Why Can’t I Be Sad?

I ran across an article entitled, “Mamas, Please Quit Mourning Your Children Growing Up.” It grabbed my attention, not because I’m a mama (hopefully that’s obvious), but because I actually do mourn my kids growing up. Why does this author tell me to stop mourning? Who does she think she is? (I’m only half-kidding when I ask that.)
 
My son is in his third year of college, way down in the state of Arizona, and I still haven’t recovered from my most difficult day as a parent. That was the day, over two years ago, when I walked out of his dorm room to leave him and go back home, nearly 1,400 miles away, as the last part of the dreaded freshman year drop-off.
 
Now, I have to admit the author’s point is valid. She reminds us that we have children to raise them and prepare them for the future we want for them. I would add that even more importantly, we prepare them for the future God wants for them. With these goals in mind, when they reach the point of entering into that future, we should be happy and grateful.
 
But as a dad, why can’t I be sad? I still grieve over the loss of an incredible blessing I enjoyed for 18 years: my favorite young man in the world living under our roof, eating all of our food, making us laugh until we cried, and playing (and watching and talking) sports with me every possible moment. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the blessings I enjoyed, and lost, when my oldest child left the nest and flew away.
 
Looking back, when I watched my boy take his first steps, and showed him how to tie his shoes, and taught him to ride a bike, I never dreamed that one day he would wake up as an adult and live under a roof that was not mine. Of course, I knew that day would come, but I can’t recall ever thinking about it, much less preparing for it. So here I am, still grieving even while I celebrate the fact that he’s becoming the very adult I hoped he would be.
 
I find some comfort in Ecclesiastes chapter 3, which reminds us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” There’s a time to be born and to die, a time to weep and to laugh, and a time to mourn and to dance, among many other things. That same chapter of the Bible tells me that God has set eternity in the human heart, and that everything God does will endure forever.
 
I don’t get to see my son every day, not by a long shot. But he’s still here on this earth and he stays in touch pretty regularly. And those times when he does come home to visit on break from school? Well, those are about the best days I could ever have. And even though I’m sad to have lost something by his growing up and moving out, I know we have a life to look forward to beyond this world. My love for my son, just like God’s love for me, will endure forever.
 
Troy Burns


Following the Trailblazer

When I was young, my family would drive over to Lake Stevens to visit my Uncle Harry and Aunt Nettie. (Later, I would find out they were not my aunt and uncle, but our families were so close that the honorary titles were given to them.) Along with playing outside all day and all night, taking hikes around the lake, and just exploring the nature that surrounded us, I loved to pick blackberries from the bushes that seemed to grow everywhere on or near their property.
 
There were also plums to pick, but harvesting them was not so simple. Dad had to cut his way through branches and bushes and thickets to earn that privilege, literally carving a path from Harry and Nettie’s property to the magical place where the plum trees grew. I loved following Dad as he blazed and created a trail that previously did not exist.
 
While looking back fondly on these adventures, I’m reminded of the story about a man on an African safari deep in the jungle. The guide before him had a machete and was whacking away the tall weeds and thick underbrush (much like my father did on our quest for plums). The traveler, who was hot and exhausted by that point, asked with frustration, “Where are we? Do you know where you’re taking me? Where is the path?!” The veteran guide stopped and looked back at the man and replied, “I am the path.”
 
At Lake Stevens all those years ago, my Dad was the path. In life, we often ask our Father in Heaven, “Where are you taking me? Where is the path?” And He, like the guide in Africa, doesn’t tell us. He might give us a small clue here and there, but if He told us everything, would we really get it? Would we truly understand where we were? No, like the traveler on safari, we are unacquainted with this jungle known as life on earth. So rather than giving us an answer, Jesus gives us a much greater gift. He gives us Himself. He is our path.
 
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
 
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
 
Troy Burns


Let Go and Let God?

I like to be in control, to the point that I struggle even sitting in the passenger’s seat of a car instead of the driver’s seat. This presents great problems for me, since so much of life is way beyond my control. What’s more, those times when I believe I’m in control are often revealed to be mere illusions.
 
