Facing the "Slag"

As I've shared here before, these last few months (and really, the last couple of years, off and on) have been some of the hardest hitting times I've ever faced. Many changes have come into our lives, unexpected ones. Things we didn't anticipate and wouldn't have chosen or signed up for. And it seems as though just about the time I get "content" with whatever situation God has put us in, He shakes things up on me, and I am once again left gasping for air.

At times, I have felt utterly forgotten. Unvindicated. Left in limbo. Uncertain. In some of the deepest despair. Even when I've shared with friends, because we have only walked this path together (Doug & I), there's really no one else that fully "gets it" except our Lord.

Anyway.

For the last month or so, I've been in a small group going through Mary Kassian's "Vertically Inclined" Bible study. Today's study started out with an example of wildfires in the forest... how the purging fires actually, over time, allow for new growth for the pine forests. Though the fire threatens to kill, it actually revitalizes the forest. It clears out dead undergrowth and makes way for fresh seeds and strong new trees to grow. And then she reminded us of 1 Peter 4:12 that tells us,
"Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you!"
And then she said this... which is the reason why I'm writing:
"In the crucible of suffering, we must hold on to God, follow Him, and deal with any 'slag' we see rising to the surface of our hearts".
I have to tell you... up until these last few months, I'd have completely been able to nod my head and move right past the weight and significance of that last part... "deal with any SLAG...". But right now, there's a whole lotta slag rising up to the surface:
  • Bitterness.
  • Frustration.
  • Impatience.
  • Pride.
  • Judgments.
  • Attitudes of entitlement.
  • Mad grabs for control.
  • Despair.
  • Asking, time and time again, "How long, O Lord?"
Normally in adult life, I have tried to take the approach that if God has something to teach me, I want to be moldable. I want to learn the lessons He wants me to learn the first time... so that I don't have to keep on going back and back again to the same. old. lessons. But these are hard ones... and there are so doggone many of them. Where to start? Honestly, I just feel broken... like the only way to deal with all these issues is just to lay myself bare before the Lord. And yet, the scales of my heart are so battle-worn. It feels so vulnerable and at-risk to face all of these things at once. And there's a rebellious heart underlying it all that just, frankly, doesn't want to deal with all of that. It feels so much easier to just go on with the status quo.

Up until this time, whenever I've faced trials, I've been pretty strong. I typically get more calm, more patient, more resilient, in the face of difficulties... my health, family health issues, huge transitions in our lives, whatever. But this series of events & changes has left me grasping for "Serenity now!" (just a joke; I don't actually believe in psychorelaxation techniques) and made me very, very aware of strong and serious deficiencies in my character. There's so much work to do, I honestly don't know where to start... so I'll just echo David's words for now:

Psalm 51- Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow...
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you...
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

So that's where I'm at. It's so sweet to be cherished by God... to know that He wants to change me... that He desires to sanctify me over time, through hard situations. That He burns up old deadwood that's gathered on the "forest floor" of my life in order to bring new vitality into this heart and allow new growth to take place. But it's not easy. It's not easy to change, but it wouldn't be easy to stay the same either. I don't want to stagnate, and I don't want to let the dross melt back into the metal that He's refining. This Christian life is not a joke or a cakewalk... it's hard. And worth it.

30 comments:

Tiffanie said...

Your outlook is right-on! Knowing that God is using these trials to grow you, mold you and purify you is often hard to grasp in the midst of trials. This post has encouraged me greatly today...thanks for sharing!

Growing Daily said...

Since I can't even begin to imagine where you are, I won't try.... I just thought I might mention something that has aided me... God had confidence in Job and so he allowed Job to struggle. God must have confidence in you as well, as strange as that must sound, what a compliment!

Catherine R. said...

The thing you said that struck me the most is the thing about how no one seems to truly "get it".

That has been a massive struggle for me. I sometimes want desperately for some person to understand exactly what I'm getting at... what my pain looks like exactly and through experience I've learned that's not realistic.

Truly, it does seem like God is the only being that will understand and I have to be okay with that. Maybe He wants it that way. I sometimes think of that song "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen" because no one does and I can't force someone to understand. It seems unfair but then again what am I basing my system of fairness on? Yep, the world.

In the old days I used to read a French author that I would now not recommend. He said in one of is books "Do not expect anyone to understand what you mean." and it just drove home the fact that people are truly divided from eachother. But I have God now even when I don't want Him.

Jaime said...

I completely agree.

