I’ve gotten some good rest this weekend. I ate breakfast at Chick-fil-A (always good). Some artists I love released some new music. Leicester City lost (sad, but normal). All is as it should be.
Also, I’m turning 32.
In some ways, this feels like the first time in my life I’ve got a decent handle on things. I’ve got a better understanding of my health, mentally, spiritually, and physically, and I feel better equipped to manage those areas well. I’ve got a consistent work schedule that allows me room for rest and for study. I’m taking steps academically both in the pursuit of a degree and professionally. I’m in a healthy relationship, and we’re learning how to love each other well day by day. On many levels, things are going well.
In other ways, life feels out of control. The holiday season was full of travel, sickness, and tension in relationships. Finances continue to be a source of stress. Changes in job situations and church families, while not bad things in and of themselves, make life feel different and bring new challenges. On top of these, the future remains unknown, and the uncertainty can feel threatening at times.
I’ve never been one to have detailed plans for the future, so I can’t say I had any expectations for my thirties. I’ve written before that life up to this point hasn’t necessarily looked like I thought it might, but it’s not as if I had a set path in mind that’s been thrown off by my actual experience. Rather, some doors have closed that I thought might stay open while others have opened that I didn’t expect. In some cases, doors I thought I’d never see open again have opened, with blessings beyond any I could have imagined.
Still, the future can feel overwhelming at times, in spite of all the ways the Lord has proven faithful so far. Maybe that’s why Joshua chapter 1 proved such an encouragement to me this weekend. There, God speaks to Joshua in preparation for Israel’s entrance into the promised land. Moses, the legendary leader, has died, and Joshua now stands in his place. Joshua has seen the rebellious nature of the people, the burden of leadership, and the immensity of the task before him. The weight, I’m sure, felt heavy. Yet God’s message to Joshua was not one of impossible standards or increased stress, but of encouragement.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
God meets Joshua with a reminder of his presence with him, giving him reason for strength and courage and peace. He didn’t have to fear or worry.
I don’t know what this next year holds for me. I have questions, fears, doubts, insecurities. I can easily grow overwhelmed. But I’m reminded that I belong to God, and God has not failed me yet. So I enter this year with hope in him, knowing that I need not fear or be dismayed.
Sure, sickness isn’t fun. It frustrates plans, drains your energy, and introduces all kinds of discomfort to life. If you’re like me, when you begin to feel the early signs of sickness, you don’t rejoice. You dread it a bit, hoping you’ll be able to fight it off but knowing you likely won’t. Sickness, sadly, is often a process you just have to endure. It’ll pass in time, but until it does, you’re stuck with it and with all that it brings.
But one thing I’ve learned to appreciate about sickness is its ability to make me rest.
I seem to remember an illustration from some book I read about a guy who said he wouldn’t mind having a major surgery because it would force him to stop moving for a while. The point I remember taking away from the story was that his life was so filled with work that he couldn’t slow down, couldn’t rest. Honestly, there’s probably more relevance to me there than I’d like to admit. But nevertheless, I’ve found his point to be true. Sickness forces me to stop, to cease from my usual busyness and give my body a chance to heal. And in those moments, I find true rest.
Saturday was one of those days. I’d just been treated for a sinus infection and some bronchitis, and I was feeling it. But I also didn’t have any responsibilities in urgent need of my attention, so I could let myself relax. And I did. I slept in a bit, walked around a holiday market on campus, enjoyed a quiet afternoon by myself, and spent some time with friends that night. I woke up the next morning having slept well, and I felt more rested than I had in a long time.
I know my brain enough to know that a big part of my ability to rest that day was due to me feeling justified in devoting that day to rest and recreation. When I’m busy, even my off days tend to have agendas, which can diminish the amount of restfulness I gain from them. So the mixture of minimal responsibilities and sickness allowed me to embrace more fully the opportunity to relax. I get that, and I’m thankful for it. But as I enjoy the benefits of rest and feel more motivated to do the work set before me, I’m wondering if this is what God had in mind when he set the Sabbath day in place.
