[box] This is a reflection based on chapter 2 of You and Me Forever.[/box] This week has been a very hard week. I was coming out of a week of illness and was waaaaaay behind with everything. My husband had two preaching assignments in a row (which he never does)…and caught my cold. I didn't feel like I was helping anyone and the feeling of being overwhelmed flooded me. Individually, they would not be heavy burdens. But all together, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed.
However, what made it particularly disheartening this time around was facing yet another day with Anah. Many times, I felt resentful that on top of the load we were already carrying, we needed to add Anah's unending, constant care. We have been told by others to take advantage of the school system and just send her off to school, but deep in our hearts, we knew that the way to deal with her institutionally-induced issues was not to send her to another institution but to care for her in the context of our family. This also means that she would be at home with us.
But we also then felt like she was a "black hole"--sucking up every bit of us, but making little progress, or worse yet, going backwards. We have seen God graciously provide for us through our church family to hire outside care, which has been a huge help. But there are still some parts of the day and routines that we have still had to do ourselves that are physically, emotionally, and spiritually wearing us down. Dan and I have been investing countless hours, pouring our energies into helping her work through the limitations she has, constantly developing (and re-developing) daily routines that would allow her to function semi-independently, and making arrangements for her care if we could not do it ourselves. Again, if the other circumstances of life this past week were different, we would not find her care so burdensome, but all together, the realization that this was going to be a cross we will bear for the rest of our days (or hers) just triggered hopelessness and despair inside.
For the past few weeks, we have begun going through counseling to work through some of the stresses and strains this adoption has placed on our marriage. We didn't ever anticipate that something good, like adoption, would be so destructive to our relationship. Anyways, through this whole week and during our counseling session, I kept hearing myself say, "I can't do this anymore." It is a hard place to be in because it is very humbling.
I like to have things together--or at least appear that way. To be at the end of my rope, the bottom of the pit, teetering on the abyss—those are places I work hard to avoid. And yet, I am learning--once again--that perhaps God in His wisdom is allowing me to experience these things so that I can start becoming the person He wants me to be. The smaller I am, the greater He can become in and through me. I must decrease so that He can increase (John 3:30). This has been the cry of my heart for years. And while it is easy to pray, I often balk at the means it takes for Him to get me there. Yet, if this is what it requires so that He can refine me as gold, then so be it. If this is what it takes for Him to use our marriage and family as a witness and testimony to His grace and goodness, then I pray that I will faithfully and willingly walk in the path He has chosen for us.
We love to read in our family. All good stories, as we have quickly discovered, have a conflict--a problem, a struggle, an obstacle to overcome. Without it, there really is nothing worth reading. In fact, we agree that kind of book is actually boring! What makes us keep turning the pages is the desire to find out how the conflict will be resolved at the end.
But a story is not simply a plot line with its twists and turns. A story is about the characters that people it. What draws us in is how the characters interact with the plot. For our family, the greatest value in reading literature together is learning as we walk (or sometimes crawl) with Frodo on the road to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. It is considering the plight and consequent choices of orphaned Sara Crewe in A Little Princess. It is climbing the steps to the guillotine with Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.
We have often told our children that the character and the love for God that we long for is not developed in the easy times but in the hard ones. There really is no other way (unfortunately) to become the men and women God wants us to be. Like a story without conflict, our lives would be rather boring and dull. There is no opportunity for character to develop, faith to deepen, or trust to grow.
How about you? Are you in that uncomfortable place in God’s story? If so, don’t run away from it. Instead, sink down into the loving arms of a God who has kept record of our tossings, collects our tears in a bottle and writes them in His book (Psalm 56:8). We have been working with God's people long enough to know that even under the happy smiles and well-dressed exteriors lie hearts that struggle and hurt. It is part of being human.
But for those of us who also call ourselves Christians, this may be the best place to be, if we are willing to walk through it instead of fight it.
- It may mean accepting the painful realization that I am needy and weak.
- It may mean accepting the fact that without this pain, there is no story that will bring Him glory.
- It may mean being willing to enter the battlefield, trusting Him to not only help you survive but be victorious in the end.
I’m not saying that we are to seek out pain, but if you find yourself in the midst of it, be willing to enter into it in faith and trust that God has something good He will do with it, even if Satan desires to wound you with it. This is possible because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. He is the one who will use the hard times to form in us the character of Christ we so deeply desire. Use this opportunity to draw near to Him instead of pushing Him away (which is what I tend to do).
In marriage, Dan and I are realizing that we need to draw together as a couple as well and face our difficulties together. We need to fight together against what Satan desires to use to drive us apart so that our marriage becomes the testimony that He wants us to be. Hardship often causes husband and wife to turn against each other as enemies (don't ask me how we know this). In our pain, we end up wounding our allies. But a house divided cannot stand.
So if you find yourself in the midst of great loss and grief, trial and opposition, or stress and strain, these are the moments when we have the opportunity to do what is completely counterintuitive. We get to learn how to grow intimacy, strengthen commitment, and love unconditionally. Step back, remember the big picture, and then re-enter with a resolve to engage for the glory of God.
Every good story has a setting, and ours, as we read in chapter 1, is eternity. This backdrop will help us remember that our sufferings are a part of the glory He has in store for us. The realities of life may not change, but our perspective does.
This post is as much a reminder for me as it is an encouragement for you. God is still writing our story. We do not write from the vantage point of hindsight. We are still in the trenches. I say this, lest some of you think it is a flippant, pat answer that grates against the soul in our pain.
Life without struggle is like a story without conflict. It would be dull. And I believe it will also be impotent in making the Gospel known. Even Jesus' story, perfect God He was, had pain and suffering in it. How can we expect our lives to be any different?
But as we watch Him, we too can take hope that there is victory and glory awaiting for those who are faithful. Take heart and draw close to Him as He walks you through it. Allow God to use our pain to work in us what a watching world longs to see--that God is real, He is relevant, He is good.
Stick around for the ending and stay in His story.
We will. How about you?