It is days like these that a person walks through when an unexpected illness or diagnosis occur. Or when that accident happens and your dreams are shattered in a moment. Not only have I walked through the darkness of suffering and facing death, but many friends and acquaintances are going through these things now or will someday. As I have previously written, grief and trauma have varying affects on each of us. No person's journey is exactly the same, but there are similarities. There were days or months of shock. I sat frozen and unable to move. My mind raced with the worst of thoughts and fears that seemed as realities. Worry turned to anxiety, anxiety turned to depression, depression tried to drag me to the darkness of despair. It's goal was to lead me to death. At one point the gravity of this pull was so intense that I almost put myself into a hospital. I was losing hope. How could this happen? I had been a faithful servant of the Lord, serving in ministry for nearly 23 years. As I prayed with a friend about this pain that was gripping me. He asked me, "Todd, are you in despair?" I hadn't even considered the word despair in my vocabulary. How had this happened? What should I do to get relief? Is there any hope?!
I am writing tonight because I believe I have friends and others who are experiencing this darkness in some form or may experience it in the near future. When you come to this point, know this, "there is hope and his name is Jesus!"
You may think to yourself, "Ya, I already know this. That's such a Sunday school answer."
But there's more here to consider.
I've had time to reflect on my journey now, being 15 months since my wife passed. Hindsight gives some perspective and we can begin to see at least some things more clearly. Though we will not know all of God's wisdom and plans through suffering until we are in His Kingdom fully.
My eyes moved from Jesus to my circumstances. I was consumed with grief and all of the fears of suffering and death were before me. I couldn't think of anything else. When your mind is so fixed on fear it begins to affect your body, your relationships and your ability to function day to day. It's as if you are chaining and imprisoning yourself. My eyes needed to be refocused.
However, my eyes were really on Jesus + vocation/ministry + wife + family + comfort...
I've been viewing the world through Western Christian, American eyes. These are the expectations of our cultural norm. Why shouldn't I deserve these things? Yet my world was shaken and it seems I had to hit this low for Jesus to teach me.
Prior to this whole ordeal I had been reflecting upon and praying a section of scripture for a few years.
Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Read and think about those words for a few moments. I was probably at my maximum weariness and was weighed down with worries, fears, anxiety, depression, despair. We're human and subject to these things. But when I read these words, I felt the deep weight of them personally. I longed for rest! I wanted relief from these burdens. I was not enough in myself to handle any of it. I know Jesus says he is gentle and humble of heart, but to be honest this suffering didn't seem so gentle. These burdens didn't seem so easy or light either. But the phrase that I kept coming back to was, "...learn from Me,".
Okay, Jesus. What am I to learn from you through all of these losses?
I was so concerned about all that I was losing, that I didn't keep my eyes on Jesus. The losses and suffering in some way was helping me to detach from all that I was attached to in my expectations and perceived entitlements. It was, "My ministry, My job, My wife, My family..." Wasn't it?
They all belong to God. After all, we live in a world darkened by sin and our disobedience separates us from God - who is the Creator, Provider, Sustainer and Savior of His people. " We have nothing without Him.
"In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:4-5
If we want to see clearly enough to get out of the darkness, then we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Light. As a friend reminded me in the middle of this swamp of despondence, "Faith is greater than fear." And as I held on to those words, I turned my eyes upon Jesus again. And He was there all along, right beside me. Then moment by moment, day by day, renewing my mind with His word, with worship, with gratitude, I began to see the light of day again. Each day God grants us gifts of light and beauty. He reveals them through the Truth of His word. If we ignore them, they fade into the past unseen, unappreciated. If we take hold of these moments, they are treasures that we can enjoy right now and they become memories to hold in the future. God gives these for our pleasure even in the midst of trials, hardships and suffering of all kinds. There is beauty in the midst of suffering. Joy can be ours, as well as peace!
And as I let go of what I thought I had, but didn't really, I began to feel a lightness. Moment by moment, day by day, I could take a next step. With Jesus beside me guiding the way, there was joy in the moment. Laina (my wife) was intentional about this receiving and choosing joy in each moment. I learned a lot from her. And honeslty I'm a bit jealous of her, because she fully sees Christ and His glory even more now. I'm seeking God is this earthly shell. But she is truly free! My mind now is more fixed on "things above" and I am holding more lightly to things that don't really matter. And in the process of suffering, facing darkness and death, I am learning from Jesus to be free too! Moment by moment, day by day, take the next step. Keep my eyes on Jesus! As He speaks, I listen and obey. A new light is dawning! A new freedom lies ahead! Keep moving forward friends! He is our Living Hope! He Lights the way, stay close!
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