Chronic Peace

“You seem really at ease with yourself these days.”

My friend’s comment came after my recounting a sad circumstance in my life right now. It’s a circumstance that has been around a long time and caused way more than its fair share of heartache. But as I described the latest development, instead of pain I felt peace. 

Huh. 

When my friend pointed out my demeanor, I realized that peace has been here for awhile now. I’m not sure when, exactly, it made its debut, but I do know exactly how it got here—inside the heart of a girl who is starting to grasp that she used to be broken, but largely isn’t anymore. 

(Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of cracks and fissures, and part of me is scared to death one of those weak spaces will break the whole dang thing again any instant. But I’m learning to ignore that part because she needs a Xanax and a week at the beach.)

This chronic peace I’ve been experiencing the past several months is a direct result of increased confidence in God to take care. To take care of my heart and my family and my friends and my future and my job and my church and my everything. 

How, pray tell, did I get this surge of confidence? By going through hell and experiencing Him deliver me. 

David spent a lot of time in his own hell on earth, during which he penned some brutally honest psalms. And what I’ve been noticing is his remarkable confidence in God to protect him and see him through and bless him—both during his suffering and after. 

Just one of the many examples we could look at is Psalm 71:20-21, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.”

‭The NIV Study Bible guys say David wrote this toward the very end of his life. Enemies liked to come knocking when kings were elderly, seeing them and their nations as easy prey. 

Knowing this, how can David write so confidently? Does he really believe God will enable him to lead well and protect Israel against her enemies despite his body probably becoming frail and his mind probably starting to go at a rapid pace? 

I think he does, and I’ll tell you why. 

(I know, you can hardly wait.)

David uses the word “again” twice and again’s twin sister, “once more”, once. In three sentences David implies the foundation of his confidence three times: “God has done all this for me before!”

In fact, God had delivered David from countless seasons of ridiculous suffering and unbelievable trials throughout his life. As a direct result, David knows God will continue to deliver him until he is delivered right on into heaven. 

I’m not super old yet, but I’m starting to catch on to what David learned about God: He can be wholly trusted all the time. And truly believing that brings chronic peace. 

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On Darkness

At our Easter service the pastor said something to the effect of, “Darkness cannot eliminate darkness; only light can eliminate darkness.”

Of course, the darkness is our sinfulness and/or pain we experience because we are fallen people in a fallen world, and the light is Jesus, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of the fact that we – in our own strength – often try to eliminate darkness with more darkness.

When we feel depressed or angry or otherwise discontent (that is, when we feel darkness), how often is our knee-jerk response to try to combat those feelings with more darkness?

My go-to’s include, but are not limited to, over-eating, under-eating (I’m a complicated person), distracting myself via hours of reruns or Word Brain (you guys, I’m addicted), manipulating, withdrawing, clinging, sleeping, worrying, over-analyzing, indulging and the list goes on and on.

I sin to make myself feel better because I buy the lie that sin will make me feel better.

And so do you.

Unchecked, we all use dark measures to try to rid ourselves of dark emotions.

And the way our pastor put it made me realize how illogical that is. Darkness cannot eliminate darkness. Sin cannot eliminate emotional pain. (In fact, sin only and always amplifies emotional pain, but that’s where the darkness metaphor breaks down, so let’s save that for another day).

Only light can eliminate darkness.

Jesus is the light, according to the scriptures (John 9:5). He is truth. He is love. And whoever lives in the light – whoever combats their own darkness with the truth of Jesus Christ – has life (John 8:12; Psalm 36:9).

There is only one way out of our pain and our sin – our darkness. And that way is Jesus – the Light. As we press into Him in our moments (our days, our months, our years…) of darkness, He will bring light (truth, hope, love, comfort).

How to Be Helped

David makes a simple observation in Psalm 28 that has stuck with me for a couple of weeks now, so perhaps it is important…

He writes, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me,” (Psalm 28:7). 

Now, I don’t know if David believed this when he wrote it and was just stating a fact or if he was struggling with a heavy heart, as he often did, and was rehearsing truth in order to make his heart believe it… (I tend to assume the latter because a) verses 1-3 communicate David is in distress, and b) I am, as it turns out, a pessimist.)

