"In fact, what He's doing as we suffer is leading us into the depths of our being, into the corner of our soul where we feel our strongest passions. It's there that we discover our desire for God. We begin to feel a desire to know him that not only survives all our pain, but actually thrives in it until that desire becomes more intense than our desire for all the good things we still want. Through the pain of shattered [lower] dreams, we wake up to the realization that we want an encounter with God more than we want the blessings of life. And that begins a revolution in our lives."
- Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams
I'm really good at avoiding what's on my heart. The funny thing is, and someday maybe I'll finally catch on, what's there can never be avoided for long.
When my mom was diagnosed I was a sophomore in college. Though I had known for a while that something wasn't quite right with her, I felt like air had been taken from my lungs. There were days during that Spring semester that I would walk across Old Main lawn and cry so hard that I couldn't catch my breath. There were also days that the mere thought of my mom having Alzheimer's would knock the wind out of me. I was having panic attacks. It took me four months to realize I needed to see a doctor. When I did, I was prescribed anxiety medicine. And so, for the next five years I would take a pill everyday to help mask the pain.
Looking back, I don't regret taking the medicine. My relationship with God continued to grow. It didn't have any weird effects on my personality. I was able to enjoy four years in Fayetteville. I started my first job. I married my best friend. And, I spent lots of time with my mom.
What I regret is not being able to fully process what was happening to my mom and family.
At the end of last summer, I met with my doctor and counselor to discuss the necessary steps for getting off my medicine. We made a game plan and it was then up to me to start weaning myself. I waited, for whatever reason, until November when my three month supply ran out. For several weeks I felt on top of the world. I didn't feel any side effects and anxiety stayed at bay. That lasted until the second week of December. What I felt physically for nearly a month after that was enough to wish I had never touched one of those pills. What my body felt physically, I wouldn't feel emotionally for several more weeks.
Here and there, on random days I would feel anxious and not always be able to explain why. I labeled these days, "anxious days," and prayed they would eventually stop. They didn't.
In the past three months I have thought about a whole host of things. I worry something bad will happen to my dad. I worry about the grief that awaits me when my mom finally goes Home. I worry that she still understands what the disease is doing to her, and that she's unable to communicate that to us. I grieve that my mom won't get to be the kind of grandmother she dreamed of becoming one day. I grieve that she won't be at the hospital with me when we have our babies. I grieve that my children won't know her like I did. And, the list goes on...
This past Friday was my hardest day yet. I couldn't get myself together. I woke up crying and didn't stop until late that evening. I felt crazy. Thankfully, one of my best friends reminded me that Satan does want me to feel crazy and stupid. But, grieving over these things is totally normal, in fact, its natural.
I wish I could say that Friday brought some sort of closure to what I've been feeling, but it didn't. I also wish I could say I felt God sitting beside me as I cried out to Him, but I didn't. (I'm not claiming God wasn't with me on Friday. I'm just making the point that I didn't allow myself to feel His presence.)
This weekend, as I reflected on what happened Friday, I was reminded of a book I read last year. This excerpt says it all:
My real problem with God becomes apparent when long-held and deeply cherished dreams are shattered and He does nothing. And these are good dreams, not dreams of riches and fame, but dreams of decent health for those who I love and for good relationships among family and friends.
Many of your dreams are good dreams too. You want to enjoy family life. You long for a job you really like, one that gives you opportunity to do what is important to you and to be appreciated for it. You aren't asking for great health or lots of money. But an accident the day after your car insurance lapsed, then your wife coming down with chronic fatigue syndrome is just too much. You want to serve God as a missionary, but you can't raise the support you need to get to the field. Your dreams are good. And you're trusting God as best you know how. But nothing is happening.
Depending on an unresponsive God in the middle of crumbling dreams can be tough on faith. Relating personally with a God who is less responsive than friends with far fewer resources is difficult.
Exactly what is God doing with all His power? At some point in your Christian life you'll be forced to admit that Jesus doesn't make it on your list of responsive, valued friends. Love long enough, and dreams important to you will shatter. Some will remain shattered. God will not glue together the pieces of every Humpty Dumpty who takes a great fall in your life.
The divorce will go through, the cancer will claim a loved one's life, the Alzheimer's will not be arrested (let alone reversed) by the latest drug. The broken friendship will not be restored despite your best efforts to reconcile. Your marriage will not be satisfying no matter how many counselors you consult or seminars you attend. Your singleness will be an intolerable burden. The budding ministry will never materialize. The lost income will not be replaced by money pouring out of heaven's windows.
You'll feel low for a long time; the dark tunnel will lengthen with no light visible at its end. Your sense of adventure will yield to doubtful drudgery. You will be miserable. Your dream of feeling alive, captivated by beauty and passionately free, will die.
And God won't do a thing. For a long time. Maybe till heaven.
That's my problem with Him. Yet he tells us He is our most responsive friend. He isnists that, after giving us His Son, He would never withhold any good thing.
Then why doesn't He cure my mother's Alzheimer's? Why didn't he relieve my wife's back pain? Why doesn't he straighten out your shiftless kid and give him some direction? Wouldn't those be good things for us? Why didn't He arrange for you to get the education you wanted or steer you in a direction you'd really enjoy?
When we see things rightly, we'll write his name in capital letters at the top of our list of friends, and with the angels, bow low before Him in adoration and awe. And hope. I believe that.
But it takes some doing to see things rightly. How can we write His name at the top of our list as the most wonderful, most sensitive, and most responsive friend we've ever had when our fondest dreams shatter and He does nothing? (from Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb, p. 22-23.)
Thankfully, it doesn't end there. He spends the entire book working through that last question. And, its something I'll be working through for a long time... Let the revolution begin.