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:
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.
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.
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 —
Then with all our feebleness.
Nothing else the soul uplifts
Save to serve Him night and day,
Serve Him when He gives His gifts —
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.
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.
(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.)