with grace and acceptance without allowing the inner critic to wreak havoc with shame. If I am going to allow the other into my heart once again, it necessitates my allowing me with my own failings into my own heart. In forgiveness, I come face-to-face with my own shortcomings in that in the same way the other has let me down, I let others down. The same expectations that I imposed upon the other that remain unmet, I neglect to meet for others. What I expect I am, I expect you are. Forgiveness, then, challenges me to examine and embrace my own unmet expectations in me. That is to say, when I make space within myself, I create space for you.

As a Christ-follower, I find this evident in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. This parable follows a question by Peter, “How many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Peter believes he is being quite generous here, so one can imagine his surprise when Jesus responds, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!” which implies an unlimited number. This seems impossible, so how can this be done? I wonder if the secret lies in seeing our own fallibility.

The parable speaks of a king who wanted to settle his accounts, and he called a servant to him who owed him an exorbitant amount. Because the servant was unable to pay, the king planned to sell his servant and his family to cover the debt. However, the servant begged for the king’s mercy.

The parable says that the king had compassion on the servant. In the Greek text, the word for compassion is placed first in the sentence, indicating its importance, and it speaks of feeling deeply, in the entrails of the body, or one’s gut. It carries with it the meaning of suffering alongside so that we are moved to action.

In order for us as fallen, finite humans to feel compassion, it often involves the use of the imagination, of placing ourselves within the other’s shoes, of seeing the other as a human being like ourselves. It includes sensing similar emotions and identifying similar needs in us. In forgiveness, such compassion signifies we are allowing the other back into our heart again.

The parable, however, does not end there. After the servant was forgiven his debt by the king, he found another servant who owed him money, but considerably less than what he had been forgiven. Evidently, the forgiven servant neglected to consider his own humanity, his own finitude, and his own failings which would have enabled him to suffer alongside another servant. He had an expectation that was unmet but neglected to fully examine how he had not met another’s expectation. Thus, although this second servant begged for mercy, the forgiven servant threw him into prison to pay the debt.

When the king heard of this, he confronted the first servant, saying, “Shouldn’t you have forgiven the debt of a servant like you as I have forgiven you the debt you owed me?” As a result, the forgiven servant was thrown into prison to pay his debt to the king. Then, Jesus closes the parable with this line: “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”

God, who is infallible, has made space within God’s self for us through Jesus Christ. Jesus becomes the wounds made by humanity in the relationship while also embodying God’s forgiveness. It is how God made space for humanity within God’s self. In turn, we receive God’s forgiveness as we become aware of our own failings. When I have the courage to grieve and embrace my own wounds and forgive me for failing to meet up to my own expectations as well as others’ expectations, I am able to open up a space in me for you and your failings.

When I make space within myself, I create space for you.

Lord Jesus, grant me the courage to grow to embrace my own unmet expectations for myself so that I may grow to embrace the unmet expectations of others, thereby allowing them into my heart again in the same way you have created space for me in you.

 

Learning from the Power of Abandonment

It was a similar story. A similar event with different characters. Similar emotions with different relationships. As I listened, I was reminded that any loss (be it a dream, a person, a thing, ability, identity, etc.) does funny things to those who are around those who are grieving.

I was facilitating a grief support group when someone mentioned that a person with whom she had frequently conversed prior to her loss had cut off communication. And just like that, a close relationship became a distant relationship when grief had interrupted her life.

Loss does funny things to people.

As a facilitator, I inform the group that with a loss, we need to prepare ourselves for other losses. One way this appears is in the area of relationships when those we think will be our strongest supporters are not. This unexpected additional loss intensifies our loneliness, striking us when we are already down. Since this is loss upon loss, we respond to this loss like other losses, that is, with feelings of grief, such as shock, anger, depression, or disappointment. For many, this unexpected change of the other’s behavior is interpreted as abandonment. There was an expectation of support, but they were greeted with silence. They expected presence, but they received absence.

Abandonment. It is the lack of the presence of someone when it is most needed, which points toward our need for relationships. This, in turn, indicates our own finitude, our own limitations to handle all things by ourselves. It implies our deep longing for companionship and connection, particularly when we are hurting. When we perceive that someone has abandoned us, we are also reminded of our own vulnerability. We are vulnerable when we enter into relationships in that we are taking a risk that the other will not be there for us when we need him/her; thus, we enter into a relationship with uncertainty about the relationship’s future as we leave ourselves wide open to be hurt. Yet, here is the catch: we are created to be in relationship. We need others, and suffering bears this out.

Suffering is a time when we desire our pain to validated and normalized; therefore, we do not want to be completely alone. Regrettably, the unforeseen unmet expectation of support ends up increasing our loneliness. Where we are anticipating the listening ear of a trusted confidant, we are greeted by the silence of a dark void. This is an opportunity ripe for feelings of shame. Shame communicates that our pain does not warrant the attention of the other, and more significantly, it conveys we are not worthy of the other.

As Brené Brown has argued, shame is ubiquitous in our culture while it is at the same time unacknowledged. It screams in silence, “You are not good enough.” It seeps into the crevices and cracks of our lives like a stealth predator. When it is unrecognized and unnamed, it seems to intensify in its power. It proclaims, “You are not acceptable. You are not affirmed. Your life does not matter. You are not important.” It travels to the core, to the heart, of who we are. It focuses not on our actions or behavior but on our very being. The I. The me. The very essence of who we are.

