Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is this the Wilderness... is that why no one seems to identify?

I found this in my Inbox the other day and suddenly, finally, after 8 years of isolation and unbearable pain, something actually made sense....


In this rather long article, I would like to show you that periods of involuntary isolation are usually divided into 4 stages. It can be helpful to precisely identify them, so that we have hope and perspective of what we should feel and do.

1) Stripping and breaking

We are typically led into desert times by surprise, or by…
progressive shocks that get us deeper and deeper down into what
seems like “the valley of the shadow of death”. Positions,
possessions or securities are usually lost in a way that we never
expected, such that shame, anger and confusion are feelings
which are not uncommon at this early stage. There can be various
painful means that force us to enter desert times: a severe
sickness… the loss of someone or a secure job, or even

One way that makes it particularly painful and confusing is after
we did something righteous, we end up being treated unfairly. For
instance we wanted to improve things within our church, our job or
our family, and we end up being criticized, misunderstood or even
rejected. Moses, for example, tried to do something for God and
he got “rewarded” with the unfair treatment of being led into a long
desert time. The same happened to Elijah after he spoke to Ahab,
as well as Joseph when he shared his dream.

2) Struggling to find God and ourselves

The second phase determines whether we simply have a life crisis
that will eventually pass, or we have entered a desert time.
The way to find out is through the following 3 signs:

1- The first one is that after spending enough time to forcefully
change our situation, with every possible wisdom and discipline,
we eventually realize that we are “stuck”. Nothing has really
changed, and we have absolutely no perspective of when it will
ever finish. We have been put aside, isolated, most people cannot
really relate to what is happening to us, and our professional
situation is definitively not what we had chosen. Worse, we start
to have this nagging feeling that God Himself had a plan to bring
us into this dry and isolate place where no one will want to join us
(isn’t that what deserts are?). As it is written: “the Spirit led Jesus
into the desert” (Matt. 4:1).

2- The second sign of a desert is that we are being tested in how
we see ourselves. For instance, the three times that Jesus was
tempted in the desert always had to do with his identity (“if you
are truly the Son of God….”). The reason that we go through an
identity crisis is that before we entered our desert time, our whole
person was tied and shaped by an environment and responsibility;
once those have been removed, we have a hard time to know who we are.

3- The third and most evident characteristic that we have entered a
desert time is the confusing feeling that God is somehow silent.
He does not seem to hear our prayers, and worse, we cannot
really recognize His familiar voice. In the worst cases, some
Christians start to even battle with the emotions of loneliness,
depression and “spiritual cynicism” that are so very precisely
described in the third chapter of Lamentations:

“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. God
has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than
light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again,
all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has
broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with
bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like
those long dead. He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has
weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of
stone; he has made my paths crooked. Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target
for his arrows. He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I
became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song
all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with
gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in
the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what
prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had
hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is
downcast within me.”

Of course, the primary reason that we cannot HEAR God is that
we cannot SEE ourselves clearly. Since we do not know any more
who we really are, we cannot hear God in the same way as before,
such that He seems to be silent. In other words, because our
identity is being changed, so is the way in which we perceive God.
During that confusing period, many Christians are forced to ask
themselves: “What has God really created me for? Who am I now
that no one recognizes me any more for what I used to be?” In
essence, we struggle with the following question: “Who am I now
that I have no past and no future, and how much God means to
me in all this?”

3) Finding genuine intimacy and peace with God

There comes a point when eventually our mourning and bitterness
must cease. We can either keep on with the depressive feelings
of the second phase, or we can cry out to God until we find
enduring peace and real intimacy with Him. We cannot remove
ourselves from the desert, but we can choose our attitude in it.
This, in turn, determines how long we will stay in it. For instance,
most Israelites were meant to go through a short time of
wilderness after Egypt, but because they chose idolatry,
bitterness and unbelief, their desert became a long process of 40
years and most of them never entered the Promised Land. Deserts
are not meant to kill us spiritually, but to prepare us for a better
stage in life. They cannot be shortened, but our attitude can make
them longer.

