Friday, April 25, 2008

Worthy Sacrifice

One of the toughest things about grief is that it is a narcissistic experience. It consumes you with you. I find this to be a most exhausting experience. If I don’t remain conscious of others in pain, I will think, "I alone am abandoned in my suffering." In fact I am not alone—even if my grief is unique by the standards of others. Even if your experience terrifies others as they look at you as Eliphaz the Temanite must have looked a Job, you are not alone.

Grief gives you few options. The pain of it makes you think of little else but your hurt. In the midst of this pain and consuming focus there is, however, a hopeful option. We can offer our grief and suffering to the Lord as a sacrifice. Psalm 51:17 says: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (NIV).

As an act of worship, intelligent and thoughtful, we offer back to Him that which consumes us as a sacrifice of praise. This is not appeasement of deity; it is, however, a releasing of control and surrender to His utter goodness. Which you may doubt more at this moment than ever. Our reason to give it to Him is that He alone can transform it for His glory. 1Cor. 7:17 reminds us: "Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches" (NAS). We actually have a stewardship of our suffering. We are responsible to use it for a platform or a dark backdrop that reveals His glorious grace. People watch at the moments of our extreme suffering like at no other time. The world asks a collective question that seldom passes their lips but never leaves their thinking: "Is Jesus real?"

Yes He is real! He is real in my life, my joy and in my heartache. He may not be the god I want, but He is the God who is. I surrender to Him and trust, and in this He is glorified. David's words haunt me: “For I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

Ed Litton

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Adventures in Loneliness

You've got to be kidding? Loneliness an adventure? If you’re willing to consider the ridiculous, hear me out. You get the sense that God knows it’s not good for man to be alone, yet loneliness is one powerful tool He uses to grace our lives. I’m not a fan of loneliness, and I don’t sing its praises—especially its darker and more foreboding moments. However, there’s a perspective on loneliness that has helped me of late.

The missionary Jim Elliot saw a parallel between the difficult work of the gospel he faced and the search for gold in the Yukon a hundred years earlier. In his journal he recorded a poem by Robert Service called "The Law of the Yukon."

"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane,
Strong for the red-rage of battle, sane for I harry them sore.
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core...
And I wait for the men who will win me - and I will not be won in a day,
And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle and suave and mild,
But by men with the hearts of Vikings and the simple faith of a child,
Desperate, strong, and resistless, unthrottled by fear and defeat,
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat."

The Yukon gold searchers knew the gold was hidden in "them thar hills." They knew that finding it would take more than mere curiosity, it would take men of amazing wills and strong hearts. So it is with the gold hidden in loneliness. Some are lonely in a crowd, lonely in a marriage with a partner softly snoring next to them, and some are lonely even as the world seems to spin in orbit around their bright personality. Loneliness is not just a problem for the single in life, it is a part of the whole human condition. Face it, we have been fighting loneliness ever since the Fall.

How we face it is the more important issue. We can either fold in defeat under its boarish crushing or we can see it as an opportunity to do deep and difficult work, all the while trusting that God hides his most valuable gold deep in the fields of hardship. Elizabeth Elliot said that loneliness is having what you don't want or wanting what you don't have. We cry, "God if you loved me you would fix this!" No, that is precisely why He refuses to fix this. He wants us to purchase the field of our loneliness with our trusting tears, for in it hides the secret treasure of gold. Those who find it will one day see it tested by the fire of God's own holiness and will glory in its resplendent beauty. They will see their reflection in it and be glad they did not quit trusting the faithfulness of God too soon.

It’s worth the price of loneliness to purchase this field. Lean into the plow, embrace the reins, and tell your weary, doubting mind to be silent before your God in the battle of loneliness. If I know Christ as an intimate friend rather than a religious icon, how can I declare that I am ever alone? He is my ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). How can I be so faithless as to fold under the pressure of my want or pain? The pain of wanting another's arms to surround or a smile to brighten my weary life is great. The hope of another companion is too powerful and terrifying to consider beyond a passing thought. In this present I have Him. He is faithful and true, and I feel the pain of loneliness lighten when I see the adventure my God designs even in this. He never leads us to uncharted places without a grander design. We are His Yukon explorers paving a way of hope for others who will inevitably and surely follow.

I want to be for Him one of those men with a heart like a Viking and faith like a child. Desperate, strong and learning even from my defeat. I want to bring him gifts of gold to lay at his nail-pierced feet. What a Savior! What a worthy awesome Savior! Worthy of my suffering faith and helpless heart forced to bend at his feet and shout to Him, Glory and Praise!

