I think we all struggle at times, bar none. Holidays often bring those struggles to the forefront. Difficulties seem so much worse at a time when we expect to be "rejoicing". Family is always less than perfect - some more so than others - and so holiday get togethers are frequently not the stuff of which Norman Rockwell paintings are made. I have certainly struggled over the past few weeks - just being honest.
Two things have come back to me as I've tried to maintain emotional equilibrium.
1. A missionary, Miss A. Weatherall Johnson whom I love and hope to meet someday in Heaven, said that while working in China before, during, and after WWII, there were times when it was impossible not to feel dispirited. In fact, shortly after she got to China, fresh out of seminary, Miss Johnson hit an emotional trough of despair. She went to an older missionary and shared her malaise.
This senior missionary advised her to get alone with her Bible and read for a prolonged time. Miss Johnson's pride was offended. Didn't this woman know that Audrey had just finished a rigorous course in seminary???? But she wanted to be obedient to her supervisors so she went back to her room and opened the Scripture. It was like dust to her. So finally in desperation she put her finger on a verse and said, "Now, Lord, You have told us that Your word is sufficient and how can I teach the Chinese this if I cannot live it myself? I am counting on You to make Your word sufficient for my hour of need."
She began to read again and this time the Word did come alive for her. Several hours later she looked up, shocked to see how much time had passed and pleased to know that her malaise had completely lifted! God's word is living and able to do what no other book can do. You can trust the Bible.
2. The other lesson that has helped me came from John Piper's ministry. When my mom and dad died in 1995, I bottomed out emotionally and waded through some deep anger towards God. Serious doubts as well. I was afraid to share these doubts with people in my church lest they think badly of me (pride). I didn't even want to tell my preacher lest he recoil in horror and encourage me to join another denomination... (Ha!)
So I wrote to a ministry that was out of state - waayyy out of state - like in Minnesota. They wrote back and told me that A). If I shared my doubts and anger with my pastor, he most certainly would not be shocked. Apparently they hear stuff like that - and much worse - all the time. At least that is what the letter said.
B) That if I didn't acknowledge my struggles and ask for prayer help, my faith could not just flounder but could totally shipwreck. They emphasized that I needed prayer support and encouraged me to share my struggles with my pastor and my home church. I felt certain this was something I simply could not do. Ever...
The next Sunday a man who was clearly devastated stood up in church during sharing time and expressed intense anger over the way his atheistic sister-in-law had handled his brother's funeral, denying him a Christian funeral as he had requested. I don't remember the man's name or what he looked like, but I still remember him admitting to us that although it was wrong and he knew it, that if he saw his sister-in-law crossing the road in front of him, he would have no problem running over her. Wow! I'd never heard that in church before. And really that's about all I did hear that particular Sunday.
As I sat riveted in my seat, I just kept thinking, "I've been advised to share my struggles with my brothers and sisters in Christ but I just can't do that. But this guy did it? Could this just be a coincidence that I got the letter from Piper's ministry this week and now I've seen someone do what I've been encouraged to do myself? I don't think so. But still, I just can't do what that guy did. No Way. Church is where you go to look good, isn't it??"
Well, not always....
The next Sunday I stood up and shared - not boldly or happily - but honestly and nervously - dry mouth,trembling hands, the whole nine yards... I didn't think to explain what was going on - just blurted out that I was doubting God, Heaven, Hell, all of it. Yeah, Buddy... I did it.
I remember that the pastor said something about, "Cathy has just lost both her parents within the past three months and I'm sure she is struggling..." I remember that some people came and prayed for me. I remember sitting down and hoping the nervous tremors would go away. And I remember thinking., "Okaaayy... Won't ever do that again!!!! Time to start looking for a new church... where no body knows my name..."
That was in 1995. We stayed in that church until 2005. The Piper ministry staffer was right: no one was shocked and the prayer support I received from that confession was a turning point in my life. Instead of plummeting further into the Slough of Despond, my faith began to grow again in slow, minuscule increments, (Caveat - it you are in a church where many would look down on you for sharing honest doubts during times of pain... you need to find a different church).
This month has not been anywhere near as hard as the fall and winter of 95. Not even close! But it's not been a cakewalk emotionally either - and that is truly okay.
So what am I grateful for today? Truly, deep down from the bottom of my heart grateful for right now, Nov. 25, 2014?
That years ago I learned from people far more spiritually mature than I that when you are down, you need to soak in the word. (And you will experience down times - it's not "if" but "when") And you need to ask someone, a sister or brother in Christ or sometimes even a whole congregation (!) to lift you up in prayer.
I've done both things this season and God has used His word and a precious Christ-follower to lift me over some holiday memory pits - for lack of a better term.
As one dear friend has reminded me, when things look hard and the memories come, look up and focus on the fact that God is about to do something miraculous.
REally, He already has. He's given me His word and irreplaceable friends who hunger hard and fast after Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son. When you call out to God, soak in His word, and are lifted up by other believers, you have an unbeatable combination.
Today I'm thankful God showed me those truths many years ago; I'm thankful for His word, and I'm thankful for friends who pray.
Actually I'm grateful for three things - if you never hit the Slough of Despond, how can you ever know His ability to lift you up and sustain you in a tough time?