thoughts from a loud silence

I think I must confess the reason for my recent silence.

Some of you already know that longer gaps between blog posts usually mean that my brain has grown too loud for me to fully distinguish and organize my thoughts in the way that writing requires. I take these weeks of silence to reflect and try to give the noise its space by taking long walks in the fresh air and doing a lot of informal doodling, but often it takes weeks or months of this treatment before I can fully untangle all the different threads.

They’re still pretty tangled up right now, but one of them has begun to catch my attention.

I’ve found that it’s become harder for me to write about real-life struggles when I’m not confident that I can wrap them up in a pretty bow for you.

And so I err on the side of not writing at all - even though I’d like to - because silence seems more bearable than leaving you with a lament that I can’t genuinely end with a positive spin yet. Or worse, false joy.

But then I began reading a new book this week - Inside Out by Larry Crabbe - and this paragraph convicted me:

“Yet there is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christian’s only hope for complete relief. Until then, we either groan or pretend we don’t.”

My soul aches - it always has, and it always will. It is always throbbing a little (or a lot) in the void that, if we were still in Eden, the tangible presence of God would fill.

And so does yours.

Morning.jpg

Following this thread through the deafening silence of recent weeks has reminded me that not all pain can be wrapped up in a bow. Not every heart-wrenching lament is fully processed into holy surrender overnight. Sometimes we must come to God with the untempered groaning - sometimes we must honestly lay out the anguish with Him, and with each other.

We’re not where we belong. We’re not who we were made to be. We’re being made new, but the process is excruciating.

We can pretend none of this is true and live in denial of our pain - we can try to cover it with good deeds, more consistent devotions, the praise of others, or whatever our drug of choice may be - but it’s still there. We either feel it or we spend our lives putting on an act - and then still feel it, in the dark of alone when there’s no one nearby to use as a buffer.

What if we could all be honest about this? Imagine if we could admit to each other our disillusion with life without fearing that the response would be “You must need to spend more time with Jesus.” Imagine if we lived with the expectation that this life is, and should be, disillusioning, but that this very fact is what gives us such delight in the anticipation of the life to come:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us. For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:18-23

I looked up that word, “groan,” in a Greek lexicon. It’s transliterated stenazo, and it means “to groan because of pressure of being exerted forward (like the forward pressure of childbirth).”

We are in pain, yes, but our pain is productive. It’s forward motion. It has a glorious reward, like the agony of birth.

It’s not meant to feel good yet, but it will.

on the road to glory

The approach of Christmas has been quick and quiet this year.

I have heard, from the many mourning souls who have walked the path of grief before me, that it’s quite normal for holidays to become difficult after a profound loss. And while I do immensely look forward to being at home with my family as I have been for twenty-four Christmases past, I know that when I arrive, one seat will be empty. One familiar and beloved voice will be silent.

Maybe it’s even more profound because I last saw my Grandma B on Christmas Eve a year ago; I hugged her goodbye for what I didn’t know would be the final time after we had all enjoyed our traditional family dinner and Christmas cookies and conversation. She passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly shortly after the New Year.

I know myself: I like to be prepared. I seek out others’ testimonials and experiences of grieving so that I’ll have a better chance of knowing what to expect. I even try to worry about every single possible outcome so that I won’t be caught off guard if the worst happens. In fact, one thing I’m wrestling with the most as Christmas approaches is the fear of being traumatized so very unexpectedly again, since everything about this time of year now brings the memory of that trauma to the forefront of my mind.

But I think - slowly - I’m beginning to learn that for some things, there is no adequate preparation. No one can tell me exactly how it will be. No one can predict exactly what will happen. There are no preventive exercises that can steel me against the pain of loss.

We don’t get to practice this ahead of time. There’s no test drive for our lives. There is only living.

There’s only the choice to keep walking, even when the path winds deep into the valley of the shadow and our surroundings become unrecognizable. There’s no recharting our course and there’s no turning back.

But there is a Guide, a Good Shepherd, who will gladly walk it with us.

One of my favorite passages to meditate on and still my soul when my life roils with uncertainty is Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

the road to glory through the valley of the shadow.jpg

Yahweh tends me - I have no need for anything more. He gives me such abundance and such peace that I can truly be at rest. He refreshes my being. He walks faithfully with me on the road that will bring Him glory.

Even when I find myself in danger and darkness, I need not fear harm, for He is with me. His correction, direction, and protection are my comfort. He gives me the courage to face my foes; He acknowledges and gently heals my pain; He blesses me with more than I can hold.

I know that His goodness and His covenant love will never let me go - and when this earthly journey ends, I shall dwell in the safety of His presence forever.

Consider this: shepherds were nothing special in the time of the Bible. They were poor and nomadic and spent their days and nights with animals known chiefly for their helplessness and frailty. Yet that’s what Jesus came to be for His people: A shepherd. The Good Shepherd, the One who lays down His life for the sheep.

