Who’s With You in the Mess?

Yesterday I talked about how much I hate being sad. Several women contacted me to say they were grateful that what is often the silent trial of sadness was brought into the light. They, too, are sad about unplanned singleness, relational challenges, distance from family, martial strife or ongoing struggles with weight.

It made me wonder why we’re sometimes afraid to admit we’re sad.

Is is because we will be perceived as ungrateful? Whiny? Discontent? Do we fear others will quickly point out all the things and people in our lives for which we should be thankful? Does being sad mean we are automatically ungrateful or discontent?

In short, is sadness always rooted in sin in our hearts? If not, why do we and others often rush to “fix” the sadness with reminders of God’s blessings?

I’ll be honest.  I often want to “fix” others sadness because I don’t want to face their sadness either!  Recently one of my grandchildren was crying because she had lost a treasured toy. Her sadness threw me into high gear to help her find it! When we couldn’t locate the toy I pulled her onto my lap and attempted to talk her through the disappointment and assure her it would turn up soon. No amount of words helped. She wanted that toy in her little hands…now. After a few minutes of sitting in Granma’s lap she settled down and ran off to play.

When we hurt, others don’t know what to do. They want to fix our hurt or disappointment or sense of loss by helping us to see our sin, seeking to align our thinking with biblical truth or ask us what they can do to make things better.  But sometimes we just need to be held and told that God is with us. Human “fixes” don’t really deal with the pain when what we really need is His comforting presence.

A friend and I were talking last week and I was expressing to her my craving for relief from the sadness in my life.

“What would bring you relief, Sheree?” she asked.

footage.shutterstock.com

footage.shutterstock.com

I paused. The thoughts running through my mind all surrounded a change in my circumstances: better communication between Benny and me; fewer interruptions during the day from my mother-in-law; appreciation and understanding from an in-law with whom I had a recent conflict; etc. When I shared these things with her she listened patiently but even as I talked my words seemed hallow. There was something missing. I knew comfort and hope wouldn’t really be found by God fixing my circumstances but by doing something wonderful in my heart.

My wise and caring friend empathized with my struggles but then lovingly reminded me that the relief I sought wouldn’t be genuinely found by God dealing with the stuff on the list I had just shared with her. While this would be wonderful on one hand, deeper peace would come in enjoying His help and strength in the midst of my challenging circumstances. Because the Christian life is one of various trails and difficulties  (which are, in fact, promised because of our fallen lives and world) I needed to know that the Bible also promises that Someone is with me all the way.

“Sheree, what we all need to understand is that true relief is found in God walking with us through the messes of our broken and flawed lives. That’s why Jesus came into this dark and needy world: to bring His presence here.” She went on to communicate that the temporary relief from Him fixing the current circumstances would tempt me to find my hope in man, not Him.

Over the past week her words have meandered through my thoughts, bringing me hope. I’m a fixer. I find peace in order. I don’t do well in the midst of a mess (unless it’s created by my adorable grandchildren!). My good friend helped me to see that I was looking for relief in all the wrong places.

The source of your and my relief is God Himself. Not God plus an attentive husband or obedient kids or understanding in-laws or more money or less weight or living near family or fewer interruptions in our full days. Those things may happen or they may not. But what is always true no matter what messes we find ourselves in which bring sadness or pain is this: God is with us. He is faithful, good and loving — even when hardships expose our anger, resentment, self-pity, distrust of Him or ungratefulness.

God is with us in the mess and that’s where relief can truly be found.

And here’s another comforting reminder: not only is He with us but He is patient with our wrestlings. He is at work, moving us toward hope that His past faithfulness to carry us through dark times in the past is a pledge of His present and future grace to bring us through yet again.

Cleaning up the mess might seem like the best thing that could happen in our lives right now. But another mess is just down the road because we live in a fallen world with fellow sinners; a world that is literally groaning for Jesus to return and make all things new (Romans 8:22). Our own groanings for relief can be turned to humble cries to God to help us see and experience Him in the mess.

