This past week I had a chance to share in our weekly staff meeting. I’d been trying to find the words for this season for a long time, and yet I’m still sharing from a place of being in the middle of learning to walk this out, not having mastered it. Below is the text version that is the same-ish as my talk.
This past year I’ve been wrestling with some of those real life seasons I call ‘stormy seasons’. You know the stormy seasons too don’t you? They’re the dry seasons when you’re thirsty for a resolution. The seasons when you no longer know how to put your thirst aside. You used to be able to hide it, but it’s spilling over into one big mess that spells out “why God?” And you try to bring that thirst for answers to God, but you’re so darn thirsty the words just won’t come out. And in the thickness of your silence is a raw, dry, mixture of grief, and anger, and loneliness and desire to trust. And that desire to trust is real but it’s partnered with a feeling of hopelessness that makes you even doubt that you want to trust.
Maybe you have a few choice words for these stormy seasons. Maybe you’re in a storm, or you know them well. I don’t have all the answers; I have a cutesy acronym and a story of God in one of my stormy seasons. And I’ll offer it, and hope you’ll find something in it wherever you are.
My storm started in January 2017. I started getting sick, and getting sick a lot. I had the flu, and then maybe mono, no it definitely wasn’t mono, it was a second flu, or maybe it was another virus but we can’t really be sure… just go home and rest Brittany, kind of sick. And I never really recovered but life was busy, and I was working hard and enjoying life outside of work, and I was doing all the self care like taking naps and eating kale salads and going to the gym and all I needed was a few days off when things calmed down a bit and I would feel better. And things calmed down a bit, and I took some time off, and I didn’t feel better. Honestly? I felt worse. I was going home after work and go straight to bed, and then I was only working half days, and I did all the things my doctor told me to do but I was still not feeling better.
And I went to see the doctor again and she said “I don’t know what to do.” Those are not the words you ever want to hear come out of a doctor’s mouth. Doctors are the experts, the advice givers, they’re not supposed to be the honest ones that say “I’ve tested you for everything and it’s come back with nothing, and I need you to come see me again in a couple days after I’ve had time to think.”
I went home and I had it out with God. Oh I really had it out. See, God had just told me I was entering a season of a trust but a season in which he wanted me to start to dream bigger, because he was going to do more than I could ask or imagine. And I wanted to trust him but didn’t he know this wasn’t how he was supposed to build my trust? You’ve been there haven’t you. That place where you say “Okay God, isn’t there another way to your promise?!” And God said there wasn’t.
Then he said, “I’m going to reveal to the doctors what I want to reveal when I want to reveal it. And Brittany, this is going to be a season of joy.” It didn’t feel like a season of joy. It felt a little more like devastation.
I went back to the doctor and she said “I’m diagnosing you with chronic fatigue syndrome.” And I already knew what that meant. That meant a mystery disease that they didn’t know how to treat cause they don’t know what causes it. It meant a 5% cure rate, and only a 15% chance that I would ever go back to full time work. It meant it’s the diagnosis you don’t want because when they diagnose you with it, they tell you the only real chance of a cure is that you’ve been misdiagnosed. (Note: if you have chronic fatigue I do not believe ME/CFS is as hopeless as I felt it was then. And let’s chat!)
And I was thinking about all of this when my doctor looked at me and said, “effective today you’re not allowed to go back to work. And the only thing I’m prescribing you is this: joy. You’re only allowed to do things that will bring you joy.” It’s something else to hear your doctor quote God’s word about joy back at you.
And I will stop here for a moment. I promise, if you’re interested in the human brain and science there’s an entirely fascinating story behind my chronic fatigue diagnosis that a truly amazing team of medical providers uncovered and I would love to share it with you but it’s a tangent, so it’ll come in another blog post.
Over the next months I did weekly IV treatments, and took 20 pills a day, and slept and rested…. and found joy. And in that God did something incredible. Y’all my natural posture is one of striving, I’m not inclined to a posture of surrender , and trust, and doing nothing. Somewhere in the wrestling, and the crying out, and the fear, God gave me the gift of peace and joy, and that allowed me to be at rest in the midst of the storm that surrounded me. Spiritually I was at peace, even though circumstances should have dictated otherwise. And that was a gift. It wasn’t something I was capable of creating for myself.
This past January I saw a series of specialists, each of whom declared me healed of chronic fatigue. “What’s fascinating,” they said “is you’re even healthier than you were before this whole chronic fatigue thing happened.” And the doctors might call it fascinating, but I call it God’s goodness in doing more than we can ask or imagine.
And here’s where I know, that if you’re in the middle of the storm, I’ve lost you for a moment. I’ve lost you because there’s a gap between where we are in the storm, and the promise we long for. And when I share a story from the other side I can wrap up my resolution in a tidy little bow and present it to you like it’s simple. I know that it’s not. I know that promises feel like celebration but the middle of the storm feels like unshakable longing. And the neat little bows of someone else’s promise don’t do our grief justice, they only hint at the promise we’re still believing for. I know this because I’m in the middle of a different storm, and finding myself struggling to carry forward even my own hope.
