1. “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer

4 01 2017

img_9655Preface — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978

(Part 1 of 13 posts)

A Preface to the Preface

A friend of mine recommended this old book, written in 1978. I found it used, online, and it arrived with an appropriately musty smell; I am pretty sure it was sitting in someone’s basement for the past 30 years. I knew in the prologue, this was going to be an important book for me and I knew in the last chapter, I was going to have to blog on it. I have underlined many pages, written notes all over it, spilled coffee and tears on its pages and even though I have finished the book, the book isn’t finished with me.

A book can be a mentor, and this is certainly one of those. I have listened to Edith for a few months now and by spending a little more time with her I think I will be able to remember more of what she said, and maybe it will serve someone else too.

Half way through reading the book I stopped and took out my journal and wrote a letter to her. She is no longer walking the earth, but I felt like I had been sitting with her for days and days and I was so grateful for the time she took to write these words for me and all the others. I was also thankful to pick up where she left off in praying for some things that matter, and people who matter, with a new picture of what those prayers mean historically. I pictured her as one of those witnesses the Bible refers to in Hebrews 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” in my own quest for perseverance in the race.

Of the people I look forward to seeing one day, she is one.

If anyone happens to read this blog and the ones to follow, I hope some new strength is passed on to you for your journey. I know I won’t be able to translate all the book said, but hopefully the bit I do write on will serve a good purpose and maybe you will find the book somewhere and read it too. At the end of the book I wished I could have given it to my 20-year-old-self  so I would have better understood affliction, suffering and hardship as it came, but mentors arrive as they arrive and I can only assume that I wouldn’t have taken it to heart in the same way I do now. I probably needed a few dings and bruises to appreciate these lessons.

As it was written in 1978, the language is from another time and the Scriptures quoted are often written in King James Version. There was something about this that worked for me; it slowed me down as I turned the phrases around so I was viewing them and thinking about them differently. I relaxed about the Thee’s and Thou’s and saw a lot of beauty in the differences between that version and the NIV or ESV I normally find myself in. So, if you do pick up the book, be patient and don’t get hung up on 1978. As Edith said, there is “true Truth” that transcends the generations and the peculiarities of our eras. In our time, the phrases we used in 2016 rotted much more quickly.

So, beginning with the Preface we dive in…

In the opening paragraphs of the Preface Edith says, “When people try to live on the basis of erroneous ideas they have picked up about what happens (or is supposed to happen) concerning affliction when one becomes a Christian, it is apt to be like riding with a flat tire, trying to carry all the weight in one bag, reading by the light of a candle, or ‘seeing through dirty glasses.'” (10) The question of suffering or affliction is one of the big stumbling blocks of our generation that keeps us an arms length from God. Because we are so prone to believe we can figure everything out so that it makes sense to us (“Science” and “Reasoning” we call it), affliction and suffering does not compute when we also say that God is loving. We form beliefs around what we believe and Edith refers to these as flat tires. If we believe what we believe without gathering enough information from the Bigger, Wider, Perspective…are our truths true? When we insist on changing places with our Creator and decide for ourselves what is what, we buy into the oldest lie: “you can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

The thing about affliction and our view of it is that as we are often in pain ourselves when we consider it. When we are in pain all our doubts and questions bubble up from the depths. When we have a plan for our lives and things unravel, where is God in that? When we hear of some atrocity, we are uncertain where to go with our indignation. When we pray, believing we can “ask anything” in the Name of Jesus, but the very thing we ask for does not come about, what then? Troubles large and small can throw us, turning our whole world upside down, anger and bitterness can take root or we can simply live in denial and settle for a weak, ineffective Faith and hold loosely onto a God we don’t entirely trust (I speak from experience).

There is an alternative and, I am learning, a victory in this if we are willing to stare at Affliction/Suffering for a while and step back to view the bigger picture of our existence to hopefully come to a place of joy — that place we cannot fathom which the Apostle Paul refers to when he says “but we rejoice in our sufferings” in Romans 5:3.

As to my role in this, don’t think for a second I have reached some “zen” place on the matter. To even pretend that I or anyone can, is to deny or displace the humanity God has given me and you. We feel. We wrestle. We live in the middle of. We cry. We question. We journey. We are not to be mystics, emptied of normal emotions in the middle of brokenness and sorrow. We are not robots who, if given the right programming, can walk stiffly through a battle. We can not look at the death of anything or anyone as if it is not our enemy.

