"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." 2 Corinthians 7:5-7
As a "good Christian woman" I used to think that if I was truly loving God and walking with Him, I would have a positive, faith-filled attitude all the time. Guilt for disappointing God would occasionally stand pointing it's finger of accusation and I would feel disappointed in myself in an existential way.
Yet, as an older woman, I have become intimately acquainted with the seasons of life and have come to realize that disappointment in others, disgust with the world's values, despair with some of the raging darkness in the international as well as personal arena of my life, was a common experience through my years and also for many through out scripture.
In Seasons of a Mother's Heart, many years ago, I wrote a chapter about a time 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 had the thought that I wanted just to stay there and disappear into the darkness, hoping no one in the house would find 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. 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. I wondered if I was the only one who felt that way. Often, when a mom reads that chapter, she will write to me and say, "That is just how I feel!" And then, "It helped me to know that others had felt that way, too." In reality, if we are following God's will, difficulty and discouragement, even depression will be a common part of our lives.
I have 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 health stress or spiritual stress, or, or, or!
Ultimately, 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 heading in such a postmodern direction, in exactly the opposite direction that Clay and I were leading our family. I also didn't know or understand the constant work load of mothering, 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." In our world today, we understand that depression can be so severe that counseling and medical help needs to be sought. Yet, as a believer, I also have to look at all the issues of my life through a spiritual lens and see where God is in the midst of each step of my journey.
God understands my depression. I have realized how important it is for me to know that God doesn't get some kind of perverted pleasure in watching His sweet children suffer. He is not a cosmic being that says, "Okay, 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."
But, he does see us, know our struggles, weeps with us and longs to be our comfort. But I have seen over the years that my learning, slowly but surely to trust Him more, to lean in more, to understand the nature of the battle, has helped me to have more strength to fight against the darkness when it comes again. We can move to stronger places in all areas of our lives as we strain to walk all of these places with our eyes on Him and His perspective.
Even as a Father has compassion on His children, so God has compassion on us. Psalm 103
Even when Jesus experienced the excruciating pain of the cross, we read, "He endured the cross, (it was so dark an experience that he just had to endure it), despised the shame, (he hated the terrible, humiliating, condescending experience he bore for our sakes, and is seated at the right hand of God......
Even Jesus was one who wept, became angry, hated humiliation, felt disappointed and yet, he was perfect. And so, we take comfort that emotional experiences are a part of a healthy reaction to difficult things we experience in life.
Finding our hope, again, in Him, is a part of the journey that leads us gently and slowly out of despair.
Clinical depression is a place where counseling might be needed, medical attention given. But as I write shortly about this issue today, my desire is to comfort those who find themselves struggling with the darkness. You are not alone. I can look back over years and see that I have learned more tools of life, faith and truth that have given me a path forward through these places.
God is a loving Father, and just as we want our children to be happy and to see their lives blessed, so He desires for us. 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, "Lovingkindness and truth go before thee."
"Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You." Psalm 89:14
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 against God and His ways. As scripture says, the ruler of this world, Satan, is determined to devour us. Jesus said, "In this world, you have tribulation. But take courage, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
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!" (Psalm 16:11)
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, relentless, and often deadly. So, understanding the nature of the battle is helpful. I was so unprepared emotionally and mentally for the riggers of the battle.
In spite of the many seasons of depression and struggle, I can see 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 through a constant process of submitting to God's will, even in the midst of difficulties.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was momentarily caught up in the painful drama of a many-years-old relationship in which I had been rejected and was being rejected yet one more time-which brought back many other memories of this same pattern. 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. Instead, 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 painful relationship in my life to 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 truly did love me and showed 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. What could have been a bad day spent trying to figure out the unloving person who often changed our plans and rejected us, leaving us in the lurch, turned into a sweet memory with my children. Then I made a plan with my sweet girls (we were on the road) and we enjoyed a great memory-making afternoon of going to an art museum and then discovering a great new Russian restaurant that served wonderful bread, European soup and strong tea out of glasses. We had such fun!
I wouldn't have asked for these experiences, these difficulties; 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." He will turn things out to work for our good, if we remain in His will, submitted to His purpose, determined to be overcomers.
What stands out most about this idea, today? Is there truth you need to apply to your own life? Praying you understand His love, grace, and strength extended to you--even in the difficult times.