The hand of God is so strong, and His wisdom is so admirable, that He turns to our profit and advantage not only the evils which are caused by cross events, or by the world, but those which we commit ourselves, and that seem to be contrary to our salvation. He changes these poisons into medicine, these scandals into edification, and from the thickest darkness He brings out light. – Timothy Rogers, Trouble of Mind
As a single woman I have enjoyed extensive travels over the last 15 years. I’ve gone on dozens of mission trips, living in Romania for a semester and spending a summer in South Africa. I’m visited my sister and her family regularly. And I’ve enjoyed attending various conferences around the country.
Five years ago I was preparing for one of my many trips, an exciting ten-day vacation to California. The purpose was two-fold: I was graduating with my master’s degree in biblical counseling and I would be visiting with some of my best friends who were living in the area while attending seminary. I had spent the last several years flying back and forth 2-3 times annually to attend my classes, while also welcoming three new babies that were added to their family, and celebrating holidays and birthdays. I was looking forward to this vacation for months in advance.
Nothing could have prepared me for the surprising trial that unfolded leading up to my trip.
My mom had endured a bout of cancer in 2010, and soon after she began to recover, a time of great personal distress descended upon me. The months leading up to vacation were marked by severe emotional and spiritual upheaval, in addition to a prolonged illness. By the time May 2011 rolled around, I was a wreck. For a variety of reasons that are better left private, I felt isolated, depressed, and even a bit paranoid. Living alone made it easy for me to become swallowed up by these torments. I wasn’t sleeping well. I awoke many days wondering how I would even put my feet to the floor and drag myself into work. I thought I was being punished for unconfessed sins or that maybe God just didn't love me very much. I was disappointed, hurt, and greatly perplexed. Many nights, I begged the Lord to remove this trial.
Sometimes, all I could manage was to call out the name – Jesus. I fought to maintain a sound mind. I hoped time with my friends in California would be a respite for my weary soul. They had received many late-night phone calls from me during this dark season. Their love and care for me had been one of my few sources of encouragement.
The trip started as a welcome refreshment, full of graduation festivities, special dinners and late night conversations with dear ones. But during the final days of my time there, I received a final blow of news in a phone call from home, leaving me nervous and even frightened about returning. I felt alone and betrayed. Although I smiled and laughed during the last couple of days with my friends, I was plagued with anxiety about going home. At the time, I wasn’t concerned about a potential issue with the flight home, simply with the idea of actually being home.
Going back seemed unbearable to me.
After that trip, the next time I planned to fly somewhere, I was surprised to feel myself becoming nervous weeks in advance. At first I didn’t make the connection. I was surprised by this sudden fear of flying, but tried to blow it off. Each time I was faced with flying again, I was gripped by anxieties. I started coordinating trips either with my mom or by car instead. I felt claustrophobic simply being in the car on the way to the airport. My preparations for such trips took on a new course.
I prayed a lot. I made scripture cards to give me something to focus on during the flight. I compiled playlists of reassuring tunes. I strategically plotted my seat on the plane so I could be on an aisle near the front, hoping this would alleviate some of my distress. Panic dominated my thoughts in the days leading up to the departure: What if I get sick? What if I start crying in front of strangers? What if there’s awful turbulence? What if the plane starts to go down?!
I also noticed that I felt uneasy around people in general during this time. I thought my friends and those who cared about me were secretly judging me all the time. I began hiding my true thoughts and did my best to appear like I had it all together. I drove myself places so that I would not be trapped anywhere at the mercy of whomever I rode with; I wanted to have an escape plan everywhere I went. I began staying home more, avoiding social settings altogether.
It was a long and painful year. At times, I thought it would never end or that my only hope for reprieve would be to move far away and start over. But thankfully, God had other plans. Finally, slowly, the Lord restored my soul.
The heartbreak of those months was the beginning of a long walk in change. Prior to this whole experience I typically examined myself in light of what others thought of me. Fear of man and prolonged introspection are not good motivators for change. Wondering about others’ suspicions and accusations does not produce genuine or lasting spiritual fruit.
The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18). The only perfect love is the love of Christ so that better be where I tether myself. Anxiety cannot make a home in my heart if I am clinging to the love of Christ, trusting that His love will sustain me.
I still get a bit nervous about flying. And I find myself wondering what certain people think of me. But I never wish away the hurts and dark nights of that season. And that doesn’t mean I would wish those same things on someone else for the sake of a lesson learned. But for me, it was God’s goodness. I began to truly grasp the gospel and how it still applied to me as a Christian, not simply in becoming one. He showed me that my identity rested exclusively in him and that fearing man was a denial of that truth. I slowly began to know with absolute certainty, that I was loved.
Loved in a way unlike any other love I’d known.
During those days when Christ’s presence seemed only a shadow, one of those far-away friends wrote these words to me: This season may be ugly for you right now, but one day it will shine as an expression of God’s supreme love for you – a love so great He will stop at nothing to draw you closer to Himself and remove the distractions of this fallen world. Take heart, friend. As the angel told troubled Daniel, “You are greatly beloved by God.”