My view of the Sabbath typically tends to look like just another agenda item in my week. On some days, I work. On some days, I run errands. On the Sabbath day, I rest. Check, check, check. But viewing it that way takes away from the point of it, I think. While I ought to prioritize rest, disciplining myself to engage in it, I wonder if I’m missing something by treating it as just one more thing to do each week. Maybe the key is to see it like I saw Saturday: a day to enjoy the life God’s given me and to walk in the freedom he provides. Maybe if I did that more often, I’d feel more rested all around. Maybe if I considered this approach more often, I’d learn to walk more closely with God all week long. Maybe if I rested better each week, I’d be more productive at work too.
I’m not sure I’ve got it figured out. I’m sure I still have more to learn about work and rest. But I’m thankful for a day like Saturday and for the sickness that brought it about, and I’m thankful for the way God was able to use it in my life. And I hope, by his grace, to rest better as he gives the opportunity.
Note: I think the illustration I referenced earlier is either from Your Money Counts by Howard Dayton or Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, if anyone is interested in finding the source.
OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that affects my thoughts and actions and that attaches to what I care about. Scrupulosity, as I mentioned in part one, is a religious form of OCD. In my experience, OCD most often latched onto my relationships. I noticed it in romantic relationships as it convinced me God didn’t want me to date the people I wanted to date. I noticed it in my friendships as it convinced me God wanted me to step away from certain people or to cancel certain plans. I noticed it in my approach to community as it convinced me I needed to confess my thoughts and attitudes to anyone I might have wronged by those thoughts and attitudes. I noticed it in my work as it told me I needed to turn down jobs, stop writing, and pass on opportunities to get experience in my field. In each case, I thought I was being tested like Abraham was. I thought God was testing my faith by asking me to give up good things and trust him, to die to myself and be sanctified. And in my head, it checked out. If I was feeling conviction and if the Lord was giving me directions regarding which steps to take in response to that conviction, then I didn’t need to understand it or like it, I just needed to trust and obey.
Initially, questioning my thoughts and feelings felt sinful. I genuinely believed I was pushing back against God’s work by looking into OCD. But as my friend explained more of what OCD is and how it can show up, my experiences began to make sense. Where I thought God was convicting me, I began to recognize anxiety. Where I thought God was directing me, I began to recognize intrusive thoughts and some bad theology. Where I’d struggled to see any fruit from the steps I was taking, I could now see why: God wasn’t actually the one behind these directions. I thought my problem was spiritual, but it turned out to be biological. And because it was biological, I began to hope. Maybe God hadn’t been closing doors all these years; maybe it was me all along. And maybe, in time, some of those doors could be opened again.
Where was God in all of this? If he wasn’t the one leading me to take all these uncomfortable steps, why did he allow it go on for so long, especially when it caused so much hurt for me and for others? Admittedly, while I know the answer to the first question (he was here all along), I don’t fully know the answer to the second question. But I believe he is sovereign, even over my OCD and over the timing of this season, and I believe he allowed me to wander, to wrestle, and to fall how and when I did. And I believe the season wasn’t wasted.
So what’s my proof this season wasn’t wasted? What did God do in this time, and what has he been doing since? More than I know. But here are a few things I think I can discern.
God taught me that I can be okay in silence and solitude. While the reasons for withdrawing from people weren’t healthy, the lesson learned there was needed. For years, I’d grown used to busyness. I thought I knew how to rest, but really I was only ceasing from my normal work to engage in recreation. As I felt compelled to step away from friends and family and to just be by myself with the Lord, I found that God was present there and that I could find rest apart from the things I used to distract myself with.
God taught me that his provision doesn’t depend on my effort. I backed out of job opportunities, turned down classes where I could get teaching experience, stopped using my talents, stepped away from friendships, rejected someone I wanted to pursue a relationship with, and initiated conversations that could have created further division and discomfort. In spite of all of this, the Lord has provided for me. He’s given me friends who were faithful even when I was difficult. He’s given me teaching opportunities even when I thought the doors might not open again. He’s sustained me. He’s restored friendships and opportunities I was afraid were lost. As I’ve begun to work through this season and to explore how my mind and heart work, I’ve been met with an immense amount of grace. God’s proven himself faithful and good over and over again, providing for my needs and giving good gifts along the way.
