Thursday, March 26, 2015

To a Whisper

I'm sorry for my silence lately. Mostly I've been very busy, but recently I've been struggling with insecurities, a bit of self pity, and some hurts, both old and new. I've wanted to share this story for ages, but I haven't been in the mood for writing. Today has been a particularly rough day, and I still don't feel like writing, but I want to give it a shot anyway. 

One of the first lessons we learn at Celebrate Recovery is that we are not God; we are powerless to change our hurts, habits, and hangups without God's help. When I first came to CR, I had no problem with this step. I was going through a painful divorce, and I knew there was nothing I could do to change my situation. It was my powerlessness that brought me to CR and made me so open to surrendering my will to God.

As I've progressed in my recovery, though, I've sometimes forgotten that I am still powerless. I've felt so happy for so many months that recently I'd been feeling like I'd graduated. Maybe I even thought I didn't need God so much.

I started to think that I could change myself by my own efforts. My motives were good. I wanted to be like Jesus, and I saw that I was not. I saw my pride, my insecurities, my selfishness, and all the other imperfections, and I was very, very frustrated with myself. So I tried even harder to transform myself into Jesus's likeness, to make the fruit of the Spirit blossom through the power of my will. But I couldn't change myself. I couldn't grow my own patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control.

Because of my perfectionism, I couldn't enjoy the real growth that God had worked in my life. I couldn't enjoy being the woman He made me to be. Instead I focused on my faults, and I berated myself for not doing more, being more.

Around the start of February, I shared my frustrations with my brother Rick, over a veggie burger. I told him that I want to do something big, like move to Uganda and teach English at the God Cares School that I've never even seen, yet feel so drawn to. Not now, I assured him. I know my place is with my kids. But someday, maybe when I retire....

Rick replied that there are plenty of people here at home who need my love, and ways that I can serve in my own neighborhood right now.

I said yes, but confessed that I felt so self absorbed, so... not like Jesus. I felt I needed to be doing more.

Rick listened thoughtfully and then told me I needed to learn to be still. He told me how meditation has helped him to relax and let go of his troubles. He said that he quiets himself and doesn't actively try to not think. Instead, he starts with just an intention to connect with God. He couldn't explain exactly how, but he said that he often does feel a closeness with God. He feels love and peace in those times.

I thought a lot about his words on the way home. Yes, I did want to be still. But how? Immediately I started thinking about how I could still myself. And I was not still.

I believe it was the next day, or perhaps the day after that, when I found a sacred echo in this devotional from Streams in the Desert:
I do not believe we have even begun to understand the wonderful power there is in being still.... This is our problem regarding the Christian life: we want to do something to be Christians, instead of allowing Him to work in us....
Sit still, my daughter! Just sit calmly still!
What higher service could you for Him fill? 

Ah, yes! How had I forgotten this? I know very well that I can't bear fruit on my own: "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." (John 15: 4)

Over the next few weeks, I heard the same message over and over. Be still. Remember that He is God. I prayed that He would teach me how to be still.

I'd like to say that this revelation transformed me and that I now knew the secret to being still. But I don't think this is a lesson you can learn overnight.

I do believe God is answering my prayer, but not in the way I had hoped. He gives me opportunities to be still by allowing me to experience my helplessness, in things that have happened to me and things that I've brought on myself. Always, I find that I have no control, but that I do have a choice. I can't change my situation, but I can choose how I will respond.

Often, I respond very poorly. I flunk the test. I feel sorry for myself, and I wonder why I just can't get it. At my worst, I wonder if my faith is even real. I wonder if I've fooled myself to think I've ever grown at all.

I had one of those times this past weekend. I'd been struggling with fatigue for several weeks, and I felt worn down both physically and emotionally. I'd been hearing very upsetting stories in world news, and I was overwhelmed with the blackness. In that moment, life felt meaningless. What was the point of trying? What difference could I possibly make?

I also felt very alone. "Where are you, God?" I prayed. "I know you're here, but why can't I feel you? I just want someone to hug."

For the record, I have lots of people I could hug, with just a little effort. God has blessed me with several dear friends right in my own neighborhood. But I was stuck in a trap, feeling sorry for myself.

Although I tried to pray, my mood continued to deteriorate as the day faded into evening. Trying to divert myself, I decided to tackle a task I'd been putting off: cleaning my closet. The floor was littered with bins that CiCi had overturned, their contents strewn across most of the floor space. In retrospect, I realize that when I dropped to my knees to pick up that mess, I should have spent some time talking to God, there in my prayer closet.

Instead, I started picking up the cards, letters, and journals, sorting them into their designated bins.

Can you guess what happened next?

Yes, I opened some journals and stepped back in time. I read happy stories I'd completely forgotten, sweet little stories about Allyson and Ethan and Bill. I relived very painful struggles and wounds. As I writhed at the insecurities I had chronicled so vividly, not so different from the ones I was battling now, I wondered who was the real me.

There I sat, with fifteen years in my lap. How could they have slipped through my fingers so quickly? And how had I ended up here? Through my own choices, of course--the ones I'd just read about.

Even though I'd been perfectly happy just the day before, and for months before that, the future seemed very bleak just then. There was a storm inside me, and I was as helpless as the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Only I wasn't sure that Jesus was in the boat with me.

I woke up feeling not much better than when I'd gone to sleep, but at least it was a Sunday, and I had the prospect of church to look forward to. I didn't have to wait that long for comfort, though. I started my quiet time with a fervent prayer that God would help me feel His presence.

On my way to the book of Luke, which I've been reading lately, my eyes fell on Psalm 107. I read about people who suffered, some at the hands of others and some by their own doing. In each example, the constant refrain was that they cried out to God, and He saved them with His unfailing love. "He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom." (v. 14). "He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave." (v. 20)

The best part was the story of the ones who went out to sea on ships, and a tempest lifted the waves high. "They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunk men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed." (vv. 25-29)

I read the verse about God stilling the storm and hushing the waves three times, aloud. And it was so. Just like that, the storm in me was stilled. I was still.

I realized then that sometimes the storm is too great, and I can't be still. The harder I try, the more I try to reason it out, the worse it gets. The only way I can be still is to give myself something else to think about, something pure and lovely and admirable. Only then can I feel the God of peace with me. Over and over, God's Word has done that for me. There is nothing more excellent or praiseworthy, nothing more powerful.

Honestly, I'm still struggling. I'm still exhausted. I'm still hurting. But I have hope. God will keep giving me these opportunities to be still. Sometimes I'll fail. But His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). I'll get another chance.

One of these days, I'll learn the lesson, but it won't be by my efforts. In the meantime, my Beloved loves me just the way I am.

[I have made an appointment with a doctor to look into the cause of my fatigue. I would appreciate your prayers.]


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