My sadness is still coming and going. But gratefully I am more aware of God’s comforting presence in the midst of it. He is opening my eyes to see that fixing the mess is far less important than experiencing His strength, tender love and comforting guidance in the mess. He is using His word and a dear friend to counsel me and I am finding growing peace even though my circumstances aren’t changing.

There is hope.

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Something I truly Hate.

I dislike numerous things but honestly, I hate being sad.

Sadness is like a thick, wet blanket that closes in on me and tempts me to feel alone. Do you know what I mean?

richpersonality.blogspot.com

richpersonality.blogspot.com

Recently several things have brought sadness to my heart. Watching a friend deal with the debilitating illness and slow death of her husband. Caring for one dear woman dealing with the shock of an unplanned but healthy pregnancy while another suffers grief from a planned pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Walking through some challenging circumstances in my marriage. Dealing with weighty adjustments to my elderly mother-in-law moving in with us. Missing a son who is away at college (oh, so much to miss about him!). Being misunderstood by an in-law. Being acutely reminded recently of how much I miss my long-gone Mom and Dad.

Walking through this season of sadness has reminded me of how good but hard it is to have a God-tenderized heart. You see, not everyone feels things the same as others. Some people either refuse to feel because it hurts too much; many elect not to feel because they’re afraid of where the grief will take them; still others have deeply painful things that happened in their past that make sadness utterly fearful and to be avoided; and some choose to embrace sadness because..well…because there’s no way out of it but through it. A tender heart (which is only possible with God’s help) makes sadness really hurt, but it brings with it a desire to take that path through it.

My friend Ginny calls this “processing.” In the nearly two years since I’ve known her I can’t recall the number of texts or emails or Community Group conversations when she’s mentioned she was processing a sermon, Bible passage or experience. To Ginny, processing means not rushing through the grief or confusion or temptation to be overwhelmed. Rather, the goal is trusting God even when sturdy answers can’t be found.

I’ve been processing my sadness. In fact, I still am.

A friend recently compared processing to having a “psalmists mentality.” People (like me at times) who avoid taking the often leisurely path that’s required to effectively deal with the sadness or grief that comes from painful situations in our lives or the lives of those we love  shortchange the process. Jumping from the sting of sadness to the unhelpful end of premature “acceptance” of the source of our grief cuts God out of the picture.

The psalmists didn’t rush the process. Rather, they honestly poured out their hearts and complaints to God. Why was this acceptable to a holy God? Why did He respond with compassion and help? Because their desire was to work it through to an honorable end.

I used to think that complaining to God was always wrong and that the mature and biblical thing to do when faced with sadness was to stop whining and accept God’s plan. I was right. Sorta. Whining, complaining and charging God is never the godly woman’s response to pain…longterm. But God is our Father; the One to whom we can pour out our hearts —  including our perplexities and complaints and the “Lord, what are you doing” cries — when the disorientation of sadness grabs our hearts and then twists them hard.

Are you sad today? Are you or someone you love facing painful circumstances that leave you feeling like a wet blanket is leaving you alone in your sadness?

I might know a little of how you feel. What I’m certain I know, though, is that you are not alone. If you are a Christian, God is with you.  His very name is Emmanuel, which means God with us. Even if you have no one to talk to or listen to your struggles or with whom you can share this burden, He is near. One of the first things that often happens to hurting people is a feeling of isolation that either says, “No one could know how I feel” or “No one cares.”

Someone does know how you feel and does care. Sometimes we don’t feel His nearness, comfort and help, but He promises He will “never leave or forsake us.”

Never leave. Even if you feel abandoned by those who you wish were close and considerate.  Or even if you wish you could help the person you’re grieving with and feel there’s just nothing you can do but pray.

thesimpltruths.wordpress.com

thesimpltruths.wordpress.com

Never forsake. Even if you’ve been betrayed by someone you thought you could trust or have been slandered by people you assumed knew better.

I pray that your sadness will be met with the tangible, real and promised help of the only One who can truly help you even when you crave human empathy. Pour out your heart to Him. And, yes, even your complaints. He’s been hearing some of mine recently and I’m thrilled to say that He really can help. When the heart of His sons and daughters are disposed to trust and honor Him and yet we’re struggling with the sadness of life, He is ready and eager to help.

