Same Spot…Different Day

It was one of those moments when, the only appropriate response was for my heart to squeak out an exhausted, “Really God? Really?”
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Context…

I am prone to bursts and gusts of despair and darkness. They blow up, sometimes unexpectedly, and sometimes very expectedly, with a ferocity that at times is crippling. Fortunately, with years of experience, with wise counsel, with some gentle and profound healing in the areas of my heart that generate the pain… for the most part… I am learning how to ride out the storms. I know they won’t last (even if they feel like they will never end), and I am often able to realize that there is an alternate perspective on my situation… that if I can just hang on for a while…I will eventually find the safe harbor of clarity. I am able to speak to my heart with words like, “This will pass. It isn’t the end of the world. There is hope. There is much to be grateful for in the middle of it all. Darkness precedes dawn. Jesus can be trusted with this.” I can usually find a storm cellar to climb in, just as the dust kicks up, the atmospheric pressure drops dramatically, and the funnel cloud appears on the horizon.

And…

Sometimes my life’s experience hasn’t felt like a day-long ferocious blizzard, but more like a prolonged winter that goes on and on. We’ve all experienced seasons of life that, if they were a color, would fall into the muted, bland shades of gray and brown and weak yellow…those seasons when stuff just happens…and keeps happening. And just when you think you will get a moment to catch your breath…along comes another punch to the gut. The result is that some days (some weeks, some months), it can be a titanic struggle to get my body and heart to muster enough energy and momentum, to engage, to initiate, to smile, to care. Of course, I am describing depression. In the past few years, I’ve wrestled with both emotional/spiritual weather systems – seasons of depression, sprinkled in with bursts of despair, for variety.

Into all of this…

I was walking in Chattanooga recently, and enjoying a beautiful evening. I was praying, being present to my heart, eating some amazing ice cream, and resting in the quiet and joy of exploring a fantastic city, all of which I love to do. It was golden and I was happy. And then, out of nowhere, on a relatively smooth section of pavement, I stepped into the one dip, and twisted my ankle. One moment, I was enjoying a needed respite from my turmoil, and the next, I was on the ground, one knee bleeding, the other ankle swelling like a grapefruit, far from home, wondering what in the world had just happened.

And while sitting on my backside, experiencing the rush of sudden bodily pain, my heart uttered the words, “Really God? Really? With all I’ve been through, You couldn’t smooth my paths and protect my ankles from turning for one night?” Without going into the details, I spent the rest of my evening…trying to figure out where in the world I was in my relationship with Him.

The next day, I got up early to take another walk. Because I wanted to see a sunrise, because I wanted to exercise before sitting in class all day, because my time in Chattanooga was limited and I wanted to make the most of it, because walking is good for a swollen ankle, and because God and I had some unfinished business between us. I am a kinesthetic pray-er – He and I often talk while I’m moving.  So I went for a walk. Again.

And, without thinking too much about it, I inadvertently ended up in the exact same spot where, the night before, I had been hurt. This time however, the Chattanooga track club was there, handing out water.IMG_5612

One day, this place caused me pain. Twelve hours later, it was where I received a cup of cool water.

Same spot, different day.

It was a powerful picture for me of some of the ways that God works in my life:

…He takes the same things that hurt me, and eventually uses them to bless me, teaching me to not fear the dips, but to learn to reframe and eventually welcome them.

…Sometimes pain stops me in my tracks because I need stopping in my tracks…because it starts different and more meaningful conversations with God than I would often choose on my own… because He wants me to pay attention to Him or my heart in a way I can’t when I’m busy with my own agenda…because what He wants to give me is infinitely more valuable than what He takes away from me while I hurt.

…There are times when God mercifully repeats experiences for me. The first time, things may not go so well. Something gets squeezed out from the inside of me that I need to see, or need to own. But the second or third time… there can be a different outcome. I learn or grow or change. By repeating an experience, He allows me to see the progress I’ve made. It allows me to see more of Him, parts of Him that may be hidden the first time around, but revealed with repeated laps around the same places. And it blesses me with what we call in the counseling world “an emotionally corrective experience”. The first night, my pain revealed something of my go-to impressions of God. I experienced God as One who callously hurts me. The next morning, I saw and experienced Him as One who lovingly provides for me. The second experience was a healing one, correcting a bit of something that was broken deep inside of me, that was actually causing me much more soul-level pain than a sprained ankle.

