“Personally I know that there is nothing on earth that the human frame can suffer to be compared with despondency and prostration of the mind.”
I picked this book up because I had heard it recommended by a few people I follow online. It particularly intrigued me because it wasn’t just a book on depression, but a book examining a great hero of the faith who was very public in sharing his struggle with depression. (On a side note, something about the cover is very welcoming and peaceful.) At a brief 143 pages, I made my way through it in two sittings. Even if you are a slow reader, you could finish it up pretty fast. I would (and will) recommend it to anyone walking through a season of depression, but beyond that I would (and will) recommend it to those that express a lack of understanding towards those struggling with depression. (Click link under picture to purchase.)
“We very speedily care for bodily diseases; they are too painful to let us slumber in silence: and they soon urge us to seek a physician or a surgeon for our healing. Oh, if we were as much alive to the more serious wounds of our inner man.”
This isn’t an announcement that I am ‘picking up writing again’ with all the plans and promises that those kinda posts entail. I quite literally haven’t been able to type more than three words in this space without stopping and erasing them for the last year or so. Partly due to life being busier and schedules being crazier but really truely due to the place(s) and season(s) I’ve been walking thru and the things going on inside of me.
This isn’t a post about the things that have been going on inside of me (or around me, or to me) because honestly I don’t have words and really dont know if words exist to adequately convey it. One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes there are things you experience or learn or go through that only you see and know. There may be a physical circumstance, and maybe tangible people involved, but the deep things stretching or moving around inside of you are changes only you can feel or know. Maybe those aren’t for sharing.
The times I’ve tried to sit down and write something that I could post on the internet (what is the criteria for that anymore?) there has been a physical tension rise up in my chest and I’ve stepped away. It’s like there has been so much inside and no where to put it that I’ve grown incredibly much in my ability to push through and keep it inside. Like there is a flood water locked up behind a sealed door and as my fingers graze the keyboard its the same as the doorknob turning and the rubber seal beginning to creak before it opens. If that door is opened there is no turning back and no regulating what comes out and at what speed and what damage may happen in its wake.
I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know why there is an internal healing difference in writing words on this screen and sharing them with perfect strangers, and writing words in my personal journal. You could say it’s for transparency. That other people go through other hard things and that by sharing my things I am helping them. You could say its a gift, a calling, that to not write is to deny a part of myself that makes me me. You could say it’s a reaching out. That in some way by knowing that someone somewhere is reading this it tells me that I am not completely alone, that I am connecting in someway. You could say all these things, I could too. None of them sit well with me tonight. I don’t know. What I do know is I don’t have energy to overthink these things anymore. I am way past weary of having to understand the purpose of things before engaging in the acts.
I have come to know my Father over the last six months in ways I never knew I could. He has led me through some places where all the nicely packaged spiritual disciplines and christian speak phrases have been completely lacking. We use prayer as a tool to keep ourselves in line or to call in requests, or even to commune with Someone when we feel the need…all things WE control, all pieces of OUR strategy. I have come to experience and grow in the kind of prayer that sometimes has to happen without words, when you don’t know what to ask for. When you have to choose to rest in the truths that you know and believe and cling to, even when there isn’t energy to boldly proclaim them. There have been nights so deeply dark and lonely and confusing that the only words I could figure to voice were ‘Please hold me.’ And He has, and He is, so closely that I could almost feel His heart beating and His breath on the back of my neck.
I’m looking at this screen and wondering if this is a good idea. It’s not that I don’t have words or thoughts or feelings to get out there, but I am afraid to start to open that door because of the flood of things that is pent up behind it. I’m at a place where I feel pretty beat up by life, and yet still captivated by the beauty of it. It’s been a very intense and hard season of transition and change for me and I think I’ve been doing pretty well with it, but the internal circus that has been going on has been pretty exhausting. There are days where I’m staring at my phone at a loss for who to call. And although I’m praying there are days where I wonder if it’s actually going through, where’s the response? My faith has really been tested lately and there have been a few days where I just didn’t know if I wanted to keep going with it. I am overwhelmed by the injustice of this world, from promises that don’t have to be upheld, to people that can just walk away when they want to, to bigger issues of broken systems and the human condition.
