Asking & not receiving

I wept in agony last night in my bed.

Overcome by pain, shame, frustration and despair.

I’d been doing relatively well recently, until, over the last several days, certain triggers sent me into a downward spiral.

Last night’s breakdown was triggered by an event earlier in the day. A happy event. An event that at least made me happy for someone else. I attended the wedding of a friend, and it was one of the sweetest, most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. I was genuinely happy for my friend, for if anyone deserved the kind of happiness she’d attained, it would be her. She’s one of the sweetest, kindest, godliest women I know, and she’s been through a lot, so I could never wish anything but the best for her, and seeing her happy, with a wonderful man, made me happy as well.

But as happy as I was for her, seeing her attain what I’ve longed for for so long, and seeing the kind of person she is–the kind of person I long to be, but feel I can never be–left me reeling in pain. I told God–I’d do almost anything to be like this friend of mine. I’d do almost anything to have her character and sweetness. I’d do almost anything to one day gain the kind of happiness she’d attained. But that’s when reality sunk in. Yes, I was feeling some self-pity and envy–I won’t deny it–but more than that I felt despair. And I still feel that despair. Because, after years of struggling to find my way out of an incredibly dark valley of pain, and doing all that I can think of doing to find help toward that end, I am no closer than I was at the beginning to attaining freedom, healing, and wholeness. I feel trapped. And when I feel trapped, I lose hope.

So, overwhelmed by this sense of hopelessness over my situation, and who I am, I sat in my bed last night and wept. I wept tears that only God could see. I vented the pain that only He knows about. Desperate for comfort, I opened up my Daily Light devotional and read today’s Scriptures, and they just happened to be about asking God for things. Here’s what I read, taken from various Scriptures:

“Ye have not because ye ask not. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth…This is the confidence we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him…Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it–Men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles…Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

These Scriptures sound comforting. It sounds so easy. Ask, and God will answer. Ask, and you shall receive. The problem is, what if you ask, and you don’t receive? What if you ask, and God doesn’t answer? I’m not talking about asking for materialistic, petty, selfish, and shallow things. Jesus said that the Father doesn’t give His children stones when they ask for bread. But sometimes I feel like that’s exactly what He gives me. I’ve been asking for bread–wholeness in body, mind and spirit, deeper friendships, meaningful fellowship–for a long time. But all of these still elude me. I’ve had tantalizing tastes of each, but every time it seems I come close to gaining these things, and breaking out of my darkness, I’m thrown back in, with more devastating force each time. And so I begin to question God. I begin to doubt His goodness or that He even hears my prayers. Because it seems to me that the things I’m asking for are good things. Things that any loving Father would want to give His child, especially if He wants that child to grow in holiness. So what am I doing wrong, I wonder? Am I so screwed up and sinful there’s no hope for me? Am I beyond redemption? Has God just tossed me aside?

I hope one day I can look back on what I’m writing now and say to myself, you silly fool. O you of little faith. But when you’re in the midst of pain so deep and excruciating that it feels like a knife through your soul, and God seems apathetic to your cries, it’s tempting to simply give up. Especially if you’ve been crying out for deliverance from your pain for many years.

I hope I can trudge on. I know that I’m merely venting right now. But hopelessness and despair are crushing my soul more and more often these days, and if something doesn’t happen in my life soon to bring me some hope, I’m scared of what might happen to me.

In my moments of darkest despair, I simply want to see Jesus’ face, like the sinful woman I wrote about in my previous entry. I wish I could have an encounter like hers. Because I’m just like her. I know I have the Holy Spirit. I know I have the Word of God. But the thing I long for the most, when the pain and shame are the deepest, is simply to see Jesus. Face to face. To have Him tangibly in front of me. Because sometimes walking by faith, and not by sight, is the most frustrating thing for me. I long to touch, to be touched, to feel, to know. And having a relationship with an invisible Person, Who’s often silent and distant, isn’t conducive to these longings, and is never easy, no matter what anyone says.

I’ll keep on praying, as the Scriptures urge me to do, and try not to “faint,” but I don’t know how long I can hang on, if God doesn’t answer at least one of my prayers soon. All I can hope for is that He hangs on to me when I have no strength to hang on myself.

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Losing Eden

Shattered. Hollow. Fractured. Battered. Bruised.

This is me. My soul. My brain. My heart. Who is this young woman? I barely know her anymore, she’s so far removed from the young woman and little girl I used to be.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon wandering through some of my childhood haunts, enjoying the peace, solitude, and beauty of a sunshiny autumn afternoon. The house I spent most of my childhood in now sits empty, victim of an unfavorable economy, and so I sauntered unhindered up the drive, my eyes scanning the place I once called home. A flood of memories washed over me….mostly good ones….ones of innocence and imagination and days spent in carefree abandon. I sat on the well in the back yard, reminiscing, remembering days gone by, in which I used to play in that back yard with my siblings. Tears slipped down my cheeks before I could help it.

Why is it we never really appreciate something till its gone? I’d give almost anything in the world to have my childhood back, to have my innocence back, to have my imagination back, to be that little girl I once was. Even with all her pain and heartache. Because my childhood was indeed painful. Often excruciatingly so. But the world was still less dark then than it is now, even with all the pain I experienced. I was naive then, not totally crushed and cynical like I am now. I coped because I could imagine my way out of my pain. I coped because I lived in an idyllic setting, out in the country, surrounded by acres and acres of woods, who always beckoned me with their comforting presence whenever I needed to get away for a good cry.

