"For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more." II Corinthians 7: 5-7
Seems like always around conference season, my life heats up. Stresses, challenges, issues, that threaten the peace of my life, come to distract and cause fear. I am a retreater. When troubles come, I want to run away from people.
However, after 18 years of troubles during this ministry season, I have come to deal with it better more quickly. Do difficulties and hurts still challenge my life and create pain, doubt and insecurity? Of course. But my habit has grown over the years, to come to Him, pour out my heart, release it and give it to Him, and then walk forward by faith--faith that eventually it will all turn out ok, that He is good, that I have this moment to worship Him, that I will learn and be more humble.
Storms are inevitable.
Nature sings a sad song when the storm clouds gather and threaten our safe lives.
In Seasons of a Mother's Heart, many years ago, I wrote a chapter about myself when I had been almost immobilized with a feeling of darkness. I was lying on my bed in the afternoon as the sun was going down and I had the thought that I wanted just to stay there and disappear into the darkness. I then thought, I hope no one in the house finds me. I still remember that day and a number of other times when I felt so discouraged in my life that I felt, for the moment, hopeless and defeated.
Part of the seasons of life, as we grow and mature, as we learn more deeply the battle at hand in this fallen world and it crashes into our personal lives, we find ourselves sometimes immobilized, exhausted and weary. The winters, when storms seem to loom large in our lives, God sees us still and loves us so compassionately, even when we do not know.
I remember that in Anne of Green Gables, Marilla, the woman who adopted Anne, had said to her, "To despair is to turn your back on God."
It always made me feel a little guilty, because I had felt despair many times in my life. Often, when a mom reads my chapter in Seasons about my deep darkness, she will say, "That is just how I feel!" And then, "It helped me to know that others had felt that way, too."
Yet, I think, in reality, that if we are following God's will, difficulty and discouragement will be a regular part of our lives.
I actually had to admit, that when I read the passage by Paul, in II Corinthians, about his being depressed, it made me feel better about myself--after all if Paul, the great hero of the faith, had been depressed, then maybe there was hope for me.
I discovered that it is not a sin to be discouraged or depressed, but our response to it is what determines our long term well-being.
God made me an idealist. I love the idea of life being romantic and everything turning out happily ever after. I would like to have raised my children in a g-rated world. I would have liked to have a perfect family and good support systems and a really good church fellowship to be a part of, and a Pollyanna community who reciprocated to me in friendship and fellowship and no financial stress or relationship stress or, or, or! How I wish I could wave a magic want and make all people mature, kind, loyal, loving--especially those who call themselves Christians.
But, alas, I cannot make others be mature, and we cannot control the lack of faith, the unkindness, the rejection of the world. I can only choose to practice maturity, grace, love and peace-making. And my choice becomes a gift of my faith to God.
Yet, I have also realized that if I am hammered enough, I eventually become softer. And this process has made me more pliable in God's hands.
I think that this was the hardest thing for me over the years. I just wasn't expecting life to be so hard. I didn't know mothering would be so taxing. I didn't understand that the culture was going so post modern, in exactly the opposite direction than Clay and I were leading our family. I also didn't know or understand the constant work load and wasn't trained to do it. I wasn't prepared for real life--and that was one of the most common sources of my difficulty.
It was sweet, though, to see that Paul said, "God comforts the depressed."
I have also realized that it is so important for me to understand that God doesn't get some kind of perverted pleasure in watching His sweet children suffer. He is not a cosmic being that says, "Ok, now that you have decided to commit yourself to me to raise godly children, I am going to make your life just as hard for you as I can to punish you for seeking to be so godly."
God is a loving Father, and just as we want our children to be happy and to see their lives blessed, so that is His will. After all, He made a perfectly beautiful garden as a place for His first children to live. He walked in this garden looking for their companionship and willing to give His unconditional love.
During my quiet time this week, I noticed a phrase that was in the psalms several times,
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants." Psalm 89:14
Another version says, "Lovingkindness and truth go before thee."
Lovingkindess goes wherever God goes.
