I had a dream last night. One of those dreams where you wonder, “Was that supposed to tell me something?” And I’m trying to figure it out this morning. I was going somewhere in a car with other people, and one of my brothers was driving. We were in a big SUV and zooming down the highway. But my brother (who was driving) kept looking down or into the glove compartment. And every time he did, we would drift to the side of the road. All of us passengers were sure we were going to crash, so we kept yelling at him to keep his eyes on the road.
After a few seconds, I realized that we didn’t crash yet. And so I opened my eyes, expecting to see that we were headed right into the rocks. But I realized that we actually had landed, just as soft as a feather and right before the rocks and water. We stopped safely and gently, nose-down, on a large rock. And none of us were hurt.
So we scrambled out of the vehicle onto the ground. And when we were out, I began scolding my brother for being reckless as he drove. He kept trying to defend himself. And he even blamed me for the accident because, back before we got in the car, I grabbed a roll of paper towels (for my son’s runny nose, I presume). And my brother implied that this one act threw our whole schedule off, which then directly led to us crashing. I tried to defend myself, but he got other people to side with him and to start scolding me for the accident. And I felt helpless to defend myself, to convince others that getting a roll of paper towels was not the cause of the accident.
This morning as I sit here with my coffee, I’m trying to figure out if the dream means anything. And what strikes me most about it is that a “miracle” happened in the dream: God answered my prayer to save us in a dramatic way. He basically stopped a crash in mid-air and gently set us down in a safe spot. And yet, none of us talked about the miracle or thanked God for keeping us safe. All we talked about was who was at fault. All we did was point fingers and get upset at being accused and try to defend ourselves and complain that we had no car now. And this morning, I’m wondering, How many times do I miss seeing the answer to prayer – whether great or small – and focus instead on where and how things went wrong? How many times do I fail to praise God for sparing us a greater “tragedy,” focusing instead on the smaller “tragedies” of my life?
And honestly, the answer is, “Way too often!”
I have been in a near-depression for a couple years now. And I know what’s causing it. (And since I know what’s causing it, I guess it would be more accurate to call it “sadness” or “heartache” or “mourning.” Because, if I remember correctly, clinical depression usually means you don’t know the cause.) For years, so many things have not gone the way I want them to, the way I hoped they would go. I always feel like I am failing at home because there’s so much to do that I can only do half of everything before moving on to the next thing. I have very little contact with friends, maybe once every month or two. (I used to think that I was a good friend, but I’m beginning to wonder if something is broken in my “being a friend” department.) I basically don’t have any real relationships with my siblings and extended relatives because we’ve all moved on and away. I never really had a “daddy” because one biological dad plus three step-dads just doesn’t equal one whole daddy. So I feel like I have never really had one to lean on and support me and love me like I wanted. And my biological dad has never really kept in contact with me. My Christmas card to him this year came back to me: “Return to Sender. Unable to Deliver.”
And then there’s this house that we live in that we were sure God brought to us after years of waiting. But it has so many problems that I have begun to wonder if it really was God’s answer to our prayers. I was already struggling with total dejection and frustration trying to live in and keep up with a half-done, money-eating house when a new neighbor said, “We looked at this house when we were house-shopping, but we passed it up because it had so many problems.” This made me feel like we were the joke of the neighborhood, like God gave us a house that was a lemon. That He blessed everyone else with more and better, and we got the left-overs. (Which I know isn’t true, but these feelings do pop up.)
And then, I have prayed over and over again for years about a simple request. And I was sure that He would answer it in the way I trusted Him to. I put my faith in the “if you believe in your heart” verse. And I really did believe. And He really didn’t answer. And I am struggling to understand that, and to move on and accept His “no.”
In fact, I feel like I have to accept His “no” is so many areas that it’s messing with my head and my faith and my emotions and my view of myself. Sometimes, I just want some dramatic answer to prayer or to see the fresh, new faith of a new believer or to have a great in-depth spiritual conversation with someone so that I can feel His presence, instead of feeling this emptiness and lifelessness and discouragement that I’ve felt for a while now.
And on top of feeling like a failure in relationships and the house and with my kids and in prayer, I have really struggled with the fact that no one wants to read anything that I have written. Yes, I am bringing this up again. Because if there is one thing that has hit me the hardest over the past couple years, it’s this one. I spent years writing my life story, in the hopes that it might bring God glory and help others find His love and healing and truth. And I have made it available to many, many people. Dozens that I know in life and several dozen more that I don’t know on-line. And none of them have read it. (Expect for two who started it and never finished. And one lady from Singapore who actually did read it all.)
This re-triggered deep feelings of worthlessness and failure and loneliness and being a burden to others by even asking them to read it. To care about me. So many times, I wish that I had never told anyone about it. And I am trying to forget that I ever even wrote it. (And I don’t even know why I keep writing and adding to this blog. I guess it’s the loneliness, I have to “talk” to someone, so I write it out and put it on-line where no one reads it anyway.)
But these feelings of “failure” and “not mattering” are always with me now, whenever I see someone who never read it after I shared it with them. And it’s put a strain (in my mind) on my relationships with others (whatever relationships I actually have, that is). Although, I never let anyone know the pain that this has caused me. I don’t believe in burdening others with that and making them feel like they have to care about me or my struggles. I would rather smile through it all and find ways to encourage others in their own lives then ask anyone to encourage me.
But this has been a struggle for me for these past few years: learning to accept that I failed miserably in this area, as in so many others. Learning to accept that God doesn’t want to use me the way that I thought He would, that He doesn’t want the gift that I am offering, that He hasn’t answered prayers the way I believed He would. I keep thinking that maybe a break-through will come. I keep hoping that something will happen to trigger “success.” But honestly, hope hurts.