God’s showed me that he cares about my desires in a way I didn’t know was possible. I’d heard Psalm 37:4 before: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I always read that verse as if it came with an asterisk, though. Sure, it was true. It’s the word of God, after all. But I didn’t really believe it was true for me. Or at least not in this season. My desires to write, to teach, to pursue a relationship, to talk to my friends—each of these desires seemed to be required of me at some point in my experience. I could affirm that they were good things, that they weren’t sinful things, that they could glorify God. But I believed God had called me to give them up. As I worked with a mentor, I realized I had a misunderstanding of self-sacrifice. I was “dying to the wrong things,” to quote Peter Scazzero (read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality for more on this idea). And as I began to grow in my understanding of God’s goodness, I began to take steps back toward those things I’d left behind, and I watched God restore the things I’d laid aside and lost. He has granted the desires of my heart, and he continues to do so, drawing me ever deeper into gratitude and delight in him.
God taught me to think differently about faith and sovereignty. I used to think walking by faith meant getting clear directions from God and then following those directions in spite of what you saw or felt or thought. I’m learning, however, that walking by faith is more like exercising wisdom and trusting God with the unknowns of life. It’s not necessarily about receiving some specific divine guidance as much as learning to walk in faith that he’s at work in and around you, guiding your steps as you seek to honor him in your decisions and redeeming your mistakes when you misstep or fail. Similarly, I used to think of sovereignty as more of a conceptual thing related to decisions and directions and wills. I’m learning that sovereignty encompasses everything, our good decisions and our bad, our joyful seasons and our seasons of suffering. The “all things” in Romans 8:28 really does mean all things, even those things that feel so beyond our control.
In short, this journey has been one of adjustments, some major and some minor. I’m rethinking my assumptions, examining my thoughts and feelings, and pursuing growth on many fronts, and I think I’m finding some success. I’m new to all of this. I’m very much still learning how to walk. But I’m seeing fruit in this season that I believe has grown from the soil of difficult seasons. I’m seeing God at work, and I’m finding peace and joy as I try to join him in that work. I’m making progress, by his grace, and learning to trust in his sovereign care for me.
I never actually committed to hang out that night. I never said I couldn’t hang out either, though, so the plan proceeded. Leading up to the day, I was nervous but hopeful. Maybe I could go. Maybe I wouldn’t get the feeling. Then the day arrived, and I started to feel it: conviction. I was wrestling all day, wondering whether it was the hangout being targeted or something else, and I couldn’t quite make up my mind. As the time to leave grew closer, I was struggling, feeling like I should probably reach out and cancel but not wanting to let my friends down. But I was torn. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” right (Romans 14:23)? That’s what Paul said. And I definitely didn’t have faith that this was an okay move.
Then it happened. The time to leave arrived, and I stood up and started heading to meet my friends. And surprisingly, I felt peace.
That was a turning point for me. Until then, I’d assumed that if I felt convicted about something, then I needed to step away. To proceed, I thought, would be to act against the guidance of the Holy Spirit and would be blatant sin against God. But if I acted in spite of my feelings in this instance and felt not condemnation but peace, maybe my perception was off. Maybe I wasn’t interpreting these feelings and thoughts correctly.
I say the turning point was there, but I’d noticed some indicators that something was off prior to this point. Conviction often seemed to point in some pretty odd directions, some of which seemed like they’d lead to discomfort and harm that seemed out of line with the way the Lord appeared to work.
For example, I felt the need to confess things to people regularly. I felt conviction when I pursued romantic relationships, and I felt compelled to share my convictions along with my conclusion that God must not want me to pursue such a relationship. I felt convicted about my thoughts toward people, and I believed God wanted me to confess those thoughts to those individuals. In many cases, the things I felt compelled to confess weren’t things that really needed to be confessed. I’d see someone, think of a thought I’d had about them that wasn’t right, and feel compelled to tell them what I’d thought, even if it seemed like doing so would lead to discomfort for them. Internal attitudes and intrusive thoughts—things I needed to work through with the Lord and with trusted friends—suddenly became the object of my obsessions, and I felt I needed to share them, no matter how uncomfortable the sharing might make me or those around me.