In any case, I’ve been pondering the second half of verse 7 for a few days – my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. In other translations it reads David’s heart currently trusts in God, and David is helped.

I guess there is a possibility the two ideas – David’s trusting and David’s being helped – were meant to be independent of one another, but experience tells me they usually aren’t.

When my heart has trusted in God in the past, I’ve been helped. Rarely, if ever, have I been helped while my heart was distrusting God. And by “helped” I mean emotionally stabilized and encouraged, not God gives me all the solutions to all of my challenges.

Interpreted that way, the verse presents us a very simple rule of thumb:

How to Be Helped

Simple. Not easy.

The truth is it’s hard for us to trust God most of the time. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Our feelings are loud and our circumstances are pressing and God is invisible and His timetable is not usually ever the same as ours… and we begin to question, quietly, in the corners of our souls where we don’t want church people to see, does God really have my best interest in mind?

The great theologian, Bono, once said, “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now.” But it sure feels like we need a lot of things and people we don’t have… It feels like God has maybe lost track of our needs… let them slip through the cracks…

And it’s when we are feeling like this that we have a choice. Do we want to be helped, or do we want to be hindered? It’s up to us, really. No one else can make the choice for us.

If we want to be helped, “all” we have to do is trust in God. God says He will meet all of our needs. Period. We have to resolve to believe Him (and Bono). If we don’t have something, it’s because we don’t actually need it. Not yet, anyway.

A final word: I suspect some of you might say to me, “I want to be helped. I want to trust God… I just don’t. And I can’t fake like I do…” I know. I lived as a hostage to my own limitations for many years (and frequently revisit that mindset, just to say hello…).

Something that freed me up in moments like that is this instruction: go to God and tell Him, “I want to trust You, but I don’t. Please help me trust You.” That’s it. You don’t have to pretend like you trust Him when you don’t – that’s exhausting, and He knows the truth anyway. Just sit before Him with a transparent heart, and ask Him to help you.

In fact, you might not even want to trust Him right now… maybe you’re hurting and want to hang it all up. Go to Him and tell Him just that – that you don’t want to trust Him – and ask Him to help you to want to trust Him… the crazy thing is, He will. And once He gives you the desire to trust Him, even though you don’t, then you can ask Him for the trust itself.

Whatever your next step is on the road to trusting Him more, as David wrote in verse 7, God is your strength to move forward.

What to Do When You’re Depressed

Tonight was one of those nights I casually flipped through my Bible looking for something to speak to the crap in my heart. Usually, I can rely on David to put pen to paper for me, so I broke open the Psalms and started reading at random. About ten minutes into it, I found what I needed to ponder.

Psalm 13.

Allow me to mash the NIV, ESV, and Amplified versions together to propose the most impactful reading possible:

How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; lighten the eyes [of my faith to behold Your face in the pitchlike darkness], lest I sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 

Cheery so far, no?

It’s important to point out that David is speaking like this to God. I know that seems pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning because I have a hunch a lot of religious people and/or new believers don’t understand they have the freedom to be transparent with the Lord.

David is depressed, and he just can’t keep his overwhelming thoughts to himself anymore. Although he has tried to keep his thoughts sorted out and his emotions in check, verse 2 tells us he hasn’t been successful. He’s spinning his spiritual wheels, and he can’t take it anymore. So, to borrow an expression from my friend, David verbally vomits all over God.

Now, David is not blaming God for whatever challenging circumstances he has found himself in that are causing his depression. And David is not being disrespectful toward God by expressing his feelings, albeit passionately. Yes, we’re allowed and encouraged to be candid with the Lord, but we still must be mindful that He is God and we are not, and, therefore, He is due respect at all times.

David communicates his painful feelings of sorrow, neglect, and frustration, and then he asks the Lord to “lighten the eyes” of his faith to behold God’s face in the utter darkness of his depression. That’s an interestingly worded request.

David understands his feelings are not necessarily reflective of reality. He feels forgotten and abandoned by God, but he knows he isn’t. Why else would he continue to pray? If he truly believed God had left him, David wouldn’t be calling out to Him anymore.

