When the cup won’t pass from you

Image from manassaschurch.org

I’m learning a new lesson in God’s love and grace. It sucks.

For the past few months, I’ve been experiencing what some would refer to as “a dark night of the soul.” My mind and emotions are in deep turmoil. I often struggle to function at normal tasks. I’m constantly cycling between periods of anger, grief, and utter blankness. I can’t pray, can’t see more than an inch in front of me. It’s like I’m standing in a raging cyclone of snow, rain and hail. And in this time of desperate, extreme need, God is almost completely silent.

Except for these two words: “Just heal.”

“What does that mean, God? How do I do that?”

“Just heal.”

If you’re thinking that sounds like hell, you’re right. It’s hell of the worst kind. But…

In this hell, something is happening in my relationship with Christ. Something new and intimate and almost beyond words. I’m drawing close to Him in a new way. I’m discovering just how much He loves me–not because of what I do or say or feel or avoid, but simply because I am His creation. I’m coming to understand how much He suffered to redeem mankind, how deep His love goes, how free His grace is. It’s stunning. Beautiful. Unsettling.

See, I initially thought if I prayed hard enough, Jesus would just take me out of the cyclone. He would sweep in like a knight in shining armor and save me from such suffering. After all, this is what my faith tradition has taught me for years: if you just trust enough, everything will be ok and happiness is guaranteed. Instead, Jesus has stepped into the cyclone with me and taken me into His arms. So far, He hasn’t promised a thing: that the cyclone will cease, or that I will find healing, or that there will be a ministry for me after this. He’s just holding me while my heart hemorrhages with pain. In my darkest hours, I can feel His arms around me, cradling me, sustaining me with a strength I thought had been exhausted long ago.

This cup isn’t going to pass, but I don’t have to drink alone.

I’m currently going to counseling to help me sort out the chaos, and one of the sessions recently forced me to come face-to-face with a part of myself that I thought was dead and buried. It was a part of me that I had repeatedly crammed down into a little box and hidden away, a little piece of my heart that didn’t fit nicely with my theology or the identity I had created. And when I finally opened that box and saw what was in there, and that it wasn’t dead after all, I felt anguish. I asked God why–why He had allowed this. His response?

“So you can learn grace. I made you, and I love you–all of you. You will never be separated from my love. Learn to walk in my love and grace.”

Here we go. Wobbly steps. With hands high and tears streaming down.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:8-9)

Since entering this time of darkness, I have learned to worship like never before. Before, worship was almost a chore. Something I had to work up to. But now, my heart is wide open. I go to the throne to embrace the One I love and the One who loves me. I go thinking, “I just want to show you that love you, Jesus, for the next 20 minutes.” I reach out for Him and find He’s closer than arm’s length. His presence floods my heart. There’s no direction, guidance, visions for the future, prophecy, goosebumps, or anything else generally associated with a life-altering encounter with Christ. Just the vast, constant flow of His love into this shattered vessel.

8 responses to “When the cup won’t pass from you

  1. “Then he began his teaching by saying to them, “How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs! “How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort! “Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them! “Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied! (Matthew 5)
    You are much further along the road than most and the Lord absolutely adores you. You are more loved than you can possibly imagine.

  2. “All things work together for my good.” That verse was so confusing for me three years ago when we were flung into this darkest of midnights. I wondered how in the world could this situation be for my good? I can truly say that I fully understand that verse to it’s fullest now. Experiencing the powerful and overwhelming love of our Abba Father, through any situation, is for my good! You are on the path of restoration and healing. Soon you will be able to speak of your hurt and pain as past tense. Keep taking those wobbly steps and you will find yourself in a place that you are not calling yourself broken any more!! Love you my dear!

  3. Hi April. I am glad you took my advice on the counseling because God uses the counselors to heal the brokenhearted. Even counselors that are not Christians are used as healers just as He used the Persian pagans to protect Israel. As a child of Jesus, I would like to advise you of several other very important things about this counseling process that Jesus is using to heal you. This advice comes from a friend of mine (a fellow “recovering” Christian fundamentalist like you) who is a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with an enormous positive reputation—and a truly loving person:

    1) When the feelings you are having are “that intense,” it is almost never about what is going on in your life right now. It is about something very old from long ago when you were a child. Things that are happening now are just triggering old and latent memories of terrible things from long ago.

    2) Those awful things from long ago are hurting you so much because they exist within the mind of a child. If those things had never [ever] happened to you and you encountered them in your life for the first time as an adult today, you would know immediately what to do, and they would not upset you at all most likely. However, because they do exist “only in the mind of the child” who is within you (little April), they are seen as the most terrible of monsters only because small children do not have the ability to understand and process their surroundings like adults do. It’s like the candy bar mom refuses to buy right before dinner. To the adult you, it is almost nothing. To little April, not getting that candy bar is quite literally “the end of the world.” Your pain is the pain that exists frozen in the mind of the child within you.

    3) Resist the temptation to flee from counseling because of the intensity of the pain and discomfort. Counseling tears down old defenses that no longer work and stirs up the pain and old unresolved emotions because it is the process that peels through the not-very-effective-layers of the onion the inner child has built up to shield herself from the pain. These layers worked at one time to some extent, but they are no longer working now, which is why you went to counseling. Your inner child is alone, cold, and afraid in a terrible storm of emotions in a vast desert. This is what Jesus wants you to know right now. He, you (adult April), and your counselor (together) are now walking through the wilderness in search of the lost lamb (Little April) that somehow, through a process that was probably not of her own making, left little April deserted and alone. This is why you must not abandon counseling. The lost lamb must be found. Jesus never gives up on the lamb lost in the desert. Go with him and the counselor He has appointed and find this lamb. You are on a great quest (just like the one in the Rings Trilogy) that will find little April and change your life for the better. This lamb WILL BE found as long as you stay the course.

    4) People (and especially children) run from the things that scare them and cause them pain—their inner monsters. Running takes the form of too much food, alcohol, illegal drugs, and all of that other crazy stuff. We run away in so many other ways too. Running may temporarily ease the pain, but it never solves the problem because the monster is always chasing you. My psychologist friend knows a trick. Quit running. Stop on a dime. Turn around. Face the monster down eye-to-eye. It will startle the hell out of it like a deer in the headlights. As you stare it down, always remember that this monster is some unresolved and frightening issue that exists only in the mind of a small child. If you (little April within) had never seen this monster as a child, and it appeared to you for the very first time today, it would be little more than a cockroach that you would stomp almost without thinking and walkaway to eat a piece of chocolate pie. It seems so terrible only because it exists within the mind of a child.

    5) Rather than run from the pain, sit with it and concentrate your mind on it even though you feel like you are about to jump out of your own skin. Sit with it like in a yoga exercise—and it will pass. Check with your counselor on this before doing it.

    6) If you are taking any medication and it is helping, follow your doctor’s orders and keep on taking it.

    7) I am not a licensed counselor—this is just some sage advice that my clinical psychologist friend gave to me long ago. Check all of it out with your counselor.

    8) Peace and love—it will come someday—never give up hope—never.

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