Just wanted to send some (((HUGS))) your way.

Mrs Marshall said...

Jess,
Firstly may I say I adore your blog - your devotion and complete honestly is an inspiration to me and I dare say many.
How wise of you to revel in the challenges the Lord has given to you and embrace their cleansing process.
You are in my prayers,
Mrs Marshall

E03 said...

i think you've expressed some big truths really well here, it is neat that you are able to take what the Lord is teaching you in the depths of your heart...and share. I, too, see so much "slag" in my own life, and several of the same things. I find myself judging, wanting control and being so full of pride.
I can relate to "Honestly, I just feel broken... like the only way to deal with all these issues is just to lay myself bare before the Lord."

Be encouraged, and you've encouraged me

E03
www.eohthree.blogspot.com

Meagan said...

Jess, You have said so many of the things that I have been thinking about and dealing with in my own life...I just haven't been able to articulate it. Thank you so much for this post.

We have had our fair share of trials lately, and lots of questioning and wondering just what God is doing. I keep coming back to 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 where we are reminded that all power belongs to God and that no matter what happens in life He will never forsake us. Even when we just don't get it He is there and completely in control.

I definitely have some "slag" to deal with and I have not wanted to completely confront much of the yucky stuff going on in my heart. I so desperately want to be effective for my Lord and to bring Him glory. I am so thankful that I can change through the power of the Holy Spirit and become more like Jesus.

Again, thank you for sharing your heart and reminding me that even though the Christian life is difficult it is so very worth it.

~Meagan

Janel said...

I'm in a similar position right now. This past year has been a firey trial and a half... It's not over yet - by a long shot. Nope. Nobody gets it.

Last year this time I stood beside my mom as she had MRIs and brain surgery. Now I'm facing MRIs and God only knows what. It's easy to loose focus.

In this world you WILL have trouble. I know that. But did I have to have it all at once? lol

Anonymous said...

I hear your struggle. It sounds like the one God took me through 2 yrs. ago. Sometimes, as I went to sleep at night, my heart raw and frightened, I would picture myself holding on to the hem of His garment like the bleeding woman. I felt at times that His might and power were too great and I'd be crushed. But when I could picture myself humbly holding the hem, I felt the cleansing and healing that needed to take place (I had a lot of things at once, too). It was slow. Agonizingly slow, like almost a full year!! My parents didn't understand when I tried to explain. They thought I should just easily leave it in God's hands and walk away. My husband prayed over me, what a blessing! Night after night as God did some serious surgery, he prayed, bathing me with the word, a lot of Psalms!!! It was hard, VERY hard. Yes, and worth it!

I'll be praying that God will not burn away more than you can handle at a time. That with each cleansing you feel His skill and love. That it will be thorough. That you will look back at this time and see God making you a step more like Him.

Love in Christ,
Sara

Erin said...

Amen! Thank you so very much for sharing... I am also going through trials, and this post was a great encouragement to me.

erin

Amanda said...

Thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I have been going through a similar season in our life and it's encouraging to know that I'm not alone dealing with some of the "slag" in my life. Ironically, I've been trying to compose a post on Psalm 51 and have had a rough time of it. Your post was very timely and encouraging for me. Thank you again for your authenticity. I'm going to have to look up that Mary Kassian study you referenced!

darci said...

oh Jess, thanks for sharing. You're right..it is an honour to go thru the fire..knowing that it is God's desire to make us more like Jesus, because of His deep love for us. But oh, so so hard, and painful, and at times feels like you are all alone in it.
"Having our Beloved to be ours, we have all things in Him, and therefore our main treasure, yea, our soul treasure, is our Beloved. O ye saints of God, was there ever a possession like this? You have your beloveds, ye daughters of the earth, but what are your beloveds compared with ours? He is the Son of God and the Son of Man! the darling of Heaven and the delight of the earth! The lily of the valley and the rose of Sharon! Perfect in His character, powerful in His atoning death, mighty in His living plea! He is such a lover that all earthly lovers put together are not worthy to touch the hem of His garment, or loose the latchet of His shoes. He is so dear, so precious, that words cannot describe Him, nor pencil depict Him, but this we will say of Him, 'He is the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely, and He is ours.' "
charles spurgeon 1874

'In You we live, and move, and have our being.'

praying tonight, that in the pain and purifying, you know God as the true 'lover of your soul.'
God bless. darci

Emma said...