How do you become content with all these failures in so many areas? With feeling like no matter how much you pursue God, He is staying silent and hidden?
I have found that I am trimming down my prayer requests over the years. It used to be “Lord, use this greatly for Your glory.” And “Answer this prayer as I know You can. I trust You.”
And then it was, “Lord, let me reach just one person with this. Please don’t let my efforts be a total waste.” And “Lord, Your Word says, ‘If you believe . . .,’ doesn’t it? Well, I believe. So why aren’t You healing this problem of mine that I am entrusting to You?”
And now, it’s “Lord, I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of pursuing You so hard and tired of waiting and tired of hoping and tired of failed prayers. I don’t want anything else anymore than to be okay with the failure that I am and with all the ‘no’ answers. Help me. I can’t do it on my own. Help me become content with my life as it is, to not want any more than this. And it’s a good thing because I have no pride anymore and I cannot possibly think too highly of myself. Forgive me for thinking that other people needed to hear what I had to say, that I had something valuable to offer. Thank You that I am reminded daily of my desperate need for You. Help me be okay with being a nobody and with Your silence and with this problem that You won’t heal. Help me learn to glorify You, regardless of Your answers to my prayers. Help me learn to pray because I don’t even feel like I know how to do it anymore. Help me to keep going. Work through my weaknesses and shortcomings. It’s the best I can do. And I know it’s not much, but it’s all I can do. I’m sorry it’s not more.”
I’m sure that there are those Christians who feel like the Christian life is a breeze, like it’s exciting and comfortable and enjoyable. Life has been good to them. And they will cross the finish line of life smiling, singing, and refreshed. Proud of themselves and satisfied with all they have accomplished. I feel like I will reach the end crawling on my belly in the dirt, dusty and exhausted, dragging myself across the finish line with every last ounce of strength I have. And then I will immediately curl up in a ball and cry because I couldn’t do more or better.
I’m not saying that all of this is healthy. Struggling through all of these trials and feelings and thoughts are what led to my long-lasting depression. It beats me down way too often. But it’s interesting because the longer you are a Christian, the easier some things get and the harder other things do. And you will cycle through times of joy and spiritual satisfaction and times of discouragement and God’s silence. Exciting mountaintops and deep, dark valleys. Refreshing oases and long, dry deserts. And I’m learning to accept these as part of the journey. Because the better you begin to understand the Bible, basic truths, who God is, and how He moves, the more He prunes you and molds you to be more like Jesus. And this hurts.
. But it’s also healthier in many ways. Learning to accept God’s Will over mine . . . to lay my dreams down at His feet and let Him do what He wants with them . . . to stop trying so hard to force something to happen and to rest in Him, to be still and know that He is God . . . to get rid of spiritual “pat answers” and simplistic ideas of how faith works and who God is . . . to gain understanding of and compassion for those who struggle, too . . . to remember that it’s all about Him and not really about me . . . to focus on eternity and not on getting comfortable in this temporary life . . . to be a servant and to put others above myself . . . to always be aware of how much I need Him . . . to praise Him and to be thankful, even with the unanswered prayers . . . to cling to Him during His silence, trusting that someday He will speak again . . . and to let Him really be God over all of my life. These are all such important lessons. But it takes going through a lot of pain and struggle and pruning to learn them.
And sometimes, it takes a dream to really wake you up. Last night’s dream makes me think of how I have been living lately. I’ve been in a depression because I have been focusing on how things went wrong and where they went wrong and the mess that I am in and what “should have been,” instead of focusing on the ways that God has blessed us and how He has answered many of my prayers and how He has protected us from even greater tragedies and accidents and messes.
And I’ve been working on this. On trying to view my situation through the lens of “things could be so much worse.” We are truly blessed just to have healthy kids and a roof over our heads and enough money to buy food. I am so blessed to have found the Lord and to have children that know Him. I am so blessed to have a wonderful marriage and a great husband. I pray daily for protection for our family, and so I am so blessed with every uneventful day that goes by, when a tragedy doesn’t hit me or my family. But do I count these as blessings and answers to prayer? Or do I just focus on what I don’t have?
If one of us were to get chronically ill or if the house burned down or if my husband lost his job then I would look back on the emotional struggles that I have been going through lately and think, I had it so easy then. Things were really good, but I never really knew how good until such-and-such tragedy happened.
I’ll be honest, it seems “unfair” at times to feel like others have so much more to be thankful for. Lots of friends, close extended families, money to burn, a father to hug them when times are tough, a house that they can invite people into, success in a job that they enjoy, etc. But counting someone else’s blessings can only lead to discontentment with my own. Looking at the good things other people have makes me blind to the good things I have. And if I want to experience how truly blessed I am, I need to focus only on what God has given me. And be thankful.
And I need to be thankful for the tragedies that God hasn’t brought my way: deadly car crashes, chronic and severe illnesses, poverty, a war-torn country, homelessness, a natural disaster that destroys everything, a dictator as a leader for our country, etc.
Like in my dream, I need to remember how much God has spared me from. And be thankful. I would consider the trials I have now as blessings if I were to ever find myself in even worse situations. So maybe I should start counting myself abundantly blessed now, before something has to happen to wake me up to that fact. I don’t want to someday say, “I was so blessed, but I never knew it.” (And even if – or when - I do encounter those “worse situations,” I have to trust that God will get me through.)
Sometimes, God’s biggest blessings are the tragedies and heartaches that never happen. But we fail to realize how blessed we are because we only look at all the good things that we don’t have, instead of noticing all the bad things that He has spared us from. I’m really hoping that this is a truth that I can grab onto to help make these next years much sweeter than the last two. May I never forget to see and notice the good things that God has given me and the bad things that He hasn’t. And may I be thankful!