He’s not put off by our fearfulness, our flightiness, our helplessness - He knows that these are all inherent traits of sheep. He doesn’t treat us harshly when we become afraid in the valley or punish us for hesitating to face our enemies. He knows us, all the way down to our deepest fears and greatest weaknesses. So He just gently speaks, and keeps leading us toward life.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me. . . . My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:14, 27-28

I don’t know the way forward, but He does, and though I’m only a helpless sheep walking a treacherous path, I know that He goes before me as a warrior, a rescuer, and a comforter. . . and I know we’re on the road to glory.

you are a God who sees

There's a saying: "Hurt people hurt people."

It's been on my mind lately. There is so much pain in this world and it seems to increase at an exponential rate, which makes sense - because every one of our wounds can be traced back to the hand of another wounded soul. Sometimes things hurt so much that the only accessible relief seems to be to turn and hurt somebody else, even if it's entirely unintentional. Even if we hate ourselves for doing it a moment later.

Hurt people hurt people.

Hurting fathers hurt their children. Hurting wives hurt their husbands. Hurting children hurt their families. Everywhere, pain breeds more pain, and one person's wounds can sink claws of destruction deep into the soul of a child many generations down the line, perpetuating a brokenness that has cracked us all down the middle since the fall of Adam.

It seems hopeless: I am broken, just like endless ancestors before me. And if I ever try to numb my pain, I'm doomed to break someone else in the process.

You are a God who sees: Sarai, Hagar, and how hurt people hurt people

There's a very broken woman in the pages of the Bible. Her name, at least when we meet her, is Sarai. We don't know much about how she grew up or what wounds she carried with her from childhood, but we do know that she was deeply scarred in her marriage and in her relationship with God. Her husband quite simply did not cherish her as much as he loved himself (Genesis 12:13). She was denied, too, the opportunity to love and be loved by a child (Genesis 11:30). She witnessed God's promise of a biological heir for her husband, but toward Sarai herself, God was silent (Genesis 15:4).

A deep, jagged wound left Sarai empty and aching in her area of most profound need. And she did what all hurting people do: she turned around, sucked in a shaking breath, and plunged her pain into someone else like a poisoned blade. She found half a moment of blessed relief, and in an instant another generation - no, another whole nation - was infected with destruction.


After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.

Genesis 16:3-6


Enter Hagar - another very broken woman, an Egyptian slave in Abram and Sarai's household. Hagar likely had nothing of her own in life, least of all a voice or any kind of power. She was entirely at the mercy of others, and when Sarai's pain became unbearable, Hagar received the abuse.

She was treated little better than a cow for breeding - violated to dull someone else's pain.

And she did what all hurting people do: she turned around, sucked in a shaking breath, and plunged her pain right back into her mistress like a poisoned blade.

This, to me, is one of the bleakest pictures in the Bible. Two broken people in heart-to-heart combat, each trying to destroy the other in hopes of forgetting her own desperate state for just an instant.

And I can look around at any relationship of any kind on this earth and see the very same image.

Is there any hope for healing? Any chance this sick cycle can ever be broken? Or should we just resign ourselves to hearing of another school shooting or another ugly divorce or another split church every passing day?

Well, the story doesn't end there.


Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her further,

“Behold, you are with child,
And you will bear a son;
And you shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
“He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand will be against everyone,
And everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

Genesis 16:7-14


There it is: Hope.

In the middle of this black picture, the angel of the Lord appears.

Hagar has been driven out, all the way to Shur - the middle of nowhere, wilderness of wilderness. She is desperately alone. But God says,

"Hagar." I know your name.

"Sarai's maid." I know who you are.

"Where have you come from and where are you going?"

What an incredible pair of questions for the God of the Universe to ask at that moment. He knows the answers - but does she? "Where have you come from?" It's about more than her journey from Abram and Sarai's dwelling in the land of Canaan to the back of beyond. God probes into the origin of the problem, the origin of the wound. Healing only comes when we all answer the question: Where have we come from? We have to dig out the roots of our actions, all the way down to the bedrock of brokenness they spring from. No healing can happen until we cease trying to medicate away our symptoms and reach instead for the rotting insides of the wound.

"And where are you going?" When we get down to the messy guts of our pain, God's plan is never to leave us wallowing in it. Healing only comes when we answer the question: Where are we going? Now that we've uncovered the real traumas, we have to cut out the rotting core and wash the wound clean. No healing can happen until all the lies we have believed because of our wounds are completely eradicated and cleansed with the truth.

Hagar only answers the first question: "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." It's God who answers the second. "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Go, but don't take the pain with you. Go, but don't keep stabbing others with your wounds. Go, but go in the healing of the truth.

And what is the truth?

You are a God who sees - Sarai, Hagar, and how hurt people hurt people

For Hagar, who has lived the life of a piece of property, the healing truth is that she is significant. She has a place in the world and a voice in history. God hears the cry of her heart and sees the pain she has endured.

She names her son, the father of one of the greatest nations on earth, Ishmael - "God hears." She names that spring of water where He appeared to her Beer-lahai-roi - "The well of the Living One who sees me."

That is the truth that breaks sin's sick cycle in our world. God hears. God sees. Our pain is not unnoticed by Him, and He doesn't want to leave us in it.

He's calling us by name and asking two questions: "Where have you come from and where are you going?" Because if we're going to stop being hurt people who hurt people, we need to know the answers.