When We’re Stuck in the Dark

I’m not afraid of the dark except when it covers my soul and I lose sight of hope. Common sense says: “Life’s not so bad. Count your blessings. This too shall pass.” But when the night lingers and you can’t force the sun to shine, what do you do? Pop a pill, chug some wine, pull the bedspread over your head?

Maybe . . . but people gotta keep living even when they feel like the walking dead.

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Last summer, God’s Word which normally fills me up . . . suddenly fell on deaf ears. Unable to hear the Spirit of God, I became spiritually mute. Words eluded me—even on paper. Unable to hear The Word or articulate my thoughts, I sank into the dark night of my soul. Yep, disappeared like invisible ink.

I doubt anyone noticed. After all, it’s safer to hide when we’re depressed—physically or spiritually—instead of asking for help or prayer. Why invite someone to judge us or tell us to “snap out of it” when there’s already enough self-condemnation smothering our mind?

At the time I didn’t feel any emotion. Oh, I could laugh. Chat with a friend. Text platitudes to the dark souls around me. A person had to step close and gaze into the window of my soul to notice the flame flickered and dimmed. They had to listen—if only to notice my silence. And who has time to listen to someone else when we’re tuned into a multitude of other frequencies—especially Self.

Besides, I didn’t know how to explain the pathos. Could I blame my dark night on the summer heat? Unmet expectations? Unconfessed sin? Perhaps like Scrooge, I could attribute my heaviness “to a bit of undigested beef.” Who knows what triggered the night. But when you’ve tasted sweet fellowship with the Lord, it’s despairing to cry to God and hear nothing . . . .

      My mentor, Loretta, once said, “When God appears silent, it feels as though He’s left the stage and is standing in the wings.” Only, we know it’s not true. Feelings and hormones have a way of distorting reality—even for Christ followers.

The longer my soul stayed in the dark, the less I prayed. I got bored at playing church. Tired of doing the right thing. But like the apostle Peter told Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6: 68,69)

So I went through the motions, and waited for night to pass while I held onto these truths:

  • “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:35-39)
  • “Christ will never leave or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
  • “Don’t grow weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9)

One day, I said, “Enough.” I turned on praise music and fastened my mind to the lyrics. I stopped staring inward and gazed outward to the Creator, Elohim, who knows us inside out. I raised weak arms to the great Shepherd, Jehovah-Rohi, who cares for His beloved and longs for us to experience abundant life. I raised my voice to Jehovah-Rophe, who heals the soul and makes it new.

As my body swayed to the rhythm of Casting Crown’s song, “Who Am I,” a pinhole of light blasted into my dark soul. The longer I sang to the Light of the World, the more brilliant His light shone within me until . . . my dark night mourning turned into dancing.  And it was good!

Three Things Helped My Quiet Time

I wake up with a mental to-do list, but the first thing I always need to do is be still.

Photo Credit by: Maranatha Devotionals

This means having my quiet time…reading my Bible and praying. This might sound boring to some folks. Or, like a chore to others. And I agree that doing something every day can be cumbersome even when I know it’s beneficial. However, stick with me here and I’ll show you how I turned my quiet time—or morning devotions—into something I treasure.

First, I change my attitude. Instead of saying, “I have to read my Bible” or “I should pray,” I remind myself that “I get to meet with God.

Meeting with God is a privilege. Christ paid for that privilege with His own blood. Our time with Him isn’t some “thing” that must be accomplished so I can check it off my laundry list and get on with my day. Or feel good about myself because I made God a priority. God loves us and invites us to meet with Him so we can speak with Him. Cry. Confess. Implore. Rejoice. Listen.

Which brings me to my second point. Notice I said, speak with God. I used to pray nonstop as though I were dictating a letter. Meet my needs. Fix that person. Change my circumstances. Remove that thorn. Resolve that dilemma . . . Can I hear an amen?

I’m learning to cultivate silence to get the most from our meeting time. I ask God to…

Open my eyes and speak to me through His Word.
Open my ears so I can hear His voice.
Show me how to apply what He’s teaching me.

Then, I close my mouth and meditate on a Bible verse or a short passage of scripture. My calendar might be full. My life might feel like it’s on fire. However, when I make the time to be still and listen, I’m able to hear God’s voice more clearly. And doesn’t everyone need/want direction and peace in life?

