"...I found joy amidst my pain, helplessness, and hopelessness when I let go of my will, dreams, and desires, and told God that all I wanted was closeness with Him."
My first experience of finding joy and peace during times of suffering came after years of dealing with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fruitless pursuit of relief from insomnia, migraines, self-loathing, and loneliness. On top of the physical, and health-related challenges, I had emotional challenges too.
I was not only holding onto a dream of having a husband and family, but I was also trying to redeem my past mistakes that led me down a dark path that only God could redeem. It was in the midst of this darkness that I started to seek the Healer instead of the healing, the Giver of every good gift and not just the blessings.
I’ve considered myself a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ since I was 4 years old. At that age, I trusted in Jesus’ promise of everlasting life that can never be lost (John 3:16). I knew that I could not attain eternal life through good works or being a “good person,” but only through Jesus’ offer of that free gift of eternal life (Ephesians 2:8-9).
However, it took a series of mistakes and failures to realize that I had always kept God at an arm’s length.
Even though I did keep Him at arm's length, I knew that I was going to heaven when I died because of His promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him. But I still wanted to prove my worth by following a list of do’s and don'ts instead of living by the power and freedom Jesus gave me through the Holy Spirit.
I was afraid to allow my sin and deceitful heart to be exposed because that would prove to me that I could never be worthy on my own. However, that was a lie from the Enemy. God wants us to invite Him to search our hearts in order to transform us and empower us to live in the freedom of grace that He offers us on a daily basis (Psalm 139:23-24). God wants us to live in His strength, and not our own strength. This is the major theme of the book of Romans. God has redeemed us from the enslavement of sin, and from the pursuit of trying to prove our own righteousness.
One thing I have recently learned is that “living in the flesh” doesn’t just mean living an immoral life. It is trying to obey rules and be good people in our own strength. It is focusing on rule-following and trying to muscle through life instead of focusing on following Jesus through the power He has given us through the Holy Spirit.
Avoiding sin by “white knuckling it” is just like trying to not think about a purple elephant when someone tells us not to think about a purple elephant. The more we focus on not sinning, the more we sin.
Paul demonstrated this struggle through his writing in Romans 7:15-20. The power of the Holy Spirit is the only way we can overcome the struggle of sin and its grip on our lives. We will never be sinless in this life, but we can continue the fight to overcome the power of sin by increasing the connection we have with the Holy Spirit.
Learning about the difference between living in the flesh versus the Spirit, was a game changer for me.
It enabled me to see that the way I was living was like the walking dead, without peace, joy, and love. As I began to live through the strength of the Holy Spirit within me, cultivating my relationship with God through an intimate and vulnerable connection, I began to feel alive, free, and more confident.
Romans 8:13 (NKJV) For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
My reliance on God was the missing factor in my life. It led to a constant pursuit to be “good enough” by focusing on my good works and effort instead of dependence on God to transform me. However, the end of that pursuit to be “good enough” led to failure and self-loathing.
But in our society, that pursuit is so “intuitive” for all of us isn’t it?
It was definitely a difficult concept for me to grasp coming from a family of police officers and military members. The best way I can describe what it’s like to try to “live by the law” is that it leads to enslavement and the constant fear of failure. However, living by the Spirit is sort of like having a dance partner where we are involved, but are not in the “lead.” This means embracing the state of being unconditionally loved by the One who matters the most.
This unconditional love is unchanging knowing everything we have ever done and will do in the future. It is a love without disappointment, because God can’t be surprised, and you need to be surprised by something to be disappointed. Instead, if I focus on God’s love for me, I can allow the darkness within me to be exposed to Him, knowing that no matter how dark it is that I’ll never be rejected. I can trust God with my pain, suffering, and failures. It is within God’s love and allowing myself to become vulnerable to Him through surrender that I am freed from the power of fear.
I found joy amidst my pain, helplessness, and hopelessness when I let go of my will, dreams, and desires, and told God that all I wanted was closeness with Him. Once I did that, I came to realize that closeness with God was far superior to any goal or desire that I chased after. So I began to seek and chase after God. This was the first time that I can remember feeling joy and peace when my circumstances were grim and miserable.
I had resigned to living a single life. I did not think that I would find a partner that would draw me closer to God. I continued to pray for a partner but didn’t want to get my hopes up. Everything I had experienced in the past with men is that they pulled me further away from Him, and I didn’t want that. I certainly didn’t think that I would ever have children.
Fast forward several years later, and God sent me a partner who sharpens me and draws me closer to Him. A partner who inspires me to dig deeper into the Scriptures and apply them in ways that unlock more of my heart and humble me; someone else whom I could learn to trust and become vulnerable. God also gifted me with a baby girl. This is the second moment in my life where I felt the collision of joy and pain.
My entire pregnancy, I would categorize as mild suffering. It definitely could have been a lot worse, but nausea, contractions, insomnia, and minimal energy were pretty much a constant thing. But just like my struggles with a TBI and PTSD, there was also another emotional component. Worrying about what could happen to me or the baby adds an additional layer of stress.
I have a new appreciation for motherhood, and my heart goes out to all of the women who have minimal support or are single mothers.
The miracle of life that God wove within me was more than enough to break my heart wide open and expand it in ways only God can do. Every second of the pregnancy, the delivery, the pushing, and the pain were more than worth the amazing gift that God provided. This beautiful baby has done nothing to earn my love, yet, I love her because she is my daughter. This type of love helps me understand God’s boundless love for me just a little more. The moment Zoe (which means, “life” in Greek) arrived I had to begin fighting off worries and fears. I have this precious gift from God, this vulnerable newborn. Am I equipped to take care of her? Can I protect her from the evils of the world, the potential injuries, illnesses, and traumas? This is another layer of surrender, trusting that God is her protector and provider. It also adds another layer of dependence on Him to provide for the treasure that He gave me.
God is truly the Giver of every good gift.
It is in surrender and pain where the best gifts can be found. It is as if God opens up our minds, and eyes to see beyond our pain and to experience more of His love. I wasn’t ready for the gifts that God was waiting to give me even 2 years ago. I needed to invite God to heal my wounded heart, my self-loathing, my selfishness, and my independence from Him. I have truly drawn closer to God in the pain, loneliness, and darkness.
What will you decide to do when suffering comes your way?
Will you seek the Healer, the Giver, and the Provider? Will you find joy in your pain and peace through the process? I know that you can and that God will be with you every step of the way.