We talk about this world being broken but having hope, but often the brokenness is out there, and the hope much closer. Then sometimes the brokenness does actually touch us, it comes in to affect our family, our friends, in our circles. But then still, there are times where we realize, it’s not just out there, its not just in here, but it’s in me. I’m broken. And so the brokenness is no longer something that can be blamed on any person, or even really any system. The brokenness is a problem that we will never be able to alleviate or fix or maneuver around. Our world is broken. Things are not as they should be. And just because we choose to follow Jesus and live that out faithfully, does not change the effects of the brokenness. This is a sobering reality.
One of my biggest struggles in single life is the unstableness of all things. There is not one constant. Committed friends are free to pack up and leave whenever they want, church community comes and goes, jobs are not forever, home is only home until the lease is up. None of these are something that someone is doing wrong but all of these are reality. People throw around the terms family, and belonging, and you can trust me. But we can’t. It’s not actually true. Maybe we can ‘trust’ some people, but there are still things outside of their control so what they say may or may not stand. But this isn’t just a feeling and issue specific to my life is it? We are all there if we want to be honest. Deep within us all is a little aching, we know that we are not secure, we know that there are things outside of our control, we know that there are people that we couldn’t live without but that very well may leave us. We say our hope isn’t in material things but in people. Because those are much more reliable? People will (albeit unintentionally) keep you around as long as you fill a spot, close friends turn away, spouses cheat, and the most well intentioned out of all of these will eventually die.
The answer is not to find better friends, or a church that gets it, or to get married, or a more secure job with stable income, or to move to a country with a better government, or….fill in the blank. The cold, hard, but beautiful and glorious reality is that we are in this world, but this world is broken, and we were never intended to exist in a broken world. The harshness and the pain and the sting of brokenness points all of us to the fact that this world is not our final home.
I’ve been in a season where this has been made so real to me. Inside of this fleshly shell that I live in is me, a soul and spirit. This body will fall apart and decompose, I will carry on. We will all carry on. In light of that, things change.
Christ is my Rock. That doesn’t mean I’m stable. It means He is. And when I feel like I am going to be blown away, I cling to Him even tighter. Clinging is not a restful picture. It’s a fight. It comes in the hardest of times and the darkest of days. It takes energy and focus and a choosing to refuse to let go.
I don’t have a powerful happy ending here because frankly I don’t have all the answers. But I do know this- Christ has never let me go. Drawing near to Him does not mean all the problems and hurts vanish, but there has never been a time that I draw near and find He isn’t there.
Hebrews 12:7-11 “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons (daughters). For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them…..They disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Many of us have heard this passage before, or at least heard the concept taught. I think because of the way we use the word “discipline” these days, we easily skim over some of the meaning. Discipline is something we think of doing to our kids, a punishment or consequence when they have not followed the rules. Of course we know it is healthy. If there are no consequences then they would not grow up knowing how to behave and function in society. We often say that God disciplines us for our good, because He loves us, and in that we envision giving our kids a spanking and saying ‘this hurts me more than it does you’. Surely that is a part of what this passage means, but I think there is something deeper here as well.
Discipline: training to act in accordance with rules; drill, activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training. (Webster)
The word discipline can mean punishment or consequence, but that is a lesser meaning. I am not a linguist, but the words origin seems to be traced back to the 11th century, and spin off from the world disciplina (instruction given, teaching, learning). Discipline is training. It is not something that is done to us as much as it is something that is done with us. God does discipline us by convicting us when we are in sin, but more often I think he disciplines us by allowing us to walk through hard things, and by gifting us with challenges that teach us new skills and strengthen our abilities. In this He is training us and He is doing this because He knows what is ahead of us. What cross country coach would enter a student in a 10k, knowing that they can barely jog a half mile? Our father knows the race that we are in, and He knows the parts that are up ahead of us. Because of that, He is disciplining us so that we can run and run well. He is disciplining us for our good. He is disciplining us so that we can take part in the bigger things that will bring us joy.
