A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh (Article 6)

swirly girl

A few years after becoming a Christian, I adopted Psalm 16 as one of my favorite Scriptures and over the next 20 years slipped it into as many classes and lessons as possible. (Kind of like Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld smuggling spinach into her children’s cookies and pizza – there’s really no limit once you get the hang of it!) The entire psalm is a joyous celebration of God’s personal work in the lives of His ‘saints’, and I could always wax eloquent on verses 6 – 7, in particular:

Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Yes, I would proclaim, He has set the boundary lines for me (and likewise for all of you): there are not-to-be-mine experiences beyond those lines, things I may never do or know this side of life. But that’s totally fine, because within these lines, what gifts He’s given me! What a ‘pleasant place’ it is to live under the umbrella of God’s love! And my inheritance – all losses restored, all tears wiped away, all of Heaven revealed and given — means I’ll be eternally blessed, far beyond whatever I might have ‘missed’ on earth. So what is there to lament, and what is there to fear, knowing that “He is at my right hand” and “in [His] presence is fullness of joy”?

I preached those words through years of change, loss, pain, infertility, marriage struggles, shaky beginnings and sorrowful endings – preached them with every fibre of my being, with my mustard seed of unshakeable faith…

…until the day came when I couldn’t read my favorite psalm without bursting into tears.

By 2005, it seemed the boundary lines had dissolved, the inheritance had disappeared, and the joy was but a distant memory. My treasured words tasted like sand in my mouth. For over twenty years, I’d been running a subtly-but-inevitably marked path, twisting and unpredictable, yet perfectly planned by my loving Father. Now I found myself spent and lost in an unmarked wasteland, a desert without tracks, sign posts, or horizon. I’d run from laughing to weeping, from the peak to the pits, as if I’d taken a wrong turn on a high pass and plummeted over a cliff, landing hard in the middle of nowhere.

And that is why, during the time of my life when I needed God most, I struggled as never before to read the Bible and pray.
Here’s what would happen. Every time I closed the door and knelt to pray, I’d weep uncontrollably and find no comfort. So I began to avoid times of prayer; it always spoiled my day and left me puffy-eyed and ragged.*

Every time I tried to read the Bible, memories of long-gone ICOC days would surface. There wasn’t a book in the Bible that didn’t produce this effect, as I’d either taught lessons or heard lessons from every page of the Scriptures. (It’s true. Even now I can flip through its pages and recall classes, Bible Talk outlines, staff meeting lessons, sermons and workshops from virtually every page of the Bible. Even Leviticus.)

The stirred memories would be intrusive, as even ‘neutral’ or ‘happy’ memories would quickly morph into painful losses, and other passages brought back uncomfortable reminders of how often the Bible was used by leaders to admonish, rebuke and ‘challenge’, rather than inspire, comfort and encourage. Either way, these memories would cloud my mind from receiving any fresh insight. Even reading from different translations didn’t help, as my well-instructed brain could –and would – reconstruct many passages right back into the New International Version, and there I’d be again, stuck in a crushing memory loop and unable to read or pray myself to even a little perch of faith.

I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. Being lost in a spiritual wasteland without our strongest spiritual weapons breeds deep insecurity, anguish, and remorse. And like this quote says,

“Remorse sleeps while fate is kind, but grows sharp in adversity.” **

Remorse is a poison that robs us of peace and self-esteem. I wasn’t sure what I regretted, but whatever I’d had with God seemed lost forever.

Fortunately, I had (and have) some faithful friends who prayed fervently and often for me and my family. Simply knowing that these prayer warriors still loved us and believed in us brought me no small measure of comfort. My mother-in-law is one of them. I know she prays for us every single day. Two dear friends in Vancouver, Cynthia and Louise, are the others. Their prayers literally kept me alive, and carried us through our long tsunami of adversity. For them, I wrote this poem a few years ago.

Extension

Pray me through another year
please
understand it’s not I don’t believe:
I do believe, I do —
are angels rising as I speak?

