The Lion Roared

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:31, NRSV

Hours, days, weeks in the hospital blurred into one long anxiety. Pain. Fatigue. Helplessness. Abandonment. Despair. Negative emotions swam through my mind and curdled my thinking…what was left of it.  My brain had no more room.  Too many tests, too long before diagnosis, longer still until treatment. I. Was. Done.

Where was the peace that passes understanding?  Where was the intimacy I normally felt and practiced?  Where was my Advocate? Where was Immanuel, God WITH us?

I paused.

Well, where was He?  It hadn’t occurred to me to look.

Aslan. Lion of Judah, my Shield, my Defender… I waited, wondering what it would feel like to have a Lion defending me.  Would he roar? Would he attack “them”– all those people and infections and reactions hurting me?  Not a mythical lion, but the Lion of Judah, who promised to be with me always.   What would He do?

He stood at the foot of my bed and He roared.

Wait! Was that an impression from God or was I making this up?  I looked up, startled that my imagination had enough strength to function.  “Lord, is that YOU?” I asked.

He roared again–at the illness, the reactions, the complications, the doctors who frightened me, the CT scans that radiated me.  He looked at me with concern, and roared again and again and again.  “Lo, I am with you always,” surfaced in my mind.

He was holding back the things that would harm.  He was standing up for me when I couldn’t even walk. He was keeping the enemy from killing, maiming and destroying.  He was my Advocate, and he would not be thwarted.

“But Lord,” I thought, focusing on the foot-of-the-bed Lion, “what do I do with this deep alone-ness, this abandonment, this pain and despair?  You’re not taking it away, you’re not filling the hole, you’re roaring.  What do I do with this?”

And then there was a Lioness, beside the bed, licking, washing, pulling me toward her.  I imagined fur, and the strong body for me to lean against.  She purred, cleaned, rubbed.  I could almost feel her breath.  This was not a theoretical “with,” but a Jesus out to prove something.  He was roaring to protect, but He was nestling to nurture.  He would care and hold and shelter.  He would provide what the doctors and nurses and caring friends could not.

For three weeks He roared and nurtured, until I came home. For another three weeks, He purred and held me, through even more procedures and pain.  My hunger for Him grew even as He reassured me. I learned to wake up and lean into those secure arms.

Until one day, just eight weeks after the hospital post-surgery nightmare, the picture in my mind was gone.  “Lord?”  I looked around, hoping I would find the reassuring image and His reassuring breath.  But no, I didn’t need it any more.  I could still lean on Him, I could still be with Him, and I could still hear the roar.  Like the encouragement of a parent long-gone, the comfort was inside me.  I’d internalized the picture and the voice, and the trauma was over.

Where is the Lion of Judah roaring for you?  Is He nurturing, caring? Or fighting and protecting? Has He remained? Or has He vanished just as you recognized His care?

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Relational Circuits and Pharisees

irises stock photo for refresh blogThe Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

“OK, thank you,” I chirp tersely in my leave-me-alone-can’t-you-see-I’m-working voice. Five seconds later, I realize what I did…no, what I AM doing. I have no idea what my husband said, what he wanted, what he’s feeling, or even if he smiled or frowned.  Nor did I care.

That’s not the first time I preemptively stopped conversation, empathy and connection with someone I loved in the last 24 hours. Not that I’m cruel, or abusive, or even short-tempered. On the contrary, I’m cheerfully accomplishing more in one day than I usually do in a week. I’m also cold and distant, distinctly not synchronizing with anyone’s feelings ( not even my own!), and driven to accomplish my overwhelming to-do list. In short, my “relational circuits” are off.

Relational circuits? Yes: those emotional, social, and neurological pathways that keep us connected to God and others. “RCs” are the trails and corridors that let us value people, attune to them (and notice them attune with us), work with them well and function as a team. Relational circuits help us lead with sensitivity, respond with flexibility, and process pain when life triggers or traumatizes us. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that relational circuits are what enable us to perceive and cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is doing. I can’t really “do what the Father is doing” (John 5:19) if I can’t respond to the Holy Spirit, and if my RCs are off, I don’t really want to respond to anyone!

What about Jesus? Did He care about relational circuits? Certainly He never used those words, but it’s impossible to love someone well without empathy, attunement, sensitivity and care. When my relational circuits are off, I don’t care about people as people; I see them as problems to be solved or pieces to a puzzle, but certainly not as cherished sons and daughters of the Most High God.

The very people Jesus tussled with most were the Pharisees and my suspicion is that their relational circuits were definitely off almost all the time. The Pharisees were legalistic, judgmental, critical, evaluative, and consumed with external appearances. They valued rules over relationship and Jesus confronted them at every turn. That’s not a comforting thought as I bulldoze through my to-do list, shoving people, conversations and interactions off to the roadside.

How ironic. Here I sit, writing about relational circuits while my relational circuits are off. Huh. How to turn them back on?

Chuckling, I shake my head and notice the gorgeous irises my husband left on my desk before dinner. I did say thank you. At least that’s a start.

“Okay, Jesus, let’s begin again.” I breathe a quick prayer and think through the mental checklist of ways that work to reset my emotional temperature.

Appreciation. Appreciating God is probably the best route, but gratitude for anything is good, as long as I can really feel it.

Prayer.  It’s hard to be ornery if we’re really talking to God and being honest about what we feel. After all, he already knows how we feel. 

Empathy. Finding someone to be with you in your pain; someone who will understand, empathize and listen. 

Laughter. Real, genuine, kind and goodhearted humor (not the sarcastic kind) can help jump start our brains back to connection.

Singing. Singing worship or sacred music, especially in a group.  This may not work for everyone, but it certainly helps me focus on what’s good and true. Neurologically, singing together is a powerful relationship builder, both with God and others.

My RC light flickers on as I print the page. I’m smiling now, the real kind of smile, as I toss my inner Pharisee to the floor and walk upstairs to thank my husband for those lovely irises.

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