Thursday, August 27, 2020

Longing to get over the bad stuff

 

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going,” wrote Thomas Merton. “I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.” 

Merton’s words sum up my state of mind that afternoon at Lomalinda, our out-of-the-way mission center. I’d been fighting to survive the next few minutes, and then the next few minutes. 

“Nor do I really know myself,” continued Merton, “and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 

"I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

“Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost. . . . I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone." (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude) 

Merton penned such encouraging, hope-filled words for desperate times.  I didn’t know him or his words back then but reading them now offers me comfort. 

Back on that unforgettable afternoon in Lomalinda, in my distress—flustered, discouraged, troubled, lost—somehow God impressed upon me what Elisabeth Elliot discovered and then shared with the rest of us: “Sometimes life is so hard you can only do the next thing. Whatever that is just do the next thing. God will meet you there.” 

So I kept doing the next thing, one baby step at a time—unpacking, arranging, cleaning, caring for the kids, and planning what I’d cook for dinner that evening.

And just as Elisabeth said, God did meet me there. Sometimes He remains very quiet, settled calmly in the background. He was on that day—but He was there. Oh, yes, He was there with me that afternoon. 

He was not angry with me. He would not reject me. I was His child in need of comfort and grace. A weary child of His in need of a new perspective that would lead to hope. 

To arrive at that new perspective and grab hold of that hope, perhaps I needed to grievegrieve my loss of home and family and country, grieve my inability to properly, healthily carry out my responsibilities in my new house and to nurture my husband and young ones. And to grieve my meltdown and angry outburst at my husband. 

Even grieve the loss of who I had thought myself to be. Nor do I really know myself,” Merton wrote. 

Dr.Henry Cloud says when we voluntarily enter into grief, it can lead to resolution. 

He says grief “is the most important pain there is. . . .  It heals. It restores. It changes things that have gone bad. Moreover, it is the only place where we get comforted when things have gone wrong.

 

“. . . Grief is the way of our getting finished with the bad stuff in life. It is the process by which we ‘get over it,’ by which we ‘let it go.’ . . .

 

“. . . It is the process by which we can be available for new things. The soul is freed from painful experience and released for new, good experience.” (Dr. Henry Cloud, “Why Grief is Different from Other Kinds of Suffering”)

 

Yes, looking back now, I believe I needed to grieve. Though I couldn’t have put it into words, I longed to move on, ready for new, good experiences in Lomalinda. I longed to be a happy wife, mother, and missionary. 

I think again of Thomas Merton’s heart-wrenching cry and how it captured my state of mind that afternoon: "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”

But that’s not the end of the story

When we are disoriented, unable to look to the future, when we flounder, fail, and fall apart, we have many promises of God’s unfailing love and patience with us. One of them is this: It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

With the Lord going before me, I just kept taking one little step after one little step, doing the next thing.

 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

“Do the next thing”

 

I was only twenty-nine years old—young as well as immature—and now, decades later, I still remember that day as one of my darkest, most desperate days. (See Fighting to survive the next few minutes.)

 

Living at that isolated mission center in the middle of nowhere in Colombia was not what I pictured, not what I expected, and I was not prepared for living there.

 

While I hold no hard feelings for our mission organization, I now realize that our pre-field orientation course in Dallas was not sufficient when it came to cross-cultural living and the possibility of culture shock.

 

I had taken notes during our training and I‘d written in my journal that I appreciated the information but, in hindsight, I wish our instructors had emphasized a couple of critical points: (1) that we should expect to experience at least some culture shock, and (2) that we should reach out to others—our administrators, our neighbors—to help us through culture shock and to settle into our new lives in that foreign land.

 

But there I was on the mission field, unprepared and unraveled. Dumbfounded. A failure. Numb, broken, and weary to the core of my being. I don’t remember much about the rest of that afternoon.

 

And I felt terribly alone.

 

Yet, God was at work. Only later would I recognize that I’d hit bottom and that with God’s help and the prayers of family and friends back home (who had no way of knowing my circumstances), I was on the way back up, out of the desert wilderness and its despair.

 

The reality of that—of being on the upswing, of arising from the ashes—was out of my sight, out of my thoughts, out of my grasp. I didn’t realize that words of hope from Micah in the Old Testament were already working out in my life that afternoon: “My God will hear me. . . . When I fall, I will arise; when I am in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:7-8).

If I’d listened carefully, I could have heard God say,I am holding you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I am here to help you’” (Isaiah 41:13).

When we hit rock bottom, God whispers things like, “I love you. Together we’ll get through this. You have doubts and questions and worries, but trust Me. You don’t need to figure out everything this afternoon. Together with Me, you’ll survive this.”

God’s Word encourages us with assurances like Isaiah 40:29, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

 

The legendary missionary Elisabeth Elliot, newly widowed with a ten-month-old daughter, returned to Ecuador and the work she and her murdered, martyred husband, Jim, had originally started together. But she was overwhelmed with carrying out huge programs and projects underway. She said, “I had to learn to do all kinds of things, which I was not trained or prepared in any way to do.”

 

As she described it, she was trying to do the work of what I estimate to be four people! She wrote, “You can imagine how tempted I was to just plunk myself down and say, ‘There is no way I can do this.’ I wanted to sink into despair and helplessness. . . .”

 

Elisabeth continued: “I remembered a verse that God had given to me before I went to Ecuador in Isaiah 50:7: “The Lord God will help me; therefore, shall I not be confounded. Therefore, have I set my face like a flint and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”

Then Elisabeth had a brilliant insight: “Then I remembered that old Saxon legend, ‘Do the next thing.’”

