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Entries in Trials (5)


Being whittled away

Okay, we'll try this again. Yesterday, I posted this with the word "stripped" in the title. Bad idea. After blocking a few accounts on Twitter who wanted me to look at their "pictures," and having to moderate some interesting comments, I put it back into draft to save myself the headache. When I told my husband, he laughed and said he could have told me that was a bad idea. I guess I'm naive, and I guess I'm okay with that with regard to this. So, let's try this again.

One of the songs my church sings is "All is Well." We sing "It is Well With My Soul," on occasion (not often enough, in my opinon), but this one is more contemporary, so it gets sung more. I do like it. I had it playing as I cooked dinner recently, and I really stopped and thought about these lines: "He clothes us, then he strips us."

Christ clothes us in his righteousness when we come to him in faith. We are told to put off the old and put on the new of his righteousness, but he will take things from us. He won't remove our righteousness, but he will remove things: He allows us to lose people from our lives; to suffer health issues; to watch children rebel; to struggle in our marriage; to lose friends. Sometimes, he simply removes things from us, and at other times, makes it very clear that it's time to walk away. I have two close friends who are walking hard roads whereby they have been stripped. 

The song "All is Well" opens with the lines "He lowers us to raise us/So we might sing his praises." Have you ever felt lowered? When we have things taken from us, we feel low. When we feel that way, we don't feel like we have it all together; like we have the world by the tail. We feel like all we can do it reach up a trembling hand and ask God to pick us up.

God's purpose for trials is so that we will praise him; even in the littlest ones. He wants us to cling to him tightly in the storm so that we can see that he is able to sustain us. There are times when in a trial, we take matters into our own hands; we fight what is happening. We rob ourselves of seeing how God will sustain us. We may need another trial if we don't learn the first time; or the second, or the third. How low will he make us go? As low as is necessary. But it doesn't matter how low that is, because he will be with us there.

I'm not going to go into details, and my purpose is not to generate sympathy (I'm learning that sharing too many details online is not really fair to our families, even when they say it's okay), but right now, I'm in one of those seasons when I feel like I'm being stripped. It isn't nearly as bad as my friend who grieves daily for the son she lost this past year or the friend with chronic health issues. It's more of a slow process, little by little, whittling things away, one by one. It isn't suffering; more discouragement than anything.

After years of resistance, I have to learn to put things in a box, close the lid, and stop thinking about them. I may allow myself a few minutes to look into that box when I'm unable to keep its lid closed, but at some point, I have to simply leave it with God and focus on something else. That is not an easy thing for me. I tend to see life experiences and our reactions to things as being more like a big pile of spaghetti where things get mixed together; not the plate where not one scrap of food touches the other. But I have to learn to think differently.

The last time I went through something like this, I had a very bad bout of anxiety. I don't like that prospect. But lately there are moments when that familiar feeling comes back. This time around, I think it would be much better for me if I simply accept that is going to remove what needs removing. I know that what he leaves me with, chiefly himself, will be enough. It isn't easy, but it's enough.


When trials come, what helps the most?

My social media reading has changed over the last six months. While I still follow pretty much the same people as I did a year ago, my attention focuses less and less on the articles out there that deal with issues about the role of women in the church. Don't get me wrong; I think it's an important topic, but it's become one of those "musts" which determine whether a blogger is worth reading or not. And let's face it: writers write to be read, and that includes bloggers. If we didn't want to be read, we wouldn't do it.

I am losing interest in the continual material on the subject of women in the church. I don't begrudge anyone wanting to write about it, but honestly, for women who complain that women don't have enough of a voice, why are they writing about women? Why do some criticize "mommy bloggers" for their focus on womanly arts when they are still writing about women's issues themelves? Yes, the issues may be more complex, but women are still writing about things of concern for women. Where are the women writing about theology proper? Some of the writers I enjoy the most write very eloquently about women, but I seldom see them write about theology proper. All is not lost, though; one of the women bloggers whom I've known the longest does indeed write about such things as do the women I write with at Out of the Ordinary. For them, I am thankful.

In the last seven months, I have been going through a very difficult trial. There have been days when reading social media is the worst thing I could possibly do, and there are days when I have been completely disinterested in blogging at all. Some days, the only reading I have been able to manage is the Psalms. Just prior to the onset of this trial, I purchased the first volume in the long-awaited series on the writing of William Perkins. It has sat untouched for six months now. I do plan to pick it up again soon, becauase things are improving.

What has helped me the most over the past months is not reminders of my womanhood in the church. Articles about how I as a Christian woman can "engage" the culture have not been helpful. Reminders that yes, I need to be an influence in the church have not helped. Being told what I'm supposed to do as a woman have not helped. Having friends who want to discuss how we as women can have more influence and break the shackles of male domination have not helped.

What has helped is continual reminder of who God is. And that is where the Psalms have helped. Over the past seven months, I have read through the entire book of Psalms every month. There are Psalms I have read over and over again (Ps. 4, 5, 6, 18, 34, 46, 91, 145). These have reminded me who God is, and by extension, who I am. What has helped are friends who continue to remind me that God is good, that he is sovereign, that he loves me. The articles and books I have read have reminded me of the same thing.

I have been teaching the bible in some capacity for over 15 years. I have a lot of knowledge stocked up in my head, but I still have so much to learn about who God is and who I am before him. As I stand before God on my own, through the blood of Christ, I continue to learn more about my sin, my pride, and my faith. I have been a Christian for 30 years, and in the past seven months, I have never learned more about these things.