In an effort to improve in this area, I often think of the old cliché, “Let go and let God.” This sounds great, the whole idea of turning my troubles over to God and trusting that He will take care of them. But I’ve failed frequently to release everything without attempting to regain control. What’s worse, even when I do let go, I sometimes feel like I hand the ball off to God and He drops it. But maybe I’m handing off the wrong ball and maybe I’m asking God for the wrong thing.
 
I gained a little understanding—and some hope—when I ran across a brief article in Guideposts, written by Julia Attaway. Regarding the cliché I mentioned earlier, she wrote, “I’ve finally begun to understand that the phrase means something different. Let go [of the outcome you desire], and let God [manifest His will]. These words are convicting, and difficult to live out, but I think she’s right.
 
Letting go means I don’t know best. It means I’m not in charge. It means my greatest hopes and dreams and desires might not be from God. On the other hand, letting God means He knows best. It means He’s in charge. It means He has dreams and goals for me that may have nothing to do with my personal agenda. It takes genuine faith to do this, but as we talked about in our church service yesterday, we can take that leap of faith and obey even when we can’t see the outcome.
 
As with so many of our struggles in life, Jesus provides the greatest example of how to overcome. Just before He was arrested, leading to His trial and torture and crucifixion, He said this: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus endured the most horrific experience in history, but He trusted His Father God with the outcome. He let go [of the outcome He desired] and let God [manifest His will].
 
Troy Burns


Now I Lay Me Down to… Sleep?

I saw a meme recently that fits me to a T: “Why is it so much easier to fall asleep on the couch unintentionally than to fall asleep on the bed intentionally?” When I lie down on our couch in the evening to watch a show with my bride, I often doze off before the program ends. However, when I wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and then try to get back to sleep, I often lie awake for hours. I’d love to figure this out, because no matter how exhausted I am, I very rarely sleep well.
 
For me, the culprit is likely the “racing mind” that’s quite common in poor sleepers. In fact, respondents to the Great British Sleep Survey revealed it to be the most frequent cause of their sleeplessness. The problem with me and my fellow insomniacs is that the more our thoughts race, the more alert we become, even if we feel extremely tired.
 
It’s nearly impossible for me to turn off my thoughts, and yet sometimes I feel as though my sleeplessness demonstrates a lack of faith. That might sound strange, but if my faith is strong and I truly believe that God is in control of my life, shouldn’t I be able to shut down my mind and trust that God is in charge?
 
In addition, doesn’t God tell me the following? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). My “racing mind” boils down to anxiety, and God commands me not to be anxious about a single thing, but to bring it all to Him and experience the peace that comes with it.
 
I don’t know the “nuts and bolts” of how this actually works, but I need to trust that it does. And God reminds me of this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). If I can focus on God’s thoughts instead of my own, and remember the promises He makes to me, my racing thoughts will come to a halt and I just might be more rested the next time you see me.
 
Troy Burns


I Must Confess…

In our church service yesterday, we talked about a man whose story is shared in the book, All In. This guy had the courage to confess his addiction to pornography, which made him feel like his life was over, but in reality, it marked a new beginning. Why? As the author points out, “Confession breaks the power of canceled sin. It also heals the broken heart.”
 
Here’s how the progression normally works: I sin; I’m condemned by that sin; I feel guilt that turns into shame; that shame makes me hide my sin. The good news, however, is that I can break free by exposing my sin to the light. When I admit my failures to God, He promises to forgive me and cleanse me: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
 
I need to tell God about my sin, even though He already knows about it. I can’t hide it and expect to be freed from its grip. What I release to God also releases me from the prison of guilt and shame. And therein lies the wisdom in the statement I shared earlier: Confession breaks the power of canceled sin. The other thing confession does is heal the broken heart.
 
James 5:16a tells us, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” As difficult as it is to share my mistakes and struggles with others, confession gives me someone to trust, it keeps me from living in isolation, it fights against my tendency toward unforgiveness, it shuts down my prideful attitude, and it stops me from living in denial. Confession also heals my griefs and sorrows, gives me freedom, and provides me with the support I need. In short, it heals my broken heart.
 
