Due to some particularly gusty weather we’ve experienced lately, the lamps attached to my outer garage walls have moved. Specifically, they have succumbed to the force of the winds and shifted sideways. I didn’t know they could do that. After all, when one thinks of a light fixture, it should remain just that—no?—fixed in place?
Beneath my surface-level worries that this development would require serious repair, I could sense something else stirring as I gazed at a lopsided lamp. It didn’t take too long to realize that what I was looking at was an exterior representation of an interior reality.
Something is misaligned within me, I thought. That much of it came quickly.
The tougher knot to unravel was: What?
Maybe you live a life so hectic that you don’t have time or energy to notice—much less process—your deeper feelings. I can totally understand that from my earliest days of mothering an infant, when I couldn’t complete anything, like cooking a meal or even drinking a full cup of tea. So by no means should you take my musings as criticism.
Perhaps you simply prefer not to delve too deeply into realms of the soul. Maybe such journeys lead to scary or painful places. I get that too. I suffered severe childhood abuse that has stretched long tentacles of depression and anxiety into my adult years. Addressing those issues through therapy and pastoral ministry, year after year, has often proved overwhelming.
But I have come to believe, at least for myself, that I would rather set the terms of my self-analysis rather than have long-ignored misalignments leap out at me like a zombie from a grave. In the long run, taking the bull by the horns and asking good questions of oneself can prevent the ugly scenario of getting gored by those sharp ends. They’re coming at you, one way or another. Do you want more or less of a say in how that scene goes down?
(By the way, taking initiative with inner discomfort does not necessarily mean racing directly to an analyst’s couch. It could look like a conversation with a trusted friend, an emailed prayer request, or even a journal entry that asks, “What’s up?”—with room left for writing down a response.)
My gut tells me that the misalignment I saw through the lamp traces back to a conversation I had with someone I regularly entrust with my mental and spiritual health. I had lamented that even though one may be doing (more or less) what one is supposed to, it didn’t guarantee that one would “feel very good” day to day. My listener did not refute me, which I took as tacit agreement. She instead offered to pray about the lack of joy in my life.
The Bible considers joy serious business. English translations of the Bible mention it some 180 times. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Ezra urges worshippers who have learned how far they have strayed from the Torah not to give into mourning but instead to:
“Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV)
In the same vein, Jesus’s final words to his disciples also redirect them from their despair, specifically over his imminent departure. He urges that they stay connected to His heavenly Father like a branch to a vine, drawing upon His love, offering their obedience to His commands in return. The results He promises echo Ezra’s portrayal of the believer’s daily life:
“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
John 15:11 (ESV)
As I so often do when my current struggles do not align with the sacred text, I lay heavenly words alongside human experience and look for the inconsistencies, the gaps, the fractures.
Here is what I have found this time around.
While I love my nine-year-old autistic son with all my being, he can be a handful. Within any given week there are multiple therapy sessions to attend, meals to place before him, songs to sing, tickles to administer (he requests these incessantly), baths to give, repetitive noisemaking to endure, messes to clean, and mysteries to solve when I can’t make out what he’s saying with his limited speech. Although he is a big boy now, he requires the parental supervision of a much younger child. And I am an older parent, God help me (and He does, but it’s still exhausting).
Then there’s my own mental and physical health to attend to. I am saddled with a long history of depression, anxiety, and other issues that require constant monitoring and action. I exercise every day in order to be well and strong enough, inside and out, to run with the load I carry from morning till night. It’s no more of an option than any of the other measures I take to stay sane.
I also strive to be a good spouse to my husband, which means trying to divvy up the responsibilities of the household and do my fair share. It’s important to me to keep an organized house and set tasty and healthy meals before him when he gets home from a hard day’s work. Plus I want to remain the fun and sensitive companion he deserves and not revert to a wild-eyed woman clamping onto him in a fit of raging need.
Oh, yeah. And then there’s God. The relationship with Him that I am supposed to nurture through prayer, Scripture reading, and other spiritual disciplines.
