Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hope and a Boat

Christmas and hope seem to go together. There is a sense of anticipation, children hoping for that special gift under the tree, parents hoping for that holiday bonus. Others are looking forward to vacation time, or maybe family coming into town. Even the nativity story is full of hope and excitement. This season there are a few more smiles, cheery music, and people seem to go out of their way to do something nice for someone else. Or at least that's what the Hallmark movie tells us (btw I have nothing against Hallmark Christmas movies). 

Now imagine you are in a sailboat in the middle of the ocean, the wind is quiet, the water is still. It's dark, clouds cover the moon only allowing a little light at a time. You are alone on this boat, not another boat or person in sight - adrift at sea. You've tried to raise the sails, you've tried to row your way to shore, you've yelled for help so long you've lost your voice. You've given up on being rescued.  You're exhausted, and all you see around you is a sea of impossibility. You sit there waiting to die, surviving only by the will of life - the very sound of silence is becoming too loud. That is a picture of lost hope - and I've been there. At times it didn't even seem like I was in a boat, more like I was just treading water, wondering when my legs would give out. The idea of just sinking into the abyss becomes more and more attractive and feels like the only way I would ever find rest. It's a scary place to loose hope, but it does happen - and sometimes no matter how hard you try to keep "surviving" you just can't keep it up anymore. When you are in that place you could be in a room surrounded by a hundred people, and yet you feel all alone.

As a Christian it's a hard place to be. You not only are suffering from this hopelessness that feels like it's swallowing you alive - but you are wrestling with the guilt of what all your Christian friends are saying. Like Job's friends who had an answer for all of Job's suffering. You are questioning everything - your salvation, God's existence, your purpose, your very reason for being alive. Some people around you look down at you - tell you to have "more faith" - others wonder (some out loud) what sin you won't let go of.  The weight of guilt and regret weighs you down - and nothing seems fair. 

Whatever the reason for you being in this place, you need to know that you are not a "bad" person for being there, and you are not the only one that has been there. Too many plastic faces and painted smiles have given this false reality that everything and everyone is "fine" - when the truth is they are not. How can we live in a fallen world, surrounded by tragedy and pain and all be "fine"? We all struggle with stuff - and sometimes that stuff becomes so great that it knocks the very wind out of our sails. 

Let me tell you right now YOU ARE NOT ALONE! No matter how far you feel, how empty and lost, how dark the sky - YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Jesus was in the boat with the disciples - and HE IS WITH YOU TOO! And if you could see through the dark and the fog you would see so many others in their own boats drifting too. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10

So here's some things I want to share with you about how I battle this. I don't claim that these are the be all end all answers - but I will tell you they have helped me. 

1) Don't be afraid to ask for help
 This means you have to admit you need help and I know that is hard to do. I am all about "doing it myself" since I was probably three years old. But this you cannot do alone. Go see your doctor, sit down and just share what you're feeling. If you can't do it - ask a friend to go with you. Other people around us see a lot more than we do about ourselves, and a good friend will be a true mirror and tell you what they really see. Your doctor is a good place to start.

2) Start talking 
Find a counselor, preferably a Christian counselor - there are low cost and sometimes free offices, don't let $ be the deciding factor. Sometimes even your insurance will help pay the cost. You need to find someone who is a professional you can just unload on without any question of repercussion or judgement. Call a church, ask if they have counseling - if you aren't sure where to start. This is important for your wellbeing - silence makes it worse.

3) Pray
Yep - I went there. How do you pray when you feel like no one is listening? Or you're pretty mad at God right now for where you are at? Just do it. Praying isn't about be eloquent, or fancy, or even really having to make sense. Praying is communicating - and if right now the only way you can communicate is yelling - then do it. God can handle it - He can take it. What if you haven't spoken to Him in years? Doesn't matter. God has been sitting by the phone waiting for you to call since the day you hung up. He hasn't changed His number and He's not going anywhere. If you can't talk, then write it. Just like you'd write a letter - either hand written or type on the computer. He's waiting, and He's listening. 

