Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winning the Battle

            I have been in a “funk” lately.  (I get in them often, comes with being a child from a broken home).  Prayer has felt futile.  I’ve been wanting to pull back from people.  I am struggling to accept certain “life problems” that I wish I didn’t have.  And I constantly deal with feelings of failure and not mattering.  (Yet this winter has been so much better than last winter.  It was really bad last year, just kinda bad this year.) 
            I know it’s not proper for a Christian to expose the fact that they are dealing with depression and frustration with God and disappointment with prayer and unhappiness with life.  I know we are supposed to plaster on that “good, happy, Christian smile” and act like we are full of joy and peace and contentment.  But this is the truth about how I feel.  And if I can’t be real with God and other Christians (even anonymously on this blog), then who can I be real with? 
            [One of my reasons for writing so honestly is because I want my kids to understand that struggling with life and with God is part of the journey.  It does not make you a “bad Christian.”  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is important to face it and work through it honestly.  I want them to know that happiness is not the main goal of life, that life can never really satisfy anyway.  If you focus on getting the most happiness out of life, you are missing the better goal: working for eternity and seeking holiness and learning to be content with life as it is, learning to praise God anyway and to trust that He will work everything out for good eventually, just not always in this lifetime.  Pain and longing and suffering are part of the journey.  And they can actually make you spiritually stronger if you grow through them, even if you are still “unhappy.”  Christianity doesn’t solve all earthly problems, but it does give you the strength to get through them, encouragement in knowing that God is walking with you, and the promise that “the best is yet to come” and that God will eventually work it all out for good.  I want my kids to learn from my honest struggle, instead of seeing someone who offers simplistic, pat answers for how God works and how Christians should just do X, Y, and Z to get God to do what they want, and who plasters on a smile and says, “Everything’s okay,” even as my heart is breaking.  There is no room for false facades and an inflated self in a truly humble, proper relationship with God.]

            Anyway, I shared a bit about my emotional struggles with a friend, asking for prayer.  And in an encouraging letter, she said that she didn’t want me to be bitter.  I thought about that a bit. 
            Honestly, I really am not bitter.  I’m not mad at God for the silence and the “failures.”  (If anything, I tend to accept them as my fault, something I deserve.)  I’m not turning my back on Him in frustration.  (I try really hard to run to Him when times get tough, not away from Him.  I know all too well that I cannot do anything in my own power and wisdom, at least nothing worthwhile compared to God’s plans and what He can accomplish.) 
            I’m really just heartbroken and aching for more.  I want to see Him move in my life.  I want to feel His presence.  I want to feel alive again.  Of course, there are many little delights and many blessings that I am thankful for (and I have to be conscious about noticing those and writing them down), but I guess I long for eternity.  I long for the days when evil is gone and when peace and joy are forever and when it isn’t so hard to put one foot in front of the other and trudge on through the day. 
            Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t bad.  It’s good, really.  Really good.  I have a great family, healthy kids, a good husband, a “safe” country, religious freedoms, a roof over our heads, and food on our plates.  God doesn’t owe us even that much.  And I am immensely blessed and very thankful for these basic things.  And yet, I want to feel more alive in my spiritual life.  I want to feel the Spirit working through me and feel like I have done something good for Him.  I want to feel like what I do matters. 
            Yet so many things I touch or hope for seem to fail or fall apart.  Something bad always comes with the good.  We get the house we prayed for, yet for over four years, I still can’t make it a home because repairs aren’t getting done.  I finally get to put in a large garden (my one great, passionate hobby), then I notice that the neighbor’s garage next to the garden is full of mold and blowing all over us, making me afraid to be out there.  (Does everything I love have to be attacked?)  I struggle with loneliness and pray to connect with people more, then my only close friend (at the time) stops calling me back.  And I find myself struggling with such dry, flaky skin and eczema all over my neck and face that I don’t even want to be around people.  I write a book that I am so excited about (and usually I try so hard to never get excited about anything) and I share it with people, yet no one wants to read it, and I feel so humiliated and over-looked that I pull back even more and lose all confidence in myself.  And now, even as I desperately pursue God, He seems to grow quieter and quieter.        
            I feel like so many things in my life line up to tell me “Don’t want more!  Don’t ever get your hopes or expectations up.  Simply be thankful for what you do have and want nothing more.” 
            Even with God’s silence right now, I feel like He’s just kind of left me to dangle out there alone.  I try to seek Him, to pray constantly, to share my thoughts and feelings honestly with Him, and to thank Him all the time.  Anytime I want to complain, I try to thank Him for something instead.  Isn’t that what a good Christian is supposed to do? 
            And yet, He still remains silent and hidden.  I don’t even know what I really want anymore or what I am looking for.  I guess I really just want to feel His arms around me, to feel alive and like I’m not a totally failure, to feel like what I do matters in some small way, and to feel at peace and content,  no matter the circumstances of life. 
