A light in the darkness

"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." This quote is the way Joy began her history report about Eleanor Roosevelt. Seems Mrs. Roosevelt had much in life to get down about. Her parents expected a boy, she was a disappointment from the very beginning. Her mother told her she was homely, and she died when Eleanor was just eight. Her father was an alcoholic and died when she was 9. She married FDR and he was disloyal to her and had an affair off and on throughout her marriage. There were other issues, too, but this amazing women decided that it was up to her to take hold of life and conquer all of her sadnesses. She left a legacy as one of the most hard-working presidential wives and began and developed many wonderful community service and organizations that helped many unfortunate people. She was beloved by many.

Her life has been captivating to Joy. She has talked and talked about her over the past days. "I really want to be like her, Mom. She could have been a victim, but she chose to rise above her circumstances and do great things."

I have to agree with Joy. This whole issue of depression and discouragement is rampant in our culture today. Many people are sad and overwhelmed about finances, divorce, immorality, broken relationships, loneliness, illness, contention, and so many other things. We have had quite a bit of disappointment in our lives, but some of it I may never be able to write about out of loyalty. Yet, in the midst of a mission trip a few years ago, after having been in 4 countries, working with so many wonderful leaders and missionaries, I was struck with how many were depressed and disappointed with life. I realized that it would be very easy for most of us to be disillusioned in a fallen world. The issues each person was struggling with were so similar to the ones I so often heard about at home: difficulty in marriage; less than perfect children and the baggage that goes with rebellious children; finances, loneliness and all the things I mentioned above. As I sat pondering this on a park bench, I realized that my own life was filled similarly with disappointments, but that I did not want to be sad all my life!

As I have studied scripture, it is very clear that there is a way to find joy in life and move from the darkness of depression to the light of Christ. He Himself said, "I am the way, the truth and the light." He is the way--not just to God and to redemption, but also He points the way to live on this path of life. He is also with me on the way. His life showed me secrets to follow to maintain my own joy and to move toward contentment.

1. Don't let the nay-sayers get you down. There are plenty of people around who are immature and are readily available to criticize, say hurtful things, reject us and argue with us or let us down. I call these people nay-sayers or Job's friends. The nay sayers want to disagree with you, your ideals, your spirituality, your personality and so on. Job's friends are those who smugly sit by feeling free to say hurtful things or offer critical opinions in their Pharisee robes. Though it is certainly ok to be saddened by people who hurt us, we don't have to take on their criticism or hurt. I have some irrational people in my life who will be there forever! But even if they become angry or hurtful, I don't have to let their words or behavior enter into my life or allow it to determine how I feel about myself. But I can trust in the one who will always love me to build me up, to affirm me and to comfort me. Jesus did this."While  being reviled, he did not revile in return but kept trusting Himself to God who judges righteously."

The other thing is, don't live by guilt--so you blow it once in a while or sometimes often, accept God's forgiveness and move on--wallowing in self-condemnation only leads to more depression. You are forgiven--live in His forgiveness and don't rehearse your problems over and over again in your mind. Take your thoughts captive and put them in jail, never to bother you again. 

He just trusted God. He put the situation in God's hands (I picture it as God's files) and then closed the drawer for God to deal with in His time. I have a choice about whether I will be bitter and mean spirited back to those who hurt me or to be a peace maker and just to practice "love is patient, love is kind," and so on. If it is true that what we sow we will reap, then if we practice love and peace-making and sow seeds of kindness and grace, we will certainly become more kind and gracious and our souls will be filled with satisfaction.

Does this mean that the mean people will go away? No, there will be sad times ahead, but I don't have to be a victim--or take it in.

2. Learn every day in every circumstance. I observed a very difficult relationship problem this week and the sadness of it deepened my compassion for those who are lost and hurting. it even made me rethink some messages I was working on for an upcoming mission trip. My message will now be much more filled with grace, comfort and love because of the lessons I learned in my own circumstances. I had a choice--to let the hurt overwhelm me or to say, "What can I learn? How can I move forward in graciousness and be sure that I never do this to anyone? What does a person who has been hurt like this need? How can I pass on this kind of love and comfort in my messages? God's hand can deepen our hearts and love--He can turn things out for the good--when I walk the road with Him as my counselor.

