Self, Listen for a Moment…

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?

It’s like God swooped in after weeks of silence just to break a carton of eggs on my head and swoop back out.

I hunger for His promises, so I chew on them in His word. I drink them in through sermons by wonderful, down-to-earth pastors. I gobble them in songs and hymns.

But my heart remains sunken. My prayers seem to fall with a dull thud. I lost my will to write anything, because how does one put any of this into words?

My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

I have cried at length or forcefully at least once daily. An overwhelmingly sudden sadness has seized me, and I am, as Anne Shirley morosely put it, “in the depths of despair”.

Despite Marilla Cuthbert’s frank response lingering in the back of my mind — “to be in the depths of despair is to turn your back on God” — despite multiple passages and sermon lessons recalling God’s goodness and grace to mind, I can’t seem to shake it. And it haunts me.

I really did stride into this season of life in Youngstown, full of hope and excitement for “how God would use me”. I hoped for motherhood, I hoped for seeds planted to grow in a new church in the city, I hoped to live in this house forever, I hoped to find a job at a small software company someday. We soared in on the confidence of doing God’s will.

I’m not so sure anymore.

Where is He? He showed me His kindness in taking away the sting of strong desires — desires for good but temporary things. But He seemed to leave me shortly after in His radio silence once more, with unexpected bitterness reaching its fingers under the door of my soul.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.

O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.

I do not want to be in this space. In fact, I really don’t understand how I am in this space.

I am mentally aware and fully able to remember God’s truths. I have seen His goodness.

Then why do I feel as though I lost all belief? All hope? All confidence in the God of the universe?

Am I, like Martin Lloyd-Jones once illustrated, listening to my self speak? Listening to the deceitful whispers of my heart? Letting it hiss doubt into my rays of hope or mock my attempts at faith?

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.

Martin Lloyd-Jones

My soul, my saved but sinful, weak, little soul, is convincing me that I am a failure.

You can’t make babies, it says.

You won’t ever get another technical writing job, it sneers.

You can never do anything right, it cries, waving dramatically at the decisions I helped make within the past few months.

Look at this mess you call your life, it grins wickedly.

And all I do is listen.

I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

My poor husband probably thinks I am spiraling out of control. I sob uncontrollably and stare bleakly. I pull a poker face while tears stream down my throat. I have a sudden urge to ask a passerby to punch me in the face, because crying from physical pain seems more productive.

Most people will think I’m overreacting.

But those who have felt completely hopeless while knowing God’s promises…

All I can do is, with David, speak truth to my soul. Tell it to shut up and listen, because the Holy God who died for me says something different.

Yeah, okay, soul, so I don’t feel, emotionally, this way right now. But God assures me in His word that I am valuable to Him. Simply because He values me. Not because of me.

And I will never lose my value to Him because of me, either, because Jesus paid for me with His blood. It’s fixed. My value has been fixed. It will never waver.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

Psalm 42

Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”

Martin Lloyd-Jones

Perspective

Thoughts after hearing a good word from my brother in Christ, Andrew Randall of Grace Church in Larbert, Scotland.

Before the foundation of the world, God planned.

He would create a perfect world, devoid of sin, communicating openly with the Triune God and His heavenly beings, lush with the most excellent fruit and vegetables, and where lions and lambs, wolves and rabbits lived harmoniously together. A garden in which two humans could live content and happy in God’s presence forever.

A world where no one would dream of disobeying their Lord. No one would be tempted. No one would have to die.

He made a world that could have been perfect forever, if He wanted it.

But, for His own glory, for some supernatural and loving and benevolent reason, He allowed sin into the world.

He gave opportunity for the devil to possess a snake’s body, to slither it along to Eve and hiss sweet lies into her ear. He watched and allowed Eve to heed the snake. He let her summon Adam, whom He saw fit to make passive, and let her share the forbidden fruit with him. He waited as they hid themselves from Him when He called to them, knowing they were guilty and ashamed and terrified to be in the presence of their perfect God.

Because before the foundation of the world, He planned.

He would create a world that would be overridden with sin so that He could save the men and women He predestined to be saved.

He created the world so that He could save it.

He created the world with the cross in mind.