            Of course, learning true contentment and joy in spite of disappointing circumstances means that you have to have and bear with disappointing circumstances when you’d much rather have smooth, happy sailing.  You have to get to the point where you stop praying them away and start praying that God would grow you through them.  It’s a two-edged sword, the bad and good go together.  You have to accept the bad in order to get to the good.  You have to bear with the difficulties and trials and pain in order to find God’s grace in them and to learn to base your contentment, peace, and joy only on Him, instead of on temporary circumstances.  And I’m working on it.  Have been for years.  It is a process.  I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.
            Anyway, this is off the point a little of what this post is about.  Actually, it is and it isn’t.  I think so many times I feel like I am losing spiritual battles and like I am failing at prayer because I am basing “success” on the answers I get to prayer.  I pray and pray that God shows Himself . . . and when I feel His silence, I feel like I failed.  Like I am being ignored or set aside.  I pray for healing in something, and if it doesn’t happen . . . failed!  I desire to help others with the things I write, and when no one reads . . . failure.  I try and try to turn this house into a home and yet the repairs don’t get done . . . fail!  I have many family members who don’t know God and I pray for them and try in various ways to witness to them and yet none desire God . . . big failure!  I pray and pray that God motivates the neighbors to clean up their garage so that I could delight in gardening once more . . . failed!  Failure, failure, failure!
            When I base “success” on the answers I do or don’t get and on whether or not my plans succeed, it is all too easy to feel like a spiritual failure.  But I am using earthly eyes to view things, not spiritual eyes.  And spiritual battles are not necessarily won by what we accomplish or don’t accomplish with our prayers and efforts or by how many other people notice our “good Christian” accomplishments.  Spiritual battles can be won in other ways, in invisible and unseen ways that no one else might know about but you and God, apparent only by what happens in our hearts and spirits and not by what happens in our circumstances.  But these are major victories nonetheless, even if they are only visible in the spiritual world.  And this is what I was thinking about the other day while I was supposed to be listening to the sermon at church.
            (Don’t get me wrong, there are many times that we are supposed to keep trying, keep reaching, and keep fighting the obstacles.  But I am writing this for the people who have done this and who are coming to the conclusion that it hurts too much to keep trying, that maybe the goal now should be to settle down into the disappointments and to learn to praise and trust God anyway and to figure out how best to bring Him glory in the pain and the longing and the hard times.  This is part of the journey too, a spiritual battle that we will all find ourselves in at some time.  There are times to fight and strive, but then there are times to “give up” and to rest in God’s arms and timing and wisdom.  And part of the battle is learning to identify what time it is.)
            So what I want to do here is list some of the ways that we win spiritual battles, even if our circumstances don’t change by our efforts or prayers.  I hope that this can encourage anyone who struggles with feeling like a failure in this Christian life.  You may not have success or accomplishments in the world’s eyes.  You may not have the possessions they do.  You may be completely misunderstood by others, viewed as odd or “less than” or simply over-looked.  You may feel like you fail life’s challenges and spiritual battles every day, in every kind of way.      
            But in God’s eyes, you may in fact be a winner.  You may have grown more in your spirit whereas others have grown successful in the eyes of the world.  You may have more spiritual, eternal rewards stored up than those who have more earthly, temporary rewards.  You may be on the path to learning true joy, peace, and contentment, even in the midst of a tough life.  And that is far more valuable than anything this life can give you.  God doesn’t evaluate our success the same way we do.  Sometimes, success in spiritual battles comes simply when . . .
            - we bend a knee and admit that we need Him.
            - we learn to praise Him, even when our hearts are aching.
            - we begin to bear our crosses with grace.
            - we conscientiously count our blessings and thank Him for them, even when we wish things were different.
            - we fully place our dreams, hopes, and expectations into God’s hands, allowing Him to do with them as He wills, even though we might desperately want our way.
            - we begin to get honest with Him about our thoughts and feelings and disappointments, instead of trying to do the “good Christian things” in an effort to please Him while hiding our real selves from Him.
            - we make sure He receives glory for every blessing and good thing.
            - we still cling to Him and believe in His love and goodness, despite the terrors and disappointments of life.  (This is a journey and process all its own.  We all have so many scars that this can take a lot of time, thought, and effort.  Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes time to learn to trust His love and goodness.)
            - we become more concerned with our obedience than with our own plans.  We choose to obey anyway, even when we don’t feel like it, when we don’t know why He’s asking us to do something, when we are afraid of what obedience will cost us or what will happen, when we feel like we know better, or when we’d rather have our own way.  We just focus on obeying and we give God our plans, letting Him alter them and handle the results of our obedience.
            - we focus on how we can help, encourage, and love others, even in the hard times, instead of focusing on just ourselves.
            - we forgive even when we don’t want to.
            - we search our hearts, admitting our shortcomings and seeking to make things right with God and others, instead of focusing on all the ways we were wronged or justified in what we did.
            - we learn to accept forgiveness for ourselves, drawing closer to God and others, even if we feel like we don’t deserve it.
            - we learn that joy is not the same thing as happiness.  We can ache in this life, yet still find joy in the Lord, in knowing that He walks this life with us (even when He is silent) and He will work all things out in the end.  This is where my joy is, not in anything this life can give.