He loves us and wants the best for us and He is the creator of happiness and joy. Yet, we are living in a very fallen world, in which most of the world, is in rebellion to God and His ways and as scripture says, the ruler of this world, Satan, is determined to devour us. Jesus said, "I will be with you always, even to the end of the world. He is with us, His lovingkindness is over us.
So the first thing I need to realize and acknowledge is that God is good and that He wants me to experience joy and happiness. That scares some people. They feel that there is such a distance between us and God that it is presumptuous for us to celebrate God's goodness. Yet, David rightly said, "In His presence is fullness of joy and in his right hand, pleasures evermore!" Evermore, yet! Pleasures it says! God created us to enjoy beauty, to feel happy in being loved, to accomplish great things, to sing deeply in our hearts, to laugh heartily at jokes, to enjoy eating great feasts and to enjoy warm, fluffy covers as we snuggle up on a cold winter's night.
Yet, we are in a battle ground, where the booty is human allegiance and souls.
Especially as moms, we are in a battle for our children's hearts. A battle is difficult, hard, challenging, and relentless and often deadly. So, understanding the nature of the battle is helpful.
I can see that, in spite of the many seasons of depression and struggle, God had been faithful to me. He strengthened my hands, so to speak, in the midst of my trials and has increased my capacity to work. He stretched me and gave me more ability to be patient. He used these difficult times to mold me more into the image of Christ. The end result is, that little by little, I am becoming a person I always wanted to be, but it has happened in the midst of submitting to God's will, even in the midst of difficulties.
Even a couple of weeks ago, I was momentarily caught in a "many years old relationship" in which I had been rejected, sometimes just marginalized, and was being rejected one more time-which heralded me back to many such memories of such rejection. I was amazed at how quickly the darkness descended.
Yet, I decided that I didn't need to stay in that place and rehearse all the past hurts. But, I turned my heart to God and asked Him for perspective and to show me how to be thankful for His presence, truth and reality in the midst of it. He immediately helped me to see how he had used this in my life to really show me what it really looked like to be loving.
He showed me how very grateful I had become for those in my life who really did love me and showed love and loyalty to me. He reminded me how much I was able to understand other hurting women, because of my own past hurt, and how it had become a part of my ministry message to help others find a way out. He gave me the freedom to understand that I could be happy and free, even if the unloving people in my life never changed--I was not responsible for their bad attitudes, but only to keep my own pure and free from bitterness.
I also was prompted by the Holy Spirit to redeem the day.
I am sure many in my life think that flowers, candles and cups of tea or mugs of coffee are frivolous or non-essential. But many of my years and days were so taxing, it was a sort of way for me to physically depict, "I will not give into darkness. I will beautify. I will create the life I need to go forward right now."
Sometimes it was a trip away to get out of the house to a park, or cafe, or for a hike. Other times it was a movie, an indoor tea time or whatever I needed to lift my spirits, so to speak, so that I could keep going forward.
We read that David encouraged himself in the Lord--He helped himself. And so as life-artists, we can create some beauty that will help us to move forward--to light a candle in our darkness.
What could have been a bad day for me, spent trying to figure out the unloving person who often changed our plans and rejected us, and left us in the lurch, turned into a sweet memory with my children. We watched an episode of a lovely series online. (Larkrise to Candleford), made a hot berry crisp, lit candles and had a fun afternoon.
I wouldn't have asked for these experiences, these difficulties. I do not desire conflict and I pray for an easier, beautiful life, at times.
But because He is good, He used them for my benefit as I kept putting one foot in front of the other. It helped me to understand the Romans passage that says, "God causes all things to work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose."
The depressed moments of my life are the places He built my humility and my humanity--that I deeply needed someone to help, longed for compassion and understanding, and hungered for love--that I was at the end of my rope. And He used the memories of these times, to help me to have compassion for others who also sometimes walk in darkness.
The winters of life will indeed pass, and when spring comes, our roots will be deeper and our hearts will be stretched to love more and to appreciate the fact that we are never alone, but always, He sees and will be present with us every day.