Have you ever gone through a period of time when you’ve questioned who you really are and wondered if others are questioning you too? Or a time when a trial or experience has shaken you to the core and you wonder if you will be able to move past it? Have you ever looked back on a situation with regret, sadness or one million ways in which you could have done it differently and gotten a different outcome? Or felt like you just can’t take another blow? For me personally the aftermath of a difficult experience brings out a lot of doubt, fear and (depending on the situation) self condemnation.
Four years ago God did a work in my life that has forever changed me. Yes, I was a believer up until then, but it took the 32 years before that to get me to a place of willingness of heart to allow Him to change me. It was just about a point of desperation and a I’m-tired-of-myself kind of place. It was the first time I really understood and experienced that love-grace relationship. Over the next four years I learned to trust God, He showed me firsthand how faithful He is, He answered prayers, even very specific ones, and showed up big-time when someone I love was in crisis. I came to a place where I could say with every bit of who I am, confidently and without fear, “My God is good, He is faithful and He hears my prayers”. I tell you this so you have an idea of where I am coming from. I was a mess (still am) and God has used me anyway, which still blows my mind.
While God has done a good work in me and continues to shape me, which is painful at times, Satan has done his best to plan sneak attacks on me and my family unlike I knew he could. Sure, I had heard others share about spiritual warfare and attacks of the enemy, but this seemed like a spiritual concept too deep for me or reserved for the “more mature” Christians. I am just a wife and stay-at-home-mom struggling to figure out how to love her husband and kids well and show them Jesus in everyday life. Why would Satan take notice of me? I’m not speaking to crowds or preaching sermons! But I learned that God’s word says to “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith”. 1 Peter 5:8-9. Maybe I thought this didn’t apply to me and I’ve let my guard down at times. Maybe I thought I was under the radar and insignificant enough that I would be okay. I was so wrong. Over the past few years there have been at least three significant attacks that I have know, no doubt, are enemy-driven. Not to mention the daily snares he sets. And something I’ve recently learned is that the enemy hits where it hurts. Where we are most vulnerable and where it will cut the deepest. His purpose is to drive us away from the God who loves us, and cause us to question our faith in Him and His goodness.
Most recently I had an experience that has caused me to question everything about myself. It’s left me feeling defeated, embarrassed, defensive, fearful and confused. While I am not one to keep things in, I do think that we, as Christians, need to have discretion when it comes to sharing our experiences and hearts with others. (Matthew 7:6) Whether the experience was because of your own sin or someone else’s, or both, we need to be careful and thoughtful with whom we share. For me, it’s usually my spouse, my sister, close friends, mentors, women that I personally know love Jesus and can offer me encouragement, wisdom, prayer and clarity. Not always all of those people for each experience, but to whom God leads me to share with. And He uses them to walk with me through the muck and yuck of what I’m going through. IT ISN’T ALWAYS EASY TO SHARE what we are dealing with, what we are struggling with, what we are going through or about something that is painful or embarrassing. But let me tell you that keeping it in was even worse! My mother-in-law, Sherry, uses the phrase “Shine a light on it” and I like that because once it’s in the light we can deal with it. Once it’s in the light I’m no longer alone. And that is a relief. But Satan wants us to stay afraid, ashamed and in the dark. Look what John 1:5 says “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” How powerful is that!
I don’t know about you, but I can be very, very hard on myself. My mind goes to places it shouldn’t and I allow the doubts to creep in and take me to a place of despair. I think of all of “what ifs” and there might even be a sense of paranoia. If I stay there, in that dark place, it will consume me. Then I return to Truth. God speaks to me in that despair.
“Because of My great love you are not consumed, for My compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22.
It’s incredibly comforting to turn to God in prayer, His Word and to people who really know and love us. We can let our guards down and feel safe enough to be vulnerable and unguarded. Fear dissipates in His presence, for He did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity (2 Timothy 1:7). What the world may think of me is dust compared to what my King says about me.
Amanda, you are My daughter, I have redeemed you, I have called you out of darkness, you are holy and dearly loved.
First Peter chapter 5 tells us to cast our anxieties on Him, be sober-minded and watchful, resist the enemy and stand firm in the faith. He gives us what we need to do just that, if we stay in prayer, we are seeking truth in His word (the bible) and willing to share and receive wisdom and encouragement from others. And, for me, a shift of focus. Am I focusing on what happened (the problem, the distraction, the enemy’s scheme), or am I focusing on how God can and will use this experience? Am I focusing on the “what ifs” or am I focusing on how, even though the enemy meant to waylay me, God’s hand of goodness and protection was there. Am I focusing on myself and my inadequacies or am I focusing on my identity in Christ? Am I focusing on what the world may think or say about me or am I focusing on what God says about me? Is my thinking (during this time) rooted in fear and despair or in hope and expectation? Am I trying to prove my worth or defend myself to outsiders or am I living clothed in the righteousness given to me through my relationship with Jesus?
And why is it so easy to offer these truths to someone else who is walking through hard circumstances, yet we have trouble believing them for ourselves? I know what God’s word says. I know that while on this earth I’ll have trials and you will too. I’m a sinner living with sinners in a fallen world. More truth:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
What I’m finding is that the bible is full of ordinary people (sinners and sometimes faithless!) that God used, despite their shortcomings and failings, and even sometimes because of them. He knows we are a mess and loves us anyway. He knows we are fragile and frail, and uses us anyway. He knows we stray and sin, and pours out his grace and forgiveness because of what Christ did for us. Those truths still overwhelm me. I think they always will. Lately I’ve been learning and studying the life of David. I’m intrigued by his life, this “man after God’s own heart”, shepherd to king, sinner and yet completely devoted to his God. David says in Psalm 16:2, “I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” David knew, through persecution, trials, loss and sin, where his hope and identity rested. I want to know that too. I want to completely believe it and live in it every single day. But instead I tend to internalize what’s going on around me and allow that to rule my emotions and stability. It could be something my child did that reflects poorly on me, something my husband said that I took offense to or someone’s view of me that I simply cannot change.
It’s incredibly hard to endure through trials. Sometimes harder than other times, but there is still some level of difficulty with which we need help. Let’s look just a minute at God’s endurance and faithfulness, particularly when ours is faltering.
Paul David Tripp in his daily devotional called New Morning Mercies says this “Your hope is not to be found in your willingness and ability to endure, but in God’s unshakable, enduring commitment to never turn from his work of grace.”. He goes on to say “…perfect endurance demands just that, perfection, and since none of us is there yet, we must look outside ourselves for hope. Your hope of enduring is not to be found in your character or strength, but in your Lord’s. When difficulty exposes the weakness of your resolve and the limits of your strength, you do not have to panic, because he will endure even in those moments when you don’t feel able to do so yourself.” There is so much freedom available to us and yet most times we hang on to our chains with dear life. Why must my hands be pried open to receive the peace and grace God so freely gives. And I am so undeserving.
I’ll end with some of my favorite lyrics from a hymn you might recognize.
O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing by John Wyeth