When the props are removed

Have you ever felt like the rug has been completely pulled out from under you? Or have the props you leaned on been pulled away? Are the things you always depended on just not there for you any more?

Those hard times of life contain some of the greatest potential for spiritual growth.

Here are some of my prop-removal times:

Family

When I was fifteen, my mother left my father and took us children to Houston. My parents’ marriage had been floundering for some time, so I knew something was bound to happen. But the family break-up was still a shock to my system.

We also moved from a very small town (less than 200 people) to a teeming metropolis of over a million. The culture shock hit me the worst when I went to register at the local high school. I left without registering.

To further complicate matters, these were the days before Internet and cell phones. We had moved during the summer. I had no way to make new friends and couldn’t afford land line long distance calls to my old ones.

So there I was in a new and vastly different city, a new family situation, facing a new school I did not want to go to. I felt alone and cast adrift.

Ours had not been a church-going family, but my parents had let me attend services with my aunt and grandfather or friends. I didn’t know a lot, but I knew I could go to God for help. I prayed.

God answered by leading us to a Christian school and laying it on someone’s heart to pay my tuition for two years. I started attending the church connected to the school and started reading my Bible at the pastor’s urging. I had prayed and asked the Lord to save me several times over the years, but this time I finally understood and believed. My life turned totally around.

Marriage

Fast-forward four years. God provided for me to go to a Christian college, where I met my husband. When we were first married, I still had one semester left and he had two. We went to school together and worked together. I guess I thought that blissful togetherness would continue!

But I graduated, he went back to school, and we had separate jobs. I spent a lot of time at home alone. Then he took a third shift job, and I was a basket case home alone at night. Then, after graduation, his jobs required traveling. With two different moves, while kids finished their school year, my husband worked in the town we were moving to during the week and came home on weekends. Before the last move, we lived like that a whole year.

I cried and wailed to the Lord. It’s not supposed to be like this. I didn’t get married to spend so much time alone.

It’s natural to want companionship and to depend on a spouse. But God wants us to know our ultimate source of companionship, provision, protection, and security come from Him. A few years ago I shared some of what I learned through this experience in Coping When a Husband Is Away, and that has been my most-viewed post several years in a row.

Health

I’d had some health issues, but most were fixed by surgery and/or medication. But when I was 38, one morning my left hand felt numb, like I had slept on it wrong. Within three hours, my left arm and both legs were numb, I couldn’t walk, and I was having trouble using the restroom. I thought I was having a stroke.

After eight days in the hospital and multitudes of tests, the diagnosis came back: transverse myelitis. A virus attacks the spine, and the body’s autoimmune system attacks the myelin sheath around the nerves as well as the virus. Symptoms vary depending on where the virus hits the spine. Some have mild numbness and tingling; on the other end of the spectrum, some are paralyzed and ventilator-dependent.

I was fortunate that my symptoms were somewhere in the middle. With physical therapy and much prayer, I progressed from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane, and finally to my own wobbly gait.

But the body I had always depended on was changed. Continuing numbness, weird nerve signals, balance and urinary issues plagued me the first few years. My neurologist told me whatever I didn’t gain back, I’d get used to. No way, I thought. I could never get used to this.

But I did. And in the meantime, I had to draw close to God in the midst of uncertainty and limitations. In the early days, it was hard to make plans because I never knew how I would be feeling. Any outing or exertion would set me back for a day or two. I often asked God for complete healing, pleading that I could serve Him so much better without the distractions and frustrations my body experienced.

But Elisabeth Elliot’s words about limitations helped me. “My limitations…become, in the sovereignty of God, gifts. For it is with the equipment that I have been given that I am to glorify God. It is this job, not that one, that He gave me.” Limitations didn’t hinder my ministry; they defined it.

I’ve always loved this poem, which I found in Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton:

Two glad services are ours,
Both the Master loves to bless.
First we serve with all our powers β€”
Then with all our feebleness.

Nothing else the soul uplifts
Save to serve Him night and day,
Serve Him when He gives His gifts β€”
Serve Him when He takes away.

C. A. Fox

Other health issues have sprung up over the last couple of decades, reinforcing my dependence on God day by day.

Pandemic

When this pandemic first started, I was shaken. We know much more about it now, and the recovery rate is high for most. But at first, I felt like I was taking my life in my hands any time I left the house. I’d seen shortages of bread and milk before a snow forecast, but nothing like store shelves completely empty of paper products. I was grateful for directives to stay home, but worried about the economy.

Our total way of life had been affected by an unknown invader.

I had to remind myself of lessons learned before: God is in control. He’s not taken by surprise. He has promised to take care of His children.

Our church has been reading through the Old Testament prophets. God often had to deal with His people’s trust in everything else but Him. Some objects of their trust were bad, like false gods and despicable religious practices. Some were not wrong in themselves, like other nations or their own wealth and military might; but those things could and did fail them. Some were even wonderful things, like the fact that they were God’s people, and they had the temple and the holy city. But they didn’t realize that they were trusting in everything except God Himself.

