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!

Are You Leaning When it Hurts?

Hot, excruciating pain ripped and pulsated through the young man’s weak body . . . the aftermath of an operation meant for his good. Now, the physical therapist asked the man to stand up and walk. How could he walk when he could barely breathe from the pain?

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However, pain had been a constant companion for much of the young man’s life, and he wanted more than anything to convalesce at home. So he squared his shoulders and gripped the parallel bars on either side of him. Sweat oozed from his furrowed brow and rolled down his flushed cheeks as he leaned on those bars for support, and walked. One step, then another. Over and over . . . until he reached home.

My friend told me that watching her son-in-law grip the parallel bars became a visual of how she had to hold onto the Lord during that desperate week when all she could do was “cry for God’s help.”

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Like my friend, I’ve had to helplessly watch loved ones suffer. I’ve begged God, “Remove this cup. Spare them!” However, even in this . . . the Lord responds, “Rest in Me.”

At first, I balked at that term because rest means to cease from activity, and I didn’t want to sit back and be idle. I wanted to do something constructive to alleviate their pain. However, I discovered the word rest also means to be supported and remain confident. And a synonym for rest is LEAN. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.

To Rest—or lean—on the everlasting arms of God means we’re “supported” by Him, as we struggle to walk through each day . . . down every haphazard path. The same way someone leans on a cane, and relies on it to support their weight while they’re walking,  we’re urged to cast all our cares on the Lord and lean on Him.

To rest and lean on the Lord also means we can “remain confident” He’s present and bringing about good from every trial, including praise and glory. (1Peter 1:7) For even my friend praised the Lord for His faithfulness, and bringing so many people to pray for her family.

Sadly, her son-in-law still needs prayer as he recovers at home because the debilitating pain remains, and the physical therapy continues. There’s no way to rest (cease from activity) if he wants to improve his mobility. He has to rise, do the hard thing, and lean on his crutches and walk even when everything in him might shout, “I can’t!”

Likewise, God calls His beloved children to stand up and walk by faith . . . one day at a time . . . leaning on the Lord for strength as well as understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

Photos: Pixabay

Are You Empty & Stuck in Pj’s?

Ever been stuck in your pajamas? You wake up empty, and no amount of caffeine can rouse your spirits because you’re feeling low and haven’t got a drop of energy to face the day.

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My mentor, Loretta, once said, “The year following my husband’s death, I ran on empty. I’d slide one foot out of the bedcovers and groan, ‘Lord, I can’t.’

And the Lord would nudge me out of bed by assuring me, I know, but I can. My strength is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Empty and weak. That’s how my other friend felt when an ongoing storm—with no end in sight—hit her family.

Fatigue and anxiety try to take over,” she said. “Sometimes, it leaves me numb and paralyzed. Yesterday, I couldn’t get out of my pj’s. Today, I wore them till noon. I couldn’t help myself.”

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Life happens, right? Personal storms, that drain us, become the new normal and threaten to crush our spirit like someone stepping on an empty soda can. We’re tired of being strong. And we’re afraid to hope because we’ve been empty so long. 

So what can we do when we’re stuck in pj’s?

Put on Grace instead of Shame.

“I hate when I’m stuck in pj’s,” said my friend, “but I’ve stopped feeling ashamed. Now, I know it’s a marker to show me how I’m doing. I’ve learned to observe what’s happening and give myself grace in the storm. Knowing this too shall pass.”

Be Real and Willing to Receive

My friend cringed when someone knocked at her front door one afternoon. Dressed in her pj’s, without any makeup, and her wet hair wrapped in a towel, she said, “I didn’t want to answer the door. I wasn’t comfortable letting my friends see me this way. Vanity aside, it’s scary to share my struggles. I’d rather appear strong. But the ones who came to my door love me.”

If my friend had pretended to be strong, or refused to open the door, she would have missed out on their love and a much-needed (and appreciated) gift. “It’s awkward receiving gifts,” she said, “but it’s the perfect picture of God’s love and generosity. We’ll never deserve it. He simply gives and we accept.”