He created the world, fully intending to send His Son to earth as fully man, fully God, where He would be persecuted and prosecuted, brutally tortured and finally brutally murdered.

Why?

Not because He needs us.

Or because we’re worth saving.

Before Christ, did you think once about the Lord? About His precepts? About His sacrifice? About His pleasure?

I didn’t.

So why did He create a beautiful world, simply to let sin destroy it and drive it all into the pit of hell? Simply to watch as mankind spins further away from Him? Simply to make His Son and all who believe in Him the laughing stock of society? Why would He die for even one? Why would He even allow one to believe?

Because He planned to do it.

If such a God, who thought of me before speaking into the dark and commanding the light to come forth, if such a God planned the creation of an entire universe for His own glory, to show His power in salvation, to beckon me to His mercy seat and let me sing His praises…

If such a God loves me, what can man do to me?

What could the devil possibly do to bring me low?

Mister and I are infertile — the Almighty God loves me!

Mister and I have no idea where we are to live or serve — the Creator of the universe loves me!

I have a minimum wage job that pays for the trip to and from work — the Ruler of the world thought of me, saved me, and loves me!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on[i]us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will,according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Holding It Loosely

What happens when you learn to hold things loosely?

God gave me a glimpse of this when He riddled me with Lyme. The fitness and high I gleaned from regular running was long gone and merely putting on a shirt or lowering myself onto a chair without Mister’s help was an accomplishment. I had been clinging too tightly onto my physical prowess, so God eliminated the idol by eliminating my physical capabilities.

He taught me to enjoy running and weight lifting and other physical activities with open palms; whenever I feel myself lean too heavily on them for my satisfaction, He sends phantom pains that remind me of the immobility of Lyme and my soul’s grasp loosens hastily.

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But this wasn’t (isn’t) the only idol.

God graciously lessened my desire for children just in time for Mister’s and my diagnosis, but He did not completely eliminate it. I am sometimes most inconveniently seized by a short moment of grief. I’m not bitter, no. But I recognize completely that I may never feel the wonder of a human growing inside me. I probably won’t ever understand the intense love and exhaustion of motherhood. I will most likely watch most of my friends make pregnancy announcements and go on to be moms with “mom friends” who will understand their kid stories and have the same kid schedule and be able to talk about all the mom things.

God can and does work miracles, but He has closed my uterus for a reason, and He will not open it unless it is for His glory and my ultimate good.

Two months ago, this would have roused a bitter storm. How could my obedience to “be fruitful and multiply”‘ not be for His glory and my ultimate good?

I wanted so desperately to have children. To fill a gigantic and unreasonable house with at least four (despite Mister’s limit of three) little people. My little people. To raise them up in the way they should go. To watch them become athletes, musicians, scholars, and, prayerfully, believers. I felt the natural, womanly, Christian desire to have a brood.

Perhaps I held this desire a little too tightly. It’s hard not to, you know, in Christian circles. The past almost-three years of marriage, Mister and I have been asked about our plans for a family.

And since telling my Christian friends about our infertility, I have been met with, not encouragement to be content in the Lord, to wait patiently on the Lord, but to seek alternative solutions like fostering or adopting or try different “fertility boosting methods”.

I know it’s all given in kindness, with the desire to offer hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

But I am not without hope. God is teaching me to hold the finite, human, godly, earthly desire to raise children with a loose grip. He spent the last several weeks of summer prying my fingers away from this desire, this wish I held onto for almost two years, preparing me for when He would lift it completely out of my hands. And while fostering and adopting are still a possibility, for now, God is telling us to wait. My desire is lessened and the possibility of that desire ever becoming reality is uncertain.

So I will wait on the Lord, like my namesake Hannah, and pray that He will constantly remind me of the finiteness of my own desire for children and the infiniteness of His salvation, grace, and being. If all He asks of me is to let go of my deepest earthly desire in order to serve, worship, and love Him better, I am blessed beyond words.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13

Then the Lord said to Job,

“Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Let him who reproves God answer it.”

Then Job answered the Lord and said,

“Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
“Once I have spoken, and I will not answer;
Even twice, and I will add nothing more.”

