Sunday, May 22, 2011
Takin' it back to the basics...
Like all my books in the top ten, I can (oddly enough) remember where I was when I first found the book. In this case, I was at an Ozark Conference retreat and the speaker was J. I. Packer. I already had a copy of his book, Knowing God, and I was able to get him to autograph it. Unfortunately, although I loved listening to him and took tons of notes that weekend, I could never get through his book for some reason. I think it was just always over my head.
During break, I would make a bee-line for the book table, and I remember being attracted to this orange/yellowish book (what is it about yellow books???) and finally, I decided to take a chance and squander some of my hard-earned money on it. It proved to be a bargain.
I'm re-reading it now and, of course, there are many things about her story that I had forgotten. I knew that she and her husband, Bill, had gone to Europe as missionaries. And that eventually, she began to struggle with panic attacks until she was even afraid to go out in public, for fear an attack would hit while she was at the grocery store and she would be humiliated. Basically, she pretty much became a captive of emotional stress.
And I remembered some of the things that led to her distress: her husband was work-a-holic. She was pregnant at age 21 when they first sailed for Europe and although that pregnancy went well, her next pregnancy ended at 7 1/2 months and the little boy only lived for 30 hours. Then she had a series of miscarriages while she and her husband grew so absorbed in his ministry and also her job as a mother that they barely had time for each other.
Then he was transferred to Switzerland, which seemed ideal after living in W. Berlin in the post WWII days - yep, they were living in W. Berlin when the Berlin wall was erected overnight! Bill had been promoted. After six years of miscarriages, they finally had a second daughter. They had a nice apartment and a beautiful view of Geneva and the Swiss Alps. Bill was traveling a lot in his new capacity as head of the European branch of their ministry so their home was no longer ground center for their ministry, which meant she wasn't entertaining college kids non-stop and that she actually had time for herself. And that, ironically, is when her life fell apart.
She knew she had been maintaining a front for quite a while, forcing herself to go through the motions with a smile on her face lest her testimony be damaged. And although she had kept up a frantic pace right along with her husband (for him, it seemed easy), she had started going to him periodically and asking him if he thought she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He would always assure her that she wasn't but, in fact, she was.
One morning when things came to a head for her, she reached for her Bible. In the flyleaf, as a young college student, she had copied the words of a hymn that - for her - had represented the deepest longings of her heart at that time. The words of the hymn talked about burning out for God until His heart was her heart.
After about 8 years on the mission field, she was, in fact, burnt out but not for God. The lyrics penned in the front of her Bible seemed to mock her and she decided if she couldn't be a flame for God, she could at least be honest. And so she got some scissors and started to cut that page out of her Bible.
For a missionary, it felt like a drastic move, a sort of burning-your-bridges behind you move - an almost blasphemous action. So she thought about it and in that small moment of time, as she brought the scissors nearer to her Bible, she felt God speak to her heart. Authoritatively. Unmistakably. Saying, "Don't cut the page out; let Me change you instead."
She responded to that voice in her heart. And I wish I could say things got better for her but they got worse. As she put it, she was blessedly on the way to hitting rock-bottom and once there, she would find that the rock was Christ. Once she hit bottom, God gave her five steps for getting out of the emotional morass that she was in. And then He used her to reach out to others. In fact, her experience changed their marriage (for the better) and to a large extent also their ministry as they began to reach out to others who were bottoming out due to addiction, rebellion, etc.
One thing I did remember from Mrs. Yoder's book - something that has never left me throughout the years: after she responded to God and agreed that she would leave the words of the hymn in her Bible and yield herself up to Him instead, He asked her, "Can you do these four simple things for Me every day: read, pray, trust, and obey?"
She had somehow gotten the idea that she needed to be up before the crack of dawn, on her knees reading the Bible through. As she became depressed, this was too much and she had ceased to read her Bible altogether because she wasn't doing it the "right way".
The first thing that God did was to help her see that she could get up, fix the girls breakfast and send them to school, then get a cup of coffee, sit in her rocker facing the scenic view from their balcony, and leisurely, prayerfully read a short passage of Scripture. That was the "read" and "pray" part. Then if the passage said to do something, she was to "obey' and then leave everything to Him - that was the "trust" part.
Essentially, she felt like God was saying, "Let's take it back to the basics."
That part I remembered and there have been times in my life when I also have had to go back to the basics in order to get my bearings straight again.
Something I didn't remember was that, as she began to hit bottom, she realized it wasn't her circumstances that were driving her to the bottom. As she put it, in college, she had been able to breeze her way through with a bubbly personality and a can-do type of attitude. But it was a facade. When she got on the mission field and began to have miscarriages and feel the pressure of being at times a single mom because her husband was so busy, she could no longer keep her own inadequacies at bay - she could no longer fake it til she could make it. She said that she had always known there were inadequacies within but she couldn't face them and she couldn't bear for them to be exposed.
And that was what drove her to get the Bible and her scissors out one desperate morning. And it was at that point that God made a simple offer to her that, thankfully, she didn't refuse.