The hard things

Do you have that one person in your life that is absolutely miserable, and seems to be compulsively driven to see to it that everyone else around them share that misery?  That is a person who in their heart is rebellious and prideful.  Their conscience accuses them, and they curse their conscience, and justify and defend their attitudes and actions even when they know what the truth really is and that they just don’t like that truth.  Like atheists.  If they really were convinced in their heart that there is no God, they wouldn’t hate the Bible so much.  They know the Bible is true and honest, they just don’t like what it says about them.

Satan is that way.  Satan knows what he threw away but he is so invested in the alternate reality he wishes for, that he can’t afford to ever turn back now.  The best he can hope to do is to make as many as possible as miserable as he is.  The sickening truth that it won’t make his situation one iota better, is irrelevant to his inverted reasoning.

If you have ever been entangled in the web of a manipulator, and abuser, and managed to break free, then you know what I mean when I say that person can get into your head and really mess with your perspective.  We all have vulnerabilities, tender  “needy” places in our spirit and heart, and the manipulators of this world (and other realms) have an uncanny ability to detect those vulnerabilities and exploit them to their own benefit and your detriment.  Do you know that the only way for you to be extricated from the tangled sticky web of manipulation is by way of TRUTH?

That can be very hard to face once the lying manipulator has lured you deep into the maze, spun his sticky threads all around you, bound you up.  You feel like a fool for having believed him, for having fallen for his ways, and the next thing you know, your own pride is working against you as well.  That is the treacherous and insidious nature of sin.  I think one of the hardest aspects of sin and salvation is sorting out how we have this nature we were born with, which leads us to sin, and yet, how we are “guilty” of something that comes “built-in”.  How is that to be reconciled?  Here is how: Before the first man, Adam, brought about the fallen state of man by sin, God had already written His law upon man’s heart.  When we sin, we sin knowingly.  Con-science means “with knowledge”.  So even though it is our nature to sin, we actually still make a “conscious” choice before doing that sin.

Life can be full of hard things and hard choices.  The truth is, we make a lot more choices than we even realize.  Some can seem so inconsequential.  Sometimes we make an unconscious choice merely by failing to make a conscious one.  Who chooses to be a single parent, for instance?  But that circumstance may have been avoided at several intervals along the way.  Like a tiny creek that feeds into a stream, that flows into the river and eventually the ocean, there is always a specific route we did take, and several, in fact innumerable alternate routes we could have taken.

I started out in life with a deeply engrained sense of powerlessness from as far back as I can remember.  A distinct “can’t do” conviction.    It would be easy, here to veer off on a rabbit trail with analysis of my upbringing and my parent’s upbringing.  As a matter of fact this powerlessness did contribute to my vulnerability to a predatory manipulator and some painful years in my early adult life, which in turn did spur that self-analysis.  Self-examination is a good thing only if it leads to self-awareness and if one is willing to admit their own short-comings with willingness to be accountable.  However, endless introspection only amounts to navel-gazing.  If you think “the answer lies within yourself” and that in fact, God lies within self, well then I’d say the master manipulator Satan has accomplished what he set out to do in your case, and can safely move on to other targets.  Your doom is sealed.

The problem with folks today is that they want to trace the roots of their faults back to something external, and then stop there.  “Aha, now we know why I am like I am”.  Puzzle solved!  Well, that’s sort of like going to the doctor to figure out what is wrong, finding that it is a genetic defect that makes you more prone to diabetes, and going on your merry way being relieved to know that “at least it wasn’t my fault”.   NO, NO, NO, that is not the aim.  The aim is to eradicate or at least counter-act the problem.

If you have anger issues because your parents were both abusive, just knowing that is not enough.  Now you have an anger problem.  So what are YOU going to do about it? You are not accountable for them, but you are accountable for you and the “monkey on your back” they passed on to you.  Will you inflict it, in turn, onto others?

I tend to have a powerlessness problem.  Thus I have a responsibility to be aware of this weakness/flaw/vulnerability in myself and consciously work to counter-act it.

Satan knows this about me.  And so at many times in the past he has used this to keep me bound up by circumstances that it was actually within my power to change.  One of his favorite versions of this trap is in the issue of forgiveness.  He likes to convince us that forgiveness on our part requires that there first be some concession on the part of the perpetrator.    Since that is often not forthcoming, and we can’t extract that from the other person, we stay bound up with bitterness which destroys us from the inside-out, stuck under the crush of whatever it was they did to us into perpetuity.