I also noticed that there were instances when the conviction would fade if I held off on acting long enough, if I just kept postponing the step the conviction seemed to be leading me to take. In some cases, where I thought the confession would offend or confuse someone, I held off, and I noticed the strength of the compulsion eventually faded.
With these observations and this newfound evidence that peace might come by acting in spite of the conviction, I began to wonder if maybe something was off internally, if maybe my thoughts and emotions weren’t as in tune with the Lord as I’d previously assumed. Initially, questioning these thoughts and feelings felt wrong. I’d met with counselors, talked with trusted friends, prayed—nothing seemed to change. So wasn’t I sinning by questioning where I’d already received an answer?
But by this point, my life had been in a state of near-constant tension for months. I’d had a difficult couple of semesters that led to a summer where I no longer had the major distractions of school, so all the feelings and thoughts I’d been avoiding could be felt more fully. I’d also decided that I needed to stop running from the Lord and trust his leading, so I started trying to face the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and then act on them. If I felt off, I’d investigate it. If I felt like I got clarity on the step I needed to take, I’d try to take it, no matter the cost to my comfort, my image, or to my relationships. Again, this was the Lord leading me, right? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD ” (Isaiah 55:8). Wasn’t this true? Furthermore, “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). These passages meant I had to trust the Lord no matter how little I understood his leading, right?
The problem was that the conviction rarely lifted. I’d feel convicted, get an idea of what I needed to do, then wrestle with the decision until I finally gave in and acted. Then I’d feel some relief, but it was short-lived. Sometimes I’d still feel off and would feel the need to act again before I’d feel some peace. I’d assume I hadn’t done it right the first time, so I would feel like I was still in sin until I took the right step in the right way. Other times, I’d feel okay until something new pricked my conscience, stripping me of my peace until I acted on that new conviction. And on and on it went.
When I had enough data to reasonably doubt my thoughts and feelings, I decided to stop acting on them until I figured out what was true and what was false. I still went to work, still did my job at the church, still took steps forward in the program at school (though with some fear and doubt as to whether I was right to do so), but I stopped acting on the feelings and thoughts like I had been doing. And eventually, those emotions and thoughts settled down a bit. I still felt those tugs, but my decision to stop acting on them kept them from taking over. But I still wasn’t sure what to do. To look into OCD, something I’d begun to suspect could be a culprit, still felt like running from the Lord, so I remained in a state of pause until the emotional weight of some unresolved situations grew too heavy.
You see, in the course of this wrestling, I’d walked away from some of my closest friendships and had left some wounds in the process. I’d not talked to some of my best friends in months, and while I wanted to reconnect, I didn’t know if I could. If the Lord had led me away, could I simply go back? Would the Lord allow that? Would they?
I’d also stopped writing. Writing was a major part of who I was, and I missed it. But I thought I’d been led to stop. I remember posting a poem one morning and feeling what I thought was conviction shortly after. So I took the post down, edited it a bit, and reposted it, only to feel convicted yet again. I went for a run, trying to settle my emotions, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to post that poem for some reason. I eventually took it down, and I didn’t post again for over a year. I believed God had told me to stop writing, and I wasn’t sure I was allowed to go back, so I didn’t. I didn’t feel free to make that decision.
If the first turning point was me deciding to hang out with friends in spite of how I felt, the second was opening up about my questions and emotions to a friend who could speak both to my spiritual needs and to my emotional and psychological needs. He was able to confirm that I had OCD and that I was coming out of a flare up of those symptoms. He was further able to help me start sorting through my thoughts and emotions along with the beliefs underlying them all, giving some explanations for what I was experiencing and connecting some dots that allowed me to see where the issues lie. I started meeting with him a couple of months ago, and through those weekly meetings, I’ve begun to put things back together in my life.