Job 40:1-5

(And Job 38 – 42:6)

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

Psalm 16:5-6

P.S.: My infertile sisters in Christ: hold this God-given and biblical desire with open hands. God opens the womb and God closes the womb. Do not be like me, clutching it tightly and (albeit subconsciously) making an idol of it. We do not reserve the right, as Christian women, to bear children. And we are not useless or to be pitied, as Christian women, without children. Dwell with me on the strong, godly, childless women of the Bible, such as Anna, Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, who wanted children and couldn’t until God let it happen. It is close-minded to think that the only course for Christian women is to marry and have babies.

P.P.S.: My dear fertile sisters in Christ: I know you can imagine my grief and I know your good, kind, empathetic hearts. But urge me to look upon Christ, not to seek new fertility diets (trust me, I’ve already tried them). Point me to God alone instead of helping me resurrect my idol. Know that God works in mysterious ways and that this is for my good and His glory. Value me as a complete woman in Christ despite my not towing children or sporting a baby bump. Remind me of my value. Remind me of God’s will. And please, please do not feel guilty for having children while I cannot. I love your children and you too much even to think about being envious.

180

Change-Direction

God is not like us.

God does not answer prayer the way we would like Him to answer it.

God does not work in us the way we perceive He would work in us.

God glorifies Himself in ways we would not think to glorify Him.

And because we are finite, little beings, we immediately assume we understand God, or we know better than God, or we can read God and prepare ourselves for His will.

We say to ourselves (because we know better than to say so aloud), “Well, I have read such and such in the Bible, and, based on that, I think I know how He will act.”

Or, “According to God’s own word, I can know God’s revealed will. Therefore, my reading the Bible should prepare me for all His workings and all His actions.”

Silly human mind and your assumptions.

Because although, based on past experience and based on many scenarios in the Bible, answered prayer should look like receiving what I ask for in faith and humility.

It should look like a successful church plant in Youngstown.

It should look like growing with this small church family of Youngstown until I’m old and gray.

It should look like filling a rather obnoxiously large house with babies, many of which would be my own.

It should look like earning extra income through a respectable, albeit unexpected, job as a billing clerk.

But it doesn’t. Not this time. Not for me.

And for the past few weeks, I couldn’t recognize it as answered prayer. I didn’t see it as an inconceivable grace, inconceivable to my finite, silly, human, little mind.

But my current state is God’s answer to my prayers. It’s not what I expected. It’s not what I wanted. And it hurts deeply, prompting stinging tears at the mere thought.

It looks like the hope of a church plant in Youngstown wound down, stopped abruptly by many factors, left by the side of life’s road like a broken-down car waiting to be jumped. But I sigh relief, because the past few weeks have left me unenthused by the vision for a church plant and realizing I never felt called to be a part of one.

It looks like our dear friends and the pastor of our church stepping down from ministry, his family’s future unknown and their sweet, passionate hearts aching under the strain of gossip and verbal jabs. But I cry, not because the church plant mission is kaput or the little congregation is now dispersing, but because my own heart breaks for my friends and the hardships their souls have endured here.

It looks like test results relayed by my midwife in sympathetic tones, telling me how small the chances are of Mister and I having children, the one thing I’ve desired for over a year. But I can carry on, because the envious, idolatrous desire no longer exists and I am oddly happy not to smell like dirty diapers for eighteen years.

It looks like wondering if we should sell the big old house we loved, because two people in a big house is unreasonable. But I look around my home, the one I thought I’d grow old in, and shrug at Mister and say, “Where to next?”

It looks like losing my job in the midst of everything, the only reason being I “wasn’t a good fit”. But I am able to laugh incredulously and begin another job search, because temps lose jobs, and I was a temp.

God didn’t give me anything I wanted.

He changed what I wanted.

And He did so in the weeks prior to experiencing four or five life changes within a week’s time.

I’m not invincible. I have dropped into an armchair and cried at my dog several times. I have cried in public, a huge no-no for me, and done so without shame. I have bawled at the drop of a hat, while pouring myself some tea, simply because I pondered the past week’s happenings.

I am weak and frail and emotionally drawn thin.

But in this weak, frail, and emotionally compromised state, God’s powerful, steadfast, redeeming will is made known.