Abandonment can indeed be very powerful.

Its power may have been implied during research that was conducted by John Bowlby during the 40s and 50s. Bowlby and his colleague discovered the power of separation from a key caregiver by observing children between the ages of 1.5 to 4 years of age who had been hospitalized or placed in nurseries for a minimum of one week. Unlike current hospitals’ policies, this research was conducted during a day and age when parents could only visit their hospitalized children for one hour a week. What Bowlby witnessed after these children returned home was the children passing through three phases, particularly in relationship to their mother: protest; despair; and detachment. These phases began with crying and screaming which was followed by hopelessness and finally a lack of happiness of being reunited with their mother. This research was so compelling that it influenced the change of hospital policy as Bowlby demonstrated the need for an attachment figure to provide security when a child is frightened and anxious.

Attachment theorists note that the lack of availability of a caregiver may appear as abandonment to a small child. The child is hurting and anticipating someone stronger and wiser, the mother, to be physically present, but she was not. Thus, for some children who experience separations like these, they may be fearful of not receiving comfort during times of anxiety and/or pain for the remainder of their lives, illustrating the power of perceived abandonment.

The fear of abandonment and the perception of abandonment are very real, particularly when we are hurting. Yet, its potency also implicitly informs us of an opposite power: the power of presence. If abandonment can emotionally transform a person, what can presence accomplish? In a hurry-up-and-fix-it society, I believe we overlook the power of presence, of simply being with someone rather than attempting to fix them.

I believe one of the more significant characteristics of presence is the strength we draw from another’s presence. This is what I appreciate about my Pentecostal church tradition: it emphasizes the presence of God. When a Pentecostal experiences the presence of God in a service, she may frequently describe the love of God and the strength that she draws from that presence. Even if her circumstances have not changed, she many times describes her perceived experience with God as being filled with peace with an additional empowerment to carry on. This experience of God’s presence by Christ-followers is also evidenced in Scripture, particularly in Philippians 4.

Verses 5–7 read:

Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

As we read this text, it is significant to remember that the Philippian congregation is suffering and in need of encouragement. In the midst of three short imperatives Paul writes the phrase, “The Lord is near.” There is some discussion as to which imperative this phrase is connected. Does it correlate with, “Let everyone see your gentleness” or the phrase, “Do not be anxious about anything”? Or both? While it may be referencing the eschatological language of the Lord’s coming again, it also may be a word of encouragement that God is present, close to the original suffering congregation; thus, the Philippians would be able to draw strength from the Lord’s presence, so as not to be not anxious and fearful (see Pentecostal Gordon Fee’s Paul’s Letter to the Philippians). Granted, the Philippians circumstances had probably not changed after Paul wrote this letter, and it may be the case they wondered where the Lord was in the midst of their difficulties. Like many of us, it is possible the Philippians were questioning if God had abandoned them since their difficulties were unchanged. Thus, Paul was attempting to encourage them to draw strength from God’s presence, which would provide them with peace (vv. 7, 9). I do not believe Paul is merely stating a platitude, but this epistle seems to imply that this, too, was Paul’s experience as the Philippians are to do what they saw in Paul (v. 9). It stands to reason, then, that for Paul, God is present, and I believe he drew strength (v. 13) from this presence for it was the Lord’s strength that enabled him to be content no matter of his circumstance, whether in want or in plenty.

I opened this blog with a discussion on abandonment, the lack of anticipated presence of someone when it is most needed. While God is present with us in our suffering, as Paul reminds the Philippians, I believe we as believers may participate in God’s ministry of presence (and maybe even validate God’s closeness) with the hurting by our being present to others. While not the focus of Philippians, I believe we see hints of how Paul drew strength from the Christ-followers of Philippi. In order to develop this thought, I refer to Fee, who asserts that this letter centers upon the friendship between Paul and the Philippian church. Paul and the Philippians seem to carry each other or walk with each other in the midst of difficulties. Rather than a “patron-client” or “patron-protégé” relationship, this is a pastor-friendship model. Granted, as Fee underscores, Paul does petition the Philippians to follow his example, but only as he is also a follower of Christ (3:4-14; also 1:12-16; 4:14). In the final verses of this epistle we specifically see the pastor-friendship model when Paul testifies how the Philippians shared with him in his trouble, expressing concern for him (vv. 10, 14). Thus, in a manner similar to God being present to the Philippians in their troubles, the Philippians participate in God’s ministry of presence by sharing concern for Paul. From this, Paul is strengthened and encouraged.

In a world and maybe even in a church tradition (pentecostalism) that emphasizes the pragmatic (a theology that works), this is an invitation to perceive the power of presence. Its formidableness is demonstrated in its absence, as seen in perceived abandonment, which persuades me that it is a power that we cannot underestimate. People experience loss and grief when presence fails to appear. How much more, then, do we draw strength from presence, as testified by Pentecostals who experience God.

Lord, today, may I draw strength from your presence, not being anxious. May I then participate in your presence by being present to others.