            - we learn to say “Lord, change me” instead of “Lord, change others.”
            - we learn to say “Lord, help me through these circumstances and help me to grow through them” and we seek to glorify Him through them, instead of focusing on getting them changed. 
            - we stop judging His “God-ness” based on our life, our pre-conceived ideas, and how He answers our prayers.  And we begin to see Him for who He really is.
            - we focus on glorifying God today, in the small jobs and small ways and in our heart’s attitude, instead of focusing on the big glamorous accomplishments.
            - we learn to find God in the here and now, instead of looking everywhere else for Him.
            - we become eternity-minded, instead of temporary-minded.
            - we stop comparing ourselves to others and we start believing that God made us unique and that He loves us as we are.
            - we stop comparing our situations to others, letting God be the God of each person’s life as He sees fit.
            - we stop pursuing the answer we want and start pursuing Him.
            - we begin to delight in the blessings He has given us, instead of always lamenting what He hasn’t given us.
            - we learn the importance of “being” instead of just “doing.”
            - we become more concerned with what God thinks than with what others think.
            - and two lessons that I think all of us will face at some time:  We learn to end every prayer request with “Yet not my will, but Yours be done.”  And really mean it!  And we get to the point where we can accept the disappointments and say, “Whether You give or take away, blessed be Your name”       

            These are ways, among others, that we can win a spiritual battle, even when we appear to fail in the world’s eyes.  I think Satan can keep us discouraged when we look at our life with temporary “world eyes”.  But God sees things differently, and the battle may just be fought and won in one of these areas, instead of in how much we accomplish in this life or how many things we have or how many of our prayers get answered the way we want or how many “congratulations” we get from other people. 
            I know that if others look at my house, they would think, “How embarrassing!  What a failure of a homemaker!”  But I know that God sees that I tried my best to get this place in order.  And He knows that for my own sanity and spirit, I had to stop beating my head against a wall and pray it all over to Him, being willing to wait for the help while learning to be thankful and at peace in the mess (as much as I can be).  He knows that in this situation, I am learning contentment in the face of disappointment, learning to “let go and let God.”  And that is a spiritual success.   
            Whereas others might see my attempt at writing a book as a failure (and I see it that way all the time . . .what a humiliation!), God sees a heart that tried its best and that desperately wanted to glorify Him.  He sees a heart that really wanted to help others find His healing, truth, and love.  And now He sees a heart that is learning to be content with knowing that I did my best, learning to trust Him to use it or not use it as He wills, and that is learning to say, “Whether You give or take away, blessed be Your name.”  Spiritual success!
            I deal with loneliness a lot, but I let it drive me nearer to God and make me more sensitive to the pain of others.  Success!
            I feel like a failure in homeschooling because I can never do all that I want to do, but my heart’s desire is to raise godly kids.  There may be gaps in education (as there will be for every child, regardless of what school they go to), but my focus is on growing my kids' hearts and spirits and faith, as well as their minds.  And I just don’t think that public schools, which are becoming increasingly hostile to Christian faith, can do this best for my family.  And so I willingly sacrifice my days and my career and my sanity in order to do (try to do) my best to raise the children that God entrusted to us. 
            And even though I struggle with myself and with constantly feeling like I am letting everyone down, I trust that I am making the right decision before Him.  I truly believe that when I stand before Him, He won’t say, “But there was a gap in their music or science knowledge.  You failed!”  He will say, “You chose rightly.  Well done, good and faithful servant.  But you didn’t need to constantly stress about everything.  I was right there with you, and I would pick up the pieces that you dropped, and I would make something beautiful out of your short-comings and failures.  You needed to trust Me more and relax more, but you did choose rightly in My eyes.  Even if others didn’t think so.”  Huge spiritual success!  (Of course, learning to trust and relax instead of stressing would be another big success.  But God-willing, I’m getting there.  Slowly.)                        
            My days are filled with monotonous tasks like dishes and laundry and reading with kids.  Others might see no great accomplishment or glamorous Christian contribution.  But God sees that I do my best to do my best at these little daily jobs because I know that this is where He has planted me right now.  Mother, wife, and homemaker is the season of life I am in right now, and I need to do my best at those jobs, doing all the little things for His glory (because He sees what I do and how I do it), instead of looking for ways to get into the spotlight and impress others.  In the world’s eyes, my accomplishments don’t even register on the “Successful” meter.  But in God’s eyes, I can be an enormous success and totally glorifying to Him if I do the simple jobs He gave me to the best of my ability and with a thankful, humble, servant’s heart that desires to honor Him.
            Anyway, all of this to say, we wouldn’t think of ourselves as such failures if we looked at our situations, disappointments, and trials through God’s eyes and in light of eternity.  No matter the circumstances and earthly failures, some level of spiritual success is possible, even if it’s just learning to say, “Okay, God, I trust You, regardless of trials and unanswered prayers!”  The world might see the trials and unanswered prayers and think, “Failure.”  But God sees the trusting heart and thinks, “Success!”
            (And with this, I think I’ll be writing a lot less.  I need to just “be” this year, instead of “do.”  Take care and God bless!)