“Sometimes a Light Surprises”

Today I ran as far as I could, trying to rid myself of how overwhelmed I was feeling.
I can’t run that far, friends.

My response to dealing with one hard thing is to become anxious about all the other potential hard things awaiting me. And I can pretend all I want that I’ve conquered worry and fear and anxiety. It’s just not true.

Today, as many times before, there came a point when I was exhausted from running. Exhausted from trying to stuff my fears back down into myself; trying to deal with everything quietly and on my own; trying to excuse my worrying as only an unfortunate habit.

Every time I reach this point, Phillipians 4:6-7 runs through my head, over and over. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

It sounds so easy. Just stop being anxious, Jo. Tomorrow will worry about itself. You know this.

Sometimes it seems like it’s the very things we know best with our heads that are hardest to keep solidly in our hearts.

Take a look at a hymn written by William Cowper (1731-1800), who also wrote “There Is a Fountain” and other great hymns:

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

Isn’t it an encouraging hymn? Listen again to these words: “Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, ‘Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.'”

That Cowper guy, he must have really known about worrying and what the biblical response ought to be. Well, yes, you might say that, but let’s look closer.

William Cowper was friends with John Newton–even wrote hymns with him–and there are accounts of their interaction. Cowper struggled with depression for much of his adult life, at one point even attempting suicide. John Newton encouraged him through these times, but Cowper thought that he had committed an unforgivable sin in trying to take his own life.

Eventually, he stopped attending church, although he remained close friends with Newton until his death in 1800. Several hymns written in the latter part of his life attest that William Cowper still trusted in Christ, but did he ever get rid of his depression?

William Cowper, struggling with depression, penned these words: “Yet God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice, for while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.”

Was he relieved from all worries and cares in his life? Or did he just pretend he wasn’t struggling? Likely neither was the case. Not until William Cowper met his Savior face-to-face, was he relieved of his crippling depression. We can see from his hymns that he knew the right answer, and I think that he probably returned again and again to the comfort he found in Scripture.

What can we say about dealing with depression, or anxiety, or worry, plain-and-simple? Can we fix ourselves by somehow having enough faith, or by pasting on a smile and pretending we’re not anxious?

Here’s a better question: what are we to do with our anxiety and cares, when they come? We don’t ignore them, or think God won’t listen because well, here we are again, worrying about that same old thing, worrying about a new thing altogether, not having learned the lesson from last time.

God listens, friend. Go to Him. Tell Him. 

Do you know that He meets the poor in spirit right here, wherever they’ve stopped running because they’re exhausted from handling everything on their own? My weakness, your weakness, William Cowper’s weakness–all these are opportunities to learn more and more what God’s peace is like.

And no, in this life we may never stop dealing with worry or even depression–but the point is that God is able to draw us to Himself even through tough moments when we are vulnerable and overwhelmed.

He inspired William Cowper to write a powerfully encouraging hymn, all the more powerful because the author proved in his heart (again and again) what he knew with his head.

 

Thanks for reading! Reach out in the comments or through email if you’ve got thoughts on this topic and want to have a conversation. I’d like to be praying with you:)

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Letter #8: For Jonah-days

Dear Aglet,

I’ve started writing this probably five times over the past few weeks. Just now I saw that it’s my thirteenth blog post I’ve written a draft for and not published. They’re about various, unimportant things: one is called “Purple hair dye and communion wine” and I think it’s about dressing up as Madam Mim for Halloween.

In other words, I’m not sure I have anything worth saying, but I’m writing anyway.

That last sentence may end up being my autobiography in one sentence.

I tried doing NANOWRIMO for the fifth or sixth year in a row, and all I have to show for it (so far) is one page, handwritten on front and back, about a young preacher’s wife who moves to a town called Marysville, TX, where it’s always dusty and dull and she has to do good all the time and she misses the trees in Arkansas.

I don’t like how it’s heading, so I’m retiring that story, maybe forever.

Everything ends in autobiography with me, Aglet, which is a real shame, because I’ve not gone and done a whole lot with my life thus far. Hence, I’m not sure I have anything much to say. There have been some Jonah-days here lately–days where your soul feels like the grayest of days in November, and it doesn’t seem like anything can make it better.

There have been wonderful days too–days like today, when the sun came out and various poems by e.e.cummings and Gerard Manley Hopkins kept popping cheerfully into my head and distracting me.

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

I cry about everything, mostly, even lovely things. Even while laughing, sometimes. I heard my dad’s voice and cried; heard a sad song and cried; thought about what it would be like to have cancer and cried; thought about what it would be like to have someone I loved have cancer and cried.

Worried about what might happen tomorrow, or in five years. And cried.

It’s ridiculous, especially because I have been down this road so many times, and I’ve made a choice over and over and over not to fret about what happens next (or five years from now), but instead to trust God, who’s infinitely worth trusting.

I need help trusting God and being more honest than simply stuffing my fear into my pocket and pretending that means I don’t have it anymore. Jonah-days will come to you. Whether you’re terrified of things not turning out perfectly or whether you think you’re so strong that hard times will just bounce off whatever rationalistic armor you’ve been layering on as a defense against overwhelming emotion–something will happen that’s too hard for you, Aglet.

You’ll have to decide where to run and what to do when you are overwhelmed with fear, or depression, or anger, or grief, or any of a thousand troubles that won’t be a reality anymore when we’re in God’s presence. But they’re reality now, and they needn’t be pointless. If, when you discover you’ve been horribly wrong about something important, you yield to despair, thinking you’ve ruined everything and you somehow can’t ever fix what could have been, you’ve missed something.

You’ve missed (and when I say “you” you better know I mean “I“) grace, in a way, and the precious illustration of your own desperate need for grace. Feeling heart-sick, or lonely, even feeling rage at the wrongness of the world–all these may drive us to prayer: to wrestling with how on earth lovely things and wretched things exist together, and to asking our Father to fix what’s broken, to fix us.

So yes, on Jonah-days, read Hopkins, read cummings, even read Whitman, but most of all take comfort in knowing that God is both good and great, and He blesses the poor in spirit.

Love, your grandma,

Jo

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Turk’s Cap

[Lately, I’ve been working through some things I haven’t dealt with before, but I’ve known people who have lived their lives within the framework of anxiety. So, that said, I am offering something that touches a topic I haven’t thought through as much as others have. There’s a lot I don’t know, so I ask for patience while reading this whatever-it-is. I’m hoping it’s helpful, not hurtful. Here goes.]

 

Turk’s cap, brilliantly crimson,
Perfectly formed, set against green–
It could be Christmas if it weren’t
High summer.

White moths and big tadpoles,
Hummingbirds relishing the shade
Of my father’s butterfly weed.

I wasn’t always anxious–I remember,
I’ve thought of myself as brave,
Plucky
Stouthearted
(at least I’ve wanted to be).

Maybe anxieties can be developed
Same as allergies.
You’re free, then one day, later in life, you aren’t.
You feel constrained
Helpless
Absolutely idiotic
Quite possibly you are insane.

You know the right answer even before the tears come:
Don’t worry
Do NOT fret (don’t you dare!)
God is good.

And God is so good.
But you still might cry.

What is wrong with me?  you shudder.

Nothing.
Not a damn thing
Except being human like everyone else.

Tears need no reasons;
Anxiety asks no one’s permission
Before it attacks.

Here is something
Reminding me I am not invincible.
Huge emotions besieging all my cool logic
Sometimes winning
Or subsiding,
Only forcing a few leaks from my eyes
Randomly.

I am small
and helpless.

You are great and good.

Hide me til it passes over.