This morning Brett did the laundry for me so that I could have some time to focus on journaling and prayer. I told Brett last night that I know I’m not in a spiritually healthy place and I really need to start processing my questions and griefs. The trouble is, I feel scared and overwhelmed. He encouraged me that I just needed to take that first step.
Six years ago, my life looked very different than it does now. I was newly engaged and getting ready to move to Mississippi because I had been accepted to train with my dream ballet company. I was coming out of a season of intense darkness after a long battle with anorexia, self-harm and depression. For once, I was happy to be alive and excited about what the future might hold.
I had visions of a fulfilling ballet career, a fruitful ministry and a happy life with my soon-to-be husband and future children. It’s not that I thought life should be easy, but I guess I sort of imagined that I would, for the most part, get to choose the challenges myself. Life would be difficult but only because I was going to give everything to love God and love people. I was going to voluntarily sacrifice my comfort to give my all to what I felt called to. I was going to do my part to heal this broken world little by little.
Just over a year later, my life looked completely different than I ever could have imagined. My dreams turned into a nightmare filled with suffering like I had never known before. Suffering I did not choose and suffering that didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything. I fell severely ill and was left disabled and bed-bound.
Suddenly, here I was… trapped in a deteriorating body unable to even go to the bathroom by myself. I was completely dependent on the help of my husband and family. I wasn’t doing anything great to love God or heal the hurting. I was “the hurting.”
At first, I brought my pain and doubts and questions to God in the form of journaled prayers, just like I always had. But God did not answer. And as my body and brain continued to deteriorate I lost my ability to write or even focus long enough to pray more than a sentence at a time. I felt like I had been cut off from God. Or maybe, the more honest way to say that is… I felt like God had cut me off.
I hated when people said that God “carried” them through their suffering and that He drew closer to them in their darkest times. Christians said that a lot, almost as though seasons of darkness always went hand and hand with an experience of deep intimacy with God.
And I wondered… Why not me? Why don’t I get the comfort of God drawing near in a special way? Why is He not only withholding His presence but also taking away my ability to communicate with Him? I can’t read the Scriptures, I can’t sing, I can’t gather with other believers and I can barely pray a couple words at a time.
My greatest comfort was that God chose to include prayers like these in the Scriptures:
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”
“O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.”
I was not the first person to experience what felt like a cold shoulder from my Creator and so I decided to let it go and trust. I had done my part and God knew just how much I wanted to know and be known by Him. I could not control Him or the circumstances that were keeping me from engaging in, what Christians call, the spiritual disciplines. So, I would just have to suffer faithfully even without the special comfort of feeling God near. I would wait patiently for Him to break the silence.
So, I waited and waited and waited… and the distance only seemed to grow.
Now, four years of waiting later, I’ve finally regained my cognitive functioning. I am able to read and pray again but it has only caused me to feel the distance more keenly. The ugly truth is, I don’t remember what it’s like to read the Scriptures because I love them. I don’t remember how to pray from a raw and honest place. It feels foreign and uncomfortable.
In my suffering I have come to know God as sovereign and mysterious and infinite but I have forgotten what it’s like to know him as Father. That became so clear to me this morning as I was journaling and praying. I don’t feel at all comfortable approaching God with my questions and griefs. I’m terrified. I am just so aware of the discrepancy between my helplessness and his power, my smallness and his greatness.
I see the God who says,
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements, surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?”
But I have forgotten the God to who said,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
“But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.’
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
Isaiah 49: 14-16
Yet, my God is both. He is powerful and gentle. A lion and a lamb. So, if I want to find healing for my soul, I’m going to have learn to be vulnerable again. It’s a risk I have to take. I’m going to have to uncover those ugly wounds and trust that He knows what I need even more than I do.
By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.