In short, he helped me realize that I was struggling with scrupulosity, which is basically a religious variation of OCD. Instead of my obsessions and compulsions being tied to matters of cleanliness or assurance (though I experience some of those as well), mine are tied to matters of sinfulness and obedience. At some point, I started interpreting anxiety as conviction and intrusive thoughts as the directing of the Lord. In my mind, if I felt convicted about something and the Lord told me to take a step, then my response was a matter of faith and obedience. Did I trust the Lord enough to obey even when I couldn’t see or understand his reasoning? Was I content to live in sin by ignoring the feelings and thoughts that I perceived to be from him?
When I learned that the Lord wasn’t the one I’d been listening to but that OCD had essentially taken over my thoughts and actions, I began to sort through my experiences with the help of a mentor, sifting through my thoughts and emotions to determine why I thought what I thought, felt what I felt, and did what I did. It’s been slow progress, and it’s not over, but it’s progress nonetheless. And that brings me to where I am now. I’m finding my footing, sorting out my experiences, learning about how my mind works, and growing in my understanding of God and of myself in relation to him. By his grace, I’m learning a lot, and I’m feeling freedom and hope in fresh, new ways. If you’re interested in reading about some of the things I’m seeing, keep an eye out for part two of this story!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and I’m hoping to have some new content soon. But before I get back to normal posts again, I wanted to give some explanation as to why I stopped writing in the first place and what my life has looked like over the last couple of years.
In short, I’ve been diagnosed with OCD, specifically a form of OCD called scrupulosity. As I’ve come to understand how OCD works, I’ve been able to make sense of a number of pieces of my story that have otherwise felt burdensome and confusing. With the help of some good friends, and by the grace of God, I’ve begun to make some good progress in life. I’ve felt more freedom and peace in recent months than I can remember feeling in years, and I’m seeing God do some really neat things in and around me. But it’s taken a long time to get to this point.
So over the next few posts, I want to share some of that story. I’ll share a bit about my experience with scrupulosity and how my mind was working when it flared up last year. I’ll share some of the beliefs I’d been operating with that I think aggravated my anxiety and OCD and contributed to the difficulty of that season. And I’ll talk some about what I think God’s been doing in and through that season.
I’ve missed writing, and I’ve long wanted to get back to it. I may not post as frequently as I used to, but I’m hoping to find a good rhythm and to produce some better quality content in the days ahead. As always, I pray these words can serve you well as we all learn to walk with the Lord more faithfully.
I once saw a Chick-fil-A employee yell at customers in the drive-through line.
The employee sounded frustrated. It was around lunch time, so Chick-fil-A was busy. Employees were outside taking orders on both lines before the customers merged into one lane to wind around toward the window to pick up their orders. As is the nature of drive-through lines, the traffic was very stop-and-go, so a lot of customers were on their phones while in line, resulting in a number of customers caught off guard when the line started moving.
I heard the employee yell, “Pull forward!” as she motioned for the cars to keep moving, but her overall tone was more peeved than patient. She made a couple of other remarks that further reflected her mood, each one surprising me and, admittedly, somewhat disturbing me. Her comments and tone seemed out of character for a Chick-fil-A employee.
Experience has taught us that Chick-fil-A employees behave differently than employees elsewhere. There’s a calmness to their demeanor, a patience to their interactions, and a genuineness to their service. We know them to be held to a higher standard, and we’ve come to expect that high quality of character when we visit a Chick-fil-A. So when I saw an employee who seemed to act in a way that ran contrary to that standard, the experience struck me as wrong. Things aren’t supposed to be this way, right? Something’s off here.
You can find the same kind of experience when you pay attention to how we as Christians sometimes act online. Christians, those people who are supposed to look like Jesus in the world, the group that is supposed to reflect a different set of values and a different approach to life, sometimes act in ways that seem contrary to the way Christ acted. Rather than reflecting humility, we demonstrate arrogance. Rather than embracing lowliness, we fight for power. Rather than loving the body of believers, we slander and bite and draw dividing lines within the fold. When we consider the standard, however, we should feel the same sense of surprise as we feel when he hear a Chick-fil-A employee shout at customers. We should be a bit disturbed at the dissonance between the character of Christ and the behavior of his people.