I must confess that I don’t enjoy confessing! I must confess that I find it difficult to trust another human being with my deepest, darkest secrets. I must confess that I hesitate to tell God what He already knows. But I also must confess that it’s worth the risk, and worth the pain, and worth the discomfort. I must confess…
 
Troy Burns


We Are Just Observers

I did not want to write about this topic. In fact, what I really wanted was to jump on Facebook and poke fun at everyone sharing pictures and comments related to the topic. I wanted to say something like this: “THANK YOU to everyone who posted pictures of the snow and who made comments about the white stuff falling in September—in Spokane! I had NO idea it was snowing right where I live! Thank you SO MUCH!”
 
This past weekend, just five days after summer officially ended on the calendar, snow did indeed fall in our city. Apparently, snow had not fallen in Spokane in September since 1926. All irritation and joking inside, the weather (and especially our lack of control over it) reminds me of a brief interchange I had with my next-door neighbor a few years ago. We were in the middle of this heavy, never-ending winter, which meant I saw him frequently when I was out shoveling and he was snow-blowing. I mentioned that I couldn’t believe how much snow was falling, and how often it was falling. He replied with this: “We are just observers.”
 
My friend next door, who was kind and friendly but did not follow Jesus, spoke truth beyond what he realized. We read this in Jeremiah 10:12-13:
 
12 But God made the earth by his power;
          he founded the world by his wisdom
          and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
13 When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
    he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
    and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
 
God created, and certainly can control, the weather we experience. We are just observers. I might get annoyed when a forecast gets my hopes up and then lets me down. I may get frustrated when icy roads make driving dangerous. And I will even get angry when major weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes destroy lives and property.
 
Although God created nature as a “very good” thing, it is no longer inherently good. The Bible tells us that because of human sinfulness, the world did not stay “very good.” All of nature, including our weather, was affected by man’s fall to sin and God’s curse. The pain and sorrow of this present world, including severe weather and its consequences, demonstrate the imperfection in and around us.
 
But we serve a God who will make all things right, and all things new. As the apostle John wrote: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4).
 
I’m eager to observe that.
 
Troy Burns


Leave Me Alone, but Don’t Leave Me Alone

In his book, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, Chap Clark reveals the harsh reality that “today’s adolescents have largely been abandoned by adults and left to fend for themselves in an uncertain world. As a result, teens have created their own world to serve as a shield against uncaring adults.”
 
Clark’s findings are not theories; he shares what he learned from six months of participant-observer research at a California public school. Here’s the long and the short of what he discovered: adults have systemically abandoned adolescents. Several decades ago, multiple organizations were launched to help guide young people into adulthood in a smooth and healthy manner. Some wonderful programs were developed and led by schools, sports leagues, and youth ministries. By the 1990s, however, a foundational shift occurred and the programs stopped serving the teens and began instead to serve the adults, their organizations, and their expectations.
 
These are harsh, convicting truths to consider, but they are truths nonetheless. I must acknowledge my own actions that have contributed to this problem. For example, my daughter’s summer schedule (that’s right, summer, when school is out and free time should abound!) included weekly church responsibilities, music lessons, youth group meetings and functions, and multiple basketball practices and games every week. I also need to admit how easy it is at home to let my girls hang out in their rooms and do their own thing while I focus on whatever chores and tasks I have to complete.
 
I want to be honest about my problems and my shortcomings, but I also want to tackle them and come up with solutions. Life is all about relationships; the Bible is summed up, essentially, by these five words: love God and love people. I need to change and grow when it comes to loving and actively engaging in the relationships I have right inside of my own home. Here’s my promise: I will spend more quality time and have real, face-to-face conversations with my daughters, even if they think they don’t want it, because the alternative is unacceptable.
 
Young people often want us to leave them alone, but that’s not what they really want. And it’s certainly not what they need. Will you join me in cultivating and strengthening the relationships you have with your kids, grandkids, and other young people under your sphere of influence? It could seriously change the world.
 