Just pray me through this barrier,
and understand it’s not that I don’t care:
I care – I truly care
but it’s so hard to shape a prayer
when lips won’t speak
the frozen language of the heart.

So pray me through the layers
that have swallowed up excuses,
all these layers that have snowed upon my soul:

I do believe, I only question –
was it Grace gave me direction,
or did I get lost in weather of my own?

So pray me through confusion,
through the struggles that consume me,
through the blizzards that have snow-blinded my soul,

and take me to the moment
when the snow was falling lightly —

every path an invitation to explore.

So, in lifelong gratitude to my known prayer warriors, and to others who’ve prayed for us over the years, and for everyone who needs the cover of others’ prayers, I extend this poem.

“Extension” originally meant I was asking for another year of prayers to cover me as I struggled to pray faithfully, Now that I’m stronger (in His grace), I want to extend this poem to you in hopes that it will inspire the weak to take heart and the strong to pray with renewed zeal for those who have fallen, drifted, or broken away from the God of all comfort. Praying faithfully for others is the kindest, strongest, most wonderful thing we can do for anyone. Especially those who are struggling to pray at all.

Because God listens, He rescues, and He will turn our weeping into laughter and joy. It just might take a little – or a lot — longer than we think it should.

*I was able to send up short prayers-on-the-go, like “Help! — which were better than nothing. But I missed being able to pour my heart out to God and feel His arms around me as I prayed.

**Words from Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was a brilliant thinker, musician and philosopher, both a Calvinist and a Roman Catholic during his life, although he disagreed with major tenets of both faiths (original sin and the ‘total depravity of man’) and was lambasted for his beliefs. Anyone who writes a book called “The Reveries of a Solitary Walker” earns automatic approval points in my book, though I must confess I haven’t read his enticingly titled book – yet.

35 replies »

  1. Thank you, once again, for putting your experience into words. You are a humble and genuine person and we are sorry you had such a treacherous journey. You are influencing others greatly with your continued blogging.

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    • P. S. And, no, you most certainly are not the only person to experience such conflicts of emotions when trying to read the bible. You may be the only person to put it into words so eloquently, though.

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    • Hi there Marilyn.
      Thank you for the outpouring of your heart.
      I came to realize since my daughter (28) started reading the bible how scared I am of the scriptures as they were used for such incorrect reasons. I do not feel anything at the moment, having gone through the anger, frustration and deep depression following my exit from the IcOC after 22 years. Like you there are no outpouring of my heart to God other than just the odd “word” and “comment” about Him here and there. I hope this gets better. in the meantime my son (10) goes to bed without the Word of God, unlike my three girls have done over the years. I do attend church every now and then but prayer and bible reading is nowhere close.
      I thank you for your writings once again.

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      • Thanks for sharing, Glynis. I hope you’re able to start moving forward and working through all the layers you describe. It WILL get better! Just don’t let go of God’s hand — He is still with you, for you, and in love with you. Try to remember that every day. I will pray for you.

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  2. Marilyn, I can’t begin to articulate how strongly I agree with your statement, “Praying faithfully for others is the kindest, strongest, most wonderful thing we can do for anyone. Especially those who are struggling to pray at all.” I have been on both sides of this, and truer words have never been spoken…prayer IS the most loving thing a person can do for another! An elder prayed over me tonight during worship, and the spirit of depression that was on me for the last two days fled immediately. It could not remain in the presence of God, and all I did was receive the prayer and say ‘amen’ in agreement. Oh how I wish I’d done this for so many others when they were struggling years ago instead of correcting them and talking too much.

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  3. Marilyn, I have been reading the Message version because of the refreshing phrasing and perspective. I still look at the NIV as a parallel for studying. It enables God to speak before my memory finishes the sentences I am familiar with.

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    • Thanks for sharing your ‘solution’ to this association problem. I’ve been reading several versions at the same time and find this to be a fresh approach, esp. as I love comparing word choices and their connotations. I’m over the worst of the problem by now, thankfully, so I can include the NIV in my reading, too..