And I think the critique should start with oneself. I am often a fearful man, doubtful of my Lord’s goodness and unfaithful to his commandments. I am often an arrogant man, desiring recognition and glory and kicking against anything that might reveal my weakness. I am often a sinful man, choosing self over God and others.
By grace, however, I’m not lost in my sin. The Lord has saved me and remade me, and he enables me to follow him. I fall short, but I find encouragement to keep walking. I fail, but I find mercy for my failures. As I see all the varied ways I fall short of the glory of God, I find fresh ways the Lord meets me with love. And I pray I will be conformed more and more to the character of Christ, that I might better reflect him day by day.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
2 Corinthians 12:9
His grace is sufficient. But sufficient doesn’t mean that grace makes weakness and suffering nonexistent.
Consider Paul’s life. He writes verse nine immediately after describing his pleading before the Lord that a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, would be taken from him (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). The account of such pleading follows an extended list of Paul’s many sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). And the letter in which we find these sections begins with the admission that Paul’s sufferings were once so great that he and those with him “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). God’s grace sustained him, strengthened him, and enabled him to fulfill the work set before him. But Paul’s life was still filled with tremendous suffering.
I’ve written recently about the longing for rest in difficult seasons, for relief from burdens, for peace in the midst of fear. Life hasn’t been easy for some time. But in the midst of an extended, hard season, God’s grace has been sufficient. He’s given strength for the work, provision for the day, and sweet moments of rest in the busyness. He’s consistently proven himself faithful to be strong in my weakness, often in times when my weakness has seemed too great, the season too hard. He remains wise and good.
I’m learning that sometimes grace doesn’t feel sufficient, but it is. God’s grace may not deliver you from the season you’re in, but it may sustain you through it. It may not keep you from suffering, but it may provide what is needed to endure it. You may be tempted to despair; God’s grace can enable you to hope. You may feel downcast and brokenhearted; God’s grace can cause you to rejoice.
I’m grateful for God’s grace. At times, I wish it did more than sustain. I wish I could be stronger than I am. I wish he would heal and deliver in ways that felt more comfortable. But as I learn to rely on the grace of the Lord, I learn to trust him more fully, to follow him more closely, and to rest in him more completely. And I think that growth is more important than my comfort in this season. So I pray for grace to trust him more, to follow him more, and to rest in him more, thankful that he sustains me.
Life has been busy for some time. That’s nothing new. Between school, jobs, and ministry, my weeks stay pretty full. I enjoy my work, and I’m grateful for the Lord’s provision. I know the busyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’ve noticed myself feeling worn lately, looking for a break but not finding one.
But it’s not just busyness that’s been weighing on me. There’s a heaviness to life these days that I can’t quite escape. People I love are walking through great difficulties, times of fierce testing, and prolonged seasons of waiting. Weariness and discouragement affect many of us. We’re working to bear each other’s burdens, but we’re feeling pressed.
And personally, I’ve also been wrestling with more confusion and fear lately than I’m used to. As I’ve tried to discern the Lord’s leading and sought to obey him, I’ve found myself often faltering, often straying, and often feeling more out of step than surefooted. I want to be faithful, but I feel more faithless. I want to be strong, but I feel weak.
What do you do in such times? How do you respond when life seems heavier than normal?
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
A few observations from this passage bring some comfort in this season.
First, rest is found in Jesus. I’m tempted to look to other sources for relief: to entertainment or to escape or to some new experience. But rest isn’t really found anywhere else but in Jesus, in knowing him and joining him in his work.
Second, we’re invited into rest. In spite of our sin, in spite of our doubt, and in spite of our weakness, Jesus loves us and offers us rest. He knows our state, knows our need, and brings relief.
Third, the road does not end here. There is a way forward, a way of good work and learning from the Lord himself. Thus, rest does not necessarily mean we cease to be active, but rather that we learn to follow the lead of the good shepherd (John 10:11). When I’m tempted to believe I’m stuck, that I don’t have anywhere to go, Jesus’s words remind me the path continues on with him.
