Advent Week 2: Suffering as a Teacher

As followers of Jesus, we don’t really like to talk about suffering. We tend to like to praise God when good things happen, when we land the big deal, our kids succeed at something they worked hard for, or when God provides in some overt way. But if things like perseverance, character and hope are desirable traits, then why are we so surprised when suffering comes?

Jesus’ parents knew suffering. There is one very understated line of Jesus’ birth story in Luke that hints of the suffering of his parents, especially his mom. “…Mary, now in the later stages of her pregnancy. So it happened that it was while they were there in Bethlehem that she came to the end of her time. She gave birth to her first child, a son.” (Luke 2: 5-6) As a man, I know nothing about the suffering of being in the later stages of pregnancy. I have, however, been a witness to the suffering. Any husband who pays attention can see that there is a lot of suffering, especially in the last few weeks before the child comes. I can try to picture being Joseph, traveling 90 miles with Mary by foot or donkey through rough terrain just days before my son’s birth. But, think about the suffering of this teenage girl Mary is almost unimaginable.

Our family has experienced quite a bit of suffering the past three years as we continue to walk through this journey with Anna’s cancer. Similar to when our kids were born, I know nothing of the day-to-day suffering that Anna experiences in her body, but I am a witness to the suffering. I am also experiencing my own suffering as her husband, and as a parent who is raising our three young kids with Anna in this reality.

Paul writes, “…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint” (Rms 5:3-4) After years of suffering, our family is slowly seeing perseverance, character and hope building in us, especially our children. We also see these traits in our extended family and community of friends who love Jesus and love us. They are suffering through this cancer journey with us, and we are learning together how suffering is a teacher.

“Suffering is not so much about pain as it is about giving up and losing control.”           -Dan Bruner

Advent Week 1: What is Your Desire?

I noticed something about Jesus’ dad Joseph this morning when I dusted off Matthew’s birth of Jesus story for this season of Advent. It appears from the story that Joseph’s desire was to “put her (Mary) away secretly” (Matt 1:19). Mary was pregnant, the child clearly wasn’t his, so Joseph’s desire was to secretly end the betrothal. We are told from Matthew the reason for Joseph’s desire was because he didn’t want to disgrace Mary. Sounds like love to me. I’m guessing the other reason is that he was “a righteous man” and didn’t want to be disgraced himself. But maybe I am reading my own humanity into the story too much.
As Joseph is considering his desire, an angel comes to him in the night and offers clarity to the situation. Matthew’s comment after the angel encounter gives even more insight to the reader of this incredible story. “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLDTHE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SONAND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”(v. 22-23)
 Joseph wakes up from his dream and still has a decision to make, follow his desire or trust the angel, trust God. If he chooses to trust, the promise is Immanuel, God with us. Now for him, that is literal. I can’t imagine actually having God in the flesh with me as a little baby. Being the earthly dad of God in the flesh! That’s the offer. What’s interesting is that God is going to come in the flesh through Mary either way. Joseph can either follow his original desire or trust this crazy promise of the angel and help raise God in the flesh. If he does that he has to believe Immanuel, God is with us, that God is with him.
What if we have a similar decision to make regarding desire and trust? Ours is not as dramatic. No betrothal hanging in the balance, no angel in the night for us (most likely), but still an invitation to trust. This Advent will we trust that God is With Us no matter what is going on in our lives, we will believe the promise of Immanuel?

Anna cancer update

It’s been over two years since we begin this journey with cancer. We are weary, but the Lord is sustaining us.

Anna had a scan recently and it showed active cancer growth. Her oncologist has prescribed 12 weeks of chemotherapy, similar to the treatment that she was in last summer. She had her first treatment today, July 17th. Please continue to lift Anna and our kids up in your prayers.

We are grateful for your support and friendship!

Love,

The Petree family

Passionately Indifferent

The goal, Shawn, is to be passionately indifferent about all things except Jesus.”  

Those were the words spoken to me by a spiritual director on a silent retreat twenty-two years ago. I didn’t have a clue what he meant at the time. I’m typically overly passionate about some things and totally indifferent about others. Both extremes tend to get me into trouble. 

As I have thought about these words of wisdom over the years I honestly have had a hard time imagining being passionately indifferent about the things I care most about. I wonder if a big part of the process of becoming passionately indifferent is about giving up control. Maybe passionate is becoming more honest about our desires, and indifferent is about letting those desires go and trusting that God is at work

I believe what the spiritual director was getting at was moving toward the posture that Paul talked about in Philippians 3:8 “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

Compared to knowing Christ, everything else is in the background. That means my most cherished relationships, my work, providing for my family, and even participating with the Lord in furthering the Kingdom, are all things that are properly in the backdrop compared to knowing Jesus. Wow, that seems impossible!  I guess that’s what this journey of learning to surrender everything over to God is about. I have a long way to go, but I do desire this passionate indifference.