Though many of those trees I once called friends have now been cut down, I greeted the ones that remained yesterday, wondering if they remembered me. Of course, that may seem silly, but to a nearly friendless child, stately trees that never mocked or abused, but simply stood still and silent and listened to my outpoured heart, were often far better friends to me than humans were. I’ve always thought how much of a kindred spirit J. R. R. Tolkien would be to me, were he alive, for he seemed to have the same view of trees. I could so easily imagine, as he did in his Lord of the Rings books, trees being alive and having personalities. In my frequent wanderings in the woods growing up, I’d always imagine I was entering a magical realm, where the trees were more than mere trees, and perhaps lurking in their shadows were elves and dwarves, trying to evade my curious eyes.misc. 043

Such was my childhood. One that, despite the painful parts, contained enough beauty and innocence and imagination that I can look back now and wish I could somehow return. There’s such a big part of me that wishes I’d never lived past my childhood. That I might’ve been spared the extra trauma and pain and descent into darkness that has characterized the last 10 to 15 years of my life. That I could’ve stayed the innocent little girl I was, instead of morphing into this hollow, fractured, cynical woman I’ve become. Quite simply, I’ve lost myself. Especially within the last 5 years. Pain too deep to even describe has shattered my mind and heart, morphing me into someone I barely recognize anymore. How much better, I muse, to have died young, than to end up where I am now. I keep hoping I’ll wake up one morning and find out most of my life has merely been a bad dream.

But I keep waking up to darkness. To pain. To an overwhelming sense of loss. Where nothing makes sense anymore. Where I can no longer look at my life and believe there’s necessarily going to be a redemptive, fairy-tale ending. I used to believe that. Writing stories, believing good can eventually come from bad, helped me hang on. I could look at my life and say, things are bad, but they’ll get better. And I’ve been trying to tell myself that for over 20 years. Now, I struggle to believe that anymore.

And it’s not just my own pain and darkness that have fueled this cynicism. The increasing darkness all around me has also shattered the innocent, safe world I once knew. I now live in a world where I read a story about a little girl who was abused by her parents, then raped and killed by a predator. She had no fairy-tale ending. She never had a chance. Yesterday a young man opened fire in a school, taking the lives of twenty precious, innocent children. Those children never had a chance. No fairy-tale endings. Only darkness and tragedy.

I am not the only one shattered, fractured, battered, and bruised. It seems the world at large is careening toward the same abyss I am. I am not the same person I once was. Nor is the world the same world I once knew. Innocence has been lost. Light has been replaced by darkness. I think I understand a bit better now how Adam and Eve must’ve felt when kicked out of Eden. No matter how much they wanted to go back, to relive their innocence in that idyllic place, they were forever banished. And it feels like I too have been forever banished from the simple, innocent joys of days gone by, when life seemed a little more beautiful, and it made far more sense.

I have lost my Eden. I have lost myself. And though I can revisit my old haunts, and those haunts can conjure up sweet memories from the past, all I’m left with is a tantalizing taste, and not the real thing. I can never go back. No matter how hard I try.

I’m heartbroken.

The dark night of the soul

I’ll never forget the day, sometime last year, when I was driving home from work, and in the midst of pouring my troubled heart out to God (as I often do when I am in my car), a huge billboard beside the interstate caught my eye. On it was a photo of a beautiful, dazzling diamond, and beside it were the words “Formed Under Pressure.” It was a dramatic illustration to me, and the words heaven-sent. I knew immediately God was using the sign to speak to me. (It’s so cool when He speaks to me through such seemingly ordinary means—-He seems to do this with me frequently.)

Anyway, that picture of the diamond and the words beside it have stuck with me through what I now call my “dark night of the soul.” Everything in my life hurts right now. I have never felt so helpless, so desperate, so crushed. But in the midst of my pain, God is refining me. Chipping away impurities, burning the dross, and challenging me to an ever deeper walk with Him. Calling me to a sanctified, poured out life to Him. It goes against everything my flesh desires, but I want, more than anything, to be that diamond someday, that reflects the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ. And if it means pressure and pain to become that diamond, then I mustn’t complain. Rather, I must embrace my suffering and hardship. Besides, as I constantly remind myself, what is my pain compared to the thousands of Christians around the world who know the true meaning of pain—who are being persecuted, tortured, and even dying for the sake of Christ. Oh that I should one day be counted worthy to stand amongst them!

I have simply been gobbling up books lately. Books that have been challenging me and stirring inside me a holy hunger. Richard Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ, which tells the story of the persecuted, underground Church in Eastern Europe and Russia when they were under the Iron Curtain, brought me to tears. Just today I finished reading the biography of Amy Carmichael—-a woman who truly was a diamond in the rough, a rare gem. Her kind simply don’t seem to exist anymore. I’ve also been greatly blessed by the books of contemporary authors Eric and Leslie Ludy. Their passion for Christ, and the purity of His Church, has really convicted, challenged, and inspired me. I only own one of their books—being too poor to buy all of them—-but I’ve read most of them, the most recent one being Eric’s book The Bravehearted Gospel, in which he takes a bold stand against all the corruption, complacency, and heresy that exists in the Church today.

And, finally, I have just started reading Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century Christian mystic. My interest in him was piqued after reading that he was among Amy Carmichael’s favorite authors. He went through a period of imprisonment and torture, and it was this dark time that led him to write his greatest works, Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul, which describe one’s path to union and intimacy with the Bridegroom of Heaven. The theme resonates with me on a very deep level, as I’m realizing the truth of the correlation between darkness and spiritual growth. The greatest spiritual growth doesn’t come through ease and golden, happy days, but the deepest, darkest nights. Which is why I think most of American, or Western, Christendom is fast asleep. We’ve grown fat, complacent, lazy. The most beautiful, Christ-like Christians are the ones who truly know what the “valley of the shadow of death” is. I want to be like those Christians.

So, as painful as this “dark night of my soul” might be right now, I’m learning to embrace it. To embrace the Cross—-because it is only through death that life can come.