I love this part, ”They disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them…” I think we could also say our earthly fathers trained us to the best of their ability for the things they knew we would encounter in this life. Respecting authority, working hard, managing money, changing a tire…having learned these things, once in a tricky situation, we are better prepared to endure it well. “..but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” And following that logic, I think we can point out here that our heavenly Father is training us for the things He knows we will encounter, with the entire scope of eternity in His mind. He sees us as we are now, He sees us as we will be when He is done with us, and He knows what we need to make it through to the end. So the hard things that seem to be thrown our way, the uncomfortable, the inconvenient, the things we think we just wont make it through, it is not something we just have to bear because life is unfair, and it’s not even something we have to deal with because we are simply in a broken world and things happen. It is a gift from a very good Father, who is preparing us for the good things He has ahead.
We pray often to ‘be used’ by God. To do something great with our lives. To have an impact on those around us. To make His name known. Then things start to hit. Setbacks, relational tension, financial strains, unexpected things that just seem to be in the way. Sometimes it feels like, ‘Why me?!’ ‘Can I just get a break?’ Look around at all the people that seem to be wasting time and doing nothing with their life, and start comparing it to yours in a time when you are trying to serve, and love, and be faithful in all the ways you know you need to be…you will quickly get confused if you don’t keep this concept of discipline in mind. The best coach looks for the student that he can work with, the student that will endure the training (discipline), the student that he can see winning the gold medal…And that is the one he works most intentionally with and pushes the hardest. Harder than the students that aren’t doing so well, the ones that seem like they should be getting more training. He looks for the ones that are willing to undergo discipline, the ones that long to be trained, all along with the end goal in mind, of seeing them cross the finish line with hands in the air, victorious. Discipline, training, challenges and hard things, are a sign of approval, a sign of “I know you are going to go far”. Not a punishment because we are doing something wrong. Not a test to see if we will make it. A gift, a special training for what lies ahead.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may be not put out of joint, but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (v 12-14)
As we are praying to be a part of something great, He begins to answer by bringing us hard things. He begins to answer by discipling us, training us, so that we will be ready to carry the weight and the responsibility of the things He wants to let us be apart of. “So that what is lame may not be put out of join, but rather healed.” If He were to hand us something great without training us first, we would crumble under the pressure and weight of it. Sometimes He puts a desire in our heart and we don’t understand why He is not allowing us to achieve it. He is working a deep healing in us (healing always hurts, remember), He is strengthening us in the deepest places, so that we can bear the weight of how He wants to use us, so that we can see the desire in our hearts come alive.
What do we do in the meantime? “Strive for peace, and for holiness.” Sounds simple right? We all know that when hard things hit, the initial reaction is to back down and quit. We are praying and seeking to do great things for the Lord, our hearts are full of pure intentions and a passion to serve Him but He is making us wait and we don’t know why. Then the stress of life starts to hit, then someone hurts our feelings, we begin to run out of grace, we being to think ‘no one understands what I’m dealing with!’ Or, the desire yet unfulfilled in our heart creates such an ache that we can’t hold out and wait for Him to bring it to pass so we begin to numb the pain and seek comfort in other things, we begin to settle, sinful things begin to seem not so bad. We’ve all been there, but we can’t stay there.
We have to come to a place where we see hard things as a gift, from the hands of our good Father. We have to speak this to ourselves, and we have to speak it to each other. We have to shout it over each other’s lives when we can’t hear it for ourselves. Discipline is a sign of favor. It is a sign that He is hearing our prayers, that He is and is going to continue to use us, and the position we will be in ahead requires special training. This should excite us! We have to endure well, we have to finish the training, and thankfully, He has promised that He will get us through. He who promised is faithful.
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”
Out of all of them very few will actually ever happen
The ones that do take place are the ones you never dreamed of,
The good and the bad
Adventures get traded for responsibilities,
Big dreams get traded for paying the bills,
School girl crushes and dreams of forever get exchanged for broken hearts and ‘why did you leave me’s?’