As inaccurate as they may be, his feelings are still a powerful force that needs to be dealt with. So David asks God to refocus his heart. David asks for his faith to be refreshed and his spiritual eyes to be put back on God.

Why does David make this request of God? Perhaps because David knows he can’t accomplish this feat himself. In the throes of depression, David doesn’t have the strength nor the will power to “pull himself up by his boot straps” and “turn that frown upside down”.

He asks the Lord to “lighten his eyes” because he can’t possibly lighten them himself. If you’ve ever been around a depressed person, you know this is true. There is no light in their eyes – no hope or faith in God – and no amount of them wishing there was makes it so.

[Note: I am not saying depressed people are not people of faith. Don’t send me letters. Read this instead.]

David knows if God doesn’t correct his eyesight – restore hope to his soul by refocusing his vision on the Lord – he WILL be overcome. David is in a desperate place, and, in a very literal way, his life is at stake. I don’t know that we can go so far as to say David’s lament that he will “sleep the sleep of death” if God doesn’t rescue him from his depression is an indication that he may have been suicidal. But I don’t know that we can rule that out, either. Most of the commentaries like to think of this as a reference to spiritual death – David’s soul will be so utterly overwhelmed if the Lord doesn’t deliver him that he will be as good as dead. In either case, David’s life will be profoundly changed for the worse – either literally through physical death or spiritually through spiritual collapse.

Just when this psalm couldn’t get any graver, David pens this conclusion:

But I have trusted, leaned on, and been confident in Your mercy and loving-kindness; my heart shall rejoice and be in high spirits in Your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Wait, what?

Where did that come from?

In verse 4 David is on the brink of spiritual annihilation, and in verse 5 he is skipping through fields of wildflowers with Pharrell’s “Happy” as his soundtrack.

This is about the point I want to shut my Bible and say, “I can’t even.” David and I had been tracking together just fine until now…

Just after he says he can’t pull himself up by his boot straps, he does? No, I don’t think this change of heart came from David’s can-do attitude. Remember, he just got done communicating he didn’t have what it took to overcome his thoughts and sorrow himself. He needed God in the worst way!

No, I think David’s sudden change of heart wasn’t of his own doing; I think it was a direct answer to David’s prayer in verse 4.

(I legitimately wonder how much time passed between David recording his plea with the Lord to deliver him from his depression in verse 4 and his inspirational self pep talk in verses 5 and 6. I’m thinking DAYS.)

The Lord answered David’s request to refocus his heart on God by empowering David to recall God’s trustworthiness, dependability, mercy, and unfailing loving-kindness, as well as by reminding David of his salvation and other blessings from the Lord. No matter how long it did or did not take for David’s tune to change, the Lord pulled him out of his depression by directing him to mediate on these things.

You and I can take a page out of David’s book when we’re flat on our backs emotionally. We can be honest with the Lord – passionately and transparently, yet respectfully honest – about how we’re feeling when we’re down. And we can fervently ask the Lord to “lighten our eyes” and refocus our hearts on Him. And then – and this is my favorite part – we can wait for the Lord to lift us from our sadness by empowering us like He did David to think truthful, helpful thoughts.

We don’t have to get ourselves together. Frankly, often we can’t. But God can. He did it for David time and time again (see Psalms 42, 43, and 55 for more examples), and He can do it for us too. Ask.

How to Be Satisfied with God When You Feel Dissatisfied with God

Sometimes it’s easy to feel God’s love.

For whatever reason, every worship song you hear and Bible verse you read floods you with absolute confidence in the Lord’s personal affection for you. You walk around with a smile on your face, knowing, like the psalmist, that His love really is better than life, and you have the warm tingly feeling in your soul to prove it (Psalm 63:3).

Other times, not so much.

No amount of Chris Tomlin lyrics or scripture perusing resonates. You feel empty as a tin can and can’t figure out why the Lord doesn’t seem to satisfy you. Your attempts to draw near to Him fall flat. And you feel guilty.

After all, He’s supposed to be all we need… He wants to be our heart’s main desire, everything and everyone else paling in comparison.

And we want that to be the case… but sometimes it just isn’t. We don’t feel His love all the time, and when the feeling escapes us, we often grow dissatisfied with Him.