Thirdly, I ask God to increase my desire for Him instead of striving to be self-disciplined.

Discipline trains me to behave a certain way. The word is often associated with a task I dread doing, but need to do for my own good. Like exercising and eating right, or maybe, having morning devotions.

Desire is a strong longing for something to happen, or wanting someone. When I desire God, I’m eager to read my Bible and pray because I know God will meet me there, speak to me, and satisfy my heart’s desire.

How do you keep morning devotions fresh and something you desire to do?

Are You Stuck?

I dreamt of an elephant. He was held captive, secured around one leg, and attached to a tent peg. Did that elephant symbolize me? Struggling to walk in the freedom of Christ? First, let me explain.

If a mighty elephant can push a tree down and pull heavy logs, why can’t he pull a small peg from the ground to free himself?

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Answer: He can escape, but the elephant thinks he’s powerless over that chain.

That’s because circus owners, and folks who use elephants as beasts of burden, chain a baby elephant by one leg to a metal pole. He may pull and tug all day, but instead of escaping, the chain cuts into his leg. The effort to free himself becomes pointless. And this mindset—helpless and avoiding physical pain—stays with the elephant so that even as a strong adult, he never attempts to do what he’s capable of doing. Only to say…

Have I been conditioned since childhood to respond in certain ways? Are there previous experiences and voices in my head that cause me to avoid pain and moving forward?

In Thin Within, a Non-Diet Grace-Based Approach to Lasting Weight Loss, I learned how emotional pain and un-forgiveness can impact our eating habits and cause addictions particularly when it comes to the way we view ourselves.

I remember hating my body as a young girl. I wanted to cover myself when I was forced to take a group shower every day during Junior High Girl’s P.E. How could I not compare my skinny body to the more-developed girls around me?

I remember seeing center-fold models in girly magazines when I was a child, and thinking, that’s how I’m supposed to look one day. Then realizing (later in life) that ideal, female figure was an elusive standard I’d never achieve; wondering if that made me any less sexy.

I remember a gal who was raped. She gained a huge amount of weight afterwards. Was she attempting to make herself less attractive to men?

I remember an intelligent, slim teenager who became anorexic because her boyfriend said she wasn’t “perfect enough” and chose someone else.

I remember a man numbing himself with alcohol because he was anxious and lonely.

When I remember these heartaches , I think about that elephant trapped by a chain that cannot hold him. And waits for his master to arrive with the key to release him.

Jesus is my Lord and Master. He doesn’t want me chained or yoked to anyone or anything, but Him. And yet, how many people…including myself…remain stuck instead of asking God to turn the master key?

What is this master key? According to Thin Within “It is God’s grace, which is extended to all God’s beloved through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. It is also His forgiveness, which was freely given on the cross at Calvary. It is through forgiveness that our temple is cleansed and the remaining rubble cleared away.”

And yet, that knowledge isn’t a magic pill. I’ve had to take action, and ask the Lord if there is anything in my past that needs to be unearthed and released in order to move forward and experience His peace and joy.

Do I need to forgive my own sin and imperfections? Forgive others who may have intentionally—or not—treated me poorly or trained me to view myself in a shameful way? Perhaps I need to talk to God about something He allowed in my life that I didn’t “feel” I deserved. Or an expectation He didn’t meet. Back in the day, I had to confess my anger towards God when I suffered from three miscarriages.

The power of the Holy Spirit enables us to leave the past behind and walk forward in faith, by God’s grace. However, if I….

Refuse to believe I’m forgiven and free in Christ,
Think it’s impossible (or refuse) to forgive those who have wronged me,
Turn to food to escape the past instead of Christ,
Then I’ll live my life hobbled like that seemingly helpless elephant chained to the tent peg.

And if that image saddens me, imagine how God feels when He sees His children stuck in one place when they could be romping like calves.

There Be Mountains

There be mountains out there which I find lovely unless I’m flying over them in a small airplane.

Instead of embracing the spectacular birds-eye view, and trusting the person who’s flying, I squeeze my eyes shut. Cowering beneath my jacket, I hold my breath waiting till we get to the other side.

