What Made the Difference?

Today I would like to introduce a new guest blogger, Suzanne Holland. Suzanne is a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, wife to John, and mom to two grown up boys. She is also a student at Reigning Grace Counseling Center and hopes to become a Certified Biblical Counselor, offering the hope of the Scriptures to those who are hurting.

I have been struggling with depression and sadness over a loss for the last two years or so. I’ve had periods of contentment, but they were brief and far apart. As I have wrestled with this loss, I’ve had counselors who tried to point out what may be the cause of my persistent sadness, but none were ever able to do much more than sympathize and pray. Some of their words made things worse.

A few weeks ago, the Lord sent understanding that was new, and now He has brought me out of that place of sadness and despair in which I had been entrenched for so long. Several friends have commented recently that I seem better, and that my attitude and countenance have changed. One of them asked me what I think the difference is, and today I want to pause a moment and answer that question. I know it will benefit me to be able to look back and see what has helped me, and perhaps it will benefit others who are struggling as I have. I think there are three things that have been key in my recent improvement: Exposure of what is really in my heart about my situation; understanding that God is who He says He is regardless of my circumstances; and the Holy Spirit’s work of comfort.

First, I had to learn that anger was at the root of my depression. I knew that I was angry, but I had placed that anger mostly on myself. I was very bound up in regret and “if only.” My despair multiplied as I blamed myself, searching for sins that I had done that had brought on my circumstance. While there may have been some sinful thought patterns and attitudes, I magnified these in my mind and blamed myself for my loss, never really confessing them and receiving God’s forgiveness, but nurturing and feeding them to somehow punish myself for my perceived fault. The Lord used gracious means[i] to bring to my attention the truth about my anger: I was angry with Him. God is sovereign, and He does what He pleases with what is His. The truth was that I knew that, ultimately, my loss had come from His hand. Though God does not cause evil, He does allow things to happen that bring about His will for our lives, and His Word says that what He does is always good.  I love the Lord, and I believe what He has said about Himself. This realization brought great relief to me, as I confessed that I was very angry with Him, and that I did not understand. As I cried out to Him, He brought great comfort. His forgiveness was like a lifting of a very heavy burden that I had carried far too long. This was the first glimmer of joy in His working in me.

This new focus on who God is became a vigorous pursuit for me. I began to drink in all of God’s words about who He is. Though I have been a believer for many years, and have lost count of how many times I have read the entire Bible, these facts now seemed to leap off the page: God is good, loving, faithful, merciful, and near to the brokenhearted. He grieves my loss with me, and collects all my tears in His bottle. He loves me with an everlasting love, and He cares about me[ii]. I began to draw near to God again, and as I did that, I realized how far I had withdrawn from Him. In my despair and stubborn pride, I had distanced myself from a God who seemed to me to be cruel, selfish and punitive. As He revealed Himself to me, I remembered my God who I have loved all these years. The wall I had gradually built in recent years began to crumble as I understood that I had fashioned a God based on my circumstances, not on His own testimony of Himself. I had created a God that fit my self-pity and regret and nearly forgotten, at least in practice, the God of the Bible and His love for me. What a change took place in my heart! Again, I had to cry out, this time in thanksgiving for His patience with me, and for His love that never wavered, even as I nurtured and fed sinful thoughts about Him. What a friend! What a Savior!

As this new thinking took hold of me, I began to experience real joy and contentment for the first time in years, and I understood that this was the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am a very concrete thinker, and I have always struggled with the Holy Spirit, exactly who He is and what He does. He always seemed like some kind of ethereal, wispy being that I knew was working, but I’m not sure I had ever really had personal awareness of what He does. Now, as joy flooded my heart, washing out despair and dullness, I understood something of His nature. He is the mind-changer. He is the heart-changer. He is the connection between intellectual knowledge of who God says He is and absolute certainty that the God of the Bible is the God of the universe and the God of my loss. This belief does not come by studying or by others’ experience or convincing. It comes only by the power of the person of the Holy Spirit, weaving Himself into our circumstances, going with us into them, and opening our eyes, hearts and minds to see the goodness of God in even the worst of experiences. This is truly a miracle, and can come about only by the will and power of God. Hallelujah! What a Savior!!

The loss that I have experienced is permanent. I will not get back, at least in this life, what I had before. There is a “new normal” now, and it will never be what I wanted. But I can say with complete honesty, if I could go back and retrieve what I have lost, in exchange for this new life I have in Christ, I would not. Though I have been a believer for many years, I am a different believer now. A more hopeful believer. A more certain believer. I know, without a doubt, that the God of the universe loves me, has forgiven me, and will never leave me or forsake me. He has walked with me through a bitter loss, and I know that He will continue to walk with me, whatever His loving hand brings into my life.  But best of all, now I know that He can use me. I have received real comfort, and I can comfort others with it. I have a new desire and longing. I have put off longing for the past, for the thing that I’ve lost. Now I am longing to reach out to others, and show them who our God really is.

[i] One of the means He used was a little book by Robert Kellemen called ­God’s Healing for Life’s Losses (BMH Books, 2010). This book really helped guide me in the process of working through my loss, and helped me apply the scriptures to my own situation.
[ii] Some of the verses that were most helpful to me:
God’s goodness: Psalm 31:19; 107:8-9; Romans 2:4;
God’s love: Romans 5:5 and 8:39; 1 John 4:9
God’s Faithfulness: 1 Corinthians 1:9 and 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 10:23; 1 John 1:9
God’s Mercy: Psalm 123:2, 130:7, 136:1; Isaiah 30:18; Daniel 9:9; Romans 9:16; 2 Corinthians 4:1