3. Figure out just what is bothering you and resolve how to get rid of as much of the stress that you can. I met a young mom last week who was very down and crying. She was very hard on herself and felt like a failure as a mom and was quite discouraged with her children. I asked how old her children were and she said, 7, 5 and 6 months. Then I asked her if she had gotten a full night of sleep lately. Immediately her tears began to fall and she said, "No, and I feel like this season will never end."

We arranged for a friend to keep her precious children for an overnight, and this mom had time alone and time to sleep 9 hours, and by the time I saw her again, she was a different person. "I though I wasn't going to make it, but you can't imagine how much better I feel about life and I even missed my children."

Sometimes it just takes sleep to feel better. Sometimes, it is the messes or the relentless of it all. It is at these points that sometimes, I have stopped all activities for a couple of days and just spent time getting everything back together. I hired someone to help me put my house back in order again and then I felt immediately better. 

Other times, I have made a fun plan--to make time to do some things that I knew would fill up my emotional cup--as well as put things into my schedule that would be something to look forward to. Years ago, in the spring, I would always plan a fun trip for me and the kids and some other friends. This is the time of year I would become weary of the relentless work and Clay had to work long hours, so I would plan a short or long history trip out of town with a friend and it gave us a break from mundane life, and we all became better friends and my children and I have a great diversion from the mundanity of life.

4. Of course, pray and spend time with the Lord. We are indeed needy people in a fallen world, and yet we have the profound privilege of coming into the presence of God with hope, because He listens to prayers and because He listens and answers us even as we would answer our own children. Learning to persevere in prayer and wait for God has been a lesson He has been teaching me for a long time. Often the very things I was worried about, over time, changed and showed me that He was working all along. Even as a toddler, who is exhausted, still doesn't want to take a nap, and yet a kind parent will see that he gets a nap, even against His permission, so God, who knows what is best for us, will put up with our tantrums and put us down for a nap against our will, because He knows what is best for us. So the sooner we learn to submit to His plan, the more easily we will find contentment and joy.

5. Read, read, read. C.S. Lewis said that we read to know we are not alone. My favorite authors became my friends. Just reading about their lives and stories fed my soul and showed me how to live my life. In the absence of having older women or grandmas in my life, my books became my friends and fellowship--especially throughout the 17 moves, I needed a friend and so my books became my friends and fellowship and shaped my life. 

6.Organize relationships in life so that you can be blessed. I have had to start many groups and Bible studies and kids groups in my home. But when we initiate or organize a way for friends to meet, we find that we are blessed in the midst of it. I have started book clubs (where you read a book and then get together for dinner and discuss it); once a month dinners for several families, prayer groups for myself with a few close friends; taking turns to host all the families at a home; started Bible studies for the girls and their moms and the boys and their dads (Clay did that); tea parties, picnics, meet at park days, Christmas parties and so on.

Some of these attempts fizzle, but some end up blessing me and our children.We had a spontaneous meal with a friend the other night and we all had so much fun and felt so loved in the midst, and I just ran into her at the grocery store. It was worth the trouble to get together.  Often when we are too busy, we don't take time for this and eventually we become lonely.

Often just the reaching out to others or opening my home, brings more friends my way and in the long term meets my needs. I also plan things that I know I will enjoy into my schedule--Saturday morning breakfasts downtown with Sarah and a long walk by all the old, mansions, hot chocolate with Joy; breakfasts with my boys, alone dinners at home with Clay when I feel like I miss him--I sent the others out for a trip to a book store/coffee shop and I light candles and have a simpler dinner all alone--without anyone bothering our conversation.

I also save each year for travel by putting away 10-15 dollars a month--because for me to get away from home and dishes and internet and phone calls is always a great break and rest for my adhd, restless soul--and of course I keep chocolate hidden to have as a treat on a needed day and always have tea in a real china cup with candles lit and civility--even if just for 15 minutes. When I organize life with delight, I often find I end up with a happier soul and fun and make friends in the midst. All the leaders I have ever known have said that they always have to initiate more to people and people don't always reciprocate, but I would rather have the opportunity to have friends and fellowship, even if I have to do the work, than to always be by myself. 

Most of all, though, I remember, intentionally, over and over again, that God, my precious Father, loves me and wants me to experience His joy. I have resolved to look for His love and to receive His love by faith, even when I don't feel like it. He dearly loves each one of you precious moms, too,  and wants to lead you away from darkness or sadness and move you to joy and peace. So, may His warm hand grasp yours in the midst of your darkness and may He lead you to a way to light a candle in the darkness so that you can see His face and be assured of His tender companionship in the midst of it all.