Then she said something profound, “You don’t have to do the whole thing right this minute, do you?

Elisabeth Elliot also said, “Sometimes life is so hard you can only do the next thing. Whatever that is just do the next thing. God will meet you there.”

And that afternoon God did meet me there in my little brick house in South America. He helped me do the next thing. He helped me keep breathing, performing like a robot, unpacking, organizing the house, and figuring out what to prepare for the family’s dinner that evening.


I will forever be grateful to Him for that.

Elisabeth asks you:

“Have you had the experience of feeling as if you’ve got far too many burdens to bear, far too many people to take care of, far too many things on your list to do? You just can’t possibly do it, and you get in a panic and you just want to sit down and collapse in a pile and feel sorry for yourself.

“Well, I’ve felt that way a good many times in my life,” Elisabeth writes, “and I go back over and over again to an old Saxon legend, which I’m told is carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea. . . . The legend is ‘Do the next thing.’ And it’s spelled in what I suppose is Saxon spelling. . . . ‘DOE THE NEXT THYNGE.’”

Finally, Elisabeth asks: “What is the next thing for you to do?

 

 

 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

When you really make a mess of things

 

I had really messed up. Maybe you’ve messed up, too. If you’ve ever lost hope and felt desperate and then blown it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

 

I had yelled at my husband, refused to unpack, and insisted we leave for the States immediately.


I’d yelled at God, too. “God, You got this wrong when You sent us here! What could You have been thinking?!?!


 

Exhausted, suffering from several days of culture shock, and feeling trapped, I’d crashed into a “fight or flight” mode. Dr. Henry Cloud explains: “When we’re in a crisis and need help, our brains have instantly changed.

“When we are under threat,” he continues, “our higher brain’s ability to think clearly, make judgments, find solutions, solve problems, and calm down is being interrupted by a bath of stress hormones that take us to a ‘fight or flight’ mode.”

Dr. Cloud described me perfectly.

But my husband, seemingly unable to empathize with me, insisted we stay, pointing out he’d committed to teaching those missionaries’ kids and he wouldn’t let them down.

And he was right about that. He’d made a commitment—we’d made a commitment—and should not back out.

But knowing he was right didn’t ease my despondency.

The wilderness. I was in it—a parched wilderness. I couldn’t have put it into words that day, but somehow, deep down, I knew that despite my hollering at God and questioning Him, He was not angry at me. No, He loves us “even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us,” writes Frederick Buechner. “He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief. . . .

And rise we shall, out of the wilderness, every last one of us.” (Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember)


That reminds me of these words of hope from Micah in the Old Testament: “My  God will hear me. . . . When I fall, I will arise; when I am in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” (Micah 7:7-8)

Lloyd John Ogilvie penned this prayer: “Father, help me take life’s . . . defeats as a part of a bigger process on the way to final triumph. Give me a faith that defies defeat. Help me get up and press on. . . . Nothing is more crucial than trusting You. . . . Lift me up when I get down. . . . I rise to fight again!” (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God; emphasis mine)

“We have a [Heavenly] Father who understands the weakest and most foolish of His children,” wrote missionary Amy Carmichael. She was talking about the likes of me—weak and most foolish.

“So,” Amy continued, “scattered throughout His Book, we have little simple prayers. . . .” (Edges of His Ways)

Prayers like: “Lord, hear me when I call; have mercy and answer me. . . . Do not turn away from me. Do not turn [me] away in anger. . . . Do not push me away or leave me alone, God, my Savior. . . . Lord, teach me your ways and guide me to do what is right. . . .” (Psalm 27:7-11, NCV)

Prayers like: “O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. For I am poor and needy. . . . my heart is wounded within me. I fade away like an evening shadow. . . . My knees give way. . . . Help me, O Lord my God; save me in accordance with your love.” (Psalm 109:21-26, NIV)

At that remote mission center 

on that afternoon of mental, physical, 

emotional, and spiritual distress, 

God my Father understood

That’s staggering, really.

In the chaos of unpacking, setting up a home, and acclimating to extreme weather, He was capable of being my one stability.

While navigating through a new culture and meeting dozens of new people (as lovely as that is, as an introvert, the experience overwhelmed me), He was capable of holding me together, sending me a little dose of stamina, giving me the tiniest measure of courage—just enough to keep me going from one minute to the next.

And He was doing all that despite my inability to feel Him genuinely close or hear His voice. My deep angst did not keep Him from doing His work.

“Your faithfulness, Lord, is my peace,” writes Lloyd John Ogilvie. “It is a source of comfort and courage that You know exactly what is ahead of me. Go before me to show the way.

“Here is my mind; inspire it with Your wisdom. Here is my will; infuse it with desire to follow Your guidance. Here is my heart; infill it with Your love.” (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God)

But let’s talk about you for a minute: We all have days of weariness and discouragement. We all feel broken at times. Occasionally we all lack the will to keep fighting the good fight.

When that happens to you, when you feel alone and misunderstood, when you feel like you’ve really blown it, remember the words of Micah 7:7-8, “My  God will hear me. . . . When I fall, I will arise; when I am in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.

Go in peace.

 

Noticing the good stuff, finding the joy

I began to notice more good stuff going on in Lomalinda .     God was offeri ng me new opportunities. He was offering me a new perspectiv...