Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lift Up That Pain and Hurt to the Lord as an Offering

"We lift the cups of our lives to bring life to each other," writes Henri Nouwen.1 The "cup" refers to our individual lives, the good and the bad which mark and fill our lives, and drinking the substance of them to the dregs. "Lifting" our cups refers to sharing our lives with others, the good and the bad which mark and fill our lives, and celebrating our defeats as well as our victories.

"Raising our cups" to each other, our cups filled with joy and pain, is the act of making our lives "visible to each other."2 This can be difficult to actualize. Have you ever noticed how many believers, some of whom are our closest friends, testify to having endured a very rough period yet so few even knew about it? We think to ourselves, "I didn't know she was struggling" or "I didn't know my he cheated on his wife." We only discover that God brought a person through a tough situation after the fact. Why?

The reason is because we're not sharing our lives with each other. We're not "lifting our cups" to each other -- making our lives visible to each other. We're too afraid to confess our sins to one another (cf. James 5:16); so we become disconnected from our proper place and function in the body of Christ. We're far too worried about what others will think. I've suffered with this fear for years, and it led to very tragic and painful, life-altering consequences. I'm thankful that period of my life is over. 

Hiding our pain and struggles and temptations and failures from everyone around us is being inauthentic. I know; I was inauthentic for years. I'm not saying that my entire life was fake, a sham, that I lived as a complete hypocrite. But I was not willing to share my deep, inner struggles and failures with anyone, and thus I was not being authentic. Henri Nouwen writes:
The cup of sorrow and joy, when lifted for others to see and celebrate, becomes a cup to life. It is so easy for us to live truncated lives because of hard things that have happened in our past, which we prefer not to remember. Often the burdens of our past seem too heavy for us to carry alone. Shame and guilt make us hide part of ourselves and thus make us live half lives.3
One would imagine that Nouwen knew me personally. How I wish that I would have been willing to confide in another person who could have ministered to me during my inner struggles, temptations, and failures years ago. Had I been willing to do so, I could have avoided causing others a lot of pain, as well as avoided experiencing a lot of pain myself.

The apostle Paul states that the Holy Spirit plunges all believers into one "body," called the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13); and that God has arranged our position in the body just as He pleased, "that there may be no dissension within the body" (1 Cor. 12:24-25). We are interconnected, so that if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it (1 Cor. 12:26). Our Triune God understands the impact of community. Nouwen rightly comments, "We truly need each other to claim all of our lives and to live them to the fullest. We need each other to move beyond our guilt and shame and to become grateful, not just for our successes and accomplishments but also for our failures and shortcomings."4 God has created us with an inherent need to share our lives with each other. We are hurting both ourselves and the body of Christ by maintaining isolation and secrecy.

May we always remember that Jesus Himself spoke of "lifting up" His own life, and that when He had done so, He would draw all unto Himself (John 12:32; cf. John 3:14-15). The Greek word for "lifted up," hupsoĆ³, refers to height: raising or setting or elevating on high, exalting. (link) This "lifting up" can have reference both to Christ's crucifixion (cf. John 8:28; 12:32) and to His heavenly exaltation (cf. John 12:23; Luke 24:26) -- though the latter would only occur by His first enduring the former. Christ would not be "lifted up" (i.e. exalted, glorified) except He first be "lifted up" on the cross (crucified). Here we see Jesus' cup, a cup of sorrow and joy, lifted up for all to see. First He would drink the cup of sorrow and shame (of sin deserving the wrath of God), lifting it up in complete public view, a cup wherein the substance of which everyone could potentially share the benefits. Then He would drink the cup of joy, lifting it also for everyone to see; for every eye shall see Him (Rev. 1:7), every knee shall bow to Him (Phil. 2:10), and every mouth shall confess that He is who He said He is (Phil. 2:11), "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11).

We, too, can lift our cups to one another without fear, without shame, without condemnation -- or, at least, we should be able to do so in our local body of Christ. Our cup of joy is due in gratitude to Christ's overcoming sin, hell, and death. But we are granted permission to also lift our cup of sorrow and not to hide from it nor hide it from others. How so? Because Christ drank the substance of our sins and struggles and temptations and failures and guilt and shame. Lift that cup high! Drink in every drop! The blood of Christ Jesus purified the impurities in our cup, leaving us with eternal, life-giving wine.


1 Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2006), 76.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 79.

4 Ibid., 79-80.


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