Does it have to be that way?

What if we could learn to be satisfied with God even when we don’t feel warm, lovey feelings for or from Him?

I’m just throwing out the question because, as the valedictorian of basing beliefs on feelings instead of facts, my personal opinion is this tall order feels dang near impossible. (There I go again, letting my feelings tell me what’s true/possible…)

In Romans 5 Paul talks about how we have peace with God through faith in Jesus, and that brings us hope (Romans 5:1-2).

Verse 5 reads, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us,” (Romans 5:5).

In other words, believers have God’s love in their hearts… all the time… whether they feel it or not. It’s a permanent condition of our souls, to be inhabited by the love of God. It’s a fact.

So even when we don’t feel love for or loved by God, we can choose to believe the truth that we are loved by Him, and we have His love within us (and Romans 5:5) to prove it.

God’s love is in our hearts – the feeling component of ourselves. If we aren’t feeling it, something is askew. We need to ask Him to help us feel His love again.

In the meantime, perhaps we can choose to be satisfied with the knowledge that His love has not left us and that He will help us feel it again, sooner or later.

Dream

It was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and I hadn’t slept yet. I stared at the ceiling, weighing pros and cons of a major pending decision – where to get my master’s degree.

I rehearsed the countless variables and possible outcomes; I recalled the details of the diligent research I’d done; I reflected on the conversations I’d had with many people who had done what I want to do, who had been where I am going, weighing their advice carefully. Between making my own guesses about what would be the most practical and affordable choice, I asked the Lord to reveal His wisdom and will.

Not getting very far, I tried to focus my mind elsewhere, hoping to relax enough to finally fall asleep. I was almost there when a thought was emblazoned in my mind. I came to and wrote it down because I didn’t want to forget it by morning.

Too often I dream too small because I think God is limited by dollar signs. He isn’t. He has a way of providing the funds for me to become all He has created me to be. Dream on.

Huh.

I’m not sure where this thought came from (and I didn’t care for the Aerosmith reference one bit), but I knew immediately it was true of me.

I’ve always dreamt small, aimed low, settled for low-hanging fruit.

I’m not saying I haven’t worked hard – I have, especially in academia. I’m saying I’ve always made my decisions based strictly upon practicality.

“I can’t” is central to my vocabulary, not because I lack ability or drive, but because I limit myself based on what I think is reasonable to assume can be accomplished with the resources I have – time, money, circumstances, experience, level of education, etc.

In this grad school case, I have let my estimations of what would be practical financially for our family limit my decision as to what program I enroll in. In other words, I’ve picked the cheapest, shortest degree possible in my field.

I began to groggily wonder at 2:26 AM if perhaps the Lord was nudging me to rethink my practical approach…

Six-something AM came too quickly, and I knew two things immediately: 1) There would not be enough coffee that day, and 2) I had to make a decision sooner than later or nights of little sleep would continue.

I got the girls off to school and sat down with a cup of coffee and my computer to check the news (which really means to scroll through my Twitter feed).

I follow a guy named Michael Hyatt, a big wig in publishing, platform building, leadership, and the like, and, wouldn’t you know it, he had posted an article with the tag line, “Are you dreaming big enough?” (The actual name of the article is “Don’t Leave God Out of Your Plans“.)

Huh.

I clicked on the short article, which basically says work hard, but don’t forget it is God that chooses whether or not an endeavor will be successful. In and of ourselves, we aren’t enough.

Michael quoted Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

What struck me about this verse is the Lord has to be behind the building of the small house as well as the protection of the large city. He must be the foundation of all things, no matter their size or perceived importance. He is just as capable of building the house as well as guarding the city, and He must or neither effort will be successful.

I am going to have to rely on Him just as much to provide for the “cheap” degree as I am the “expensive” degrees. Ultimately, if He is not building my education, I am building it in vain. But if He is building my education, there will be no stopping Him. The Lord is not limited by dollar signs.

A little while later I picked up a book I am reading for advent called The Greatest Gift (Voskamp). The scripture for that day was the story of Abraham setting out to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Right in the nick of time, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead, so Abraham named that place The Lord Provides (Genesis 22:1-14).

