"This I know, that God is for me."
I stood in my new front yard this morning, looking over the plants and flowers. Swatting away the unrelenting mosquitos (we live across from a creek, and mosquitos love me), I stared down the impatiens I had planted a few weeks ago. Three separate plots in different corners of the flower beds. Three separate plots that were not blooming.
Determining that it wasn't the amount of sunlight or the soil itself that was holding them back, I discussed with my mom and determined maybe it was the water volume. Maybe they're getting too much from our sprinklers. But I can tell one of the plots is feeling pretty dry.
The foliage that was here before we moved in was thoughtfully laid out, but needed some tending. I spent hours cutting back overgrown shrubs and trees, knowing that often we need to cut back on a good thing in order for it to be better. There was a a lot of dead undergrowth that I pulled out... a dying underneath what appeared to be flourishing life. It amazes me how much the garden reflects the reality of our lives.
Today I saw a few buds on those older shrubs. I hadn't even known they were meant to flower. The surprise was sweet... but I questioned if they, like my impatiens, would truly begin to bloom. What was holding them back?
After such hard years, this spring was a sweet surprise to our family. A house, meant for us, to own. A surprise baby. Additionally, finding personal peace in motherhood and enjoying cultivating my relationship with my daughter. We rode in an insane high for a few weeks, then quickly felt it tempered by family strife, news of illness, and news of an old friend's tragic passing.
When difficulties arise, and especially when they pile on quickly, the feelings I had in our clerkship years return to me. I question the bigger picture – how do I trust a God who allows suffering? How do I walk with Him when He authored my rocky path? The weight of those questions hang like chains around my ankles, slowing me down to a halt. I sit on the path, unable to move forward, where it's too easy to look back.
I look back, and I know... it's not easy for me to see His presence there. He's the only reason I can find that I survived my suicidal moment last year. I know He has authored all of the beauty that's happened in my life... but the strife? He may not have authored it, but He did allow it, and intended it for my good. That is the beauty of His grace, of the Gospel. Why is that so hard for me to grasp?
I started reading Tim Keller's "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering" this week. Tim points out that the Bible, over and over again, addresses and narrates the suffering of God's people; that the Bible is devoted to the subject. One of the many ways the Bible describes suffering is as a "fiery furnace." "Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. Suffering, if faced and endured with faith, can in the end only make us stronger, better, and more filled with greatness and joy. Suffering, then, can actually use evil against itself. It can thwart the destructive purposes of evil and bring light and life out of darkness and death." Thank you, Tim.
A point I find that strikes me here is this: "...if faced and endured with faith..." In 2 Corinthians, Paul, writing from prison, states that "...we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." I look back on our clerkship years and do not see this to be true of my experience. I felt incredibly distant from God. Often, I felt it impossible to even pray. I remember texting dear friends and asking them to pray on my behalf, because I couldn't do it. My weakness was felt deep in the core of my being. I appeared to be flourishing on the outside, but inside I was wasting away.
I remember questioning why God wasn't showing up. He knew how hard moving, losing and remaking friends, becoming a mother, being present in my marriage would all be for me. He designed me, He knows my bents. Why was He not rescuing me?
I told a few friends last October about the suffering I had been walking through. Expecting to hear sympathy, I had one friend poignantly tell me, "Brittany, God didn't turn away from you. You turned away from God. You need to repent of that." I knew she was right. I told her thank you. But my heart wasn't ready to begin that process.
It's only now, under the shadow of a new wave of darkness in my life, that I can begin that work. Depression and seasons of hardship do not have quick fixes. They require work, and the work takes time. There are layers to peel back, and it often takes new hardships to pull back the next layer. It frustrates me. But I see that it is good... the garden teaches me so. I can only plant new flowers if I pull out the dead that was there before. The flowers will only flourish when provided good soil, water and sunlight. And even then, there's troubleshooting... pests that come to eat or trample that I must learn to keep out. Water quantities and hours of sunlight must be taken into account. Maybe what I've planted isn't quite right and we have to start over.
Also, accepting that my bent toward depression is a lifelong journey is hard to swallow. There was a time not long ago, when I was walking so close to the Lord, that I naively believed He had "cured" me of depression. That I would never face that temptation again. That walking with Him would mean He would protect me. In some ways, this is true. But if I'm not walking with Him, His light cannot chase out the darkness that follows me. And I must remember that it follows me always. Satan does not rest, and His wickedness is more subtle than I can ever understand. I must stay close to the Lord, because without Him, I have no hope of survival against the enemy.
In Psalm 56, David explains, multiple times, that his enemies prey on him all day long; "all day long an attacker oppresses me;" "my enemies trample on me all day long," "they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life." This is the power of Satan in our lives. In good times, it is difficult to grasp. In America, where (for many) it can be easy to live a comfortable life, it can be impossible to imagine. I think this is where we find suffering to be as difficult as it is... it is an interruption of our comfort, a surprise to our perspective. In the same psalm, David also states, "You [God] have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me."
And here, David reveals the great secret to my anguished wonderings. "When I call... then my enemies will turn back." God keeps record of every tear I've shed. He is for me. I must call Him.
I am still learning about the mystery of turning to Him when the chains weigh me down so heavily. Part of the lesson is that my prayers must be ceaseless. Before the chains bind me, I must be in prayer. The phrase "gratitude turns what we have into enough" is incredibly true, especially in prayer. Throughout the Bible, there are countless echoes calling us to thankfully pray. It is this posture, even in our darkest suffering, that orients our hearts towards His light. If we can find any iota of gratitude in the darkness (which, by the power of the Gospel, we can), then we have a fighting chance because we have allowed our hearts to access God.
And even if we are defeated by Satan, even if we cannot reach the smallest mustard seed of gratitude, it is God who will come running. Like He did for me that awful spring day last year when I questioned taking my own life.
I will close this journaling with a beautiful metaphor I heard this week that allowed me to see my suffering from a new perspective. From the one C.S. Lewis... "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."
It is this truth I will continue to cling to in the darkness. When I question why, I don't always need to understand... but I can trust that He intends to come and live within me, that this is promised, a guarantee. He is my Emmanuel, and He will never abandon me. I will not be shaken.
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