…And when I keep showing up for our walks, even when I’m limping…when I keep engaging, even when everything in me wants to isolate and quit, He accepts my walk with Him as an offering. He takes it and does something with it. Something for my good. Something that I would have missed out on had I slept in, or decided that my ankle was too swollen to walk on. The conversations with Him about how He uses the “same spot, different day” dynamic to bless me continues to be a powerful shaping dynamic in my relationship with Him.

 

 

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The Role Of Despair In The Life Of A Believer (Jesus pt. 68)

Despair – 1. (n) The complete loss or absence of hope. 2, To be overcome with a sense of futility or defeat. 3 (v) To lose or be without hope.

What powerful words in the definition. “Complete” “Loss” “Absence” “Overcome” “Futility” “Defeat” “Without hope”.

Let’s get honest here for a moment…followers of Jesus experience despair. I have struggled with it. I know many others who have. Life doesn’t go the way we planned, hoped, thought it should. We extrapolate from our circumstances something of how we think God must feel about us. And if we think He isn’t trustworthy, isn’t loving, isn’t good – if we think we aren’t loved – despair rises. It, life, feels hopeless.

In addition to the crushing weight of the feeling of “This will never change. This will never work out. This is evidence of His lack of love for me. This is making me wish He would take me home now.”,  I have also struggled with “Christians shouldn’t feel this way. Jesus must be so disappointed in me. I can’t tell anyone else how I really feel because it is so deeply unspiritual.”

But it exists. And followers of Jesus experience it. Therefore I must conclude that despair has a work to do in the life of a believer. Here are some thoughts on it.

Despair isn’t the enemy. Instead, it can function like a light on the dashboard, warning that there is trouble under the hood. It provides information – that all is not well and I must give my heart and soul some attention. Maybe even actively seek help from others who can ‘see’ reality more clearly, from a place where vision isn’t blurred by despair.

Despair can act like an emotional winter, stopping my outer world for while and slowing me down both physically and spiritually. It can look very discouraging on the outside, but inside, like the roots of a tree during the cold dark months, it can prompt some very deep, very long-lasting growth. Dealing with some of the issues that stir despair – fear, insecurity, doubt, worry, theological issues, woundedness – when I invite Jesus to speak to them and He does, I am not the same afterwards. When spring rolls back around, as it always does, the platform on which new growth emerges is wider, stronger and more solid.

Despair can demand expression, a chance to speak into my life. Pretending it isn’t there or ignoring it only prolongs the pain. It is sort of like when my husband and I have a disagreement. (It happens.) And we postpone our conversation to reconcile it. Those are some long, cold nights. It feels the same with my heart when I ignore something that it wants to talk with me about.

Despair can force an honesty and willingness to engage Jesus out of me. Because it hurts so much, it has the capacity to remove the filter I often put over my words, that leads me to say the things I think are acceptable and “right” in church circles. This is a fancy way of saying that I will often try to lie about the condition of my heart if I can get away with it. The pain of despair can lead me to stop playing games and bring my darkness into the light so Jesus can speak to it and heal it.

And despair creates in me a longing for His coming, for Him to re-create this world where there is no more pain, tears or hopelessness. Despair can drive me to realize that my only hope doesn’t come from this world. It can drive me, wounded and weeping into the arms of my Savior, who makes all things right with His presence. I am learning that whatever brings me into His presence can be a blessing to me.

Where Jesus is, there is always hope. He holds the power in His hands to change things. Heal things. Raise them from the dead. External things and life’s circumstances – sometimes. When we encounter Him, He doesn’t always fix what is broken on the outside, but He always changes our hearts. And when that happens, when our hearts are renewed and strengthened and we see the world for how it really is, we have the strength to withstand the pain that comes our way. We have the ability to find Him and His joy in the midst of terrible darkness. We may fall, but in the falling, we find there is ground beneath us. Solid ground that holds. Despair can lead us to discover that He is truly enough. That He is love. That He is capable of redeeming even the worst of our fears and pain. These are truths that are only theoretical till proven true in our lives through the crucible of despair.