Freedom to Listen Instead of Sing

There were Sundays when my friend went to church, but she didn’t have the energy to sing during worship. So she remained quiet and listened to the people sing. “There’s freedom in letting words of praise be sung over us. Certain songs bring tears and help us stay yoked to Jesus. So I listen to praise music until I can sing.”

The storm isn’t over for my friend. She still struggles with emptiness. However, my friend knows God is present and working in ways she can’t imagine. For she told me, “I await the day when I can look back and trace God’s fingerprints all over this storm.”

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What helps you in difficult times? Have you seen God’s fingerprints?

Photos: Pixabay Images

Are You Sitting in Ashes?

Being depressed is like having a bloodsucking leech embedded in my flesh. Drains me physically. Muddles my mind. Squashes spiritual zeal. I can’t seem to detach the ugly thing. Ever been there?
images-6If you want to get technical, the dictionary defines depression as a psychotic state of mind that entails sadness, despondency, hopelessness, inability to think or concentrate, inactivity, and the desire to sleep. The verb, depress, means to lower.

During the winter months, I often feel like I’ve been lowered into a dark hole. A lack of sun and exercise. Rainy days and long nights. Head colds and flu. These all contribute to a seasonal melancholy state of mind. But experience tells me this too shall pass. I know the Lord will lift me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He’ll set my feet on solid ground and steady me as I walk. (Psalm 40:2)

But oh, how I wish the Lord would rush to the rescue sooner, particularly for those I love. Because my ‘depressed spirit’ also resulted from concern and empathizing with so many family members and friends who are suffering far worse than me.

If they were mentioned among the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11, their woes would be listed as such: experienced the death of a child, unemployment, loss of a home, financial devastation, divorce, major surgery, lack of health insurance, life-threatening illness, agonizing chronic pain.

Some of them remind me of Job. Sitting in a heap of ashes.

Begging for mercy. Pleading for answers. Waiting for the storm to pass. Trusting the Lord when everything shouts, “Give up!”

My spiritual mentor and friend, Loretta, once told me, “Trusting God is the most important ingredient in a believer’s life. Because there will be days when we’re in the desert and God appears silent. That’s when we have to trust who God is. And His promises.”

Loretta learned to trust God’s sovereignty early in her marriage. Trusting God—no matter what—proved invaluable and enabled Loretta to cope when her husband died in a plane crash. Instead of becoming a missionary with her husband, as planned, Loretta became the sole breadwinner and single mom of three young kids. Over the next twelve months, three other beloved family members died. Can you imagine the pain?

That living nightmare happened decades ago, and yet, from those ashes, grew a deeper trust in God. Here’s what she said:

“We have the opportunity to choose how we respond during adversity. We either bend and let God work in our lives in order to mold us. Or we resist and lose out on His lessons. Life is full of difficult circumstances. If we believe our circumstances are allowed by God, and that He withholds no good thing from us, then our trust grows and we’re better prepared for the next hard thing. Trust becomes—or can be—a way of life.”

Today, as I emerged from my lethargic fog, I thought about Loretta’s words when I saw the yellow daffodils preening in my yard beneath a blue sky.1929165_79192745912_7011292_nLast week, these flowers were bent. Beaten down by the cold, pummeling rain. Now, the daffodils stand tall. Their stems stretch heavenward as they soak up the sun. If I close my eyes, I can almost hear them sing. Heralding the coming Spring.

And a small voice whispers in the cool breeze. Trust God even in this…. 

 

 

 

Are You Grieving Tis Season?

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain goes on and on.”

Thus sings a young man (in the musical Les Miserables) after his friends have died in battle. And it was these heart-wrenching lyrics from the song Empty Chairs, Empty Tables that echoed in my mind as I drove to the airport a few days before Christmas.

Although I was over-the-moon excited to hug my son who was coming home from college, my heart mourned for two moms who will never hug their sons this side of heaven.