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t have a heart to know and follow God.

I don’t know all of you who visit here but God does.  And I’m stopping to ask Him to help you now.

Scared of the Dread Cloud

Before I was even fully awake yesterday morning it was there. A feeling of dread. In the midst of a season full of God’s blessings there are some hard things going on in my life.

“Why are these things bothering me so much?” I regularly ask myself. “It’s not like I or anyone in my family has a brain tumor or doesn’t have a job or is destitute. What’s wrong with me?”

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The Dread Cloud isn’t unfamiliar to me. It’s been there before. It was there at sixteen when I learned my brother Randy broke his neck in a swimming accident and would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life, which ended up being just seven years. There when the principle called me to his office to say Dad had a heart attack and Mom was on her way to pick me up. There when both Dad and Randy died within an 8-month period. There when people I love made sinful choices that broke my heart. There when Mom was diagnosed with cancer days before we moved to Florida and remained for the 2-week period until she died. Then there for a really long time of grief and homesickness.

Dread is understandable with life hits you hard in the gut. When suffering comes from death, disease or life-altering sinful choices by those we love, dread is expected.

But what about when normal life stuff happens? Common patterns of sin in yourself and family members continue when you long for it all to stop? People don’t consistently express appreciation for your sacrifices and servanthood? A birthday makes you feel old and like life is whizzing by? A friend battling cancer is not improving as many hoped and prayed? A child is leaving for college? Ongoing health challenges leave you weary and battling discouragement? You’re facing a unexpected move that could include caring for an aging in-law? Another friend is going through weighty family issues and you’re too far away to do much to help? Concerns about the spiritual state of someone you love brings fretful temptations about what the future might hold? Changes in friendships leave you feeling lonely at times, wishing for the old days?

The paragraph you just read is what fills my Dread Cloud. But then I battle guilt that these things affect me the way they do because there’s nothing really hard going on and I have so much for which to be grateful!

The fact is life happens. As a friend told me once, “Whether our hard thing is a tumor or toddler temper tantrums, we both need God’s help.” While it’s helpful to look around and see that my trials are small compared to those of others, what isn’t helpful is to brush them off as trivial.

An author once taught me that in the heart there can be both joy and sorrow; faith and unbelief; love and bitterness…at the same time! So I can be both excited and full of gratitude that God has provided for my son to go to law school and deeply sad that he’s leaving. I can experience both intense love and gratitude for my husband and battle discouragement at things he still does that hurt me. And I can genuinely thank God for my relative health and resent that an aching foot is now added to my list of ailments.

Where our difficulties fall on a scale of bad to worse isn’t the issue. Suffering does come in degrees but every sufferer has something in common: we all need God’s help.  When He says he is “near to be broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18) He doesn’t define what causes those things. He simply says He is near and He saves.

What helped me yesterday morning was listening over and over to the timeless hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness. Being reminded that new mercies are available every single morning and rehearsing the truth of God’s endless care lifted the dread.

Then the Lord brought to mind these words, quoted by A.W. Pink in a book I love:

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace,
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread,
Are rich with mercy, and shall break in blessing o’er your head.”

How kind of God to use the Dread Cloud to take me back to these faith-filled words written by someone long gone.

Has the Dread Cloud visited you, too? Are there circumstances and relationships in your life that are tempting you to wake up anxious, sad, discouraged, or uncertain about the future?

Let’s trust God that the smiling face of God, though hidden for now, will produce showers of hope and blessing in our lives because of the dreadful clouds that now loom. Without the clouds there would be no coming rain.

Wow. That means we can actually thank Him for the clouds. Even though they’re dark and scary.

I live in Florida where dark clouds gather in the late afternoon on most summer days. I’ve learned to welcome those clouds because a beautiful lightning show is about to come and needed rain is about to fall. Without the afternoon storms the fire alerts climb and our yard looks pretty sad.

We, too, need the rain. We often just don’t like the clouds. Unless God changes our perspective on the clouds. When we see them bringing refreshing blessings we’re good. But we can only have that perspective with His help.

