It was late, like 2am late, and very dark, especially for those of us who were used to the warm orange glow perpetually cast by the city. For the past two hours the van's brake and engine warning lights had been going off and we are driving on small and hilly roads. We drove on and on, not being able to see anything but the road immediately ahead of us, and when we hit a patch of fog, barely even that. If felt vaguely dangerous and unsettling, never knowing if the brakes that kept us safe would continue to work. It was dark and unknown, never knowing when the road would curve or dip or rise. And several of us mentioned that we thought the scenery must be exceedingly beautiful along the stretch we were driving, if only we could see it. I was struck by how similar this drive felt to how life has felt for the past nine months or so. Scary, worrying, vaguely dangerous, unknown, and missing out on great beauty along the way.
I haven't blogged much about it, or mentioned it to many people in general, but the last nine months have been hard. I have been beset by worry, fear, anxiety, and depression to an extent that I have never experienced before. I have felt fragile and weak and not very good at coping. My husband is my hero for supporting me and encouraging me through this valley. So why am I blogging about it now? Well, for two reasons. The first is that over the past two weeks I have begun to feel as though the fog is lifting and the light is beginning to dawn on the crazy dark and hilly road I have been on. I can write about it now, while I couldn't before. The second reason is almost more important. I keep hearing from women... many women, both whom I know personally and whom I know via the internet... that I am not alone in being beset by panicked anxiety. While I know I have a ways to go, I also feel strongly that God wants me to share what He has been oh so patiently trying to teach me through the past months.
And it wasn't a new lesson, I'm a little ashamed to admit. I have had to learn the hard way once again, that I am not perfect, cannot make myself perfect, and that I'm not in charge... of anything. I am a recovering perfectionist who really does want to do a good job in everything I do. I mean well, but sometimes I lose sight of the real goal in the process of doing things right. And, unsurprisingly, things don't always go the way I would like them to, sometimes through my own doing and sometimes it's just the way they are. And here we begin to get to the crux of the beginning of the problem. When you think you are in charge of things, it is easy to begin to think of yourself as a failure. About nine months ago, there were events that had happened that were beyond my control, yet began the cycle of feeling as though I had failed. Failed my family and failed God.
Once you are on the slippery slope, it is so, so easy to start seeing the world through those glasses. You see, grace, though terribly simple in concept, is really actually quite difficult to wrap our heads around. When things became difficult throughout this year (and there was some rather difficult stuff), I blamed myself. Surely it was my fault in some way that we were going through this. I had failed to do something I should have; I didn't live up to what I supposed to believe; I and my family were somehow being punished. From there it is a very short hop to wondering if God really does care about me... does He even love me. When you reach that place, God isn't someone you really want to spend much time with. Why would you? Who wants to spend time with a powerful being who showers His wrath on you if you haven't managed to get enough boxes ticked on the to do list?
Did I realize that this is the place I had landed? No, it happens quietly, subtly, without notice. Suddenly I realized that I was incredibly angry at God for any number of things and that is where I stayed for a while.
God doesn't leave us where we are. In the past couple of months, I have had little glimmerings of Jesus hovering about the edges of my life. At one point, I cried out in frustration that I couldn't handle everything life was throwing at me. I just couldn't do it. And in reply, the still, small voice replied, "So don't, let Me." It got me through the day, but I still couldn't let go of the feeling that I was being asked to do too great a thing and not living up to it all.
While I didn't ignore God through this time, I badgered Him with questions. Usually whining questions of, "Why...?" And for the past two months, immediately after I would have one of my one-way whine fests, I would turn on the radio or open a book or look at the paper, and there would be some sort of reply to my whine. Every. Single. Time. I would hear something reassuring. God was talking to me, but I was just choosing not to listen.
One of my favorite stories from the Bible is about Elijah. After he brings down the priests of Baal in his little burnt offering show down, he retreats to the mountains to escape Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him. Elijah is tired and depressed. He lay down and complained to God that he just wanted to die; life was too hard. Does God get angry with him? Shout at him? Leave him? No. God whispers to Elijah, "Rest, the journey is too much for you," and sends angels to feed him and comfort him. God loved Elijah, even at his most unlovable state, and God love me. And you.
The still small voice continued. I would worry while doing the grocery shopping and God would remind me of the time He arranged the parking spaces so my car could be jumped. It happened over and over. Worry, then a reminder of God's loving mercy. I admit that sometimes I was so worked up, that I wouldn't have even heard a train, but I heard the other times. I was continually asking God if He cared, and He, in the still small voice was telling me He cared very much.
Through all this, I realized something. I was doubting whether God was good. I was having trouble with the age old question, of God is good why is all this yuckiness going on. The bad happens because this world is fallen and it is not yet redeemed. I'm not going to get into all that right now. It was my response to the bad that I want to address. You see, I realized that I had yet to let go of my death grip on control. I wanted to have control over my life, my family's life, and it was sucking the life out of me. I can't be in control. I don't have the power or the knowledge to make it turn out even remotely good. I will make a mess of it. I needed to let God have control... again.
I can tell you, yes, God does care. About me. About you. He cares so much He that Jesus came, took our punishment for all those things we have done wrong, the things we beat ourselves up over, and it is finished. There is no need for us to worry about them anymore, because Jesus took care of it. This is the Good News. God cares. And not only does God care, He is also able to take care of all those little and big details that we think we have to take care of ourselves. Here is where I found the joy I lost those many months ago. God's got this. I don't have to. It may look bleak in the moment, but I don't need to worry because God has it under control. God is good. God loves me. God has a better ending for my story than I could dream of.
And the same goes for you, too. Jesus tells us that His burden is easy and light... and that's because He is carrying it for us.
If we let Him.
(Linked up at Titus 2 Tuesday)