The Adventure Continues!
Ed Litton

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


In my strange and mysterious journey of grief I’ve stumbled into something, an odd and most unwelcome emotion, hard to cope with and even more difficult to understand. I can only describe this feeling as homesickness. I’ve shared this before but it feels like I did as a boy when I was spending the night at a friend’s home and it began to get dark. I wanted to be near my home; I was anxious to be with the people I loved and who loved me.
The crazy thing is that the feeling now comes in familiar places—places I love to visit, places in which I live—which makes this emotion most perplexing, because home was always the solution to my homesickness. At these dark moments there truly seems to be no cure. That is when despair settles in for the night.
The saying goes, "Home is where the heart is." So what does that say about where my heart is? My heart is gone and I cannot get it back. Everything in my life seems odd and strange. I’m sure I face this feeling of homesickness because my heart is wounded and disoriented. It doesn’t know where true north is. It doesn’t know where home is.
Loneliness is a form of dying. We’re dying to old comforts, and even familiar places are strange without the one our hearts loved and learned to depend on. My homesickness is for a person who made my heart at ease regardless of where we were. Now, no matter where I am, that ease is missing.
I think this isn’t a sign of sickness but rather of health. It’s painful but it’s also reality, and facing reality is healthy. Loneliness is one form of dying that we all must face at some point in our lives. I’m trying hard to face my loneliness in a way that honors God and makes the most of my condition. I want badly to bemoan my condition, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference or glorify God. I can at least rejoice that God isn’t wasting my homesickness but is using it to fertilize the garden of my life. It’s in this painful emotional state that God's Spirit works for my good and His glory to mix all things together for good. This I trust.
In God's economy the seed dies and starts a new beginning of life, growth and hope. Whether it’s the making of a flower or the human soul, God does not and will not waste our sorrow, grief and loneliness. Our losses are God's way of accomplishing the gains. I’m still homesick, but not without hope. My heart has to learn to find its rest in the Lord alone, and in Him I find my hope, my peace. I wish for someone I could know in the most intimate way, but even if that never happens again, He is enough. Jesus is enough.

Ed Litton

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Yoke

The only time Jesus ever describes himself is in Matthew 11:29-30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When you are grieving, you expect to be given a stretcher. I mean, you’re hurting like someone who needs intensive care. But a yoke is what the Lord gave me. I thought it was very strange gift indeed. I mean, a yoke is an instrument of labor. Hard labor. Tiresome, hot and miserable labor under the sun. It is also a symbol of obligation and subjection. My grief is like that—a great burden.
Bearing that burden, I must go on with work, cooking, cleaning, lessons, appointments and calendars. Some dwarves whistle while they work; I grieve. That is not to suggest that every moment is painful, not at all. Being busy does beat antidepressants, and it can be a helpful way of working out your grief. I also get to work with some of the most wonderful, balanced and happy Christians in the world.
Let me tell you about this yoke though. It’s not at all what I expected. It lightens my burdens because Jesus bears the hardest parts. He allows just enough pressure to make me stronger but never lets me be crushed. The yoke he gives fits. It appears to be designed for me. Amazingly, it has no splinters or rough spots. It is easy. The Greek word for "easy" means to make useful or comfortable.
I admit I’m having a hard time loving the yoke. At times I resent it. Then again, it's not the yoke I’m supposed to love. I love Jesus. The yoke draws me to Him. When I’m in his yoke I can almost feel His heart beating. Let me tell you, his heart is greater than I ever imagined or preached. His heart is awesome! His love is overwhelming to me. From this unique "up close" vantage point, I notice something else. His scars. These were also custom made for me.
I’m amazed that I live most days utterly distant and ignorant of Him. This yoke takes me places I would not choose to visit, much less live. This yoke is His yoke. Anyone who takes it up finds that it makes him or her more like Jesus—gentle and humble of heart.

Ed Litton

Friday, April 04, 2008

God is Our Salvation

There are things that grieving people experience that others can never imagine. Secondary losses, for example, remind you of the primary loss every day. I have asthma. It's not much of a problem until allergy season comes around. I have episodes where I wake up from a deep sleep, standing beside my bed, unable to breath. Breathing has become a major addiction in my life, so you can imagine the panic I feel when I can't. Over the years I’ve learned to regulate the allergies so they don’t lead to an attack, but at times they get out of control. For a few brief moments I’m terrified. After one of those episodes going back to sleep can be even more foreboding.

During our twenty five years of marriage, Tammy had learned to calm me and lovingly coach me to my inhaler. But the night she died, as the kids and I were getting ready for bed, a terrible thought made me afraid to go to sleep. What if I had an asthma attack? Tammy wouldn’t be there to help, and the kids might be worried. So I coached them in what to do. Thankfully, for the last eight months I haven’t had a single event.

Sunday night, after an exhausting day, I went to bed. Sleep came fast, even though it’s the season when everything blooms in Mobile. At one thirty in the morning I had an attack. I turned on the bathroom light. I panicked, wheezing and gasping for breath. My sense of aloneness gripped me in a fear like I have never before experienced. I was searching for my medicine when I felt a gentle hand on my back, rubbing in the calmest and most comforting way. My twenty-one-year-old son Joshua was standing there. "Dad, it’s going to be OK" He kept repeating those comforting words.

When my pulse settled down and my breathing smoothed out, I sat on my bed and began to weep. He held me. I was overwhelmed with a darkness that I cannot describe. Then I realized that God sent Joshua to my aid. He normally sleeps upstairs, but tonight he was on call for work and came home just in time to hear me fumbling around. I am grateful once again for God's provision for my every fear. Last Sunday night reminds me that God is sovereign and nothing can separate me from His love and provision.

I am also very proud of a brave and tenderhearted son named Joshua. His name even comforted me that night. Joshua in Hebrew means “God is our salvation.” Jesus’ name derives from it. Jesus truly is my salvation.

Ed Litton