Lord, help us to view the Dread Clouds from Your perspective. Because of the cross, we are dearly loved by a benevolent, faithful God who grants the courage to trust that the clouds over us bring good and not harm.

Let the rains of blessing come, Lord.  Until then, thank you for patiently enduring and convicting me of my unbelief. How kind You are.

P.S. You can read an article by A.W. Pink that encouraged my heart yesterday on the faithfulness of God here.

You Will Laugh Again

It was late 1998 and I was yet again on my face in my bedroom literally crying out to God for help. So much had changed in my life in recent months and it often felt like the shifting sands beneath my feet would never stabilize. I was tired of being sad.

In the darkness God spoke. I wrote these words in my journal…by faith: “You will laugh again.”

Laugh? I could hardly smile due to the weight of anxiety and sadness that was gripping my heart. When I considered the future I could only see more darkness.

Have you been there? Are you there now?

  • Are your circumstances closing in on you, tempting you to wonder if God really is in control?
  • Are you discouraged over longstanding challenges or tension in cherished relationships? Does it seem like things are too broken to ever get better?
  • Does fear grip your heart? Does it seem at times that God can’t care or that He has somehow lost sight of you?
  • Are you afraid to hope things will change because you don’t want to be disappointed…again?
  • Has it been too long since you really laughed?

You are not alone. 1998 wasn’t the only time in the past 15 years I’ve felt hopeless and found myself face down pleading for God’s help. And last week I found comfort in the reminder that God’s people have struggled throughout history when suffering choked out their faith.

In my study of the Book of Exodus I’m seeing God’s tender love and patience with His ever-drifting children — and some of the freshness of His word is because of the difficulties through which I’ve walked in the past decade plus. When Moses heeded God’s call to return to Egypt, he went to the leaders of enslaved Israel to tell them about God’s plan of deliverance. Did they begin leaping and praising God for finally hearing their cries?  No. Their surprising response (note Exodus 6:9) to such incredible news reveals issues in their hearts to which I can relate:

“They would not accept the hope offered because of their ‘broken spirit and hard labor.’ Consumed with the darkness of their present circumstances, they [like I have done!] failed to appreciate the light of truth about their future. Nevertheless, their lack of faith did not affect the promises God had already made to them” (Women’s Evangelical Commentary).

I know this to be true for two reasons.

First, because God did fulfill His promises to Israel. He gave them a deliverer (Moses) who led them out of slavery by a powerful display of His sovereign control over both nature and the hearts of men (in the form of things like frogs, gnats and blood stained water). He provided for them in the desert — even when they were rebellious idolaters — and led them into a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

But, second, I know that unbelief doesn’t disqualify believers from receiving God’s promises because the deliverer of His people then pointed to The Deliverer to come. Jesus Christ led me out of slavery to my sin by dying in my place and then being raised from the dead to prove His sacrifice had been effective to declare me not guilty. Even when I have been “consumed with the darkness of [my] present circumstances” He has patiently endured my weariness and unbelief to prove His faithfulness time after time.

God was faithful and I eventually started laughing again.

If you are walking through dark times, you also have a Deliverer. If you’re a Christian, He’s here to say, “I am with you. Hold on to My promises. I will never leave you and I will always do what I say I will do. My faithfulness does not depend on your ability to trust Me, but on my eternal character and unfailing love.”

(And if you’re not a Christian, certainly He is pursuing you or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.  Even if someone sent this to you, I pray you are comforted by the knowledge that God sees and wants to help you.)

Whatever is going on in your life, you’re not alone. And your circumstances, though hard, don’t mean you won’t laugh again.

The Israelites were so weary and discouraged they couldn’t muster the faith to believe help had come when he was standing right in front of them. Isn’t it good to know that even though your Deliverer is living right inside of you His purposes won’t be thwarted by your inability to trust Him right now?

I will go through tough times again. I will be tempted to doubt God’s control and care again. But I will also be the recipient of His love; patience; conviction; strength; and fulfilled promises.

Again.