Not to mention the time I try to devote to writing each day while my son is at school. Currently I am juggling two different projects with an eye on a third.
There’s more that I won’t go on to mention. I’d rather point out that many of the burdens I assume every day are good things. Blessings from heaven, in fact. I just find that my shoulders droop and my feet drag much of the time. Whatever Ezra and Jesus are telling their listeners to take hold of seems to be slipping through my grasp.
It seems obscene to even write these words, considering the great suffering and upheaval being endured by the Ukrainian people right now. Night after night, I have watched footage of mothers and children being stuffed like sardines onto departing trains. As they bid goodbye to the men in their lives, who must stay back and fight, I realize that these harrowing separations are compounded by the fact that many of the refugees have no earthly idea where they are going. They are simply fleeing the conflict, trying to keep their little ones alive.
And I try to imagine how much better these families would feel if they knew that a safe and welcoming harbor awaited them at the end of their journey. Somewhere governed by a wise and benevolent leader, who would provide not only for their immediate needs but could settle them into a good and prosperous life in the future. Then, suddenly, things would look a lot different. Their beloved homeland would still remain a rubble heap behind them, but they would have a place to go ahead of them. A goal, a destination. Somewhere to lay their burdens down.
I think one main reason I feel so depleted and dispirited is because I have lost sight of the fact that the God who stays back and fights for me also goes ahead and paves a way for me. While He may not spell out the exact details of what will be happening in the days to come, He does assure me that He Himself is my home, the place I may return to again and again when I become lost and exhausted along the way.
In Psalm 62:8 (ESV), the poet puts it this way: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”
Jesus, who knew a thing or two about bearing the weight of the world upon his shoulders, takes the psalmist’s promise of God’s receptivity to our outpourings in prayer a step further. It was on solid ground, and in human form, when the Messiah issued an open invitation to weary listeners to draw near. He guaranteed respite for their souls based on His assumption of the weight and worry currently bowing them low in their lives:
“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
To me, the verb “learn” here is of utmost importance. It suggests an ongoing accompaniment by a wise and benevolent Presence who knows how to structure each day’s activities so that the stronger partner is in charge, not the weaker. Could it be that much of my exhaustion stems from me pulling madly in an ill-fitting yoke, rather than me learning to hold back and wait in a custom-fitted crosspiece?
I say “wait” as if it were easy. Not at all. In Biblical Hebrew, the word for “wait” (ka-VAH – קוה) is also the word for “hope.” And to have hope, one has to do the hard work of what I’ll call “remembering in the midst.” Intentionally calling to mind the times God has come through in the past when struggling with something in the present. This act of recollection often requires that one humble oneself and ask others to help in the commemorative effort. The mind and heart can grow dull after too many rounds in the ring.
Please forgive me if my take-away from the lamp seems rather too reductive. All I keep hearing in my head is: Remember you have somewhere to go. Remember you have somewhere to go.
And in my heart, that amounts to: Remember to take your moments to Jesus. Invite Him into each one. Let Him do the heavy lifting. He’s willing and He’s able.
I wonder how I’d feel after a solid week of divesting myself of a yoke that was never mine to wear. The heavy one with a single opening that is absurdly too big.
I also wonder if I am capable of keeping up a human/divine conversation. The “pour out your heart” part I might be able to manage (I’m good at venting), but the listening in silence, or in the midst of a busy day, not so much. In my experience, God doesn’t shout so much as whisper just loud enough, persistently enough, to grab my attention, if I’m open to His input.
Oh, how I want to be more open. Don’t you?
Maybe you share my same doubts and desires about being restored to a state of wholeness and vitality through an infusion of more joy. Let me leave you (and myself) with a bit of poetry that assures us that it is, in fact, possible.
Let us place our feeble, forgetful selves, into the hands that are always stretched out to us. I think these words will help.
But they who wait upon [or hope in!] the Lord shall renew their strength
They shall mount up with wings like eagles
They shall run and not be weary
They shall walk and not faint
Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
Amen to that, Lord.
Please, more joy.