Perhaps those who feast on the issues of the day have already learned what I clearly have not. Perhaps I am living in a state of spiritual arrested development. I still feel like I have a long way to go. Not that anyone was waiting for me to comment on such things, but until I have learned enough about God, you won't see me addressing popular topics. That, of course, means obscurity in blogging, and I'm okay with that. That's another thing I've learned during this trial: what's important and what is not. I have seminary to look forward to next month, and that goal is more important to me now than the goal of keeping this blog going. While the ambitious side of me would love to have people read what I write, I guess I'll be content with writing for my professors.

Some days are still not easy, but I've arrived at the point where I can say, "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71).


Our Perplexing Trials

From Knowing God, by J.I. Packer:

We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have attained yet, and he is dealing with us accordingly. 

Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humor, compassion, humility or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under especially difficult conditions. Perhaps he has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Perhaps he wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps his purpose is simply to draw us closer to himself in conscious communion with him; for it is often the case, as all the saints know, that fellowship with the Father and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is the heaviest. 


Seminary true confessions

Last Thursday was my first day of seminary. I'd been waiting for this opportunity. I was excited about it. But as I got up in the darkness and got ready, one thought ran though my mind, and I expressed it to my husband: "I don't want to go."

What on earth was that about?

Last week at this time I was waiting for some test results. Early in February, I was experiencing some persistent chest pain, and I had lost weight without trying. Women at 50 don't usually lose weight without trying. It isn't fun to lose weight that way. These things were beginning to stir a little concern in me, especially as the wait between doctor's appointment and test dragged on, and then time between test and being given results dragged on. One's impatience and even the barest amount of internet research into symptoms can get an already over-active imagination working even harder.

Anxiety is a funny thing. It breeds more anxiety. You start to get anxious about being anxious. It's also something you don't want to whisper too loudly, because we Christians don't get anxious, no no, we don't. We must lack faith if we get anxious, right? 

My growing anxiety about these tests results spilled over into my attitude as I left for school that first day: what if I fail? What if I'm a bad student? What if I can't do the work? My anxieties grew even more as I went through that first day, as I listened in discussion to the other students talking. So many brilliant women. Quite providentially, one of the first passages we looked at as we practiced working with the text was Philippians 4:6-7. Each time we went through it, my conscience was pricked, and I thought about those verses a lot.

As I worked on my homework this week, preparing to hand it in, a good friend gave me an encouraging word about waiting for test results. She said that it was good that I had school to keep my mind on something else, especially because I was in the Word. That really jumped out at me. 

I've read about people who attend seminary talk about how the academics of it all can leave one forgetting what the heart of theological study is: knowing God more intimately. My purpose for attending seminary was to learn more about God, and I knew that, but I went into it with more pressure to be perfect that was necessary or desirable.

Doing a job well is something I always want to do. In fact, if there is any possibility I will really be bad at something, I don't do it at all. Hence, my reluctance to play laser tag. I went on one of those outings with my family in February, loathing every minute, because I'm terrible at shooting at things. And in all honesty, that's okay with me. I won't be doing it again.

I'm glad I went through the past few weeks of wondering and uncertainty about my health, because it really challenged me. Where is my faith? Is it in my ability to study well or produce well-written blog posts or bible study questions? If it is, it shouldn't be. My faith should be in Christ, and in His Word. My joy should be in the study of His Word, and how I want it to change me, not on getting an A. If I do, fine, but I think I'd rather not care so much if it means I'm missing the bigger picture: that the word is to be learned so that my mind will be renewed. That was my reason for going to seminary. Only three days in, and I was forgetting already. 

The good news is that my test results did come in, and it's something which can be treated quite easily with medication and diet modification. My tendency toward perfectionism can now be directed into researching these matters. In the meantime, as I prepare to hand in my first assignment tomorrow, I'm not going to give into the stress of thinking it has to be perfect. I believe I observed well, interpreted correctly, and put together some good questions. The best part is, one of the passages was James 1:1-18, about counting trials a joy. If my assignment is not as well-received as I might like, well, I guess I'll live with it. And I'll be glad of the lessons I've learned as I've studied. And I'll be praying that those lessons will grow in my heart.


Share in the joy

Recently, my son shared with me what he's been doing at his summer job. He's an intern at the church he attends. He absolutely loves this job, and I am so thankful to hear the joy in his voice when he talks about it. I'm thankful to hear him say it's the best job he ever had. It's even more sweet because over the past year, I've watched my son go through the biggest trial of his young life.

There was little I could do for him other than pray. He had to walk through the trial to reach the end of it. I know it was hard. I know he struggled. I had to be careful how much I asked because he's a big boy, and he doesn't need his mommy hovering. At the same time, I didn't want to appear like I didn't care and wasn't sensitive to his grief. I wanted so much to relieve the pain and sorrow. Even though I knew his grief would leave scars of a good kind, I wished things were easier. I wanted hugs and home cooking to be enough, but he needed more than that. He needed the grace and love of his Saviour. It is always hard to see our children as anything else other than the wee ones we cuddled and cared for; it was harder over this past year, because I could see a pain I could do nothing about.

But God was faithful, and I knew he would be. I prayed that my son would see it, and he did. Seeing that he has turned a corner toward healing is a gift. As mothers, we pray for these moments; these moments when our children see the faithfulness of God in their own lives. Those moments make up for those nights when we lay awake, hoping and praying they will be okay.

It was my privilege over this past year to share the burdens of my son, and to weep with him. And now the darkness is dissipating, and the the sun is out. Now, I have the blessing of sharing in his abundant joy.

Of course there will be other trials. I have three children, after all, and I don't know, nor do they, what's coming. But for the moment, I will revel in this joy of knowing that my child has learned a lesson, straight from the hand of God and into his heart. He has learned that it was good for him to be afflicted, that he would know God's statues. (Ps. 119:71)