Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pity Party? You Bring The Cheese, I'll Bring The Whine

 What follows was a note I wrote for Melanoma Prayer Center 9/27/11

I recently made mention about having had a pity party and that we people of faith can have them. That, apparently, struck a nerve as that was the most "liked" post I think MPC has had in its 6 month history! I'm not crazy about the term "pity party" but that's what those times and events in our lives are known as, we all host them, so lets be candid and deal with it. There seems to be a need.

People of faith, any faith, can have a tough time admitting to feeling helpless, hopeless, lonely, broken, and distressed. We don't like others to see that side of us and when we are caught in these moments, we almost universally have a need to apologize for them as if there's something sinful about these all too human feelings. We don't like admitting to ourselves that we have these feelings and can feel like we've "lost our religion" or we can think God's left us. Just like we have a hard time admitting to getting angry about melanoma and knowing fear, we just don't like thinking we have pity parties! There are just some things that people of faith are not supposed to do! Right?! Well, obviously, yes. There are some things that people of faith aren't supposed to do, but being "people" isn't on the list.

The Psalms deal with a wide range of human emotions and I always remind people that's a great place to turn when sorting through life's baggage. God isn't scared of our human emotions. He created them as part of our package, He can handle them...even the ones we can't handle. The emotions that get off track and become more than they should, those emotions that can move into dangerous territory...God knows how to capture them, redeem them, and restore them to what they need to be to reflect Him. Our anger is no match for God. Our fears are no problem either. Our self-pity is, likewise, manageable for Him. We may get embarrassed over it because people of faith aren't supposed to wallow in that sea, but hey, a really good wallow can move us closer to God. As long as we allow God to wallow with us.

While I do love the Psalms, I love a particular story about the prophet Elijah when it comes to "how to host a historic pity party."  Grab your favorite translation and read 1 Kings chapters 17-18 to gain an understanding of Elijah, his times, and all he was up against.

To set the table for his pity party: Elijah has just been part of a magnificent scene where he  goes up against 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah to prove whose God (god) is God (god). The 850 get to go first and even though this is happening in Israel, Israel's then king, Ahab and his wife Jezebel, are following Baal and Asherah...these 850 are their guys! The king and queen of Israel are rooting for 850 false prophets and are lethally against Elijah. Though Elijah goes last and seems to be acting alone (remember, God is with Elijah), in a contest of cosmic proportions, Elijah emerges victorious, the 850 are killed, God is God, and Ahab and Jezebel are not happy campers! They are so unhappy that they vow Elijah will be killed within 24 hours of their vow to kill him.

In 1 Kings 19: 3-4 we read:
 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there.  Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

Elijah's alone, he's scared, he's got a very real enemy who wants him dead and is actively seeking to kill him, he asks God to go ahead and take his life. And the party begins.

God, however, sends an angel to provide Elijah with bread and drink so he can keep going. And he goes for 40 days and 40 nights until he reaches Mount Sinai. Though this is packed with heavy symbolism, we're going to move on with the story.

1 Kings 19: 9-10
There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.   But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

Folks, does that sound a tad bit too familiar? God, I've tried to do my best with this beast called melanoma, but I'm tired, God. Nobody understands what I'm going through. I'm trying to fight but this enemy wants to kill me and I'm getting tired of the fight...just take me NOW God and let's get this over with! Or, just take this melanoma away NOW because I need a break God! I'm the only one with all these troubles, God, and there's a lot of troubles that come with melanoma and they're ALL my troubles and they're all MY troubles. Melanoma is serious God. It wants to kill me. Here I am, trying to hide from it for just a little while as I regroup and get ready to make another move against it God. But, God, I'm in this cave, all by myself, no one to talk to, no one really cares, people are deserting me God and You desert me too sometimes I think.

Maybe we put on our favorite movie. Maybe we get a cup of coffee to sulk over. Maybe we grab a box of tissues but don't actually touch them because we want the tears to fall and drench our faces and we want our noses to run. Dang it! If we're gonna party, we're gonna PARTY! Maybe we cry out to God expecting Him to be there and answer us and maybe we cry out to God hoping He leaves us alone so we can have a good wallow and maybe we cry out to God expecting Him...to what?

Do we expect Him to answer in the roar of the treatments? Do we expect Him to breathe on us and blow the cancer away? Do we expect Him to let us get right to death's door and then slam the door in death's face and we live? What do we expect? I love what happens next with Elijah.

1 Kings 19: 11-15:
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
   And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
  He replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
 Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram."

God answers. Not in the strong, mighty way Elijah expected, but in the sound of a gentle whisper. God doesn't always enter our pity parties in the way we expect either or answer our prayers with mighty demonstrations anymore than He did Elijah. Often God's answer is in the silence of the moment, in a gentle whisper and we have to be quiet to hear. We have to be still and know that He is God. We aren't and melanoma isn't.

God asks us about our pity parties, too, "What are you doing here hiding out?" And He tells us that we still have places to go, people to see, and things to accomplish for Him. Things that He has for us to do. Enemies we have to face. We cannot defeat any enemy by hiding, and even if we do eventually leave this earth because of our enemy, it will be God that carries us through His gates and melanoma will not go with us. We will defeat our enemy one way or the other, but we have to leave our cave to do it.

Oh, and, one more thing. Maybe the best part. God tells Elijah as one last big surprise:
1 Kings 19: 18:
"Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”

Elijah, you aren't alone in this! There are more standing with you than you can possibly know or imagine!

And so it is with us, friends. We are not alone either. Not only does God stand with us, but there are more than we can possibly know or imagine. Many we will never meet, but they are there. Though we throw our pity parties, we never party alone!

Lord, in Your mercy, You know how we children of Yours love a good party! You know how we can throw our pity parties and You know the feelings that are part of those parties. God, help us hear Your voice over our own. Help us hear You tell us that we aren't alone, that You are with us and that You've provided many more to stand with us. Help us hear You tell us to get up and get on with life that You have work for us to do and then give us Your strength to do it. Thank You Lord for helping us clean up after our parties and moving us back into life. Amen and Amen!