Family, a spouse, a healthy, capable body, and our normal routines are not sinful things: they are God’s good gifts. There’s nothing wrong with depending on them and enjoying them.

But sometimes, instead of seeing God worth through those “props,” we lean on them instead of Him. God weans us away from depending on anything instead of Him, because nothing else will satisfy or help in the long run, and because He alone is capable and worthy.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

When our props are pulled away, we’re shaken for a bit til we remember the One who never fails. He may not answer prayer just the way we’d like, but we learn to trust His will. When we know God and rely on Him, we find Him abundantly faithful and capable. Then we come to know Him better and our faith grows even more.

Have you ever struggled with the loss of something you depended on and learned to lean more on God? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

IMG_0653

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home, Inspire Me Monday,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

(On a side note: The original graphic I had here showed feet with clouds underneath and a building off to the side. I wanted to convey the idea of free-falling, the way we sometimes feel when props are taken away. It didn’t occur to me until Facebook showed only a grey area in place of the picture that perhaps that image might have been disturbing to some. It was obviously photoshopped and edited by the person who originally made it (I found it in the WordSwag app). But it could have conveyed the idea of jumping off a building. We knew a family whose son committed suicide that way. I didn’t realize that connotation at first, and I apologize if that was a trigger or unsettling for anyone. Also, if the graphic you clicked on to get here had a different picture than the one above, this is why I decided to change it.) Β 

37 thoughts on “When the props are removed

  1. It’s so easy to put our trust in props because they are often visible and *appear* to be worthy of our support. But yes, eventually they all can break; they have weak spots. I’ve had several props slip out from under my feet through the years too. But God is constant. Yes, “we find Him abundantly faithful and capable.” Very grateful for his faithfulness when other things seem to fall away!

  2. A very well written post, Barbara. I feel as though I have just walked through your life with you. Thank you for sharing it with us and how God has been faithful to you through the years. It is interesting to read Elisabeth Elliot’s quote here about “gifts” because when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and God began removing those props of good health and being able to do what I wanted when I wanted I eventually came to the point of recognizing that this “new normal” for me was His gift to me and the only way He could be glorified from it was my acceptance of it. It took me a while, but eventually I did come to the point of acceptance and surrender to His will and as I look back over the last 15 years I understand better how His Word is true…that He means it all for our good and His glory. Because of that experience I know that the major reason that the pandemic has not gotten me down, is that I learned that God is in control…whether it looks like it or not. And He will always do what is best for His children…He is always faithful.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Dianna. I think another problem I face is that I think I have a quota of trials, and surely I shouldn’t be expected to endure any more. πŸ™‚ And then something else comes up, and I have to apply the lessons in trust all over again to a new situation. I’m grateful for God’s patience with me.

  3. Hello Barbara, I love this post. Thanks for sharing your story. I think that the big thing that pulled the run out from under my life was when my husband had a brain aneurysm two and a half years ago. My husband recovered, but our family has yet to do so. The behavior of some my children and extended family broke my heart and left me alone and without support as I tried to deal with the situation. God was my support. He still is. Little by little, and sometimes with giant steps, his healing is filling empty spaces. Thanks again for this post. God bless you this week.

  4. Barbara, you are an amazing woman. To have been through all of your trials and still be able to say “Put your trust in God” is a testament to your strength and courage. God’s love is a rock we can depend on. It can never be taken away from us like props can.

    One prop I depended on for most of my life was my indomitable mother. I always felt that she would be there to watch out for me. At the end of her life, I was the one watching out for her. During those trying times, I thought often of the same Psalm you show here: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”.

    • Oh Laurie– I’m not strong and courageous at all. The fact that I flail a bit when any prop is removed is an indication I’ve been leaning on it too much. But we find His strength in our weakness.

      I’m thankful to hear your testimony about your mom. My mom passed away suddenly in her late 60s, and my husband’s mom had a very slow decline and passed in her 90s. The lady I often called my spiritual mom passed away a year ago, and this Mother’s Day it just hit me that I don’t have any “moms” any more. I guess I’m supposed to *be* the mom at this stage of life. πŸ™‚ But I miss the older ladies I’ve always looked up to for advice and prayer support.

  5. Barbara,
    Like you, I’ve had seasons wherein God has removed several, or all of the props. It’s as if He wants to get my undivided attention. There is no distraction to turn to…just me and Him. Those are the times of most profound growth, I’ve found. I have learned to count my weakest times as those that have brought the most inner strength because I was forced to depend upon God. Great reminder!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    • Thank you for sharing, Bev! Yes, I’ve found some of the hardest times to lead to the greatest growth, too. Someone recently likened it to having sore muscles after a workout–our “faith muscles” get sore, but are strengthened in the long run.

  6. Barbara, I was near tears reading about all the struggles you have faced. It just seems like too much for one person! But then what a beautiful quote by Elisabeth Elliot to sum up a wonderful attitude on our limitations. I will try to keep that in mind, especially during these turbulent times.

  7. Barbara, what a good post. Love all the examples. It can be easy to depend on the props and think they can give us all we need, including stability and safety. But God never designed these good gifts of friends, marriage, jobs, and more to supply all our needs. We must look to him. I think this is a lesson we learn over and over again in life. One time is never enough. I wish it were, but it doesn’t seem to be.