Peace is Available

“Jesus was all about peace. Peace is not just absence of conflict or cessation of the battles waging in and around us. It is a sense of inner calm that all is going to be alright.” (Tim Timmons)

Easter morning tends to get all the attention. It makes sense, it’s what we celebrate. The empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus. Mary Magdelene’s statement, “I have seen the Lord!” is perhaps my favorite proclamation in the Gospel story, but what happened on Easter evening has enormous impact on how we can live our day-to-day lives in light the resurrection.

19 In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples had met together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood right in the middle of them and said, “Peace be with you!”
20 Then he showed them his hands and his side, and when they saw the Lord the disciples were overjoyed.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Yes, peace be with you! Just as the Father sent me, so I am now going to send you.”
22-23 And then he breathed upon them and said, “Receive holy spirit. If you forgive any men’s sins, they are forgiven, and if you hold them unforgiven, they are unforgiven.” (John 20:19-23)

Jesus’ friends had heard about Him being raised from the dead and they were afraid. Witnesses had seen them with Jesus. What would the soldiers do to them? So they hid in a small room afraid and alone. That’s when Jesus shows up. “Jesus came and stood right in the middle of them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” What a picture! Jesus gets right in the middle of them, he meets them in the middle of their fear, chaos, the unknown and gives them an assurance of peace.

This is exactly what these close followers of Jesus needed that day. They were afraid and alone, and Jesus offered them peace. I need the same thing. I need to hear and believe Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!’” In a world where most us are experiencing anything but that inner calm that all is going to be alright, Jesus’ words are hopeful.

What I am coming to realize more and more is that doing today with Jesus is our only chance at peace. Jesus said, “Peace be with you” to his friends, and he says the same thing to you and me. He wants to take the fear out of our lives and replace it with a deep sense that everything is going to be alright.

Heartbroken and Alone

In his darkest moments Jesus felt heartbroken and alone. It’s hard to believe, at times, that we have a God that allowed for those two visceral emotions to be part of his experience here on earth? I do my best to avoid heartbrokenness and aloneness at all cost. Both are too painful to embrace.

“Then Jesus came with the disciples to a place called Gethsemane and said to them, “Sit down here while I go over there and pray.” Then he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be in terrible distress and misery. “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them, “stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he walked on a little way and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me—yet it must not be what I want, but what you want.”Then he came back to the disciples and found them fast asleep.” (Matt 26:36-40a)

I wonder specifically about the aloneness of Jesus. He had deep friendships with his twelve closest companions and was especially connected to Peter, James and John. When Jesus said, “stay here and watch with me,” he was desperately asking his closest friends to be with him. Their response was to fall asleep. If you read on Jesus asks his friends two more times to be with him in his moment of need and two more times they fall asleep.

What caused his friends to fall asleep? Maybe they saw the pain in Jesus’ eyes and just didn’t want to feel what he was feeling. Jesus was pleading for his friends to join him in his pain. I think part of what was happening in the Garden of Gethsemane is that Jesus was modeling for us how to hold pain, to not run away from it.

There was a lot going on that night for Jesus, much of it we can’t comprehend. But what we can understand, at some level, is what it feels like to be heartbroken and alone. Jesus is with us in our pain, he understands, and unlike his friends he doesn’t fall asleep. He hears our pleading and he is with us.

Freely and Lightly

How could anyone learn to live freely and lightly in our world today? Our world is in chaos, and many of the things we face in day-to-day life seem constricted and heavy. So what is Jesus getting at with his offer of “freely and lightly” in Matthew 11?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11:28-30)

It seems like the invitation of Jesus is to learn to live freely and lightly in the midst of circumstances that are heavy. Jesus understands that life on earth can be difficult because he lived it. He especially lived it in the days leading up to his death. Phrases like, “take this cup from me” and “why have you forsaken me” remind us that even Jesus desired a different road than the one he was set to walk.

I don’t believe that Jesus’ invitation of freely and lightly ignores the pain and turmoil of our lives. This posture of freely and lightly that Jesus offers comes when we realize that we are not in control. Jesus’ journey to the cross and our journey through life is about letting go, it’s about surrender, it’s about trust. As we learn to hold things more loosely we get a glimpse of what it means to live our lives freely and lightly.