This is when we must choose to seek God with a different attitude.
This is the kind of situation where we have absolutely no other
choice. Either God is nowhere, or God is now here! We
desperately need God, and a quick fix through Him will not do it.
However long it may take, we must press on through surrender,
prayer, worship, fasting or whatever “breakthrough” that works for
us, until we finally start to perceive His voice and find real peace.
Now, it is very important that if we are going to seek God, we
seek him with the right motivations. Often, even unconsciously,
we pursue Him for the following 2 wrong reasons:

1 – The first wrong motivation is to seek Him so that He gives us a
precise plan of action of what to do for Him. The reason is that
unconsciously we want to do something so at to redefine our lost
identity. In itself there is nothing wrong to build our self-esteem
through some activity, but there is a danger that we miss the
whole point of the desert. During such times God wants us to slow
down, take a lot of time in prayer and discover who we really are
as we discover who He really is. At this point in our lives, our
being matters more than all our doing. God wants to transform the
way we see ourselves through Him. He does this by revealing all
the prideful and egocentric motivations we had in our “former life”,
to show us that He does not see us through our jobs, our positions
or even through all the people we loved. In the desert, God does not
see us as “the prince of Egypt”, as “the preferred son of Jacob”,
or as “the prophet of Israel”. He sees us as we really are – sinners
who do not need to prove ourselves to Him or to others.
At the same time, we are not just sinners, but dearly beloved
children of His, who have a priceless value to Him. The more we
understand this paradox of our identity, the deeper we are being
transformed. It is precisely because in desert we have nothing to
show for ourselves that we can understand our true value before
God. It is a time when our self-esteem cannot be defined by our
accomplishments, and therefore we must find it in our intimacy with God.

2 – The second wrong motivation we have in seeking God may be
the fact that we seek more temporal and earthly answers than
God Himself. Unconsciously, we seek Him to get back the job,
the house, the mate, the ministry or the situation that we have lost.
Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking such blessings, but
there is always a danger that they become more important than
God Himself. Idolatry is never a danger with bad things, but with
good ones. We get so much blessed by God that we forget Him
and become self-centered and self-deceived. Desert times are
meant to bring us back to seek God just for Himself, beyond all
that He can give us: the Giver is more important than all His gifts.
When a human being has reached the point that God’s presence
matters more than all other blessings, pleasure and securities in
this life, then such a person is truly blessed. This is why
Christians who have endured long times of prison with God usually
come out with an authority, a peace and a love that cannot be
explained in human terms. This is why God allows even his best
people to be thrown in prisons. From time to time the reset button
of isolation-desert times needs to be pushed, so that we see life
through the Giver rather than through His gifts.

The most obvious sign that we are “successfully” going through
the third stage is the sense of peace and surrender that
characterizes us. If we can genuinely say to God: “however long
you want me to stay in that unchangeable situation, I trust you
and praise you for this, because your presence matters more than
anything else in my life”, than peace will certainly rule in our hearts.
Another sign is that we become transparent and humble. We do
not have any more to prove ourselves to anyone.

Another encouraging sign is the miraculous favor of God for our
physical needs as we learn to supernaturally depend on God. For
instance, Jesus was served by the angels and Elijah was fed by the ravens.
Directly related to this is the ability to walk in the supernatural.
Joseph became an expert at giving interpretation of dreams,
Moses had his burning bush experience and miraculous signs,
and Elijah was raising the dead and multiplying flour and oil.

4) Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and patiently exiting.

At the beginning of this final stage, God usually gives us some
signs in advance that our situation will end, in order to encourage
us. It can be a supernatural revelation, a dream or an intuition that
shows us that things will take a different turn, or it can be through
people or conditions that give us a clear confirmation of what is
already in our hearts. Usually, if we have fully surrendered and not
put false hopes in people or circumstances (as we used to do in
the early stages of our desert times), then we can recognize
God’s voice for ourselves. It is very important in this final phase
that we keep on with the same attitude of trust and peace that we
had in the third stage, by not forcing out the final outcome. Often,
when we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can be tempted
to speed up the final process, instead of having the patience to
wait on God. He has the perfect timing, and sometimes this final
stage of the whole process may take longer than we hoped.