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      • Hi Marilyn
        Thank you for your sharing. Spent the last few hours reading your story upto now. I think I have been overwhelmed with loss and grief to the extent it just paralyses. I too have found prayer and bible study difficult. Perhaps much of that is my own fault, my own sin. But when I “became a disciple” my heart was so much softer, open, trusting, submissive and loyal. Now I’m jaded, numb, indifferent, distrustful, faithless and yet still up to this point strangely loyal. I suffer with depression and anxiety myself, have previously taken medication but currently do not. Sometimes I wonder if I am bi-polar but am currently persuaded it is more likely associated with addictive sin and fluctuating between high and low levels of dopamine (as taught by David Bruce in his Men/People of Honour programme).
        There is so much to process it is just so much easier not to. I don’t think I have ever read Henry’s entire letter (certainly not recently). Before I came across your blogs I tried to read Charlie Fordham’s 9.5 thesis. Got to the third one and had to stop. It is so tiring going there. But I don’t want to just keep burying the unwanted sausage under the carpet. It’s just so hard to digest!
        A couple of years ago, I did decide to read some of what would certainly have been previously considered spiritual pornography. I read “Bewitchment – ‘You Foolish Galatians'” by Timothy and Carla Williams, a couple that were involved in the movement in the late 1970’s before they decided to leave because of concerns they had even then. I reasoned that daring to read such things was a win-win: I’d either be persuaded by their reasoning and saved from the alleged legalism that the icoc and coc were guilty of or I’d disagree and I would be prepared to answer any one who used their points. It’s just so exhausting, especially in isolation.
        I know I shared the same concerns regarding the old ICOC. I suppose I have new concerns. They concern life AND doctrine. Would I be right in thinking Henry’s letter focused on the “life” issues? Well, I’m trying to focus on both now. It’s clear Charlie Fordham certainly reevaluated both. For me it’s still a sausage burried under the carpet (something I did once when I was five). Why? Well Charlie was the evangelist who converted me. The sister who originally met me also left as did the brother who met me the second time and my first discipled. 11 years ago my life was too busy to reevaluate my life and doctrine so it was just easier to persuade myself that the problematic “life” aspect of the church had been sorted. Now I’m not so sure that we ever had either. I don’t think you can truly have one without the other. So I’ve sort of been on the fringe for a good few years, probably longer. A strange sort of loyalty but a whole lot of distrust. It’s hard to truly work through all this whilst I’m still connected (even if only by a thread) to it. So perhaps it really is time to leave but where to go?

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      • Andy, thanks for sharing so vulnerably. I don’t know what to say except don’t give up. And maybe it would be good to go somewhere else for a while just to gain some perspective. As to where that is, pray for God to lead you to a place where you can worship and focus on Him, and not be distracted by all the emotional baggage you’re carrying. And believe that He WANTS you to find peace and intimacy with Him — He is always for us, not against.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this Marilyn, I have never felt this low spiritually since I was born, not even the death of my beloved Mother could make me fell this low. The poem about praying for others is quite enouraging. My family and I are going through some intense challenges in the last two years and there are times my tears have filled most of my time with God and I know he sees and knows. Please continue to remember us in your prayers.

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    • Helen, I’ll be praying more for you and your family. I’m not sure whether you meant you have NEVER felt so low (as I did), or whether you are at your lowest point ever in your spiritual life….. I hope it’s the first meaning! Either way, my love and prayers are with you and your special family.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this Marilyn, I have never felt this low spiritually since I was born, not even the death of my beloved Mother could make me fell this low. The poem about praying for others is quite encouraging. My family and I are going through some intense challenges in the last two years and there are times my tears have filled most of my time with God and I know he sees and knows. Please continue to remember us in your prayers.