4)Soak in the Word
God's word is powerful. It speaks to a place so deep we sometimes aren't even aware it's there - until we need it again. Read the Psalms - but find a more contemporary translation like "The Message", or the "The Voice". These newer more modern translation just bring the Psalms to a more conversational perspective. David's complaints, his praises, and his woes seem very relatable. I'm not saying these are the only version to ever read - I'm just saying find a translation that helps you. What if you reading is too hard right now? Then listen to the audio - play it while you are sleeping, or doing housework, driving - working on something. Here's a great Bible website I use that has a ton of translations and audio  God's word will revive your worn out heart, and it will seep down into those dark places. And when that one verse leaps out at you - write it down- post it on your wall. Hold on to those promises - because God's word does not return void! Moses, David, Samuel all reminded God of what His word said - and you can do that too. When you start to feel like there is NO future - you go back and read Jeremiah 29:11 - God promises you a HOPE and a FUTURE! 

5)Don't isolate yourself 
It's so easy to become a hermit, to think that you don't want to burden others with your sadness. You don't feel very sociable, so what's the point? The Bible says Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Genesis 2:18. We need each other, for encouragement, for accountability, for help. When Saul went after David he ran and hid in the caves, but God didn't let him be there alone. He sent others that were "outcasts" - and they found a way to help each other. Remember that we are all broken - some are just better at hiding it than others. 

6)Play uplifting music
When I'm down it's amazing what a difference some uplifting music can do to help me. I'm partial to Christian music - because of the truth of Christ, and the hope of the scriptures. I don't recommend country, it tends to drag me down - all the heartbreaking, losing your truck, your dog, your wife. Even if you don't feel like singing, or listening - or you just want to crawl in bed, pull the covers over your head and sleep the day away - play music. It's funny how much we soak in without even knowing.  Here's a great song that speak truth and hope 

7)Don't be afraid to dream
When you experience uncontrollable circumstances that knock you off your feet - it's hard to stand up again. Even when you do finally stand you don't quite trust your footing anymore. You are kinda waiting for the next earthquake, with one eye shut - bracing yourself for the next "bad thing". It's hard to look forward when you're so busy just trying to remember to breathe. But without a future we have no direction, no reason to keep going. I will admit it is scary to dream again - it is scary to put a little hope into an unknown future, especially when you realize how quickly life can change. But you have a God who loves you, and as Hebrews 13:8 says "Jesus Christ is the same yesterdaytoday, and forever." Though your circumstances may change - GOD WILL NOT. Set little goals, maybe just a few things for the day or the week - with a reward at the end. Something to look forward to creates hope and though hope is scary, we need hope! "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" Proverbs 13:12a 

8)Help someone else
I know this seems like an impossible task. That getting up some days is a challenge -and getting dressed and showered that day is a feat on its own. But I'm not asking you to lead a Bible study or go adopt ten children from Africa - helping someone doesn't have to be that big. Maybe it's just taking the shopping cart back for that mom struggling with her toddler and groceries, or maybe it's sending a card to someone you know who lost a loved one - and just saying "I understand". Maybe it's holding the door for the widow, or smiling at the tired bank teller, or maybe just paying for the car behind you in the drive-thru window. When you help someone else it puts a crack in those dark clouds, gives a little wind to those sails. It doesn't have to be much, but as you start to look outside yourself - you will begin to heal. 

I wish I could say it will all be OK - but I can't. Or that one day you will wake up and it will all be better-but I can't. I do want you to know that even if you can't see the shoreline - it's there. Somedays will be great, and some not. It's a daily challenge to fix your mind on the right things: Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8

If you need prayer - I will pray for you! Prayer is powerful and we need each other to pray. I need your prayers! In fact I covet them! This world is too hard to walk alone, and no matter where you are we can pray for each other! 

Friend, please know YOU ARE NOT ALONE - THERE IS HOPE - and as long as you have breath in your lungs - GOD HAS A PURPOSE FOR YOU here on earth. Hold on - the wind will blow again, and your boat will move again! 

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For theLord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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