In January 2011, I sat in the lecture at Bible Study Fellowship, eight-week-old-Jameson asleep in my lap, just weeks after receiving utterly devastating news. I remember one of my best friends turned around from the pew in front of me as our teaching leader said "from our deepest crisis comes highest praise." My friend knew those words were meant for me. I was in the deepest crisis I had known in my then 32 years. It was dark, disorienting, and lonely. I was at the bottom of a pit so the only place to look was up to the Lord.
About 10 months before that time, I had providentially read a book by Dr. Ligon Duncan titled Does Grace Grow Best in Winter? Dr. Duncan says the following about suffering:
"Since we live during a time in which some of the sufferings of this world have been mitigated for us, we are lulled to sleep sometimes and are surprised by suffering. When pain comes into our experience, our initial reaction is 'Oh, this shouldn't be happening!' But if what I am saying is true (that suffering is, that suffering happens, that suffering is the norm for this fallen world), none of us should ever be surprised by suffering. Instead, when it comes our way, we ought to be saying: 'I've been waiting and preparing for you. I knew you were coming, because this fallen world is full of the likes of you. I've been preparing, by God's grace and by God's Word, to glorify God as I experience you.' We must get it ingrained into our minds that suffering is an essential part of the Christian experience. You will suffer. That's the first thing you need to know. The question remains, will you suffer in a way that honors Christ?"
When I received the utterly devastating news, I was pressed but not crushed, struck down but not destroyed. The Holy Spirit brought Dr. Duncan's words to mind, and I knew. I knew that this was the suffering I'd been waiting and preparing for.
And the Lord used that suffering to do a work in me that I never even knew needed to be done. Just recently, I came across the words of the prophet Hosea:
And, I can say without a doubt that the Lord tore me so that He could heal me. The Lord struck me down so that he could bind me up.
You see, my identity had become completely wrapped up in the things that Jesus had called me to do as a wife, a mom, a homeschool mom, a servant at church and Bible study, a friend. When this news hit me, I was stripped down to nothing. I was like a house ripped apart by a tornado. The only thing left was my foundation. Praise God that in His Grace, Jesus had laid a foundation of His Word underneath the things I had been building.
Jesus wanted me to know that I am His and that therein lies my identity. That He died for me and redeemed me just because I am His child. Not because I am perfect (Lord knows I'm not!). Not because I have a law degree. Not because I weigh less than xxx-lbs on the scale or finally fit into size-X clothing. Nor because I listen to Matt Chandler and read John Piper. Not because I followed the newest Christian author's wisdom on being an amazing wife. Or drove an SUV full of carseats and little people. Or implemented Shepherding a Child's Heart to perfection. Or was a leader at an amazing Bible study. Or brought dinner to a family from church. Or watched my friend's children when she needed help.
At Hope Spoken in February, my friend Jami Nato described her experience in a way that I tracked with 100%. Before her own suffering, she thought that following a formula meant God would give you a perfect life. Kind of like: Jesus, I follow your "rules" and then you give me the American Dream wrapped up with a bow and dropped off on my front porch.
See you in eternity, Jesus.
But Jesus said, "not so fast." He stripped away everything but Himself. And he began rebuilding my identity in Him.
God did not want to let me rest satisfied in the American Dream because He didn't want me satisfied in anything less than Himself. Augustine of Hippo captured it well in his Confessions stating, "You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."
I was torn and I was struck down, but none of it was without a purpose. It was so that God could heal me and bind me up - so that I could be healed from my desire for (what I thought) was the perfect earthly life and instead find my rest in Him. So that I could start letting go of my formula for perfection and instead find my identity in Him and Him alone.
As I have walked through this next chapter of suffering, Jesus has used every bit of what He taught me in that last season of crisis. None of it has gone to waste. Jesus knew that I would need my identity to be entirely in Him because other pieces of my identity were disappearing. Through the previous season, He taught me to be vulnerable and live pressing into biblical community - two things that have made this present season bearable, and even fruitful, yielding an abundance of depth in my relationship with Jesus, in friendships and family relationships.
Closest to my heart is that in 2010-2011, God proved Himself faithful to keep every last one of His promises to me. He gave me a blessed assurance that He is who He says He is. This assurance has given me confidence when I tell my children that God won't let them down; that He is their ever-present, all-knowing father in Heaven; and that He will keep all of His promises to them. They have to be able to sense that this isn't wishful thinking but instead a rock solid confidence based on experience. It is a work that God did in me when He healed me after I was torn and struck down. I never would have chosen to walk through suffering. I never would have hand-picked the trials I've faced. Yet God is taking the deepest, darkest trenches and is working them for my good, the good of my children, and for His Glory. From deepest crisis, highest praise is rising.