Though I’m not good at it, I’m trying to learn to rest in Jesus. He is good. He is kind. He is faithful. So we can trust him in our weariness and find rest that satisfies our souls like nothing else.
Fear sometimes settles on you like a fog. You feel it all around you, it’s presence chilling and uncomfortable. It obscures your sight, preventing you from seeing the way forward. You know the world around you still exists, that reality is bigger than what you can presently perceive. You know that the fog will eventually lift.
But sometimes it doesn’t.
Or, at least, it doesn’t lift as soon as you’d like. That’s when you start to panic and despair.
It sounds silly, but fear can make you suddenly less certain of what you know to be true. God’s love and his faithfulness, his mercy and his grace, his purposes in discipline and the profit in the testing of our faith—suddenly, these subjects seem strangely foreign. You know the Scriptures. You’ve sung the songs, heard the sermons, read the books. But in the middle of the fog, as fear clouds your ability to think clearly, truth doesn’t appear to come to your mind or heart as quickly or as easily as it once did.
And yet, even when fear feels pervasive and overwhelming, what is true is still true. Though our perceptions may make recognition of truth more difficult, reality has not fundamentally changed. God is still on his throne. The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness still has not overcome it. The Lord’s love remains undiminished, his purposes unhindered. If God really causes all things to work together for good, then he’s still working, even in the fiercest seasons of fear. In spite of how we may feel, he has neither forgotten nor forsaken his children.
It isn’t easy to hold on to truth in the midst of fear. Thankfully, the Lord remains a firm foundation for feeble souls. Fear can reveal our weakness; his power is still made perfect in weakness. So we trust in him though we don’t feel okay, hope in him though things seem hopeless, and keep following him though we don’t know the way. And as we do these things, we will find him faithful, as he has always been and always will be.
I’ve caught myself wishing that a season of testing would end so I could go back to normal.
Normal. What exactly is normal?
In this case, it’s a time before I felt pushed, before I encountered the current set of trials, before my faith was put to the test. Normal feels safe and comfortable, or at least it does relative to now.
But I can’t go back there. None of us can. Once we encounter a test of faith, we don’t remain the same. Trials change us. Discipline grows us. And we don’t endure just to go back to how we were; God means us to keep going forward into further maturity (James 1:2-4). The Lord uses tests of faith to form our hearts and minds, sanctifying us that we might know him and love him and trust him more than we now do. And yes, the testing is difficult; that’s to be expected. In times of testing, the Lord often reveals what in us is not of him and removes it, and the removal is often painful. But the removal is necessary if we would follow him.
True, we may fight back against the refinement. We can try to prolong our time in immaturity or obey only halfheartedly. Such hesitancy may make us feel like we’re staying safe, like we’re avoiding the fearful and costly change. But doesn’t such a response change us too? The more I run, the more restless I feel. Once the Lord reveals his direction for me and calls me to move, my refusal doesn’t keep me safe, it simply makes me disobedient. And as he presses upon me to obey, I come to see that whatever I’m holding onto doesn’t ultimately satisfy me, that satisfaction is truly only found in him. His call may terrify me, but his ways are life and peace and truth. All else fades.
So maybe the goal shouldn’t be to go back to normal. Rather, maybe the goal should be to simply be faithful, no matter what comes. This seemed to be the approach of Job, who’s commended by God. Paul also seems to approach life with such a view, choosing faith and contentment in spite of difficulties. Both men found the Lord to be faithful and good, full of love and compassion. If the Lord keeps us put in one place, let us be faithful in the staying. If he calls us to move, let us be faithful in the going. In seasons of peace and seasons of pain, in times of tranquility and times of testing, let faithfulness be our constant response. And may the Lord use whatever we face to grow us in maturity, that he may be honored and that others may be better served.
I’m not certain, but I think the title and some of the ideas I explore in this post may stem from something C. S. Lewis wrote. I don’t mean to steal anything from him, so I want to state clearly that, while I can’t trace the thoughts directly right now, I seem to recall him dealing with this topic or with something similar to it.