Today I spoke at Premiers Woman to Woman conference, on the theme of ‘with God all things are possible. This is a tricky subject for me, as I do believe God can do anything, I just don’t often feel that he is going to do much for me. This is what I said – longer than a usual blog post!
With God all things are possible – but this does not mean that everything that we ask for will happen.
In my experience faith is incredibly messy. How do you reconcile what you believe to be true but have very little (if any) tangible proof of, with the world we live in and the lives that we lead?
I live with depression and anxiety and have done for the past ten years. Three years ago, everything I had thought was safe and had worked towards crumbled around me during a nervous breakdown. I was signed off sick for 5 months. I prayed for healing daily. For peace, for comfort, for change. I sought out healing prayer and yet suicidal thoughts and an overwhelming blackness did not fade. Since then, my mental health has been consistently poor and God has not made me well. With a recent diagnosis of a hot pot of anxiety disorders, it seems that rather than making me well, God is letting me live with this.
But if faith as small as a mustard seed is enough to move a mountain, what does it mean that I live with this illness, with no sign of it improving? Is my faith just simply not big enough for this God of the impossible? Do I have less faith than a mustard seed?
God may not answer our prayers in the way we hope or even expect. Psalm 73 says ‘My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.’ Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12 talks about the thorn in his flesh, but God said to him ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ Paul goes so far as to delight in his weakness, hardships, insults and persecutions because ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’.
This can, on occasion be of great comfort. It is an encouragement to know that being weak is not wrong. Having weakness and being able to acknowledge it, in fact, gives God an opportunity to work through us.
Recently, however, I have been losing hope. It has been getting harder and harder to find that I have become happier with my life and relationships, and yet still ill – and in many ways worse health wise than previously. I find more and more that I don’t know where to turn. I am so so tired of fighting. The idea that every day is another opportunity to battle the constant barrage of thoughts that inform me of my every weakness both perceived and real, is often too overwhelming to contemplate and the TV – that always friendly source of absolutely brain free entertainment is an increasingly constant friend.
I am exhausted, fed up and drained of any anticipation that this I am going to be released from this illness anytime soon. Paul and his thorn can feel like cold comfort and the hope I have had in the past few years of improvement and change is becoming increasingly hard to access, however, the journey I am on is never lonely. I have biblical precedent for living in a state of misery and despair beyond what I can even imagine. The psalmist is the most eloquent depressive I know. He can summarise a desire to curl up and fade away better than anyone else. Elijah and Jonah both had a desire to die. Job was very justifiably fed up – to say the least. And yet all of these people lived in awe and praise of God. They questioned him, challenged him and sought out hope.
They believed in the God who could destroy an entire nation, who showed up in battles and played an active part, who answered them – spoke to them through the prophets and directly. God was their guide, and he had brought them out of slavery and into freedom. Having seen him perform the impossible, they all still had moments of despair. What they were waiting for was not happening, or wasn’t happening quickly enough. Or life had just simply got far too much and God did not seem to do anything about it. This, their God, the God of the impossible, was not fixing it for them. And yet this never changed the fact that they wholeheartedly believed that he was still the God of the impossible, he would always come through, but it would be in his way and in his time.
This offers us an opportunity to let go of the pressure of what we ‘should’ do in order to receive the possible. The thing the prophets all did, was recognise that God is a mystery – bigger than our comprehension, his ways are mysterious. Jesus free’d us from the ‘should’ and broke down the barriers between us and God, creating an impossible relationship where we have the freedom to speak with him.
Recognising that God can do all things, is about looking beyond my own immediate desire for a happier less depressed life. Towards the end of Job, God speaks – he talks of his might and power, and reading it, it is easy to understand why Job came back to him saying ‘I won’t question you, I shouldn’t question you, you are awesome and big and mighty and wow!’ God has already done things that are considered impossible. Yet, he never forgets us.
He has shown me a picture of his love for me which goes deeper than ‘being happy’. When I am in my blackest and darkest place I have found that even though I often can’t even hear the words of anyone around me, I can find a sense of peace that can only come from the knowledge that God is sitting in the darkness with me.
It is this companionship, that makes him so awesome to me. Beyond his mighty acts of creation and saving and all that – he has time to sit and be with me. He makes space within his complete and absolute knowledge of the universe to think about how much he loves me and to take the time to let me know. A lot of the time I don’t want to hear about hope and healing. I want to find peace where I am. I don’t want to hear that God can do anything because my reality is that he isn’t doing the one thing I really want him to do.
Except, what he does do – in taking that time to sit in the darkness with me, to catch each one of my tears – is the impossible. Our call is to accept this impossible relationship, to recognise that actually God may do the impossible for us – the healing we hope for, but he may do it for our neighbour and leave us be. We need to stand together, God the trinity is an example of community, and within our community we need to recognise the joy of those who have experienced the impossible, and the pain of those who are longing for change.
The unifying part of this is that we all come together to praise the God with whom all things are possible. And to recognise that like the prophets within our community there will be the contrast of the now and the not yet and all the hope and pain that comes with that. If we stand together we will be able to love each other through the highs of the parting of the red sea and the disappointments of being taken into exile. Knowing all the way that God is in love with us. Present with us. And that he is seeking the relationship that for many in the Old Testament was entirely impossible.