Wow, I just got back from my own small group where we were studying this psalm. It's so helpful. I'm finding that speaking the psalms (and other scriptures) to myself really helps.

Anonymous said...

What a blessing to read my daughter's blog and see your honesty and willingness to help others by what you are going through. Psalm 51 is such a wonderful passage-renewing a right spirit, restoring to me the joy, declaring His praise. You are so right in all that you have said. I'll be praying for you as you go through these trials and difficulties.

Cat said...

While our life circumstances are probably quite different right now, this "facing the slag" is also where I'm at right now, though I had not thought of it in exactly those terms. It's scary, and I'm constantly wondering when and how it will end. I know how -I- hope and think it should, but don't see a clear path to getting there and am constantly fighting to self-discipline as needed, faling miserably quite often.

Anyway, no revelations here, just another "I get it".

Lady-in-the-Making said...

I had to comment on this post.

I'm RIGHT THERE with you, Jess. I could have easily posted this myself if I was as gifted a writer as you.

It seems to be 'everything' at once and I'm afraid I am not being as gracious as you are about it.

Thanks for the encouragement. You are an inspiration.

Mom Of E's said...

This is just a thought about nobody else understanding what each person goes through when they face trials......

Maybe God makes it that way on purpose. Maybe He does that so instead of turning to each other for commiseration, we turn to Him. We turn to Him for the guidance and love and support we need. This is certainly not a lesson I have learned yet. When I face a trial, I turn to my husband, my mother, my friends, and nobody else DOES truly get it. But, in the end I always need to seek God and his word.

I, too, feel broken. I'm just not near as aware of my "slag" as you are. Thank you for your honesty, as it has helped me to examine my own behaviors and motives.

Anne

Kelly said...

I don't know what you're going through Jess, but I pray God will continue to be with you.
It's the hardest part of being a Christian to realize and deal with hard situations.
For me it's recovering from my emotinally abusive past, there has been so much "slag" coming to the surface. It's hard to deal with one thing only to find another thing to work on. Only now after almost seven months of therapy do I feel I'm getting ahead of it, or at least I hope I am. LOL
God has brought me through it though. I really feel he led me to a great therapist and of course He has blessed me with a wonderfully supportive hubby, and daughter.
I just try to focus on the day to day stuff, most days.

Nikki said...

Thank you very much for this post! I've been reading your blog for a while and have been greatly encouraged. Today was one of those "have you been reading my mail?" posts. Thank you for sharing such a personal and encouraging thing. God bless you, your family and your struggles!

Jess said...

Tiffanie, GrowingDaily, Jaime, Mrs. Marshall, EO3, Erin, Amanda, Darci, Cat, Lady, Anne and others:

Thanks for the kind encouragement... even since writing this last night, I've been unsteady. I am definitely learning that, however strong I've been in the past, I'm not strong enough to face life without submission to the Father in each day.


Catherine,
It's tough feeling misunderstood. For sure. I hear you.


Meagan,
It's interesting; the next page of Kassian's study had an interesting sentence-- basically, that: "everyone suffers, but not everyone allows themselves to be refined and changed through the suffering." I definitely don't want to be one that goes through the suffering but misses out on the growth... and I hear that same "heart" in your words. Thanks for sharing.


Janel,
I know! At least we have a biblical example (Job) of a response to the whole "when it rains, it pours" thing, huh?


Sara,
Thanks for the "picture" of holding the hem. I needed to read that.

And thanks for this:
I'll be praying that God will not burn away more than you can handle at a time. That with each cleansing you feel His skill and love. That it will be thorough. That you will look back at this time and see God making you a step more like Him. Precisely what I need! Thanks so much!


Thanks, everyone. I've definitely not arrived... and I don't ever want to come across in this blog like everything's "all together"... there are things we all do well, and strengths we all have, and I want to share those and share life in a way that can help others, but I also want to be authentic. We all face struggles... but, thankfully, we have a high priest who can identify with our struggles.

In this difficult time, I am so thankful for the sweet nearness of God... the way He gets all up in our business and asks us to, once again, step out in faith on another leg of the adventure He sets before us.

~Jess

Laura said...

I've got a whole lot of slag in my life right now too. It just won't go away. My favourite verses are Psalm 147:3-5 - "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite." There IS SomeOne who gets it and that's all that really matters.

Jen said...

Amen Sister to "This Christian life is not a joke or a cakewalk..." Often when times are easy or a cakewalk, honestly, I'm following my own ways, or "status quo", but when I start breaking and surrendering, and REALLY seeking God, it gets tough, at least for me.