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Even now, when my husband suggests flying somewhere, I ask him, “Will there be mountains?” Living on the west coast, it’s hard to avoid them.

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I prefer flying over the Sacramento Valley where the flat land is an earthen tapestry of rice fields and almond orchards. Cattle graze on carpets of green grass, and Interstate 5 stretches for miles like a runway. If need be, we could land the plane without too many bumps.

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Given the choice, I’d rather stay in the peaceful valley, but even in life…there be mountains.

Sweet moments in life might be called a Mountain-Top Experience like the breath-taking, ethereal beauty that comes after an uphill hike when we’re standing on top of the world.

But there are also treacherous mountains where the trees don’t grow and the steep elevation seems insurmountable. Only, our circumstances leave us no choice but to go up and over. Not knowing if we’ll survive the experience of….

  • Debts
  • Disease
  • Disabilities
  • Divorce
  • Disasters
  • Death of a Dear One.

Whether the mountainous problem looming before us is 5,000 feet high or a 14,000 peak….how should we respond?

  • Cower in denial like an ostrich hiding his head in a hole?
  • Pull back into our shells like a frightened turtle?
  • Forge ahead faithfully, one step at a time?

Fear—and a lack of trust—is my first response whether I’m flying in the mountains or facing life. I wonder if I’ll ever change. However, I did something on my last flight that changed my perspective.

As we took off towards the hills, I closed my eyes to avoid looking down and listened to Christian music on my iPod. Only this time, I meditated on the Biblical Truths behind the lyrics.

  • Does Jesus love me?
  • Is His grace sufficient?
  • Will He forsake me?
  • Is God sovereign?
  • Can I trust Him?

I thought about the geography of my life: Sunny beaches and lush meadows interspersed with barren deserts, hazardous mountains, and the vally of the shadow of death.

20160902_105006The ONE constant navigator and comforter in my life is Jesus. He never disappoints.

When I embraced that truth, and everthing I know to be true about God’s character and my relationship with Him, the fear vanished. My body relaxed knowing His Spirit is present within me. I opened my eyes and beheld the wonder of His creation.

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Knowing even in this…no matter what “this issue” happens to be in my life….

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1,2).

 

Is There Any Excuse?

Being ill with the crud is like having an uninvited houseguest who refuses to leave—quite the pain. For over a week, I’ve lived as a couch potato. My allies are a box of tissues, hot tea, Vics cough drops, and my Downton Abbey DVDs.

I try reading my Bible, but my foggy brain doesn’t comprehend much. And my nasal, hoarse prayers seem to fall flat. Thank God for His grace that covers everything—even my congested head. I wasn’t always so merciful towards myself.

Years ago, whenever I’d get derailed from seeking the Lord due to life’s circumstances, or spiritual sloth, I’d wallow in guilt or justify myself with pithy excuses.

What I failed to see was that my frothy view of God kept me from pursuing Him for the sheer joy of being with Him. Still, I kept waiting for that perfect season when life would be perfect or slow down so I could spend quality time with my Lord. 

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Then I met Loretta who told me, “To the degree we want God, we’ll seek Him.”

Her words banished my excuses.  I asked myself, “To what degree am I seeking God with all my heart, soul, and mind? Either my relationship with Him is a priority…or not.”

Granted there are times of illness and grief when we can barely lift our heads. God meets us there and His grace is sufficient. But making time for the Lord is a necessary discipline if we’re to fully experience God’s presence and hear His voice.

If we’re not intentional about our relationship with the Lord, it isn’t going to magically happen.

We make time for the things we truly want to do.

I learned that truth when I homeschooled my children. I knew the value of consistent exercise to stay healthy, but I complained I didn’t have time. If only I was a woman of leisure…

And then my husband’s job took us to London for two months and our family lived in a hotel with maid service. Other than caring for my children and having fun, there were no other demands. The hotel had a free gym and I was free to exercise. Excuse me, but I never saw the inside of that gym.

We make time for things we want to do which includes seeking God.

Is the Lord someone we love and long to know? Or a nodding acquaintance we meet on Sunday mornings? Perhaps we only call on Him when we’re in trouble like a 9-1-1 emergency call.

Remember, to the degree we want God we’ll seek Him even in this….

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Photo: www.JennyWredePhotography.com

Are You Unraveling?