  8. This is a lovely post & testimony. Thank you for trusting us with it. I admire your resilience. Just last week I wrote about a career-busting event that almost took me out, but only because I depended on it my job to define me. God adjusted my life in such a way that I had to learn forgiveness, confront bitterness and pride, release the pain of rejection, and fully trust God. It’s been a hard couple of years, but I finally feel like He’s brought me out into a large place (Ps. 18:19) and I want to stay here for a while. Thanks for inviting us to share.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Suzette. Wow, that sounds like a big adjustment. No wonder it took a couple of years to work through it all. I’m thankful God has brought you out into that larger place now.

  9. Your testimony brought tears to my eyes. My sister has stage 4 colon cancer and is suffering through side-effects of radiation. She has drop-foot and cannot walk, she is in constant nerve and back pain, and her sight has suffered as well. My husband has an auto-immune disease and is a colon cancer survivor but has long term issues with that as well. We live in a multi-family apartment house with my mum who is aging. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming for me. Your post today reminded me that God knows who I am and put me here for a reason. Just as he put you where you are for a reason. His faith in us is unwavering so my faith in him is unwavering as well. And if I need comfort I know I can turn to him.

  10. Pingback: When the props are removed | Stray Thoughts – Reformed faith salsa style

  11. We are all being shaken, aren’t we, and life has changed to the point where we can’t anesthetize ourselves with all the things that used to work. My prayer is that, the props having been kicked out of the way, we will look to God in ways we have never done before.
    I so appreciate your testimony of faithfulness to Him.

    • Thank you, Michele. What a good way to put it–that we anesthetize ourselves with so many other things. That’s my prayer, too, for myself and loved ones as well as our country.

  12. Barbara, I so appreciate you sharing about your experiences. Yes, God removes the props, those things we lean on instead of Him. But it always due to His grace and mercy as He knows they will fail us. I am so grateful He brought me to lean on Him alone. He is our only answer in these shifting days we are living. What a beautiful testimony of His faithfulness to your life!

  13. Barb, there’s so much wisdom in your words. And you’re so right. If I’m leaning on anything besides God, He will remove that thing. It was during our journey through the valley of infertility when I realized I was leaning on my own capability to get pregnant . . . as if I could really control that. He used those years to bring me to the end of myself, to help me more deeply understand His amazing love for me, and to relinquish control of my life and desires to Him.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful testimony.

  14. Barbara, what a wonderful story of God’s faithfulness in your life. You’ve been through so much, and your perspective is so encouraging! Most recently, I’d have to say that losing both my parents last year (and the months prior to their deaths) definitely forced me to rely on God’s comfort and wisdom like never before. I depended a lot on my dad for insight and perspective, so I am missing him acutely these days. But you’re so right … losing them both has required me to depend on God … without Him, I’d be so lost.

    • That’s hard, especially to lose them both so close in time, on top of failing health beforehand. My mom passed about seven years after my dad, and though I had been adult on my own for years, I felt “orphaned.” I know what you mean about how lost we’d be without God leading us to Himself.

  15. First of all, thank you for sharing parts of your life as illustrations of your message. I appreciate your vulnerability and also the chance to get to know you a little better. I have relied on props throughout my life and have discovered the goodness of God when they were removed. I believe I didn’t always realize that I was dependent on something other than God until it was gone. This was such a beautiful post.

  16. Thank you for your testimony of God’s faithfulness – so many of the scriptures you shared are among my favourites – Psalm 46:1 is on my Homepage. There are those seasons of loss and fear when our faith is activated to depend on God’s word every day – and he is so faithful to bring us through. The whole motivation for me to start writing is based on, in faith, seeing possibilities in our situation rather than the restrictions. I will have to copy the Elizabeth Elliot quote!

  17. I am so sorry that you had to go through these trials, Barbara. Your experiences and the fact that you share them with us give us hope and comfort that God will be our ever present help in our own times of trial.

  18. His amazing strength & love get us through don’t they Barbara! Your dependence on God shines through!
    Yes, to answer your question; I have been through this & am still going through it! Though I didn’t think I depended on my strong healthy body or took it for granted until I became so fatigued I couldn’t do what I used to do…
    After being wrongly diagnosed for 3 years, when the diagnosis of 3 autoimmune diseases finally came through at once (one gives chronic pain) it was a relief to know but also knew I was in for the long haul for none are curable at this time!
    I have learnt that His strength is my joy & His joy is my strength!
    Bless you,
    Jennifer

  19. Thank you so much for sharing your experience so openly and honestly, Barbara. It really is amazing how God works through the circumstances and experiences of our lives to bring us closer to Him. You’ve shared so much wisdom in this post. I found your view of recent events with the focus on God’s sovereignty very comforting. Thank you so much for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Community. Take care and I hope the week ahead is full of blessings.

  20. I think that when times are tough, faith can pull us through if we let it. Sometimes life needs to be shaken and doubts enter in so that we are stronger afterwards. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

  21. Pingback: End-of-June Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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