Heartache, broken, depressed, rock bottom, suffering, trials, weak, challenged, sorrowful, the valley…words often used to express that one’s life is frankly just hard and often times, more than hard. For now, I will use the term heartache. We have all known and shared in heartache—not one of us is alone in the struggle. This pain we experience deep within us can come from various circumstances and experiences in life. The list of examples could last forever. Though all of our stories are unique, we equally know that restlessness inside our hearts and minds, the confusion, doubts, the uncertainty of what to do and where to go. We plead with God to lead us, answer our questions, and make things right, or what we perceive to be right and good. Our nights may be flowing with tears as we hope to awake with morning joy…and to our dismay the dawn comes with those same tears. We wonder if God is listening; will He answer our prayers, will He restore all things, has He forsaken me? At times we question if we even really believe that Christ is Savior, if He loves us, if we belong to Him. We may ask if His power really is made perfect in our weakness. Is He actually working all things for my good? This rabbit hole of thoughts and questions can often result in lethargy, hopelessness, spiritual despair and can easily turn into forms of anxiety and depression.
I have been here, multiple times. Asking all these questions, thinking all of these thoughts, feeling the weight of all the pain. I have had my fair share of depressed seasons and I do not doubt that more will come over the years. I have had many restless nights, crying out to the Lord…
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. (Psalm 6:6)” “You have kept count of my tossing; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)”
I go on doubting His promises that have been made so clear in His word, self-condemning for the doubts I do have and the answers I think I deserve to know. “Who am I to question the Lord? I should be repenting in dust in ashes.” During dark days like these, I often believe the lies that whisper God is withholding from me or taking away that which I most desire because I deserve it, because I am sinful and these are the consequences for my transgressions …as if God were in spite of me. And once again I am back to self-condemnation because I know the truth that God is loving, kind, merciful, patient and faithful, that He only has what is best for me, that He does indeed discipline His children but only for their good; so how could I think of Him so poorly? “Forgive me Lord.” Many times it has been a vicious cycle for me, an ongoing battle between my weak mind and what I know to be true. In the midst of even being aware of such a battle, at the end of the day, my heart still hurts and I cannot heal it myself. In these seasons, I have often come to a point where the only words I can muster up are “Lord, what are you doing?”
For one who belongs to Christ, we know exactly what He is doing. He is sanctifying the one whom He has chosen. He is breaking us down to build us up; He is revealing the idols of our hearts, the sin our flesh runs to everyday. He is making us more like Him as He purifies our hearts and brings us to a place where we can only turn to Him. This is ultimately the best place for us to be, broken down in full surrender…turning to the Lord for guidance, help, and healing. I have often felt the process of sanctification to be rather frustrating. In my perfectionist desires or for things to be the way they should be, I long for the end result, to have finally arrived. I long to be in heaven and not here on Earth. I don’t want to hurt, I don’t like the challenge, I want ease and eternal rest. And yet, our Heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, He is present, He is our eternal rest and we have hope. In his book, When the Darkness Will Not Lift, John Piper wrote, “our progressive sanctification—our-all-to-slow growth in Christlikeness—matters. It is the necessary evidence that the seed of spiritual life is in our soul and that our faith is real.” Be encouraged; seasons of darkness are normal in the Christian life.
He knows our frame, that we are only dust (Psalm 103:14). He knows we are fragile, that we continue to wander…falling and scraping our knees. He knows the desires of our hearts, He knows our frustrations, He knows we cannot do it on our own. He knows we are exhausted, that we don’t understand but so deeply want to. He knows our depression and anxiety; He was the man of sorrows, fully despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3). We have a God who sympathizes, who understands, and longs for us to bring all of that to the altar, surrendering it at His throne. Nothing is hidden from Him. Our God is fully in control. The God who knit you together in your mother’s womb, who wrote your days before you were born (Psalm 139), who chose you before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4) …He is at work in your life, in this very season. He has ordained it and is allowing it. We may not like that reality. It may seem unloving or unfair but we would be wrong in thinking so. Because God loves us and desires for us to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), the Lord allows our hardships to reveal the depths of our depravity, to remind us how in need we are of salvation, to show us the goodness of Christ living the life we cannot live and dying the death we deserve, being raised and seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us- His saints, so that we may know Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him forever. This is the chief end of man.
We can easily think that God is not in support of our happiness during our hours of suffering because we normally aren’t happy in seasons like these…understandably. We fail to remember however, that happiness is momentary and our ultimate joy can only be found and satiated in the presence of God. “In His presence there is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). We can rejoice in our sufferings as Paul says because they will not be wasted; God is doing something. He is maturing us, He is leading us to greater depths of intimacy and reliance on Him. He is building our faith as He refines us through the fire. His hand will uphold you and we can rest in the promise that God will work all things for the good of those who love Him. Amen.
And yet, we can know all these truths and still doubt and still ache within our hearts. The character of God and the promises we find in His Word may not comfort, and they may not change our circumstances. Again, I have been here, multiple times and once again I often fall into guilt and shame for knowing the truth and seeing my lack of faith. “Wretched man that I am, who can save me? (Romans 7:24)” We know who can. The Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the one who died on the Cross for us will not leave us to ourselves. But what do we do when it seems that we have done all we can and the darkness will not lift? You’ll find that when you reach this point, all you can do is cry out and plead with the Lord. You’ll finally stop and surrender because you know only He can save you, there is no where and no one else to turn to. You stop striving to “rescue” yourself from the place He has you. Jim Elliot once wrote, “wherever you are, be all there.” These words have stuck with me through many joyful and sorrowful seasons of life. Be where you are, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness (Psalm 37). Plead with God to change your heart, to remove the doubt and strengthen your faith. Do not run from Him, where are you going to run? There is no other hope, there is no one else who can do this work within you. Beg him to heal your heart, to stir your affections for Him, to give you the strength you need to get out of bed, to drive to class or work, to just sit and open the Bible, to have the motivation to go to church or meet with someone, to give you the joy, faith, and contentment you long for. Keep persisting and lay it all down at His feet. God delights in these kinds of prayers and desires this reality for you more than you desire it for yourself. I have too often tried to clean myself up before coming to the Lord but that is not what our gracious and loving Father desires. He sent Christ to die for messy, broken, and hurting people and He longs for us to come to Him with all of our baggage and deep wounds. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with Him. There is no need to beat around the bush, nothing can be hidden from Him. Confess your thoughts, pour out your emotions, present your requests to the Lord, tell Him what you long for. In humility, ask your questions and admit to that which you do not understand and then leave it with Him. Be still before the Lord and wait for Him, this too shall pass. A note of warning: do not hide in the dark, this is exactly where the enemy wants you…do not give him the pleasure of devouring you but experience the freedom of bringing all your pain and suffering to the light. It will be ugly but confess it to yourself, to the Lord, and to others. Come to the Father, you will not be cast out (John 6:37).
Written by Allison Knight
Part Two September 15, 2017