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I cannot find a link now, but a famous rabbi from centuries ago was once asked why people who normally feel God's presence strongly occasionally feel that God is distant.

The rabbi suggested that just as babies need less help from parents as they learn to walk, baby steps at first, then more confidently and from a greater distance, perhaps when we feel God is not near, He wants us to take those baby steps towards Him.

The other meditation that comes to mind is this one:

"The disciples of Rabbi Pinchas were talking with animation when their master entered the House of Study. Upon his arrival, they fell silent. He asked them: What were you talking about? They replied: We were discussing our fear that the evil inclination will pursue us. He replied: You need not worry. You have not yet reached so high a plane. For the time being, you are still pursuing it."

Whatever trials life is throwing your way, give yourself credit for one thing. You can honestly say that you have reached the level of no longer pursuing sin (evil inclination). Most people never get there.

Laurie B

Jess said...

"Whatever trials life is throwing your way, give yourself credit for one thing. You can honestly say that you have reached the level of no longer pursuing sin (evil inclination)."


Oh, I wish it were so, Laurie. My human heart is indeed inclined towards evil. I don't want sin... and yet I do. I've often wondered how in the world the Apostle Paul could, even after following wholeheartedly after God, write the following:

I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.



More and more, each year, I understand Paul's words.
~Jess

Nichola said...

Hugs, Jess!
I just want to share something that I learned that blessed my heart so much when I was going through the hardest trial of my life. (http://www.filesfamilyfarm.com/family_pages.htm
I too saw that God was using the trial to burn up dross, or slag in my life. But something that comforted me during the process was, only the dross has something to fear in the fire. In the analogy of gold being refined, the gold has nothing to fear. The goal of the refiner is to get rid of the dross and to make the gold more fit for service.
Blessings to you! Keep holding on to Him! He will be faithful to complete the work He has begun in you!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jess,

In my own corner of the world, I'm experiencing pretty much what you are. The last year has been so terribly difficult... more than any other time in my life.

I'm reading a book by John Piper, called "Spectacular Sins And Their Global Purpose
in the Glory of Christ", (http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_bss/bss.pdf) and while doing it I suddenly thought of you. It might be helpful for you - it's about giving us a right perspective on evil and suffering at a time when there is tremendous suffering in the world, and much more there will come.

Also, recently I've listened to a series of messages by John Piper called 'Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer'. Here is the link to the first of them:

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByConference/35/2370_Treasuring_Christ_and_the_Call_to_Suffer_Part_1/

It's not like I'm obsessed with Piper :-), but God has really used him a lot in my life lately.

Blessings,
Mrs. P

Tanya said...

I'll continue to pray for you, Jess.

Dealing with that darn slag. I hear ya. Then, just when I think I've dealt with most of the slag, God challenges me to be THANKFUL for the fiery trials. Woooh.

Carletta said...

OT, but you look great in that picture, Jess. Very pretty!

Joyfully Home said...

Jess,

"More and more, each year, I understand Paul's words."

Yup!

Just wanted you to know that you and your precious family are in my prayers.

Also, may I say that reading your mother's comment on this post and from a few others has really blessed me. Not just her heart that comes through her words, but the fact that you are so open on this blog and your mother is a reader. I have found myself holding back (blogging) for so long b/c I just didn't want to open up so vulnerably to certain real life friends and family members, my mother especially. We have a pretty good relationship, but we don't see eye to eye on a lot of spiritual things. Anyway, it has just got me thinking...thank you to you and your mom for that.

Bless you,
Amy

Anonymous said...

Hi! Jess,
I think you have posted on my sons blog (Crusin' through...30's) and he has your blog listed on his as a favorite. I had found your blog a while back and really enjoyed reading your entries and all the comments they usually generated. As a mother of grown children I do love seeing so many young people seeking God and exhorting and encouraging others in their walk.
One thing I have found so helpful when it comes to dealing with my sin ... we do not ever 'lose' our flesh ...it will always be with us... but as God guides and refines our lives we become more given to His ways. I have learned to be thankful for the trials He sends because it is evidence to me of His promises to me... to bring me to completion. "Do not grow weary of doing good" ... now that should be all the evidence we need of our complete dependence, each moment, of God's guidance and strength that is often beyond amazing! God bless all of you ladies that come and read ...keep pressing on we serve a Risen King!
In Christ, Mrs. M