The reason we do not have to speed up things is that desert times
usually finish with dramatic turn-around: After 14 years the slave
Joseph becomes prime minister overnight; after 40 years the long
forgotten Moses suddenly comes back and within days two
nations are completely shaken; after 3-4 years Elijah radically
revolutionizes everything in one day at Mt Carmel; after 30 years,
Jesus, who is not known before, ends up his desert and starts his
ministry with a spectacular demonstration of miraculous power.
God may keep us a long time in the waiting, but when He moves,
it is fast and with power!

The way I described each sequence may not be as “extreme” for
some of us, but they still include the following characteristics:
Summary of the 4 phases:
In the first phase, we are progressively or suddenly being removed
from our secure environment and role.
This leads us in the second phase in which we experience some
“dark night of the soul” as we struggle to find God and our real
identity through Him.
The third phase begins by a desperate seeking of God until we
finally find surrender, peace and genuine intimacy with God.
In the final stage, we receive early on encouraging signs that the
whole process of isolation will eventually finish.

SOURCE- http://www.healingallnations.org/

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reflections on Affliction

I am presenting here a portion of the Book Waiting for God by Christian philosopher Simone Weil. It is not easy to read but I think easy enough to understand.

In long periods of contemplation of the state I indwell, this piece best explains where I live and without details of cause, why.

I have no idea if there even exists the person who has the expertise to deal with my issue and if there is, if they have the willingness to do so. Until this time, no one has had keys or willingness to step into this world of affliction and set the captive free.

From WAITING FOR GOD - by Simone Weil
The Love of God and Affliction*
pages 117 and following

* translator’s note: ‘No English word exactly conveys the meaning of the French malheur. Our word unhappiness is a negative term and far too weak. Affliction is the nearest equivalent but not quite satisfactory. Malheur has in it a sense of inevitability and doom.

In the realm of suffering, affliction is something apart, specific and irreducible. It is quite a different thing from simple suffering. It takes possession of the soul and marks it thorough and through with its own particular mark, the mark of slavery. Slavery as practiced by ancient Rome is only an extreme form of affliction. The men of antiquity, who knew all about this question, used to say: “A man loses half his soul the day he becomes a slave."

Affliction is inseparable from physical suffering and yet quite distinct. With suffering, all that is not bound up with physical pain or something analogous is artificial, imaginary and can be eliminated by a suitable adjustment of the mind. Even in the case of the absence or death of someone we love, the irreducible part of the sorrow is akin to physical pain, a difficulty in breathing, a constriction of the heart, an unsatisfied need, hunger, or the almost biological disorder caused by the brutal liberation of some energy, hitherto directed by an attachment and now left without a guide. A sorrow that is not centered around an irreducible core of such a nature is mere romanticism or literature. Humiliation is also a violent condition of the whole corporal being, which longs to surge up under the outrage but is forced, by impotence or fear to hold itself in check.

On the other hand pain that is only physical is a very unimportant matter and leaves no trace in the soul. Tooth-ache is an example. An hour or two of violent pain caused by a decayed tooth is nothing once it is over.

It is another matter if the physical suffering is very prolonged or frequent, but in such a case we are dealing with something quite different from the attack of pain, it is often an affliction.

Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of physical pain. If there is complete absence of physical pain, there is no affliction for the soul, because our thoughts can turn to any object. Thought flies from affliction as promptly and irresistibly as an animal flies from death. Here below, physical pain, and that alone, has the power to chain down our thoughts; on condition that we count as physical pain certain phenomena that, though difficult to describe, are bodily and exactly equivalent to it. Fear of physical pain is a notable example.

When thought is obliged by an attack of physical pain, however slight, to recognize the presence of affliction, a state of mind is brought about, as acute as that of a condemned man who is forced to look for hours at the guillotine that is going to cut off his head. Human beings can live for twenty or fifty years in this acute state. We pass quite close to them without realizing it. What man is capable of discerning such souls unless Christ himself looks through his eyes? We only notice that they have rather a strange way of behaving and we censure this behavior.

