Today’s guest post is by the inimitable Steffeny Feld. She currently works as a mobile therapist for young children, and she writes her best when she’s not even trying (which is unfathomable, slightly frustrating, and also highly attractive to her obsessively overthinking writer of a husband).
There came a point where I said, “No more.” I felt like I couldn’t take anymore but it kept on coming. So I started saying no to God. Instead of receiving from Him, I started to make judgments against Him. “This is not good.” “This is not fair.” “This is not right.”
In my own eyes, I was a great judge and I didn’t want to receive from any more of what I had deemed “bad things” from God. I didn’t even realize that things had become contentious between us. The bitterness in my heart grew.
I am sick. I am in pain. Therefore something is wrong. Either you don’t care or you want things this way. Either way I don’t want anything to do with it. Many times I’ve sung, “So pass the cup of suffering.” Well, I took a sip and had my fill. I refused the rest. Instead of receiving from God, I said no. I set up my own definitions: You will be good when… I am healed, I can feel again, I have a child.
Eventually I became so lost, so broken, so empty, so in need that I became the prodigal and called for help from my Father. I heard these words,
Receive the cup, even when you don’t understand, and trust even when you find yourself surrounded by darkness and smothered in sorrow. Don’t be afraid. Throw off the cloak of fear around your neck. Wait for me.
I will come to you. I will strengthen you. I will restore your faith.
My tired heart responded sincerely, But God it is not supposed to be like this. I believe in you: shouldn’t I feel good and holy and confident and fulfilled?
Oh Child, that is not the way of the cross.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. – Romans 8:15-17
Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:24-27
I knew that we should carry our cross and that we would share in his sufferings. I knew it. And I’d read about Paul and the apostles facing a long list of life-threatening challenges. But instead of that being sobering, it used to hit me with a surge of excitement. Like facing perilous dangers is not actually hard, it’s just the glory and the thrill of life with God! I’d heard the verse about losing your life to save it. But I didn’t think I would actually feel the loss and the pain. I thought it would just be exhilarating, profound, and deeply fulfilling all the time.
Why do we have these grand images of what a life of faith looks like? And when the pain comes – we scatter, we deny, we fear. We hide from our God. (It’s only human, I guess.) We want to build our tents and make camp on the mountaintop – where we feel like spiritual giants and our sonship is secure.
But there comes a time when Jesus says it’s time to come down from the mountain. How do we deal with this descent into the valley? No, valley is too nice of a word. How do we deal with our descent into the depths? When we find ourselves in Sheol, bearing the weight of the cross when we expected the euphoria of being more than conquerors. What do we do when we feel weak? How do we respond when we are truly, deeply broken? When we cry out but hear only silence or the simple answer, “Wait.” The darkness covers us. We are afraid.
If you’ve been there, you know there really is nothing you can do. There is no way to escape. So, you wait. You cry out. You scream. You yell. You fight if you need to. You tire yourself out, laying it all bear. Letting the truth find its way to the surface. The truth of what you have been holding inside. There’s nothing left to hide.
In the darkness we are unveiled. We are changed in the waiting. In time, our eyes adjust. We remember to open them. We can see anew.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
– Isaiah 43:1-3
That’s when I realized that He was with me. He had been with me. In times of suffering and despair, in times of rest, in times of striving, and in those sweet rare moments of pure joy. Right there. Dwelling with me.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Tears,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
– Psalm 84:5-7