Troy Burns


A Meaning to Our Struggles

Someone very close to me (I’ll call him Benjamin) has struggled continually with fear, anxiety, and depression. I’ve tried desperately to shine some light and help alleviate the darkness that settles in, day after day after day. I feel unsuccessful in my efforts, but I was reminded of what the Bible tells us about those times when we need comfort. I told Benjamin I know how he will get through his challenges. Here are the verses I shared with him:
 
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
 
The words, “all comfort” come from the ancient Greek word paraklesis. This word means more than soothing sympathy; it carries the idea of strengthening, and the real idea is communicated by the Latin word for comfort (fortis), which also means brave.
 
God Himself, and the people He works through (such as our close friends and family members) provide us with the comfort and strength we need to endure and overcome the difficulties of life. God does this not only for our good, but also to equip us to then offer the same comfort we have received. Spiritual comforts are not given for our use alone; they are gifts from God to shape us into instruments of service to others.
 
Benjamin is still a young teenager, but he wants to be a counselor someday. He also wants to be strong and brave as he grows through the almost overwhelming challenges he faces. I told him he will be a counselor and that his successful journey to overcome fear, anxiety, and depression will translate into the tools he needs to guide others through the very same problems and issues. In other words, in the specific way he was comforted by God and others, he will also comfort people who need the same help. I told Benjamin that’s why he was born and that’s what God’s purpose is for him. His struggles are by design; he will grow closer to His Savior and he will help others do the same.
 
Troy Burns


Will You Turn on the Light for Them?

In a previous blog, I wrote that one of the best reasons to believe in the existence (and goodness) of God is to consider what our world would look like if all people lived God’s way instead of their own way. Think about life in this world if every person obeyed God instead of himself or herself.
 
In this post, I’d like to consider what life on this planet would look like if all of us who follow Jesus were to live in such a way that we shined our lights in a dark world. What if we lived like A.W. Milne, the missionary who went to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, knowing full well that the headhunters who lived there had martyred every missionary before him. Milne ended up living among them for 35 years, and he loved them. When he died, tribe members buried him in the middle of their village and inscribed this epitaph on his tombstone:
 
When he came there was no light.
When he left there was no darkness.
 
What a world this would be if those words could be spoken about each one of us. How can we make that happen? It’s simple, and difficult: love God and love people. When Jesus was asked, which is the greatest commandment in the law, He replied with this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
 
A.W. Milne inspired the radical change of an entire culture from darkness to light by loving the people he was called to serve. We can do the same if we will live how Jesus told us (and showed us) how to live. We can change this world, and impact the eternities of countless people, if we will demonstrate a pure, selfless, unconditional love, the very type of love that God showed us by giving His one and only Son to die in our place and take on the punishment that we deserved. Is there someone you know who’s living in darkness and needs the light that you can shine by loving them? Will you turn on the light for them?
 
Troy Burns


A Real Love for the Real Me

“My purpose and my identity, does not depend on your struggle to love the real me.” My 13-year-old daughter wrote those words as part of a song entitled, Look At Me Now. She writes much better than I did at her age; she writes better than I do now, come to think of it. Her lyrics are powerful because the words and actions of others have caused her to think much less of herself than she ought. But now she’s beginning to succeed in her journey to overcome the reality summarized by the words of Thomas Cooley: “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.”
 
My baby girl’s journey causes me to ponder what real love is. When other people choose not to love us, they treat us like less than we are. Over time, we start to believe the things they say about us. We begin to form our identity around the way in which other broken human beings treat us. Thankfully, God never fails to love us. God is love.
 
If other people knew everything I did, every word I spoke, and every thought I had, they probably would not love me, and I wouldn’t blame them. Mercifully, they do not know all of those things. But God knows them, and He loves me anyway. I don’t need to understand my purpose or shape my identity based on God’s struggle to love the real me. There is no struggle for Him; it’s not even a choice. He loves me no matter what. And His unconditional love does define my purpose; it does create my identity. He has a real love for the real me.
 
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).
 
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a).
 
Troy Burns