Facebook is my frenemy.
My friend when I have zinger lines to post up, witty comments or pictures of my kids in their matching Christmas outfits. My enemy when I have thoughts I really shouldn’t share at such lightning speed through cyberspace.
The other week I got myself in a situation. I read an article circulating Facebook about anxiety and fired away a response and posted it. Except after I did I realized that my words were really angry. Anxiety sufferers probably thought I was aiming my gunfire at them.
What I thought generated my feverish rant was the view in the article that anxiety is just part of some people — when my own view is that Jesus can help people with anxiety. But there was actually a different reason that article made me angry.
The article reminded me of a situation launching into ministry where I experienced anxiety. Not just a little stomach upset or increased heart rate. A situation where I felt such bad anxiety that my temperature rose to that of a menopausal woman. Where I felt sweat breaking out all over my body and my breaths getting short and choppy. Where I felt me retreating inside of myself like the zoom-in focus of a lens — me, getting smaller and smaller until I was just a little dot hiding inside me. Shaking.
A situation where I couldn’t succeed. Where every place I turned there was a brick wall blocking my path. A situation where I couldn’t make the people around me happy even though I worked my most charismatic personality traits and desperately tried. (Key word: desperately.)
A situation that made me want to make good on a vow I made as a young woman to never let anyone hurt me again.
So, even though I typed up a series of rapid-fire words aimed at people with anxiety needing to get it together, I was really typing a series of words against the people who helped to trigger the anxiety.
I immediately felt God’s conviction afterwards. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until God showed me. God isn’t underhanded. He doesn’t want us to secretly swipe at people. He wants us to directly confront situations or people that hurt us and then let Him heal us.
Consider Hannah, a woman in the Old Testament who had every reason to lash out words of hatred and bitterness. Hannah was barren. She was one of two wives of Elkanah, and even though she was his favorite, she couldn’t bear sons for him like Peninnah, his other wife. Peninnah taunted her year in and year out, but nowhere does it say that Hannah retaliated. In fact, Hannah did just the opposite. She went to the Lord with her grief.
In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. (1 Samuel 1:10)
Some important things we can learn from Hannah:
1. She didn’t cover over her pain.
She wept loudly and often. In front of her husband. At the temple (to the point that the priest asked her if she was drunk). She didn’t hide the fact that her situation hurt her.
2. She didn’t use her pain as an excuse for wrong action.
She was devastated by her situation to the point that she didn’t even want to eat, but she did not use that to fuel revenge or bitter action against her rival.
The Bible says that God was the One who closed Hannah’s womb (1 Samuel 1:5). Peninnah aggravated a difficult situation, but it was the Lord who put Hannah in the situation she was in! That is a hard verse for me to read personally because I want to believe that God would never allow me to feel pain, but He clearly allowed Hannah to suffer for a time. In a particular instance in the last few years as I struggled to make sense of my circumstances, I cried out to God one day, “I don’t even know what I am fighting against.”
And I felt like the Lord told me, “Carol, you are fighting against Me.”
I was stunned. Why would God fight against me when He was the One who told me to pursue the direction I did? I don’t know all the reasons, but I do know that He has had a plan for me that has been totally different than I thought it would be. I have wanted my destiny to open up in my way and my timing, but God has not operated on my agenda. He has been more concerned about my refining and preparation than just allowing me to get what I want. He has closed the doors I have so badly wanted Him to open.
What we must observe in the story of Hannah is that although God sealed off Hannah’s womb, He enabled her later to become pregnant. Further in the passage it says, “Elkanah made love to his wife, and the Lord remembered her” (1 Samuel 1: 19). The very situation that is closed to me now may be open to me later in the future. And then there can be no doubt Whom I can give the glory to. As the Reformation Study Bible indicates: The Lord is sovereign over our situations and can intervene in circumstances and turn them in our favor.
I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)
As this passage suggests, God brings blessing and calamity into our lives. He is not capable of sin (the word “evil” most commentaries cite as meaning punishment for sin or affliction), but He allows adversity to come in our lives. Not only that, He puts us in situations specifically where we will experience hardship at times. One of Satan’s best tricks is to get us to turn on others in those moments and spend energy nursing hurts that get us totally sidetracked from the calling God has for us.
What we can learn from Hannah is that when we are in those tough situations where we feel and know that we are wrestling God Himself we need to recognize His sovereignty — acknowledge that while He may be the One who has brought a trial into our life, He is the One who can also remove it. He’s not only the God who seals off opportunities that come our way, He’s the God who opens doors.
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8)
As Pastor Dick Woodward says in a devotional about God’s supremacy, God will often put us in difficult circumstances because “He wants us to learn that He is our only hope and our only help as we live for Him in this world.”
Woodward’s assertion has been true in my own trying experiences the last four years: God is after my dependence on Him. My complete emptying of self to embrace His version of me. Is this difficult for me to swallow? Yes. Do I like it? No.
Hannah bore her long-awaited son in due time, and after he was born she sang this song of praise: “For the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed” (1 Samuel 2:3). I believe that the Lord blessed Hannah the way He did because she went to Him with her deepest pain and acknowledged Him as the only One who could transform her impossible tragedy into a story of beauty.
You and I don’t have to resort to revenge or sniper attacks from behind a computer screen. As Hannah’s story reminds us, God knows, and even if we suffer a little while in the process of reaching all He has for us, we can trust that He will take care to see that His promises are fulfilled in us.