Huh.

I paused and thought about my early morning musing – God has a way of providing everything we need to become all He has created us to be. Isaac needed that ram. Without that ram, Isaac never would’ve become the ancestor to Christ God created him to be, and Jesus’ lineage would’ve stopped right then… the story would’ve been over. Redemption would’ve become an impossibility. All would’ve been lost. Forever.

I read on.

Voskamp wrote, like only she can, “The Lord sees. And He will see to it. And He will be seen.” The simplicity of the words juxtaposed against the complexity of the thoughts behind the words stopped me. I re-read them. I considered each sentence slowly, absorbing the full weight of the truth she’d encapsulated.

The Lord sees… He sees my situation… He sees yours… He is not blind… He isn’t disinterested… He is paying attention… He is aware… The Lord sees.

And He will see to it… He will take care of your dilemma… He will provide what you need… He will not forget… He will not drop the ball… He will see to it.

And He will be seen… He will be glorified through your situation… Your heart will respond in praise to His faithfulness… Others will see His hand and marvel, too… He will be seen.

Huh.

At this point I acutely (hear the sarcasm) observed the Lord was telling me to dream big and trust Him to provide.

So I committed to the school I felt would help me do that best, enrolled in my first class, and shelled out a lot of money.

And then my husband came home and told me he’d gotten a Christmas bonus for the price of the class minus $50. Sure, we could stand to put that money toward other things, but the timing of the provision of this particular check was not lost on either of us. It was as if the Lord said to me, “Go. I got this.”

I share all this to give Him glory and to encourage you in your situation where you need to be dreaming bigger and trusting Him more. God will provide everything you need to become exactly who He created you to be. 

How God Heals

When my daughter was three years old, she fell down our stairs. Her ongoing tears told me she had broken her arm. A few hours later an x-ray confirmed my deduction; she had broken both bones in her left forearm. So, we were ushered into the casting room of the orthopedic office.

I watched the tech gently slide a breathable cloth sleeve onto my daughter’s arm. Then she carefully wrapped the arm with a long strip of cotton, overlapping layers as she went, and securing some padding between my daughter’s index finger and thumb. Lastly, strips of wet fiberglass (pink, of course) were wrapped around the arm and allowed to dry to form the hard outer shell of the cast.

Lexi Marie - No Longer ThreeThis memory came to mind this morning as I was reflecting on that worn out verse that says,”[God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,”(Psalm 147:3). Clearly, this verse is talking about God healing emotional hurts, but my thoughts took me elsewhere. I thought about the healing process of physically broken and wounded people.

The casting process is multifaceted. There are several steps that have to be done in a certain order for the cast to serve it’s function in healing a bone. Casting takes precision and patience. The broken bone will heal correctly if the cast is put on correctly and left on for the correct amount of time.

I’m not up on my wound care, but it’s probably safe to say that process of healing open wounds requires similar diligence – washing, applying ointments, bandaging, taping, etc. Repeating these steps in the correct order for the correct amount of time will most likely result in healing of the skin.

Both processes are slow.

Kind of like how God heals our broken hearts and emotional wounds. Slowly.

Sometimes days and weeks and months and years may pass without us sensing that we are being healed in any way. As with the casted broken bone, all we can do is wait. There is nothing for us to do to expedite the process. God will heal our broken hearts with the fiberglass of time.

Other times we cooperate with God in the healing of our emotional wounds, daily doing our part to change bandages and apply more antiseptic. We have a role to play in our emotional healing – cleaning out closets, tossing what we don’t need, and replacing those items with things we’ve been missing all our lives. And after awhile, God heals our once festering wounds with the ointments of time and our own hard work.

All of it hurts.

But we live in a fallen world – where bones and skin sometimes break but hearts break much more frequently.

The thing about that verse, though, is that it clearly establishes God as the author of our healing. He does it. HE does it. Which means healing doesn’t originate with us. WE don’t have to figure it all out. Yes, He may ask for our cooperation in the healing process, but the power and wisdom and prerogative are all His.

We can rest.

Which, ironically, is exactly what our bodies and souls need to do when they are broken.