One of my favorite sayings is “when all else fails, change your perspective”. In other words, if you don’t like something, and you truly cannot change it, then you still have the power to change how you choose to see it.

There is not a whole lot I can think of that feels more powerless than finding out my husband has cancer.  (Except maybe finding out he has cancer in December of 2012 when all the uncertainties of insurance coverage under Obama-Care are set to kick in, and when, in fact, I aslo have no guarantee that the very expensive medication I require for treatment of my narcolepsy will continue to be available to me either).  Lots I could worry about right there in that one paragraph alone!

But if there is one thing that I have learned through all of my struggles in life, it is this: there truly are some things we do not have the power to change in our life and we are free to NOT worry about those things that are out of our hands.   It goes back to the old Serenity Prayer by  Reinhold Niebuhr, which I have loved since I was a young girl.  (Yes, I was kind of a deep thinker even back then).

God, grant me grace to accept the things
I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can
and the Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

So how are we to deal with the hard things?

I know depression.  I lived it for many years.  Being depressed is like lying oxygen-starved on the bottom of a deep pool of water, looking up at those laughing and carefree people splashing and enjoying themselves, and free to climb out and go on with their lives anytime they want to, while you are trapped below, unable to breathe or move, missing in action and they don’t even know it.

I moved through life, did what was expected of me, smiled on cue, but my insides were shards and splinters.

I married the man who date-raped me. Because of that sense of powerlessness.  Because I was brought up to understand that once you lost your virginity and were “damaged goods”, no decent man will ever want you and you have no right to someone pure.  That perspective itself was not an abuse, nor was it directly spoken to me in so many words.  It was just rules devoid of grace.  Rules given without rationale.  A faulty set of guidelines in that it was incomplete.  No one directly spoke to me, taught me in these matters.

When he did what he did, my learned powerlessness did not allow for me to fight or flee.  Instead I froze, and experienced an inner splitting.  I vacated  my own body and pulled my entire “self” inside my head, and shut the door, turned out the lights, pulled the shades.  I didn’t come out again for a good 10 years.  I created the persona who was aloof, daring, rebellious, unfazed.  He had “handled me” and I had “complied”.  He did what all successful manipulators do.  He had already isolated me from all the people in my life who truly cared about me.  And as I have said before, I don’t even think all of that was calculated on his part.  I think he was just doing what a young man with no moral compass does by his sinful nature.

Ten years I was sort of a “dead girl walking”.  It is amazing what you can accomplish on autopilot, though.  Finally got the courage and fortitude to leave.  Finished nursing school.  I guess when you feel like you’ve already lost everything, you are more apt to take a chance and try things.  I mean, I had already failed at life in general.  Or so I felt.  Yes, I blamed myself.  I’d been an idiot to fall for his flattery, and to compromise my own standards due to such a deep-seated need to feel “worthy” of someone’s “love” and attention.  Of course I look back now and know that I was so young.  I was so naiave and unaware of the ways of the world, snares of the flesh, and wiles of the devil.  When you choose to no longer feel the shame and horror and sadness, unfortunately you have also turned off the faucet to joy and happiness.  I can remember sitting in Anatomy and Physiology lab, dissecting the fetal pigs in college, everyone nervous and squeamish and trying not to show it, and the one guy who was “hands-on” was joking around trying to ease everyone’s discomfort.  I can remember feeling my face morph into the unfamiliar shape of smiling and hearing my own laughter, (forgetting my life-sentence for an instant) and then another “voice” reared up accusing, “who do you think YOU are, laughing like regular people, do you forget your shame?”

Folks, that is the accuser of men’s souls.  Satan himself.  Yes I was a believer back then, from the age of 9.  In many ways I think that made it harder.  I felt like “where can you go when Jesus already died for your sins, and then you go and ruin your life?”  See, I had no understanding of sexuality, it’s purpose, its potency, and it’s relationship to my very soul.  I did not understand my own sin nature and that it lives on until the day we leave this body behind.  I had an overblown sense, no actually, a mistaken belief, that once Jesus saved me, it was up to ME to keep that which I had committed unto Him.  It took a lot of years for me to figure out what I was responsible for and what I wasn’t in what took place.  I blamed myself entirely, which often happens in the case of sexual assault.

I guess that history is why I have never sheltered my kids much, and why I talk to them a LOT.  I earned my street-smarts the hard way.  I know the pitfalls of illusion.  I have a strict policy of reality and truth.  I guess that is one reason people come here to this blog.  “Deep and wide and willing to go there, says my tagline”.  No topic really off-limits.  People are starving to death for REAL.