There is not real affliction unless the event that has seized and uprooted a life attacks it, directly or indirectly, in all its parts, social, psychological and physical. The social factor is essential. There is not really affliction unless there is social degradation or the fear of it in some form or another.

There is both continuity and the separation of a definite point of entry, as with the temperature at which water boils, between affliction itself and all the sorrows that, even though they may be very violent, very deep and very lasting, are not affliction in the strict sense. There is a limit; on the far side of it we have affliction but not on the near side. This limit is not purely objective; all sorts of personal factors have to be taken into account. The same event may plunge one human being into affliction and not another.

The great enigma of human life is not suffering but affliction. It is not surprising that the innocent are killed, tortured, driven from their country, made destitute, or reduced to slavery, imprisoned in camps or cells, since there are criminals to perform such actions. It is not surprising either that disease is the cause of long sufferings, which paralyze life and make it into an image of death, since nature is at the mercy of the blind play of mechanical necessities. But it is surprising that God should have given affliction the power to seize the very souls of the innocent and to take possession them as their sovereign lord. At the very best, he who is branded by affliction will keep only half his soul.

As for those who have been struck by one of those blows that leave a being struggling on the ground like a half-crushed worm, they have no words to express what is happening to them. Among the people they meet, those who have never had contact with affliction in its true sense can have no idea of what it is, even though they may have suffered a great deal. Affliction is something specific and impossible to describe in any other terms, as sounds are to anyone who is deaf and dumb. And as for those who have themselves been mutilated by affliction, they are in no state to help anyone at all, and they are almost incapable of even wishing to do so.* Thus compassion for the afflicted is an impossibility. When it is really found we have a more astounding miracle than walking on water, healing the sick or even raising the dead. (I think this is true unless the person is walking with the Lord at least in some of their parts and the Lord gives grace to love and give when He deems that best >)

Affliction constrained Christ to implore that he might be spared, to seek consolation from man, to believe he was forsaken by the Father. It forced a just man to cry out against God, a just man as perfect as human nature can be, more so, perhaps, if Job is less a historical character than a figure of Christ. “He laughs at the affliction of the innocent!” This is not blasphemy but a genuine cry of anguish. The Book of Job is a pure marvel of truth and authenticity from beginning to end. As regards affliction, all that departs from this model is more or less stained with falsehood.

Affliction makes God appear to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell. A kind of horror submerges the whole soul. During this absence there is nothing to love. What is terrible is that if, in this darkness where there is nothing to love, the soul ceases to love, God’s absence become final. The soul has to go on loving in the emptiness, or at least to go on wanting to love, though it may only be with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then one day, God will come to show himself to this soul and to reveal the beauty of the world to it, as in the case of Job. But if the soul stops loving it falls, even in this life, into something almost equivalent to hell.

That is why those who plunge men into affliction before they are prepared to receive it kill their souls. On the other hand, in a time such as ours, where affliction is hanging over us all, help given to souls is effective only if it goes far enough to really prepare them for affliction. That is no small thing.

Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red hot iron, it stamps the soul to its very depths with the scorn, the disgust and even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement that crime logically should produce but actually does not. Evil dwells in the heart of the criminal without being felt there. It is felt in the heart of the man who is afflicted and innocent. Everything happens as though the state of soul suitable for criminals had been separated from crime and attached to affliction, and it even seems to be in proportion to the innocence of those who are afflicted.

If Job cries out that he is innocent in such despairing accents, it is because he himself is beginning not to believe in it; it is because his soul within him is taking the side of his friends. He implores God himself to bear witness, because he no longer hears the testimony of his own conscience, it is no longer anything but an abstract, lifeless memory for him.