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  6. Psalm107:1-16 has been one of my favorite psalms since I was baptized in 1985 vs4 I have been wondering in the desert wasteland finding no way to a city where I could settle I am hungry and thirsty and my life has been ebbing away vs 10 I have been sitting in darkness and the deepest gloom and I have been a beene a prisoner suffering in iron chains for many years now but I want to tell you that I am still very hopeful and here is why luke11:1-13 Lord teach me to pray vs9-13 I am going to ask seek and knock and there is a promise if I do those three things with humility and out of my desperate persistent need for himhe will give me his Holy Spirit but keep in mind it does not say he will answer all my prayers but he will give me his Holy spirit to overcome anything that is hindering me

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    • Thanks for sharing the verses that help you the most, Joe. I’ve always been drawn to Psalm 107 as well. It’s fit my life at many times, as I’m sure it has in your life, too.

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  7. Hi, sister, continue praying; remember when you don’t know what to say “The Spirit of God intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. I think ICOC has been a wonderful experience in my life, but now God wants me to move forward. Moise was well in Egypte but he had to go in Madian, he was well there but he has to go back in Egypte, and after in the desert. We are God’s servant. I loved ICOC, but I love God more. Read again the story of Jonas : you did great things for God, now you are discouraged, but God have a mission for you. So Listen and stand up. I have the faith you have the capacity because you are a daughter of God. I love you. I pray for you. I will ask my prayers’ companions join me. God bless you.

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  8. Thank you so much for your deep honestly. Though certainly very different, I have experienced deep despair but in my case it was my own doing. I join you in praising our God for bringing me closer to Him. God’s blessings to you and Henry.

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  9. Marilyn, I have been reading your posts for the last few hours. I appreciate every word. I have cried many tears reading this and your words go deep into my soul. I have felt so many of these feeling over the past 11 almost 12 years. I can relate so deeply to so many of these things. I have always loved you and Henry and I have prayed for you so much over the years! I long to see you again and would love to talk to you. I am so sorry I was not able to talk to you when you tried to call me. My prayers are with you in a more specific way after reading these posts! I love you and admire you so much! Roxanne

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    • Rosanne, we love you guys, too, and have only fond memories of our times together. I haven’t been too great at calling people, but I’ll try again to call you and hope we can connect this time. Hope life is smiling on you these days…. I know you’ve had an “interesting” life journey, as we have, too!

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  10. I blurted out laughter when I read this because the same feelings and actions have been happening to me for the last 2-3 yrs. Your poem is word for word on-time expressing the feelings I’ve had. I personally find comfort that I was not the only one going thru. Along with the personal struggles I have faced, I thought I was going crazy! Thank you for sharing because now I know I’m not!!😊

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    • Yes, I think there are MANY of us who’ve gone through this. Maybe my poem can be your prayer for a while? Thanks for encouraging ME with your comments. I hope you can look back on these days, someday, and laugh again because things are so much better!

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    • I know TED talks, but not this one. Will check it out soon == Thanks for posting and sharing the link. And thanks for reading, too!

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  11. Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve never met you, but thanked God many times over the years for your husbands letter. I’ve prayed for Him to protect you both and carry you through whatever pain you must be experiencing. I guess we all have that in common. It’s encouraging to read your path to healing.
    It is amazing how just reading these articles, my pulse races, and even my breathing is quick and shallow – funny how physically affected i am just thinking about all of this…..I’ve stayed away from churches, religious groups and even the blogs with ICOC info. I’ve not wanted to be a part of any of it. I even have anxiety attacks going to a funeral at a catholic church. 17 years of hard-wiring/discipling left me literally shut down. I’ve been finally ready to get to the root of some of my issues, and today my friend told me of this blog you’re writing – your words may be a catharsis for yourself, please know they are inspiring to others if only for us to see the process in someone else.
    THANKS!! 🙂
    Please keep writing, I wish you many blessings.

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    • Gina, thank you for all your prayers on our behalf! I really hope this blog meets your needs as it is meeting mine. It’s quite astounding to hear about your physical responses to reading about the ‘stuff’ — your body is definitely telling you something. Thanks for your encouragement — there is more to come!

