• Dana L. Butler

so I think I’m repenting (in which I tell you what I dreamed last night)

Hiya, my dear friends.

I pray tonight finds you peaceful and warm. I’ve gotta tell you a story this evening.

Last night (Saturday night) I had a dream in which someone said something kind of life-changing to me. Before I tell you what they said though, I have to tell you a little of who they were.

It was a person under whose spiritual leadership I found myself for an extended time a while back. Someone whose leadership I now look back on, and, while I do continually forgive and try to maintain a soft heart toward this person before the Lord, I know I very legitimately could not place myself in ministry with this person again. It would be completely unhealthy for me for a number of reasons.

That backstory is significant, because in the dream, this person began speaking to me, and my immediate, gut-level reaction was something along the lines of, “I don’t have to receive anything from you.” Not in as many words, but it felt something like that.

Things weren’t pretty in my soul there for a sec.

The Holy Spirit quickly grabbed my attention though, so in the dream, I turned to face this person with a more open heart as they spoke.

This is what they said, as best I can remember:

“Many of us take our pain and suffering and hold them up as trophies. In the name of promoting awareness of this or that form of difficulty (In the dream, I somehow caught this as an allusion to mental health awareness, special needs, etc.), we prize our suffering, even idolize it. The danger with this though is that our pain is getting in the way of our gratitude. Some of us don’t like to hear this, but it’s true.”

Now, if you know me at all, you know one of my life’s key messages revolves around talking about suffering. About the way God encounters His people in the midst of suffering, if we allow Him to. If we don’t “shove,” or ignore, or choose not to deal with, our pain.

I will write and preach and sing until the cows come home, to whomever will listen, about how if we’re authentic with ourselves, with Him, and with others about the reality of our suffering, if we’re not in some kind of “spiritual denial” about it (“Oh, sister, I don’t even really feel the pain of this loss, or that betrayal, because the Bible says the JOY of the LORD is my strength!”  Well, yes, it definitely is, but that in no way excuses you from the absolute necessity of processing your griefs in healthy ways. Okay. Ahem. Stepping off soapbox.)… anyway… how if we’re not in denial about it, Jesus will literally come into our processing of our suffering as we’re honest and raw before Him, and we will experience what the Bible calls “the fellowship of His suffering.”

And that stuff is transformative, y’all. More so than I have words for.

So when this person, who has “stepped on” this dear-to-my-heart-and-my-walk-with-God message more than once in the past, began seemingly “stepping on” it again in my dream, my immediate response was, “nope, not listening.”

Again though, here came the Holy Spirit’s correction to my heart: “Dana? Listen. This is important.”

And y’all, I suddenly could see it, so clearly, in my mind’s eye — again, still in the dream here. I could see the image of a person holding suffering and heartbreak up like a trophy, and they didn’t notice it, but it was almost totally blocking their view of the Father. 

The words of the person from my past echoed in my mind: “… our pain is getting in the way of our gratitude. Some of us don’t want to hear it, but it’s true.”

The dream ended.

I woke up and moved into my day, and a little later in the morning when I remembered this dream, I broke into a grin. I’m eating oatmeal and brewing tea and I’m grinning like a crazy person. How like the Lord to use a person I didn’t really wanna hear from (hello heart-check?!) to tell me something I didn’t particularly wanna hear (hello heart-check, parte dos!).

And as I’m scarfing down breakfast, still amused by God’s way with me, I sense the Holy Spirit again: “you need a chiropractic adjustment, love.” And I’m goin’, “Yup, you’re right.” (Like God needs me to tell him that.)

So, tenderly, He adjusts my heart. Because He’s kind like that. And it’s an adjustment that continues right on through our church service, complete with me weeping through chunks of communion and worship (which, thank goodness, I was not leading).

K, so let me be clear here: I am not saying I view suffering now as any less of a potential gift (not that He causes it, but that He wants to develop companionship with us in it). Theologically, Biblically, I think there’s a whole, massive case to be made for suffering being one of the greatest (if not the greatest) invitations to depth of intimacy and companionship with Jesus that we will ever experience during our short time on this planet.

And I think, in the church, way, way, WAY too often, we miss it, because we’re so busy ignoring our pain, thinking pain’s not spiritual. It breaks my heart.

However, the course-correction the Holy Spirit brought to my heart this morning was so good, so needed, and I think there’s this critical balance Jesus asks us to maintain here:

  1. Not living in some kinda weirdly spiritualized “charismatic denial” (“I say no to pain in Jesus’ name!”)

  2. faithfully, authentically, deeply acknowledging the emotional and practical realities of our individual “suffering packages” so He can meet us in those places (and so others can meet us there, too)

  3. while simultaneously living a lifestyle of gratitude, of worship, keeping our very real and important suffering and heartbreak in perspective against the backdrop of the stunning beauty of WHO. HE. IS:  Faithful. Holy. Breathtaking. Majestic. Trustworthy. Good, always. Perfect love.

Hear me: I won’t stop talking about how hard this season of my life is. It is so painful and beyond exhausting. Special needs parenting, mental health issues, loss, all of it.

I will talk about all of it borderline ad nauseam, because I don’t believe most of the church talks about this stuff enough, and I believe Jesus wants us to, for a ton of reasons.

But if I’m not careful, in embracing His invitations to find Him in the midst of heartbreak and hard times, I can allow suffering to slowly, subtly begin to slip in and block my view of Him.

And I just so pray you always find me talking about this stuff framed by God’s kindness, by the ways He makes His heart known in the midst of the insanity, and just WHO HE IS, regardless — unwaveringly good, unshakable when everything else is shaken.

Whew. Thanks for listening, and as always, for being here. I love you guys a heap. <3

Oh! Also, speaking of gratitude, check this out. It’s pretty amazing, for one week of fundraising. I am so grateful. We are beginning Maia’s evaluations this week and will be draining this account quickly in the coming days — would you join us in sharing our story with your friends, and asking Jesus for still more provision? He is faithful.

Lastly, would you consider whether you might be able to give toward our family’s therapeutic journey? Remember — even “small” contributions aren’t small. Your partnership is the hugest gift.

Thanks again, y’all. So much love.

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