Men have the same carnal nature as animals**. If a hen is hurt the others rush upon it, attacking it with their beaks. This phenomenon is automatic as gravitation. Our senses attach all the scorn all the revulsion, all the hatred that our reason attaches to crime, to affliction. Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent, although practically no one is conscious of it. (** I think that statement is pretty strong but since Simone had just come through WW 1 in Alsace-Lorraine one can understand where she’s coming from… but the hen analogy feels accurate. From my own experience I also believe this to be true. The more I share my pain with people, hoping for someone to recognize it and offer ministry, the more I am abandoned and left utterly alone or berated and preached at that I am not living Christ’s way because if I were, I would not be in this state.>)

This law of sensibility also holds good with regard to ourselves. In the case of someone in affliction, all the scorn, revulsion and hatred are turned inward. They penetrate to the center of the souls and from there color the whole universe with their poisoned light. Supernatural love if it has survived can prevent this second result from coming about, but not the first. The first is of the very essence of affliction; there is not affliction without it.

Christ…being made a curse for us. It was not only the body of Christ, hanging on the wood, that was accursed; it was his whole soul also. In the same way every innocent being in his affliction feels himself accursed. This even goes on being true for those who have been in affliction and have come out of it, through a change in their fortunes, if the affliction ate deeply enough into them.

Another effect of affliction is, little by little, to make the soul its accomplice, by injecting a poison of inertia into it. In anyone who has suffered affliction for a long enough time there is a complicity with regard to his own affliction. This complicity impedes all efforts he might make to improve his lot; it goes so far as to prevent him from seeking a way of deliverance, something even to the point of preventing him from wishing for deliverance. Then he is established in affliction, and people might think he is satisfied, Further, this complicity may even induce him to shun the means of deliverance. In such cases it veils itself with excuses which are often ridiculous. Even a person who has come through his affliction will still have something left in him compelling him to plunge into it again, if it has bitten deeply and forever into the substance of his soul. It is as though affliction had established itself in him like a parasite and were directing him to suit its own purposes. Sometimes this impulse triumphs over all the movements of the soul toward happiness. If the affliction has been ended as a result of some kindness it may take the form of hatred for the benefactor; such is the cause of certain apparently inexplicable acts of savage ingratitude. It is sometimes easy to deliver an unhappy man from his present distress, but it us difficult to set him free from his past affliction. Only God can do it. And even the grace of God itself cannot cure irremediably wounded nature here below. The glorified body of Christ bore the marks of the nails and spear….

God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means to love. He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of love from all possible distances. Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion. NOTHING CAN BE FURTHER FROM GOD THAN THAT WHICH HAS BEEN MADE ACCURSED….

Men struck down by affliction are at the foot of the Cross, almost at the greatest possible distance from God. It must not be thought that sin is a greater distance. Sin is not a distance, it is a turning of our gaze in the wrong direction….


Extreme affliction which means physical pain, distress of soul and social degradation, all at the same time, is a nail whose point is applied at the very center of the soul….

(From my experience, I feel that someone who has had some healing but has not had the area of damage from affliction addressed is in an even more untenable state for the affliction rules in its parts even though the healed parts know and recognize health and recognize the illness from affliction as something unconquerable.I believe that ultimately they affliction will invade those healed parts and permeate the whole person. >)

Also some ideas from George Otis Jr. in the TWILIGHT LABYRINTH- on trauma which also relate I think….

”the traumatic experience is both alien and vicious: it invades you, takes you over…It becomes a dominating feature of your interior landscape, and in the process threatens to drain you and leave you empty…. It can issue from a sustained exposure to battle as well as from a moment of numbing shock, from a continuing pattern of abuse as well as from a single searing assault, from a period of severe attenuation and erosion as well as from a sudden flash of fear. The effects are the same.” (The Twilight Labyrinth- p. 141)

In the footnote on the above he continues… “in classical medical usage, ‘trauma’ refers not to the injury inflicted but to the blow that inflicted it, not to the state of mind that ensues but to the event that provoked it. The term ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ is an accommodation to that medical convention…. It is how people react to them rather than what they are that gives events whatever traumatic quality they can be said to have.” ( p.341)