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  12. I remember being 16 years old it was late at night I was scaredI kept crying out for Jesus to save me I just kept saying his name over and over and over again setting please save me Jesus please please save me Jesus that was almost 35 years ago but as I was just laying here on my bed I find myself crying and saying the same things over and over again save me Jesus save me please please save me I know we’ve all been through so many different experiences happiness sadness losses my mother passed away 14 years ago my father seven years ago the only time they really ever went to church that I can remember were the times I invited them to the icoc obviously there’s nothing I can do about that now there in Gods hands but that is a tough pill to swallow we are all on a journey and hopefully we’ll all make it home some day to be with God in heaven eternally I believe with all my heart the holy spirit has guided all of us to this blog I guess that’s what you call it the point I’m trying to make is wherever you are at spiritually whatever you might be feeling hopeful or hopeless scared angry and confused please do not give up seeking God keep crying out or just whispering out to Jesus and the Holy Spirit seek God hunger and thirst for himI pray that he will reveal himself to you and me like we have never known him before

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  13. Dearest Marilyn, So good to read your words. I never knew the things you felt or what you have been going thru. And I do pray that healing has been on going for you. I feel great things have been done Thru ICOC but as humans there have been alot of mistakes. Forgiveness should be a part of all our lives. Forgiveness is hard. And I firmly believe God is in control of our paths and we need to learn from the good and bad and grow from that and continuely listen to Jesus and what he would do. We need to love, pray, and hold on more to Jesus and and not complain so much. I am still in contact with people that have left the church because I love them no matter where they go. My prayers are always with them. My love to you and Henry has not faltered and I pray God will bless your life. Randy Anderson, Indianapolis.

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    • Thanks, Randy, for your thoughts and prayers. I agree with all you say. Not sure if you’re thinking I’m bitter or haven’t forgiven mistakes in the past — that is not the case at all!
      My articles simply reflect the feelings, struggles and issues I’ve had to deal with along the way… with God’s grace and help, of course.

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      • No, I do not think you are bitter but what some of the other people have written it seems there has not been any forgiveness. Thats all. By all means we need to be honest with our feelings good or bad. And I feel writing about them is GREAT. Some day I hope to see you both. Love to you.

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  14. Hi Marilyn, thank you to you and Henry for sharing your thoughts with us. I know that is an understatement but I wanted to reach out and let you know what a positive impact you’ve had on me.

    I was in the ICOC in Boston from 1991 to 2003. I did not find out about Henry’s letter until January 2015! Although I have not been part of the ICOC for 12 years, I continue to read my Bible and pray daily. It’s a little challenging in isolation but I don’t see myself going back to the ICOC either. That said, I did get in touch with a few friends who are still there and one told me about Henry’s letter.
    To those of us who always wanted to find that grace and feel the power of the Scriptures but didn’t have the opportunity to due to the ‘works’ mentality, it offers true hope!

    After Henry’s letter, I started reading your story as well. Just captivating. The thing that stood out to me is that you actually took the time during that large service in London to look around, look at others and to notice they didn’t seem happy. You took the time to think of how we (ICOC) were or were not meeting people’s needs. What a revelation that was to me! I shared my faith regularly and always hoped people would be able to navigate the paths once they got in, much better than I did!

    I am so hopeful to find the God, grace and wonder that attracted me to the Bible and even the church 20+ years ago. I think I’m beginning to find it. I used to be afraid to read the Gospels as I felt it outlined everything I was lacking (not radical enough, didn’t deny myself enough, not fishing for men enough). I am finally able to sit and read and be amazed! Without thinking “I’d better get out there and start sharing my faith, making something happen, getting some visitors to come.” I see how we can naturally share our faith. Well, actually I’m not there yet. I still don’t feel I’m doing enough but will try to continue learning and actively pursue God.
    Thank you to you and Henry. You are like angels to me for what you have done. The truth written, the kindness, the grace, the equality, the respect. Thank you. I look forward to continuing to visit here.

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Rachel. You must have left the church just as the letter was coming out (Feb 2003). I know what you mean about reading the gospels through that lens. Hope you continue to grow in your faith and into the lifestyle of grace and reaching out to others that you envision. And I hope you continue to visit my blog and leave comments along the way1

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