For the past few months I have not been feeling well. I didn’t know what was wrong, and there was nothing specific to take me to the doctor, like fever or persistent pain of unknown origin. Any pain I had I knew I could attribute to recurring arthritic forms to which I am prone. At my age there are a lot of fleeting aches and pains. What troubled me was the constant fatigue, weakness and a general feeling of not being well. I found myself increasingly fragile emotionally, breaking into tears at strange times, and finding it almost impossible to write ~ I couldn’t even form a basic premise and my brain just wouldn’t sustain the search for words.
Finally, I went to the doctor for my routine check-up, and found that there were several actual physical things going on simultaneously, each of which could have produced the symptoms I was feeling, and which cumulatively had brought me so low. We are now working on these, and I am feeling encouraged.
I have been looking for meaning in what has been happening, and I can see that even in something like this, the Lord is able to bring good. I have been given a lot of time to sit and reflect on my life. It is a long life, and during the course of it I have been many people… some of them I have not liked much, but as circumstances have taught me lessons I might not have chosen on my own, I have had to update my thinking from time to time, and I have moved on to different levels of understanding. I have come to appreciate people more, and have learned not to be so quick to judge, but to try to see people and events through the eyes of the Lord. The Lord has taught me degrees of patience and compassion. I have progressed through various levels of growth, and can now look back at myself at various stages of my life and see real change.
There are also regrets. I see that I have lived a selfish life, on the whole. This has not been conscious, but it has often been a life lived self-protectively… and therefore not as open and giving as I wish it had been. I was hurt very badly as a child, and I was hurt very badly in my marriage, and while I began life as a very open, honest and almost too transparent a child, giving love freely and joyously, I gradually learned to my sorrow that others were not always so open and honest or loving. I would retreat for a while, but because I wanted to trust I would carefully open myself to a new friendship or relationship, and then be hurt again. Eventually I stopped trusting anyone, except the Lord. While there are people I have chosen to trust in some degree, there is no one, including family, with whom I do not hold back something of myself. The only One with Whom I feel completely safe is the Lord.
I am sorry about this. I feel so ashamed that this has held me back from what I believe could have been a much happier life, and probably a much more effective ministry to others over the years. I have been so busy trying to protect myself from further hurt that I have kept most of the best parts of me locked up or hidden, for fear of further ridicule or manipulation by those who might not have my best interests at heart.
The primary One to Whom I owe an apology is the Lord. I can see how I could have been such a better servant of His. He has blessed me with so many gifts. I am going to be objective here and not hide behind false modesty just for the sake of being polite. I am intelligent, well organized, capable and competent to lead. He gave me the gift of music, of words, of genuine compassion toward others. While I did try to use the music for His glory while I had it, I have had to be pushed to use the other skills and until now they have largely been hidden behind my fear of failure which would give others the right to ridicule and belittle me. I believe these fears are the results of a childhood lived with a mother who felt that to ridicule and demean a child was the best discipline. I can easily see how my childhood upbringing has had long reaching consequences; what troubles me is that the growth I have had in the Lord has never completely been able to erase this early conditioning. Even though I have long forgiven those who have hurt me in the past, the results of wounds I received don’t seem to have simply scarred over and left memories only. There is still pain.
What am I to learn from all this? Is the pain part of God’s plan to keep me dependent on Him? Can it be that I have not yet fully forgiven those who hurt me, and that I need to dig deeper to find why I am not letting go? Do I need the stimulus of that pain in order to keep me compassionate and open to those around me also in pain? All of the above?
I cry to the Lord, like David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your way, and sinners shall be converted to You.” (Psalm 51:10-13)
Yet, will this take away my shame at living such a self-involved, careful and cautious life? I will always regret not living more joyfully, openly, throwing self-protection to the winds and telling the story of Christ with uninhibitedness. I will always regret not loving without holding something back. I will always wish I had lived more with my heart and less with my head. Not that I think it is good to follow instincts blindly without some objective examination of the situation, but, in general, life could have been much more spontaneous if I had been able to trust.
What advice can I give to others who may be living self-protected and careful lives; afraid to trust and unable to close out old chapters of life which were hurtful? I am now at the end of my life; others still have decades in front of them in which to make changes I didn’t appreciate.
I would encourage them to pursue God with all their hearts, souls and mind. Don’t let anything come before this: not families, jobs, home or pursuit of happiness. Don’t let anything deter you from seeking to know Christ and being willingly obedient to the lessons He teaches you. Lives change. Children grow up and away. People die. Jobs go away. Our bodies change. There is always change in life which forces us to make major adjustments, and we can’t ever count on things staying the same. The only thing in life which is secure is the love of God and His desire for our good. We need to develop deeper and deeper bonds with Him in order to have any security at all. Then, no matter what our circumstances, we have a foundation on which we can depend; a firm and sure footing to keep us upright and standing.
Try to teach yourself to be more open and trusting of those around you. Don’t assume that no one cares. All of us live lives which are shaped by early circumstances, and some people are not able to show their feelings, or are afraid, just like you, to get too close. Build relationships on small things; little glimpses of genuine affection which may be quickly hidden behind embarrassment or shyness. Assume that others are just not sure how to go about this friendship thing, just as you are not sure. There will be some failures, but nothing is achieved without some degree of risk. Nothing will be perfect. Offer your own best, and it may surprise you how well others will respond.
Read, read, read your Bibles. The Spirit of God is in these words, and the more you immerse yourself in scripture, the more you understand of God and His will for your life. The words begin to grow in your heart, and you cannot help but be changed if you are open and obedient to what they tell you.
I may live out my life to the end with many regrets, but God knows my heart. I know that He sees my sorrow that I have not, perhaps, been all that He had planned for me… but I know He loves me, and can trust that He will handle it all perfectly. That is Who He is, and I rest in that with all my heart.