A single piece of thread dangles from my scarf. I tuck the lonely strand back into place. Try to hide it.

For I know if I yank the thread too hard, the scarf will bunch up. Keep pulling it and the scarf might unravel.

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Ever feel that way?

Like you’re composed of multiple strings of yarn and everyone is tugging on you? 

And each time those strings are pulled, you feel as though you’re unraveling. Bit by bit.

Until there’s nothing left of you, but a heap of yarn on the floor.

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Unless, of course, you’ve learned to hide the loose, frayed strands from other folks.

Maybe—instead of a frayed scarf—you feel more like a string puppet. Just going through the motions with each tug. Nod, smile, wave, bend, move….

Too much jerking and we lose the elasticity of our stringy nerves. Or they get tangled from hurrying in too many directions.

So how do we avoid unraveling? Untie the knots?

How do we REST in the middle of wrestling life?

Return to the Lord and let your soul find rest (Psalm 116:7).

Exalt the Lord. Praise His name and thank Him for Who He is and the great things He has done in your life (Psalm 69:30).

Submit to the circumstances in your life in which you have no control. If we can’t change our circumstances, we can change our attitude.  (Philippians 4:8)

Trust God’s promises. Knowing He use the events and people in our life for His purposes which includes molding us into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:28,29)

Even when King David’s personal sin crushed him, he returned to the Lord. For he knew his redemption and delivery had nothing to do with his own character or actions.

It had everything to do with God’s lovingkindness and compassion.

Maybe you’re on the endangered list as your inner being unravels. Desperate for God’s compassion.

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Turn off the news; the cell phone.

Go to your hiding place and show your Abba Father the knarled knots and loose strings.

Then R.E.S.T.

And like a child who waits while a parent untangles his shoestrings…

Allow the Lord to clip and mend your frayed, loose strings until you’re new again and ready to rumble.

 

Photos by Jennifer Wrede Photography

Consumed with Whom?

Today, I swam upstream in a sea of shoppers. Browsing for the perfect Christmas gift.

Never mind that Christ came as the Lamb of God to Save people from their sins on that first Christmas,

Businesses are glad to Save me a buck this time of year (and spend one too) so long as I…..

  • Shop on a particular date
  • Use a coupon
  • Buy two items to get one free.
  • Mail in a rebate

After two hours, and minimum results, I called it a day. I don’t have the shopper gene, and gifts aren’t my love language.

My trash can is full of unread, glossy catalogs and holiday coupons. I delete email advertisements that urge me to “Hurry up and Buy.”

Even charities finagle how to guilt me into year-end giving—tax deductible of course.

I DO LOVE CHRISTMAS, but it makes me crazy that Consumerism has taken center stage over Christ.

We’re solicited to purchase Christmas gifts, but  learning how to receive the GIFT of GOD is taboo.

I get it. Not everyone who celebrates “Christmas” believes in the name of Jesus. Did you know there’s a giant Christmas tree in a Dubai shopping mall? Isn’t that city located in a Muslim country?

Sorry, rabbit trail….Let me point my finger back to myself.

I can sit on my Christian high horse and spout, Jesus is the reason for the season.” However, unless I’m intentional about my relationship with Him, I’m prone to wander through the merry month of December, consuming goods and calories.

Consumed with everything and everyone, but Him.

Ten years ago, I was confronted with my wanderlust. After the Christmas season, I packed the ceramic nativity set on my fireplace mantel before I noticed…

Baby Jesus is missing!

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No manger full of straw, no bright-eyed babe for Mary and Joseph to adore.

Wise men and shepherds kneeled, and yet the newborn King wasn’t around for them to worship.

Baby Jesus was on my desk, buried beneath clearance ads.

I cradled the tiny figurine. How did I go through Christmas unaware the Christ Child was missing?

Then again, my spiritual disciplines and time with the Lord weren’t on my checklists—buy gifts, mail cards, bake cookies, watch Christmas movies.

My all-consuming, weary efforts to celebrate Jesus’ birth that year were a vain attempt to possess what I already had experienced, and thoughtlessly forsaken, the joy of abiding in Christ.

Abiding, even in this…busiest, most wonderful time of the year.

Is Jesus missing in your life?