Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hope

            A few years back, I went through the hardest part of my spiritual journey so far.  I was facing a lot of stressors at once: my parents divorced (again), a son had Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, I had my fourth child, the recession brought us a lot less income, we were living in a moldy rental that we couldn’t afford to get out of, and we were desperately looking for a home to buy because it was way past time.  And during this time, God left me.  At least that’s how it felt.  When I needed Him most and when I fervently sought His Will, He hid Himself.  And He remained silent for years. 
            And this threw me into the greatest emotional and spiritual crisis that I’ve ever been through.



            Not only was I learning that I couldn’t handle anything and that I had no control or answers at all, but it triggered my greatest fear (the one that came from the multiple divorces my mom went through): The Fear of Abandonment.  Because now my Heavenly Father was abandoning me, too.  His silence during the time when I needed Him most was the most difficult spiritual struggle that I ever went through. 
            But eventually, it was also the most rewarding.  Because although I felt like God wasn’t listening and I wondered if He cared at all, I chose to believe in Him anyway, to cling to Him, and to trust that He hadn’t forgotten about me.  I ran to the Word for help, to books by godly people, and I poured my heart out in prayer, even though I felt like I was talking to ceiling. 
            And by doing this, fears and doubts and misconceptions that I had about Him, about faith, and about myself came to the surface.  But instead of just freaking out about them or wallowing in them, I chose to systematically examine and work through each one.  I picked apart each one, keeping the truth and throwing out the lies or replacing them with God’s Truth. 
            And it seemed like the more I examined my heart and mind and the deeper I went into the muck that had accumulated there, the deeper I had to go.  But when I had gone as far as the Holy Spirit was trying to lead me, I found that God was there waiting for me.  And I knew that He had been there all along.  It was the very fact that He remained hidden that challenged me to search harder, to go deeper into my spirit and my heart to find Him.  The more desperately I wanted to hear from Him, the more committed I became to climbing higher and higher up the difficult mountain to reach Him. 
            Digging deeper and climbing higher.  This was the reason for His silence.  And when He finally revealed Himself after all the silence, I was filled with such an assurance of His goodness and His love that it didn’t matter if things in my life were not fixed yet and if we were still in the moldy rental.  Just being able to feel His presence filled me with such joy because I knew that I was not alone.  He was there fighting with me and I had hope that He would work it all out somehow, in His time and in His way.  I might not get what I want in life, but I now knew that I could trust His love and His goodness. 
            And that is what came out of the darkest time in my spiritual journey – a deep, genuine trust in His love and goodness.  I didn’t even know how little trust I had in Him – how much I felt like He couldn’t really love me - until His silence forced me to examine all my fears and doubts and negative self-views.  And that’s why I now say that His silence during those years was the best thing that could ever have happened to me.  It was hard and painful and confusing, but it was so worth it.
            During this time, I had found a verse that I never noticed before. 
            “. . . but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  (Romans 5:3-5)
            What struck me most as I read this was that hope came at the end of the list.  Usually, we say that hope is what gives us the strength to get through the trials.  But this passage basically says that hope is the reward that comes after persevering through the trials. 
            It isn’t so much that hope keeps us going.  It’s that as we fight through the trials, as we persevere by clinging to God’s Truth, and as we work through the fears, lies, doubts and misconceptions deep in our hearts and minds, we will develop a greater godly character.  And as we clean out all the junk that has accumulated in our hearts and minds – all the junk that interferes with a close, authentic relationship with the Lord – we will be filled with a genuine hope, because we will begin to see and know Him as He really is.  We will experience His love and goodness as we were meant to, without all the junk interfering.  And that is what real hope is.
            So if you find yourself in a difficult, confusing spot right now . . . if it feels like He’s abandoned You and like He’s not listening . . . if you are in a deep, dark time in your spiritual journey . . . don’t give up and wallow.  Keep Digging Deeper.  Keep Climbing Higher.  Stay connected to the Word and prayer.  And let the Holy Spirit bring up all the junk that is in your heart and mind.  Let Him help you sort it out, keeping the good and getting rid of the bad by replacing it with God’s Truth.  And then, you will find the hope that you are looking for.  And you will say, “It was worth it!” 
            And if life is just plain hard for you – if it’s not what you want it to be and it’s trial after trial, heartache after heartache – just remember that the ultimate hope we have is that God will redeem all of this junk in the end and He will set all things right.  I think we can bear with just about anything for a time if we remember that it will not always be this way.  Someday, all things will be as they should be, when God comes back and turns all the messes into something beautiful.  And clinging to God and to this hope gives us the strength to persevere.              

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