In early November, I went to California for a writers retreat. There were only four students and the woman leading the retreat. I learned so much and hung out with a few other wonderful writers. And yet, the poem below is what I wrote the first night after our opening session.
The next day I read it to one of my new writer friends, a woman who has been on this writing journey for a lot less time than I have. She was touched because she had been feeling inadequate and that the rest of us were so much more accomplished than she was.
I do love when God allows me to remember the dark night of the soul in a way that brings cheer and blessing to others.
Why so downcast, Oh my soul?
I understand the psalmist's plea.
Here I am with new friends of gold
But feelings of sadness needle me.
Am I just a fraud pretending to be
One who has something worthwhile to say?
When truth be told, or a lie of old,
Never will I point to God's way.
How I feel runs hot and cold;
Now I am weak when once I was bold.
Powerless and useless are words I hear
Echoing deep in my mind as fear.
Wounds that run deep still bleed
I know they're not true, never were.
But still, still these words Oh Lord.
You are the truth, the life, the way.
“I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk. But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.”
Early in my walk, over 40 years ago, I concluded that I would be able to acquire all the knowledge that I could ever want. I was on the short track, going up of course. It was a glorious thing, it took me some time to realize I was very ignorant of so much.
The Bible communicates truth, not facts.
As I age, I start to understand that things are much more enigmatic and unfathomable than I ever dreamed they would be. It is a step of faith to accept the truth when there are still a lot of things that are still vague. Mike Mason wrote,
“You say you have faith to be healed, but what about the faith to be sick?”
That is a penetrating question, indeed. “Why are some healed, and others are not? Why do I have eternal life, and my friend does not? Why should AIDS sweep through poor African villages when I live in a very comfortable suburb in the US?” I have many other questions like this.
And I’m not making a whole lot of headway here. Reasons and facts are not there. Life becomes more mysterious and inscrutable. But there is a word we must know–it is the word “trust”. It is a faith that assists us through the landscape of impossible questions.
As a sometimes struggling, mentally ill Christian, many (even in my own church) create more questions for me. “Therapists, psychiatrists, and daily medications are really good, but do you really need them?” or “Did God create in you the need for lithium and Zoloft?” and ” How can you follow Jesus when you have all of these depression issues?” And here’s a humdinger, “Where is your joy?”
But it is precisely these issues that help me be a disciple.
I’ve been slowly learning you see. And my weaknesses are becoming my strengths. They lead me to exercise my feeble faith. I trust in Jesus; my faith helps me trust. I find it interesting to note that the Book of Psalms, for the most part, was written by “a broken believer” like David– a king and (also) a rascal.
“People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, Steady on their feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit. Depend on God and keep at it because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.”
Isaiah 26:3-4, The Message
These nebulous areas have only increased.
Ironically my trust has only grown. I have more questions than ever before, but my faith in him only gets stronger. I suppose I will never, ever be a gleefully upbeat, cheery person. But I am learning “to trust and obey, there is no other way…” He himself has taken up the chore of teaching me to walk, again. Just one thing, keep trusting.
Monotony can easily become an issue for many. I had been told to be on alert for it, but it seems like I’ve got to learn for myself.
With any chronic illness, there can be something tedious and routine about life. To have a physical or mental illness is acutely painful in many different ways. Afflicted people understand what I’m talking about. Pain can be intense and intrusive. Sometimes these things can become really depressing.
The sheer boredom of my illness can strangle my walk. It seems every day is the same and the foreseeable future holds little hope of it changing. Now I’m a reasonably sedate person. I don’t need a lot of excitement. (I like a good book and a cup of tea.) I’m not after adventure, but I don’t care too much for monotony either.
Brain-numbing existence is quite common for the afflicted.
Many people don’t understand this. Others do. And it’s not limited to us who struggle with illness. It’s seen in other people too. This brain-numbing life happens to many as well. Consider–
the single mom working as a secretary
the man mopping floors
the college grad frying burgers
the resident at the old folks’ home, every day is the same
These situations seem inescapable. We see ourselves locked into a situation where escape is not possible. We are consigned to do whatever our circumstances dictate. We’re all trapped. Pure and simple. We can find no meaning in our lives; we start to despair, “Will it ever be different?”
I believe the drabness of our lives can often be attributed to a lack of intimacy with the Lord Jesus. We are built for fellowship with God, and anything else is just “treading water.” Nothing satisfies, except Him present. I need Him desperately.
When I’m filled with hopelessness, I often find myself filling the emptiness with anything I can find. This usually leads to even more sadness and deadness inside. It’s a vicious cycle that destroys as easily as more gross and obvious sin.
When I ponder my hopelessness I feel like giving up. I simply don’t want to take another step into the doldrums of what my life has become. I despair that life will continue its suffering grind.
I must have joy in order to survive.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). I don’t have to dwell in the grey drabness of hopelessness. My heart can find a reason to “sing to the Lord.”
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart celebrates, and I give thanks to him with my song.”
Psalm 28:7, CSB
The Psalms repeatedly tell me the incredible power of a life that sings.
The Holy Spirit understands our brokenness. Jesus is interceding for us at this very moment, and I can rise above this tedious mess I have made for myself. This is the only way out for me. Depression is a form of suffering.
I give it to Him. I take the strength and joy He gives.
If you have never cried, you can stop reading right now. But if you have shed tears for yourself or for others, or if like me you have shed some without even knowing why or where they came from, take heart. God knows the tears you have shed. Psalm 56:8 says so. Here are several translations of that wonderful verse:
Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll — are they not in your record? (NIV)
You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle Are they not in Your book? (NASB)
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. (NLT)
Write down my poem of sadness. List my tears on your scroll. Aren’t you making a record of them? (NIRV)
I love the image of God keeping all my tears in a bottle. I can envision shelves filled with bottles in Heaven, each with a name on it, and an accompanying scroll documenting every tear and lament. Or maybe it is just one huge bottle with all of our tears mingled together.
Today tears are being shed in dark rooms where children are being held as sex slaves, in Africa as people remain homeless and without food and water, in the United States as many remain jobless, in hospitals and on the streets where the mentally ill are forgotten, in homes around the world where people are spiritually lost and have no hope.
We live in a fallen world.
Tragedies happen and humans are not always kind to one another. And so tears are shed. It is hard to fathom God collecting every single one, but He does. He notices and He records each tear and each lament.
The more I think about it, I like the idea that God has mingled all our tears together. The Psalm does refer to God’s “bottle” in the singular. And if He has collected every tear in that bottle, then mingled with our own are the tears of Jesus. In John 11, the apostle records this event: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35.
In this passage, Jesus weeps when He learns of the death of Lazarus.
When they see Him weeping, the people say “See how he loved him!” John 11:36. But I don’t think Jesus was weeping because Lazarus was dead – He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Rather, I think He wept because of the compassion He felt for humanity as we weep over our own tragedies and losses. It is us that He loved so much that it brought Him to tears.
So if you weep today, remember that God is collecting your tears in His bottle, and mixing them with the tears of our dear Savior. Not only that, but God will deliver you from the final trial that lead to tears by redeeming your soul.
For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.