He changed my desires, quickly, and I screeched and lumbered into a 180 about as gracefully as a freight train switches directions without slowing down.

He did it for my good, with me in mind, so that when I heard the church plant, the growing old in one place, the having babies weren’t happening, I could, with confused, weary — but not bitter — tears, embrace His changes.

God is not like us. He is infinite and perfect, loves beyond the depth of the galaxies, with more strength than a hurricane.

For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.

Isaiah 64:4

Always Wear Your Armor

Sins are sneaky.

While you’re working hard against one, your soul sweating furiously to withstand it and put it down, another sin quietly slinks in. It burrows itself deeply in, making itself a little shelter in some corner of your being, and then, without warning and no real fan fare, it rears its ugly head and bellows.

I never thought I’d be one to disrespect my husband or nag or really have marital problems, but, in the past few weeks, my role as biblical, submissive wife was target for the devil’s hard and true arrows. No amount of years watching my parents play out their biblical roles and no number of wifeyhood books I’ve read could prepare me for the first fierce battle against our marriage.

Perhaps I never truly struggled with it before because I always worked in predominately male environments. For almost two years of our marriage and part of our time dating, I worked in an office full of men. Men who didn’t sit at the break table complaining about their spouses. Men who didn’t speak about their spouses in incredulous tones and who didn’t wonder why they were married at all. Men who, even if they were single, didn’t talk about significant others or girls like they were a burden or a ball and chain. Not always because they loved or cherished their wives or significant others, but just because they’re men, and men don’t often whine together in misery about their unfortunate unions.

Plus, software engineers don’t talk much anyway.

But now I’m a billing clerk. And, like most billing departments in most companies, a majority of my coworkers are women.

And women not only like to talk, they like to talk about their husbands or boyfriends.

About how she can’t believe he did this last night. About how he told her this. About how stupid he is and how he calls her and interrupts her workday for the stupidest reasons. About how all men do is argue because they’re lazy. About how men are just plain lazy and that’s that.

And I think smugly to myself, “I’m doing so great, not participating in this.”

So I sit quietly, not reacting to or participating in the husband/boyfriend roast. I stuff one earbud into my ear canal and play me some music, patting myself on the back all the way.

Then I come home.

And all the hate and discontentment and bitterness I allowed to filter in and settle into my brain (like water settles into a cistern) spews forth in droves. I don’t even ease into it. I barrel right on into the after-work peace, degrading Mister about not doing this, sneering because he does that, rolling my eyes and muttering about being happier single.

Meanwhile, the smallest, softest voice of my conscience cries, “What are you doing??

And honestly, I don’t know.

I didn’t know, anyway, until I stopped to think about it.

It doesn’t matter if I simply don’t participate in the sin swarming around me, overloading my senses day in and day out.

I must fight it, head on, before it buds.

Sin is sin, and it nestles where it finds a patch of inactive soul. You can ignore it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, making a home within you, waiting for just the right moment to announce itself.

I need to stride into work with my armor on, ready to defend myself against the poisonous darts, instead of shlumping in and pretending the darts aren’t penetrating my mind, heart, and soul.

I need always to be killing sin, or else it will kill me.

Pray for me, and pray for Mister, the magnificent man who has so faithfully and graciously put up with me when I most deserved a sound spanking and a time out.

Self-Sufficiency

My greatest struggle has been with self-sufficiency.

Not that I am self-sufficient, but that I believe myself capable to be self-sufficient.

It is a haughtiness carried over from my years as an unbeliever raised in a Christian home: the model Reformed Presbyterian child patting myself on the back when obeying God’s law and my parents and experiencing crushing guilt or incredulous justification when failing. God’s grace was something I read about. A good idea that bordered on the fictitious.

Sometimes, especially when God whispers and my sinful soul screams, the legalistic little me returns. This grace my pastor speaks of… it cannot be for me. Not until I make myself presentable before His throne.

I am not unaware or unfamiliar with God’s grace, praise Him.

Merely staggeringly aware of how undeserving I am of it.

And instead of hiding securely in the shadow of the cross, where Jesus paid dearly and lovingly for my sins, I gather my good deeds and knowledgeable words and years of church experience and try to arrange it into a fruit basket for an offering.

