Man, it was tough to get back into the groove this week. I'm not just talking about finding it difficult to get back into the routine of waking early, doing my Bible study and getting to work on time. Though the rigors of my "regularly-scheduled" life presented a challenge in and of themselves, there was a deeper struggle at hand.
As I turned the corner into 2012, I gave the past two years of my life a long hard look in the rear view. And the view isn't entirely pretty. There are relationships that are seemingly in ruins- some finished all together, others that dangle like loose ends, unkempt and uncertain. There's a manuscript that is unfinished- a message that I once had great passion for- that, after having lived through the reality of the great need for that message, I find myself struggling to find the spiritual energy to revisit, though I haven't completely given up. There are the finances that have just never fallen into the neat alignment I planned out in my ledger, but, by the grace of God alone, never fall into the depths of debt that would sink us completely. There's the job that demands more of my time than I ever could have realized, and in which I find that, despite my best efforts and 50 hour work weeks, I am always running behind and letting someone down.
Each morning, as Andy drove me to work (our Jeep isn't working right now, so we're down to one car) I struggled with these realities- frustrated and dreading to interact with people and have to come up with new conversations and work and activities when I can hardly process what has already happened. I felt so tired and at such a great depth that there were a few mornings when I felt like I couldn't do it at all. I would have sat in the bed all day, with the curtains pulled and my cell phone off, if I could have. The instinct for survival pushes us through the motions, though, doesn't it? We can go on surviving, even when living, much less thriving is not an option. And that's how this week was for me- it was survival.
In the midst of the trial, I continued in God's word- perhaps out of a need to survive, perhaps out of well-carved discipline. When depression- which seems too simple a way to sum up my emotions over the week- drags me down, I don't think that I can fully engage in God's Word, and this often depresses me even more. But, even in those times, I see God's strength overcome. There always seems to be something, even if it's just one verse, that shines brightly through the encompassing darkness.
And for me, this week, that verse was 1 Samuel 12:23. I have it in mind to try to read through the Bible this year. I'm sure I should have a plan- one of those 2 chapters from New Testament, two chapters from Old Testament, and three verses from Psalms kinda deals- but I hate when plans fail- that makes me feel more like a failure, and I already struggle with feelings of failure enough as it is. So I decided to just read- like reading a story, and see how it goes.
I wanted to start in Samuel- for reasons I might blog about later- and I've read to chapter 12. Verse 23 resonated with me. Samuel, who is at this point a very old man, and who has had to deal with a lot of disappointment, the culmination of which is the people's demand for a king, is reflecting on his life. He knows that he has kept himself pure, even though the people around him have been evil, and, tired as he must be, he continues to rebuke and encourage the people to love the Lord and turn from idols. Samuel- a righteous man amongst an unrighteous people, a man who labored for the Lord and saw few results, a man who must have felt so tired and so tempted to despair when the people did the very thing that the Lord did NOT want them to do- ask for a king. And yet, he says, "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you what is good and right."
I feel like a failure, like a tired-out worker whose efforts are most often overlooked. I can't finish things. I cause relationships to crumble. People around me are falling apart- and so am I a lot of the time. It would be easy to just focus on all of that failure and shortcoming and throw in the towel. But that's not what Samuel did. He looked to the Lord and understood that, no matter what the results were, he was accountable for his prayers for the people God has placed him with, and for teaching them what was good and right.
So I took this to heart, and prayed, though it was a struggle to do so- for my friends, my family, my students this week. Prayer is hard, and it was difficult to dig into prayer when deep down I felt so discouraged, but this bright light from 1 Samuel was what God had given me, so I followed it, as best I could.
Friday came, and that meant our first leader's meeting of the year. I wasn't enthusiastic when I came into the room. I had worked until 11PM the night before, trying to type up quizzes and diffusing a situation with a disgruntled parent. Praying, and teaching the kids what is good and right, during the course of the week seemed so pale in comparison to the weight of responsibility, productivity and conflict. This was on my mind all through our leader's meeting, so as I listened to Holly during her closing talk, my heart had a hard time being convinced that her words were true for me. She was talking about personal encouragement - that God provides times of personal encouragement for his servants, and that when He supplies that encouragement, it is a message straight from His heart to ours. So I wrote down in my notebook, "Look for God's personal encouragement for me today." Though I'll admit to you, I didn't expect to see anything much... maybe a good somg would come on the radio, or I would just survive the day without crying and falling apart at work.
But when I got into the car, I checked my messages and emails from the night before. I had a Facebook message from a former student, one of my Jack Britt kids. The message was about something I had taught her in Biology- she wanted me to know that she still remembers what I taught her, and she said, "You helped me see the BIG picture," and thanked me for being an influence in her life. I cried out thanks and praises to the Lord- with tears- and wouldn't you know it? A great song was on the radio when all of this happened.
Personal encouragement- from His heart to mine- words that brought me back to the reason that I must continue to pray and teach what is good and right- because beyond the failure and the exhaustion, there is a difference that God is making in the lives of teenage students- and He's doing that, by His grace alone, through me.
If you are reading this and feeling discouragement as the new year begins, I hope that you will pray and ask God to give you personal encouragement today. And I hope it stirs and strengthens your heart, as it did mine.