Home is Where the Chaos Is
One gloomy April morning, I was getting ready to meet my friend Rebekah for coffee. Since February, I had felt trapped in the house because of attachment and abandonment issues in our home. As a chronic people-pleaser and worry wart, it was really difficult for me to leave home, knowing that anger was brewing at home while I was gone. When I returned home from being out somewhere (it didn't matter where), I became the target. Not only that, I had started to isolate myself because I, after all, had chosen this foster-care life. I began believing that I somehow deserved the arrows aimed at me. I felt like even if I tried to explain the control, manipulation, and anxiety that was in our home, other people would not fully understand our external circumstances or my inner turmoil. I feared that telling someone I was in a "hard season," might mean that I actually was in a hard season (gasp! no hard seasons allowed!). When you spend months convincing yourself that you're okay, it becomes more and more difficult to admit that you're not.
The night before our meeting, I pulled out a white journal with green cacti on it and wrote down every major behavioral issue we were experiencing so that I could try to clear my brain before unloading all of these complicated emotions on my friend. I made a list, including 1) hypochondria 2) extreme silliness / out of control behaviors 3) my inability to correct 4) control 5) manipulation 6) unrealistic expectations 7) wake-up time and bed-time 8) my anger (the list could go on forever). Before I left, I stuck that prickly cactus journal containing my prickly feelings in my purse before sneaking out of the house for my momentary reprieve from the chaos.
I got in my car and drove to West Oak Coffee Bar, trying to convince myself that I could hold it together, that I could just be an actual human and listen to my friend and help with her problems. (Maybe I could even forget about my problems that way?) But I hadn't talked to anyone (besides my husband) in so long, all the emotions and feelings and confusion came spewing out of me as soon as I saw her. My brain kept telling me to slow down, but my mouth kept saying words. I don't remember much of that coffee date - except that I talked the entire time and that my sweet friend listened to me blab on for over three hours.
As I left West Oak, I felt a little relieved but also a little guilty. I had just hijacked our coffee date and turned Rebekah into my own personal counselor. What is wrong with me? Why can't I just figure my crap out? And then, a new feeling rushed over me: fear. I suddenly realized that my hiatus had come to a screeching halt, and I had to go home. For three solid hours, I didn't have to worry about saying the perfect things or listening to non-stop jokes or feeling like I was walking on egg shells. And now I had to start the ignition, drive the 10 minutes home, and re-enter the disorder and unrest in my own house, in my own family, in my own heart.
I just straight-up, flat-out, didn't want to go home. My home didn't feel like a home; I felt like a stranger there, an outsider. When I looked to my future, all I could see was this hard season, and the hard season didn't really seem like it was wanting to pack up and leave anytime soon. No, the hard season had made itself comfortable; it was here to stay for as long as it wanted to. And to be perfectly honest, it had quite overstayed its welcome and I was very ready for it to leave.
My Never-Ending Hard Season
Fast-forward to January of the next year, and I was going to meet Rebekah again, this time at her house. I had started seeing a counselor in October (10/10 would recommend), so thankfully I no longer needed to emotionally unload on my friends. We talked about our new puppies, our favorite mugs, and her grandson. We talked about church and jobs and family - ya know - normal things that people talk about when trauma isn't (completely) taking over your life anymore.
The hard season still hadn't left, though. Some things had become more manageable, like bedtime and control issues, but we were now figuring out how to navigate biological family relationships and the whole different level of trauma that comes with that. I fiercely wanted there to be peace in my house, but I was having a hard time asking God for it. I was afraid he wouldn't give me the answer I wanted.
I asked Rebekah (in a much more blabbering, unsophisticated way):
"Okay, so I've been thinking a lot about prayer, because - what if I keep praying for things that will just never happen? Or what if God doesn't want to give me what I'm praying for, even if it's good? I end up just not asking Him for the things that I need (even when they're good things), so I don't get my hopes up just to be let down."
What if I pray for the hard season to end, but it doesn't?
Rebekah, in all her wisdom, responded not with her own words, but with a parable from the Gospel of Luke. In this parable, a widow was seeking justice in an argument that she had with an enemy. She came to this judge, who did not fear God or care about people, asking him to grant her justice. Persistently, she came to the judge regularly and asked him to do what was right. He ignored her, but eventually she starts to drive him crazy and he says:
"I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!"
Then Jesus follows it up. He says that if an unjust judge was willing to grant a request to a woman solely because she was persistent, then how much more will God, the Most Just Judge, grant the requests of His people, who he loves?
Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.
God's Presence > God's Answers
When I was in the hard season, all I wanted was for it to go away. I prayed and begged and pleaded for the Lord to end the hard season and for there to be peace. But God didn't end it. And in many senses, I am still in the middle of it.
So then, does that mean that God, the Most Just Judge, the One who loves me, didn't grant my persistent request? Is he ignoring me?
No. Certainly not.
He didn't change my circumstances, but this is what He did do during the hard seasons:
He gave me His peace.
He filled me with joy.
He gave me opportunities to become more like Him.
He showed me that my children are precious.
He opened my eyes to where I needed some refining.
He produced patience in me.
He gave me deeper friendships.
He gave me compassion.
He made His presence real.
He bonded our family together through a global pandemic.
He wasn't ignoring me. He was drawing me closer. He was changing me. He was making me new.
God didn't answer my prayer to end the hard season and grant immediate peace. Lovingly, He built peace, hope, and patience in our family through the meltdowns, behaviors, and trauma. Instead of ending the hard season, He used it to usher in true, lasting peace in our home.
Ending the hard season when I asked for it would've diminished my ever-growing awareness of my need for Him. This period of hardship brought me into sweet companionship with Christ because I knew how much I needed Him and His constant presence as I faced difficult conversations and situations on a daily basis. But through it all, we don't suffer alone; He suffers with us.
I sometimes wonder if this is why God calls us into hard, broken places--to pull us into his presence. If we never enter into brokenness, difficulty, injustice, poverty, and oppression, our deceitful hearts will start to believe that we have it all together and that we don't need Him. So, He gently nudges us toward the poor and needy to open up our eyes to our own poverty and neediness. Our love for Christ increases as our need increases. What if we entered into needy places, or chose suffering, in order to increase our love for Christ? What if the key to deeper union with Jesus is deeper union with the hurting? What if the need that arises from companionship with the lowly is the catalyst of change in our walks with the Lord, for our desire to read His Word, for our zeal in prayer?
Our hope is not found in the end of a hard season and the start of an easy one. In fact, Hope and Peace and Many Other Good Things are found not in the absence of brokenness, difficulty, and hardship, but in the presence of it. Maybe there's a better, more beautiful path paved because of this hard season. And maybe that is enough to get us on our feet and ready to face a new, hard day because there is One who has already faced it for us.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
2 Corinthians 1: 5-7
For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
Elisabeth Elliot in Suffering is Never for Nothing
"The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.”