Life has always been a scary proposition for me. I was born in 1959 so my early childhood was filled with death and war. One of my earliest memories was the assassination of John F. Kennedy and I remember snippets of his funeral on TV. That death was followed by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and I remember watching the news about those, too. All of this was overshadowed by the daily nightmare of the Vietnam War. My 21-year-old uncle was drafted, sent to Vietnam in April of 1966, was wounded and died that September. Not long after that my grandfather, whom I loved dearly, was in a bad truck accident and they didn’t know if he would survive. My cousin burned his legs with gasoline and I watched as he screamed in pain whenever they tried to move him. My aunt got cancer and we visited her in the cancer hospital – a very bleak place. We moved a lot during that time and I was “painfully shy” (words my teachers used to describe me) so adjusting to the different schools was difficult. On top of all this was the chaos of the 60’s. The rules everyone had lived by no longer applied and I listened as the adults lamented the end of the world. Life scared me.
As I listened to adults talk about these tragic events, I didn’t hear any mention of the fact that God is ultimately in control of it all and that He has a plan for this world. Many in my family told me they believed in God, a few talked about Jesus, but I never saw that their beliefs brought them any comfort. Their words and actions only expressed fear and the response to most problems was anger. Perhaps I was just never around when they actually talked about the comfort God provided them. I do remember my mother telling me that she got through life because she trusts God but we didn’t go to church, I never actually saw her reading her Bible and she didn’t teach me anything about God or Jesus, so I wasn’t able to figure out how she felt comforted by Him. I just knew that over my lifetime I knew about God but that head knowledge had not comforted me.
As a child, I found comfort sitting on my grandpa’s lap, getting hugs and being tucked into bed by my mom and spending time with my grandmother. These physical expressions of love helped me deal with my fears. But as I looked to God for comfort, I wasn’t sure how to experience the calm I found through physical expressions from a being I cannot see, someone who cannot hug me or allow me to curl up in His lap. I had no trouble finding comfort in God in normal day-to-day living, but I had not had a trial that tested my trust in Him. Then it happened.
Psalm 23:4 – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; ForYou are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
As I struggled with overwhelming fear and anxiety once again, I was determined to use the tools God provides instead of going back to the coping skills I used before. I was not going to let my fears consume me and take away the peace I had found. The Holy Spirit now dwells within me and I knew I needed to allow His power to work in me this time. I was determined to deal with this trial His way. My expectation was that I could experience the same comfort I felt from the hugs I got as a child. I trusted that God would completely fulfill my expectation. I had to do the things I had learned as I studied His Word.
Psalm 34:17 – “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”
I pray consistently throughout each day but as the weight of my struggle overwhelmed me, I had to change my conversations with God. I needed to stop talking during my prayers and spend more time listening to “hear” what He wanted me to know. One of the first things He bought to my mind was the fact that He is in the midst of answering one of my prayers. Each time I had taken this particular request to Him I assured Him that I trusted Him to work it out and I would trust Him no matter what that might look like. My daughter and I often talk about how our anticipation of an event never prepares us for how it actually feels. I slowly understood that fear is going to be there but ultimately I have to fully trust God and truly believe His promises.
2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
I was also reminded to stay out of His way. My instinct to help too often becomes enabling and it is difficult for me to sit back and watch those I love go through trials. God reminded me that trials are how He builds our character and refines us and each time I went to Him in prayer, He laid on my heart to trust Him in all of it, including those times when I can help but shouldn’t. I was also reminded that in order to get eternal results, some temporal things must happen that don’t always look promising! Most importantly, I must always keep in mind that the ultimate purpose of prayer is to build my relationship with God. Prayer is companionship with Him. My attitude about prayer must not be about asking and getting, but being with Him. As I made this the priority for my prayer life, I found comfort.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 – “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord;”
The other change I had to make in my prayer life was shifting my focus from my struggle to praising God and thanking Him for who He is and all He has given us. Shifting my thoughts from trouble and worry to thankfulness reminds me of God’s goodness which stops my inclination to blame God for allowing pain in our lives. I remember that He has a plan for this world and for me and that it is good. In his book Prayer: Does It Make a Difference Phillip Yancey includes the words of Helmut Thielicke, a German preacher offering words of encouragement to his congregation in the midst of suffering under the Nazi regime:
“One day, perhaps, when we look back from God’s throne on the last day we shall say with amazement and surprise, “If I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out His design and plan…, that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair… everything was pressing on toward His last kingly day …I would have been more calm and confident; yes, then I would have been more cheerful and far more tranquil and composed.”
Romans 15:4 – “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
I read the Bible just about every day and even when things are going smoothly skipping days leaves me feeling lost and empty. Often as I face smaller struggles, the last thing I want to do is read my Bible, but I know God wants to “talk” to us through His Word and as soon as I go to Him there, the emptiness is gone. I generally spend time reading whatever plan I am currently following; isolated quotes never helped me much until I began reading the Bible in chronological order. Using this type of reading plan, I was able to read what King David was experiencing when he wrote each of his Psalms. I saw how David went to the Lord in honest prayer to express his emotions and how he recalled God’s attributes and promises to get him through each trial. In the same way, reading God’s promises in context helps me see the problems His people were facing when He revealed the promise. After following the chronological reading plan three times I have a better understanding of the context of scripture and I can better apply them to different situations. In addition to reading relevant scripture, I know the Bible is God’s way of talking to us and with the knowledge that every word written comes from Him, I am better able to feel His presence. It’s almost as good as a hug from God!
Hebrews 10:25 – “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,”
Fellowship with other Christians is my greatest struggle, but I have started building relationships and knew I needed others during this time. Once again my daughter was my main means of support, but I also reached out to my LifeGroup from church, asking them for prayer. Their e-mail messages assuring me they would be praying for me brought comfort that I was surprised to feel. There is a big difference when you know the people praying for you really do believe in the power of prayer and that they do genuinely care about you. With these people I know the phrase “I’ll pray for you” is not just an empty phrase. They believe in it and they do it.
I experienced God’s comfort by doing the things He tells me to do: praying, reading His word, and seeking support and encouragement from fellow believers. Though I cannot see Him or receive a physical hug from Him, I experienced real comfort directly from Him. He IS with us and, if we will reach out to Him, He will comfort us.
Matthew 28:20 – “and lo, I am with you always”