What we can do is see better, think better, understand better and in gaining wisdom we can live with fewer “erroneous ideas.”

— Teresa Klassen

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Because It Is Good For You

27 06 2013

carrotThis morning I had a coffee and a scone. A few hours from now I will be hungry because a scone isn’t (let’s be honest) nourishing.  A scone is essentially butter, flour, water and sugar with some fruit tossed in. A scone is satisfying to the pleasure center of my brain but it isn’t rocket-fuel. It contains no protein to speak of, fiber, vitamins or minerals worth noting. If you have a scone you might as well have a marshmallow; they are about the same.

I am reflecting on scones as I sip my coffee because 1 Timothy 4:6 says that I ought to “nourish” myself and that instruction is on the forefront of my mind. To be honest, I have been rather depleted lately and I know that I am, so I have been going through the motions of getting…..un-depleted.

Lest you think this is going well, let me clarify: it has just been OK. Not fast enough for my liking. Re-fuelling has not been as simple this time ‘round. The depletion goes deeper than I estimated and what I have done before, what I have loved, what has brought me joy feels like something someone else used to do.

Still, what is good for me? Carrots. Eating a carrot is good for a person.  So, I do things that are good for me and stare out the window only to discover there has been no noticeable improvement to my vision.  No; none at all. More than a teaspoon of vitamin A is required; more “carrots” over a longer period of time I suppose.

Valleys are valleys.  This is not profound until you are in one and find they are short on exits. Valleys are places you trudge through and some are trudgy-er than others.

My meandering thought: Once there were two people traveling through the same valley towards home. They both just wanted to get beyond it, and out to their loved ones waiting for them. The distance was the same, the path the same for the two of them and so they plodded, side-by-side, day after day. The one person constantly strained to see if a passageway had opened up straight to the other side. He pressed on and on towards where it might be, aching for an end to it all. The other kept going, but she also had lunch, and then a cup of tea a little later on, a nap each day and read a little. She pressed a fern between the pages of her journal and noticed things; like once a yellow song-bird warbled. There it was on a high limb of a weathered tree; she stopped to listen.

Nourish yourself, the Bible says, on the truths of your faith and the good instruction, which you have always followed. In this valley I have asked myself again and again, “What do you know?” Feelings right now are unreliable; but I have always known God to be reliable.

He says to me,

“Remain in me and I will remain in you….”

And “Trust me with all your heart and not what you think you understand at the moment….”

He clarifies: “My ways are not your ways….” when I offer Him sure-fire solutions.

He is in the “middle of the storm”, at the “table in the presence of my enemies”, seeing things from “beginning to end”.

As to my concerns, He loved those I love “first” and better than I. He will “work all things together for good.”

He counsels me about anxiety (“Cast it all on me”) and knows exactly what is on my mind (“Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely”) and so He calls me to “rest.”

As I go along He invites me to be like that second sojourner who noticed things on the valley path: notice My handiwork. My Lord calls me to consider: the stars, the mountains, the oceans, the trees, the birds, the flowers and even the ants as they also labor along. Read and remember how other people before me have despaired, and He gave them a good night’s sleep and food and sent someone to minister to them. With little time to spare, Jesus took time to hang out with children and enjoy them; there is something about being with kids that is good.  In the middle of His own nightmare, Jesus ate a feast and drank wine with His friends. Jesus wept when He needed to, slept, prayed, fellowshipped, took time away, and continued to use His gifts and walk with and stay connected to people.

This morning I had a coffee and a scone. Steel-cut oats would have been more nourishing, but what was healthy was taking a quiet hour to sit and talk and listen and be with a good friend…..and laugh; all things good for the soul. Wise and comforting, she heard me and then, most important of all, she prayed for me.

I still can’t see the end of it and I again walked out into a rainy day (what is with all this rain?) but it was a good time and I know this is how the valley will be traveled. I can’t imagine the future, the passageway…but maybe that is part of the point and part of the way God will have me live today: today.

Incidentally, the scone was delicious.

— Teresa Klassen