I’ve noticed something about myself lately that I don’t like at all. I’ve been responding to everything with biting sarcasm, whether just in my head or spewed from my lips. Any attempt at trying to cheer me up has been met with an internal scoff and usually external negativity. I should apologize to anyone I’ve allowed to see that ugly bit of myself but hey, at least I was being honest for once… or so I thought. I have felt anger within myself for awhile. It’s ok to be angry sometimes but it’s not ok to sink into bitterness, which is what I have done. But I’ve realized that most of this knee-jerk sarcasm and anger is a cover for the way I’m really feeling. Because I’m really feeling like a lost and terrified little girl who needs her Father to take her home.
I’ve become aware that every bit of my existence has been about striving for something. If I am not striving for something, perfection of some sort, I have no idea how to act. I am trying to find the way home my own way and have gotten frustrated and given up. Instead, I need to let God carry me home in His way. I’m terrified because it’s not the way I have always known. I have never fully grasped what it means to be God’s child. Somewhere along the way I picked up the notion that I had to work hard to earn that position, that I had to be perfect for God and everyone else or they would be disappointed in me. I thought I had to work harder to be better, and to make everyone else’s lives better, or I wasn’t good enough. And since I have not been able to make my life or the lives of anyone around me better, I am hopelessly lost and my entire life has been a failure, perhaps even a lie.
I think that’s a big reason my illness started right after my first Social Work job. It was impossible to be a perfectionist at that job because there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. I had to cut corners and I constantly felt guilty for doing so. It was unacceptable to me that I couldn’t hack it. I was miserable because I could not do everything exactly right. So instead of finally accepting that it was impossible for me to be perfect, I found a different job and quickly realized I had stumbled back into my comfort zone. I loved this job more than I can say, and not just because I was good at it and could accomplish it with my normal perfectionistic drive. I genuinely looked forward to it every day. And when it was taken from me due to my illness, I found myself lost again.
Probably one of my most frequent prayers since leaving work has been, “what am I supposed to do?” God’s only clear answer has been, “rest and let Me heal you.” That may sound good, but it is indescribable agony for someone who only knows how to work, how to do, how to strive for perfection. There has never been one single moment in my life that has not been spent analyzing which “self” would be best to present in that moment and working hard to present only that self at that time. I have never been at rest within myself. This fake world crashing down around me has left me lost, vulnerable, and basically non-existent, since I have never known my true self and don’t know how to be her. I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO REST AND IT FEELS LIKE IT IS KILLING ME. Hence, the healing crisis. But it’s easier for me to be angry than sad because it’s less vulnerable, so that’s where I’ve been hiding out for awhile. See, always hiding.
I finally started to allow God to reveal to me how completely heartbroken and devastated I am. Then, I visited my work friends the other day. It was good for my heart to see them again but it also reawakened in me deep sadness and loss. As I watched them move about their office, familiar in their workplace, and as I listened to their lives, my ache became evident. And when I realized that it was not even two hours from the time my friend picked me up to the time she dropped me back off and my body was completely finished, overly-exhausted and unable to function anymore, I just knew that was the last time I could push it to have much of a life outside of this house. I felt my body telling me it was finished for awhile and that scares me. It’s not just the loss of my job that has left me reeling, but the loss of my ability to strive for perfection, the loss of the only way I know how to act, the loss of who I truly believed I was. I miss work. I miss knowing my purpose (even if it was misguided). I miss familiarity. I miss helping people. I miss the daily support system and camaraderie. I miss being able to go places without issue. I miss knowing what to do with myself. I miss everything about the life I used to know….except when I remember that the life I used to know was a life of my own making, not God’s.
But the sadness is still overwhelming. So I’ve been asking God where He’s keeping the comfort that He talks about, because I don’t feel it. I keep asking Him to hold me, to come find His lost daughter and carry her home with Him. My heart is so broken and I just don’t feel comforted. I asked Him to show me in His Word. As I was reaching for my Bible, my alarm went off and played the song, “Held”, by Natalie Grant. Yes, I chose the song as my alarm but I didn’t remember that’s what I had chosen, nor that I had chosen it for this hour. God used my previous choice to show me this hour that He is holding me.
Indulge me while I apply the song lyrics to my life. “Two months is too little. They let him go. They had no sudden healing. To think that Providence would take a child from his mother while she prays is appalling… This hand is bitterness. We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow.” I’ve had no sudden healing and to think that God would do this is appalling. I’ve been covering and numbing my sorrow with anger and sarcasm. I just didn’t want to feel the pain. I would rather blame because at least that convinces me there’s a reason for my suffering. Without the anger, there is only loss. But I need to let go.
“The wise hands open slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.” Lilies of the valley are a symbol of humility and also of the Second Coming of Christ. It is also a highly poisonous flower. How profound. In order to gain the hope of tomorrow (Jesus’ return), I have to have the wisdom to open my hand and accept the poison (pain and suffering of life) with humility, recognizing my need for God and that the life He is building for me is better than the one I built. Vaneetha Rendall Risner, about whom this song is written, says, “I can experience true joy only after I have acknowledged my sorrow. And when I do, I find myself in a deeper place with the Lord, who helps reframe my disappointments and pain.” I highly recommend her book, The Scars that Have Shaped Me.
“This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held. If hope is born of suffering, if this is only the beginning, can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?” Maybe comfort is not necessarily removal of the pain, but knowing that I am still held and loved when my world falls apart. Maybe it’s knowing this is only the beginning and that we can wait for our Savior to deliver us. Maybe the comfort is knowing that God will never waste our pain and will use it for good. Knowing this probably won’t take the pain away but it may remove the sting of bitterness.
When I finally made it to the Bible after the song was over, the verse that seemed to mean the most to me was Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” I thought about how a child doesn’t understand why anything bad happens to her and she runs straight to her mother to be held and comforted. Being held may not change the circumstances but she cries it out in her mother’s arms. Even if her mother is the one causing what she perceives as bad, she still lets her hold and comfort her. And though the child’s pain grieves her mother’s heart, her mother doesn’t change the circumstances because she knows what is best. This deeply touches my heart and it’s where I have been in the last few days. I have been angry at God for so long but right now I don’t want to be angry anymore. Instead, I crave comfort and I want to be held. I can trust God enough to let Him hold me even when I perceive that what He’s doing is bad. He knows what’s best for me and will accomplish it even if it grieves His heart to break my heart. After all, “The Father said no to the Son. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history.” – Vaneetha Rendall Risner
Earlier in Isaiah 66, God says He esteems those who are humble and contrite in spirit (vs. 2) and He will not bring labor without delivery (vs. 9). This is such a beautiful promise. God will not bring pain without delivering us. He will comfort us (vs. 13), we will rejoice, and His hand will be made known to His servants (vs. 14). To those who humble and submit themselves to God, opening their hands to the lilies of the valley, to those who allow themselves to grieve in God’s arms, He will bring deliverance, comfort, joy, and a knowledge of His work. This is what it means to be held.