Changing the world becomes trying to survive the world that’s changing you
Crusted walls begin to form around the once fleshy warm substance of your heart
Is this it?
Is this what we’ve been running towards?
How did we get here?
Lost in a battle you never signed up to fight in
Unaware of what team you’re on or who is on your side or what anyone is fighting for anyway
You close your eyes one night on the floor of your parents living room
Dreaming of what your house will look like when you get married and move away,
You wake up to find yourself sitting in the hallway of your very own house asking
At times there is a heaviness within you that gladness cannot reach
Surrounded by numerous joy filled things, the joy is reflected by this heaviness that has surrounded your heart and anchored your soul
You carry the heaviness in hopes that it will fade
“You will get stronger, just keep going.”
“It will get lighter, just don’t stop.”
But no. It does not, it will not, you cannot.
People see your struggle and reach out.
“Here, here is love, hold it tightly and feel better.”
So you grasp on to love, you squeeze it so tightly and wait for it to sink deep down inside within you
But it does not
There is a heaviness that stands taller, stronger
The thickness of this heaviness allows for no love to come thru
You feel warm on the outside but the cold remains within.
Sometimes your spirit is so heavy within you, you say to it, “I cannot carry you around.”
So you leave it to carry itself
And you leave yourself
And you become something other
Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman
Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) left her home in London in her early twenties to pursue service in war torn China. Although fairly uneducated, having no ‘missionary’ training, and lacking any financial support, she felt God was asking her to go and teach the Bible and she simply went. This book is an autobiography of her story. From riding trains in the middle of a battle zone in China, to being held captive in Russia, to taking in Chinese orphans, to being approached by government officials to be a Foot Inspector…there is not one page in this book that will not consume your full attention. There are many spiritual elements and things to learn but at its core, her story contains all the elements for, well, a good story. This is probably why it was made into a film, The Inn of The Sixteenth Happiness in 1957.
I found myself greatly challenged by her life and her faith. She truly found what was worth investing in and she spent her life on it. We often think that doing this means taking on something large and grand. Reading this book you may be tempted to think her life was just that but as you read you see that she never set out to live a life that was book worthy, she set out to be faithful in each day and to each person she came across. We often don’t ‘go’ if we have to go alone. Gladys is a great example of someone who counted the cost and was willing to pay it. I couldn’t help but to think of the missionaries I know who are now on the field and how they need people to be behind them with encouragement, resources, and prayer.
Practically, at a hundred and fifty (small) pages, this book is an easy read for anyone; I read it in one sitting (about two hours). I would especially recommend it to anyone that is in a rut and needs a little heart stirring, to anyone who is in the middle of faithful serving and is feeling alone and weighed down, and to anyone who has heard God’s voice clearly but doesn’t see how things could possibly work out that way.
If you go back and read my last post, you will find it ends with this paragraph…
Maybe there are some things you are holding onto…some things that you just havent let Jesus clean up yet. Maybe it’s an outright sin, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a fear that you’ve been too scared to confront. Maybe it’s a very old wound that is just too painful to let Him touch so you keep it covered up in the dark. Maybe it’s an insecurity that you don’t trust Him to overcome. Maybe it’s a lie that you bought into years ago that has slowly infected the rest of your heart till you just can’t breath. Maybe it’s a relationship that has been broken for so long it’s just easier to cover it up- like putting a new shower curtain in a bathroom full of mold…We tend to think ‘Oh it’s just this one thing, it’s not affecting me that much.’ And He is repeatedly whispering to us- ‘let me at it, it’s got to go’. If we don’t let Him take it, it will slowly grip onto us and choke us to death.
That was almost exactly four months ago. I haven’t been able to type out a word since. There are many reasons, and I wont try to elaborate on all of them, but let me just say I am a different person than I was even just four months ago.
When I first decided to follow Christ and really lay everything I had on the table for His namesake, I counted the cost. It was a process of several months, wrestling and thinking things through. I told Him I was in but I couldn’t do things halfway. If He could use me, He should use me, but if I was giving Him my life, I wanted it to count. I know how crazy it sounds when people say “God told me” but God told me…He said clearer then anything I’ve ever known that if I would trust Him it would be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but He would use me in a way that would impact the world.
