Finding Joy in the Dark Places

Many of you know, and for those of you who don’t, I struggled for many years under the weight of debilitating depression and it took me to some very dark places.  For some time now, I have felt free of that weight and have been able to move forward with a new sense of purpose and joy…

Of course, being a believer for nearly 40 years now has taught me a thing or two about joy.

I believe you can only know if you truly possess joy and peace if it still remains in the darkest hours and in the darkest places.  I’m old enough to know that during the times when you feel the strongest, come the deepest…often the most personal tests of that strength.

It is during such times that I draw on the Scripture that I committed to memory when I was younger…Scriptures like “in my weakness, He is made strong.”  But with each point of overcoming comes a new round of arrows from the Enemy…

So, as I have entered this time of corporate Scripture memory and personal devotion, I should have been prepared for the onslaught of possible discouragement that would be aimed in my direction.

Each of us has our own soft-spots…our own points of weakness, and the minute I think about someone else, “Well, that wouldn’t hurt or bother me at all!”, I have to recognize my spirit of judgment and realize that the Enemy is smart enough to know the individual arrows to wing at each one of us.

One area I struggle the most in is the area of approval from others.  Some of you who know me might say “No way she cares what people think!” based on my demeanor, expressions or even some of the crazy clothes I choose to wear (Admit it, friends, you have thought on occasion “What was she thinking??!!”), but the truth is that I was raised the first-born in a pastor’s home, constantly on display…and utterly aware of my responsibilities to uphold the family name.

All of this set me on a path of trying to always do things “right” all the time.  A path which is both impossible to navigate…and even more impossible to remain on.

It also just plain doesn’t exist.

This set me up for a whole lot of angst when the church that my husband pastored basically died, 1000 people chose to leave the church, and we set out to establish a new movement amid the loss of almost every friend, our financial security…and our “standing” among most of the “churched” people in our community.

If I found it necessary to gain the approval of others, then I was in for an emotional famine like I had never thought possible.

Many of you know my story following so much loss and personal unraveling that I, and my family, experienced over the next 5 years…

But, recently, I have found a new peace and joy and a strength that I didn’t seem to remember that I possessed – although I always did, I was just in too dark a place to realize I was living so below my privilege.  I have found strength not only in Christ’s presence, in a renewed connection to His Word, but also through the blessing of new friendships and old that have lifted me up and encouraged me.

Of course, friendship is a double-edged sword, isn’t it?

The minute I allow myself to find comfort in the encouragement of others, I can just as surely find discouragement waiting around the bend…and often in such measure that I can allow it to totally negate any encouragement I’ve received…

So, I can feel right back where I started:  like an easy target with a huge bullseye on my back!

During the darkest years of this journey, I honestly got to the place where I just didn’t engage…with anyone.  I wouldn’t make eye-contact at the grocery store for fear of what I might see in someone’s expression, I didn’t reach out to people that I didn’t know for fear that they might already have made up their mind about me, my husband and our “church”,  I didn’t even really seem to trust God with how vulnerable I felt…after all, He had allowed all of the loss…

But, like I said, in more recent months, I have felt a renewed sense of freedom…

And there has been so much encouragement and kindness – so much balm for the wounded soul…

There has also been the inevitable:  that moment when I’ve met a new friend, am having a lovely conversation about our children, etc, and I see my new “friend’s” eyes begin to narrow and hear the dreaded words, “Your husband looks sooo familiar…I wonder where I’ve seen him before…”, and feeling that all-too-familiar chill come over us as she excuses herself and just…never comes back again.

It’s rough, I must admit, and it’s hard, no matter how many friends are made, not to concentrate on those who seem to “eye me” from a distance as if I’ve done some great offense to them – and they don’t even know me at all.  It’s hard to feel the joy and encouragement from 10 new friends if there’s just 1 that seems to despise you.

But, I’m old enough to know where it’s coming from, ultimately.

And I’m working on my response, my spirit, my contentment, my peace…my joy.

If the Apostle Paul could truly have joy while chained to a guard, awaiting a death-sentence, then I suppose I can handle a few cold-shoulders at the football field.  Paul and I serve the same God.  We both have said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”  We both have suffered injustice, betrayal, abuse and still recognize the Sovereignty of a loving and just God.

I just have to follow Paul’s lead, humble myself and know that anything I may suffer just causes me to resemble more closely our Savior…as long as I choose to respond appropriately.

Please pray that I always respond appropriately…

That will definitely increase your prayer life!! 😉

I thank my God when I remember all of you who have offered words of encouragement to me.  As I’ve often said, we truly don’t know what someone is walking through at a given moment…

Love wins!

No discouragement can change that fact.