Like some of my Aspergian acquaintances I sometimes struggle with reading people.  When I was young I was too trusting.  Now that I have lived through what I have lived through, I am more cynical and suspicious and guarded with people.  That sounds contradictory, considering the nature of what I am sharing in this post, but note that I do so from behind the safe layers and shield of the written word and an internet server.  Not that I can’t or don’t share these things with anyone in person, but only as the Lord leads, to those who have similar wounds and need to hear.  Because this is understanding that came at a high personal cost.  And there have been some who have trampled carelessly upon my offering when shared, like pearls cast before swine.

I have always had a preference for the imperfect.  I am not drawn to neat patterns, polished surfaces, or symmetry.  I like the idiosyncrasies of slightly eccentric folks, random and quirky compositions, stream-of-consciousness narratives, arguments that clear the air, followed by forgiveness, old houses with character and history, direct and candid speech, people who tell it like it is.

I would rather live a life full of the hard stuff that takes me into the deep murky waters, than live a superficial life dog-paddling the surface the whole way through.

It is the hard stuff that God uses to refine our faith and realize our need for a Savior.   And so it is not with blind faith that I face this new uncertainty of my husband’s cancer.  It is with faith forged in the fire, experience gained in the trenches, with battle scars to show for it.  I don’t consider myself wise or fearless or strong.  I merely made a decision long ago that I refuse to fake it any longer.  I am weak, but HE is strong.  Life serves up much to fear, but God says “fear not, for I am with thee” and courage is not an absence of fear, just a determination to forge on despite it.  As far as wisdom, well, I’ve learned a thing or two, but the catch is, the more you learn, the more you realize how much more you have to learn.  All totaled, that amounts to my being much less resistant to the hard things, knowing ultimately God uses it for our edification and even our fortification.  None of us knows what tomorrow holds.

I know some people whose entire lives have been one horror after another.  So much in life can seem senseless.  But we are truly only seeing God’s tapestry from the underside, all a tangle of threads that crisscross and form no coherent image or pattern.  Some day he’ll show us the other side.

I like this story told by a Sunday School teacher of mine several years ago.  A man was given a backpack by God, and instructed to take a journey, following an old dried up riverbed.  Every once in a while he would be instructed by the Lord to pick up a rock and put it into his sack.  Sometimes he had to stop and rest.  The sack grew heavier even while he grew wearier, but the Lord prompted him onward, and continued to require that he pick up stones here and there and add them to his burden. It all seemed so futile. He often wondered why.  There was nothing about the stones that would indicate they were of any value, and they certainly weren’t much to look at, just tumbled river rocks.

As the man goes along he encounters others on this ascent up the dry riverbed, carrying their own sacks laden with stones.  When they finally reach the end of the journey and find themselves in heaven, God instructs them to empty their sacks.  Out tumble gorgeous stones of every size, color, and radiance.  Jesus goes to each person, gathers his or her individual stones, fashions them into a crown and places that crown on their head.

We seldom take God at His Word.   Not really.  He has promised us that He works everything together for good.  He has told us that we may plan our path but it is really He who directs our steps.  We screw up, sure, pretty badly sometimes, but only to the extent He allows it, and with plan already in place for how He will turn it around and redeem it for our good and His glory.

My friend, do not fear the hard things.  Every tool is designed for a very specific purpose.  Some tools are “multi-functional” and some tools are extremely specialized.  If you feel you have passed through the fire more times than the average person does, perhaps He is honing your edge with a very delicate and crucial purpose in mind.  Tools are not conscious of their purpose.  God is a sculpter, an artist, a physician, a carpenter, an engineer.  He has need of a vast array of tools.

I have finally let go of my need to understand and to just yield myself to His trustworthy hand.  I have to tell you, I have never felt more free.  Sometimes we make “understanding” into an idol.  He says “trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.  Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you, he will not suffer the righteous to be moved.  He who keeps you will not slumber nor sleep!  By strength shall no man prevail.  Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.

I don’t need to know.  God is on it!  He has walked the road before us and prepared the way with all the provision we will need.  And some day we will be outside of time, dwelling in eternity, this former life a mere vapor dissolving away into oblivion like a puff of smoke, all pain and tears with it.  That, my friend, is not denial.  It is not that insulting name it-claim-it gospel.   It is merely accepting the grief that comes with human life for what it is, and looking beyond it to the hope found only in Jesus.

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