Looking back over the last five years in particular, He has allowed me to be apart of seeing great things happen. I have travelled the world. I have spoken in front of thousands of people. I have been a part of saving lives and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have seen the craziest things take place and seen Him work in ways that still blow me away.
I had this vision in my head of how things would continue to progress. It made sense, it looked great, I was full steam ahead with it. And then it all fell apart. The plan was ripped out of my hand and I was left with no explanation, no further instruction, no assurance of what was to come.
There is a purpose in every single step, and if you know me at all, you know I believe that. Part of the purpose in this was to show me where my identity lied. It’s very easy to be the girl that goes to Africa, or the girl that’s involved with that church, or the girl that is heading up this project…fill in the blank with a hundred other titles. I can do that. Give me a role and I can fill it. I can fill it very very well. Give me a goal and I will make it happen. I am gifted in that. Take away all my roles and leave me with nothing to cling to…I freak out. I realized I didn’t know how to relate to God without ‘doing’ something for Him. I realized I didn’t know how to relate to people without introducing myself as my ‘role’. I didn’t know how to let God ‘know’ me, deep down. I didn’t want Him to, deep down held a lot of junk that I didn’t want to uncover. Deep down was a lot of confusion, hurt, anger, and every other feeling you could list, and it all seemed so much better if it was kept ‘down there’. That last post I wrote about letting Him ‘gut us out’..that’s been me, and is me, and will probably continue to be me for quite some time.
In this process of gutting out, it’s so much easier to grasp onto outside things. It’s so much easier to cling to a new role and get busy doing really great at being that person all the while avoiding the deeper work that He is wanting to do. We can do really good at many things for years and years and never stop to work on the one thing He is trying to get us to work on. This whole writing thing quickly became that for me.
Within weeks of publishing this site I was getting thousands of reads on my posts. I had writing gig offers from several online sites. I had people asking me to do guest posts and book reviews and all kinds of incredible things. All these are things I want to pursue, and I believe are signs of His grace and favor in my life. People dont just get handed these kind of opportunities. But I felt myself gravitating towards the ‘writer’ role. I had to stop and step away while I could still see clearly.
He was and is wanting to do a deeper work in me, and I could very easily take the writer thing and run with it for days and weeks and years, and keep myself busy and distracted and sharing good things..all the while neglecting what He is really speaking to me.
It’s very easy to follow the ten steps to a succesful blog list and do fairly well. It’s very easy to look at all the popular Christian bloggers and copy the style and tone and topics and fit right in. It’s easy to write what people want to hear. But those things arent me. I struggle with this. I struggle to not cling to a role, or a theological camp, or a social class, or a circle of people. I struggle to not say what everyone else says, and do what everyone else does. I struggle to stand on my own and hear what He is saying and to share just that. I struggle to just be me. It’s scary. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. And honestly? Sometimes I just want to fit. I just want to cover up everything and I want to blend in and belong. But I always find myself somewhere awkardly in the middle, and He has always worked most through me when I get real.
So this is real.
This is me.
I didn’t plan for my life to look anything like it does right now.
I go back and forth from doubting the decisions I’ve made in the past to feeling the best is yet to come.
I am broken, and restless, and confused and struggling to make it through most days lately without tears of frustration.
I am daily feeling the tension of pursuing safety and security and knowing that He has put in me a desire for things that require safety and security to be sacrificed.
I am afraid to dream and hope because I’m still wounded from the crushing of past dreams and hopes.
I don’t know what in the world He is doing in me but it is beautiful and painful and scary all at the same time.
I don’t know what is ahead, and I am struggling to hold out hope that there is purpose here.
I am on a journey that all of us are on, if we’re being honest.
He keeps reminding me of His promise to use me for great things, and His word that He’s not done with me yet. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know how that will play out or if I’m just crazy and making things up in my head….I don’t know what you’re looking for, and I can’t promise you will like what I have to share here. But I can promise from here on out, it will be me and it will be real. I have a feeling that’s something you can relate to.