I try to give God my spoiled, bruised, mealy fruit, time and time again, instead of resting heavily and happily in the spotless, blameless, holy Lamb.

I come before proudly and self-sufficiently as Cain instead of humbly and dependently like Abel. (Genesis 4:3-4).

I struggle with anger, with bitterness, with selfishness. But, most of all, I struggle with self-sufficiency. I strive before I pray, I scrub myself with dirty sponges before bathing in His sparkling living water.

His mercy and grace fall like dew in the morning, ever new and ever constant. Praise Him that He guides me lovingly through life instead of letting me go my own way.

Silence

This blog post has no answer and it has no real point, except that God is good and the only solid Thing in my life. 

I flail like a buoy in a storm that seems to have no end.

Perhaps, some days, I can keep the tossing of my soul under wraps. I can shove it hastily in a box, stick it in my closet, and scurry like the Mad Hatter on the temporary business of the day.

But most days, despite my attempts to suffocate it, to will it into submission, my somehow angry, frustrated, bitter soul snags loved ones close by with a left hook.

I say “somehow” because I really don’t understand what happened.

I was walking close with God. I could feel His presence in my every moment. I breathed in and smelled His glory in the summer air. I heard His praises in the quiet still of my jobless monotone.

And then I landed a job.

I thanked Him! I couldn’t believe He had answered my prayer after many weeks and months of desperately wanting to work.

And then He was silent.

I continued to get up early with Mister, to make some coffee and oatmeal with apples, to do the dishes, to feed the dog. I continued to ready myself for work and left at a reasonable time. I continued to work hard all day, breaking for a brief nibble before diving back into invoices and spreadsheets. I continued to smile and laugh and strive to show the joy of Jesus to my boisterous, lighthearted coworkers. I continued to come home with swollen ankles from sitting all day, to grab the dog and her leash and run our hearts out, to try and have dinner ready for Mister, and to shower and sit with my feet up on the wall.

All before going to bed and starting over.

And I started to notice that God was silent.

I couldn’t readily hear His still, small voice. I didn’t leap to read His words. I often forgot to pray.

And He didn’t pursue me.

Perhaps I was angry because He didn’t pursue me the way I wanted and expected Him to. Perhaps I subconsciously thought to myself, “Well, if God’s not going to put any effort into this, I’m sure as heck not going to.” I say subconsciously because, let’s face it, I would never utter those words and survive the instant conviction of the Holy Spirit unscathed.

But perhaps, through my human inclination to commit sins of omission, my subconscious uttered it.

I thought, for a few days, that all I wanted to do was punch Mister in the face.

For no reason.

But my inner turmoil had reached such a frightening peak that I thought for sure I would.

It’s usually when you’re about to do something completely ridiculous, like punching a loved one in the face, that God swoops in with a 2×4 and hits you first.

I can’t exactly pin down this 2×4. But after an unorganized sermon presented by a man who was not a preacher in a church that was not my own, I felt stricken and ashamed. Instead of boiling, furious that the God of the universe wasn’t paying attention to me, my spirit felt crushed, like a spider thwacked heartily with a newspaper and left to crumple up its legs in a sad and sheepish way.

I turned to Mister, the man whose face I wanted to punish for my inner, quiet, and deadly sins of omission, and begged him for forgiveness.

And then I read A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken.

And then I began to read articles and blog posts and devotions again.

And now I’m writing again, my not-so-secret and unique way of working things out and renewing my desires for Christ.

I’ve been selfish and proud, assuming God would want me when I refuse to pursue Him wholeheartedly. I approached His throne with arrogance and conceit, like Mr. Darcy insolently thinking Lizzy Bennet wouldn’t dare refuse his proposal despite his obvious displeasure in it. I demanded attention from Him while letting my adoration for Him slack. I had excuses for not worshiping Him and blamed my sin on His silence. It is amazing I was not struck down like a wayward weed in a garden.

My soul still churns, because I live on earth, but God is not so silent, and He will not leave me here alone. Not because I don’t believe apostasy is real, but because I remember asking Him to not let me be apostate, followed by a swift kick in the pants from the Spirit.

Pray for me.