 

A week earlier, their eighteen-year-old sons were killed in a vehicle accident while driving in our town. I didn’t know the young men. Never met the families. But my heart still aches like an open wound whenever I think of them; pray for them.

Sadly, they’re not alone this Christmas season. I have several friends who celebrated Christ in the midst of a grief that can’t be spoken…

The death of an elderly father. The loss of an infant grandson. A broken marriage. A pre-school child with cancer. Someone facing a double mastectomy. So many lives touched by a pain that goes on and on.

I try to make sense of it all especially during Christmas when hearts are meant to be merry and bright. A friend told me that tragedies like these remind us to hold our loved ones close, forgive and keep short accounts, and share Jesus. Another woman, whose husband was killed, said, “Instead of asking why this happened, I ask how I can live to honor God despite my circumstances.

Wise words, but I also opened my Bible to Matthew because I thought of those ancient moms who grieved for their sons—martyred babes, slain by the sword when Jesus was born.

For even though a bright star led the Magi to worship the Christ Child, the troubled soul of King Herod resulted in the blood-thirsty slaughter of children.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.’”

When I look at the current mayhem and sorrow in the world, has anything changed since that blessed year when Christ was born?

After all, one of the Magi’s gifts was Myrrh, a bitter perfume, that breathed “gathering gloom, sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

lamentation-of-christ-by-antony-van-dyck-1599-1641However, outward appearances can be deceiving.

Jesus wasn’t born to spare folks from pain and death on earth. He came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. To prove God’s great love by dying for us while we were still sinners. And His resurrection guarantees us new life when He’ll wipe away every tear and there will be no more death.

“Rachel wept…refused to be comforted.” Maybe you’re mourning too.

Just remember, when we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life in His name, it truly is possible to experience His peace and comfort that defies human logic… 

Even in this grief that can’t be spoken.

 

References: Matthew 2:16-18, John 1:29, Romans 5:8, John 20:31, Rev. 21:4 & lyrics from We Three Kings of Orient Are

Photo of woman: Pixabay

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).

 

Do You Talk to Yourself?

I’ve been absent for a month—meandering in the wilderness.

I won’t ask if you missed me but, if you haven’t noticed, my last three blogs were guest posts. I value what each of them had to say, but I also shared their words because I had nothing to say.

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Spiritually depressed, without apparent reason, I wondered if I’d ever blog again.

Have you been soul empty? Lost the joy of the Lord?

Earlier this summer, I warned readers of Taking a Vacation from God which can lead to spiritual apathy. That wasn’t my case.

Spiritual blindness sprang up overnight. Blinded to the cause, I begged for a lifeline out of the miry pit.

Read my Bible, but His Word didn’t register.
Prayed, but my words fell flat.
Went to church, but the manna only nourished me for an hour.

I couldn’t blame my current circumstances for life was sweet. Or a lack of spiritual meat because I’d been studying God’s names; in awe of His love for me.

So I waited for the cloud to pass. My only hope in Him.

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Then Pastor Joe referred me to the book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

The author said the cause of spiritual depression can be someone’s temperament, physical ailment, or unbelief. But another cause can be a reaction after a great blessing or exceptional experience such as Elijah in 1 Kings.

Made sense. After weeks of preparing a talk, He Knows My Name, my spiritual high came crashing. Is that how astronauts feel when they return from celestial heights to Earth?

What’s the cure? According to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Psalm 42 is the antidote.

The Psalmist, King David, is depressed by his circumstances, but instead of commiserating, he talks to himself.

“We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ourselves to talk to us.”

Lloyd-Martin explains. “Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. They start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.”

Do you listen to the voices in your head? Is the main voice talking your Self?

We need to learn how to handle ourselves.

“You have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’—what business have you to be be disquieted?

You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.

Remind yourself of God. Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

Ending on this note: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.

Is this cure sure?

Well, I wouldn’t be writing this post if I hadn’t found the joy of the Lord even in this…..

 

Wilderness  photo: www.JennyWredePhotography.com

Depressed woman: Pixabay