So maybe it’s important for us to share stories from the other side of our promise. But maybe when we’re in the storm that what our hearts really need is a little Spiritual CPR. Spiritual CPR is what I’ve been learning (not mastering) this past year. And it’s a process of engaging: courage, perspective and rest.
Ann Voskamp published an article recently titled “what to do when you’re caught between God and a hard place.” And she writes about the “everyday places that feel like God forsaken places” or what i call the stormy seasons, suggesting that the weariness of these spaces makes us feel like we no longer want to be courageous, like we just want to stop feeling brave. And in reading that I thought, “yes, yes, yes” some days I just want to stop feeling brave. Somedays I don’t have an ounce of courage left in me.
And then she writes “Do you dare believe that the place you’re’ in is a place where God’s moved in? You never have to be brave alone. Because the truth is: find a place that you don’t need to be brave and you’ve found a place that doesn’t need God.” Find a place that you don’t need to be brave and you’ve found a place that doesn’t need God.
Maybe the only courage we have is to invite God in.
And maybe we find the boldness to give God our honest prayers and those honest prayers don’t sound like the kind we’d pray aloud in a church, but maybe it’s courageous to invite God into all of it.”
And maybe we find the boldness to give God our honest prayers and those honest prayers don’t sound like the kind we’d pray aloud in a church, but maybe it’s courageous to invite God into all of it with us: to tell him that we’re angry, or sad, or doubting, yet longing to have hope.
Maybe courage is just the act of inviting God in, and finding out we’re not alone because he’s been there and our inviting him in just allows us to sit with him in it.
And that courageous invitation allows us to engage the second part of spiritual CPR: perspective.
The first story that comes to mind about perspective and storms for me, may be the one that comes to mind for you: the story of Jesus walking on water, and Peter courageously stepping out to him. Peter walks towards Jesus until he notices the wind and the waves, and then he begins to sink. And the moral of the story as we’ve always been told is “keep your eyes on Jesus!”
And maybe in our storm the concept of keeping our eyes on Jesus is just that: it’s a perfect concept. We can grasp it intellectually but the practice of it is too much to bear. We can’t help but notice the wind and the waves and keeping our eyes on Jesus feels like nothing but striving. What do we do when we find ourselves more like Peter than we want to be?
Maybe in those moments we’ve missed an invitation. I don’t think it’s always about us trying harder to keep our eyes on him, because it’s not always about how hard we try. Maybe there are storms in which the only thing we can do is ask God to direct our vision.
I’ve been reading a lot in the book of Luke recently, and it’s interesting that Luke never writes about the storm when Jesus & Peter are on the water, but Luke does write about storms. He writes about a physical storm and a spiritual storm (a concept I heard the musician Sean Feucht talk about recently).
In Luke 8 we find the disciples in another boat, in the midst of another storm, and Jesus is fast asleep. Luke 8 shows us a physical storm: wind & waves, anxious disciples, and a sleeping Jesus. And the disciples wake Jesus, and he calms the storm and says “do you not trust me?” In the midst of the physical storm: Jesus is asleep, the disciples are awake.
In Luke 22 we find the spiritual storm: Jesus praying in the garden in the hours before his crucifixion, and the disciples are fast asleep. Jesus had asked the disciples to stay awake and pray, and as Jesus is crying out to the Father and his pray sounds a little like that prayer I just talked about. The “God isn’t there another way to your promise?!” Kind of prayer. Yet Jesus also says, “Father your will not mine.” This is a storm, a spiritual storm, and Jesus is very much awake to it, but the disciples are asleep to it.
Too often we’re like the disciples: awake to what Jesus is asleep to, and asleep to what he’s awake to. Maybe instead of asking God to calm our storm we can ask for perceptive: that He would make us awake to the things he’s awake to, and asleep to the things he’s asleep to.”
Too often we’re like the disciples: awake to what Jesus is asleep to, and asleep to what he’s awake to. Maybe instead of asking God to calm our storm we can ask for perceptive: that He would make us awake to the things he’s awake to, and asleep to the things he’s asleep to. Instead of criticizing ourselves for our failure to keep our eyes on him in the midst of the wind and waves, maybe we can invite him to give us his perspective in the storm.
I don’t think we can give ourselves this perspective. Fear will always draw our eyes to the wind & the waves, but when we courageously invite God into the storm with us, he can give us the gift of seeing what he wants us to see in it.
Perspective isn’t the same as the answer to our question of why. Maybe sometimes we get the answer to why, and maybe sometimes He just has to give us the gift of seeing things differently so we’re capable of moving past the question of why. While I’m keenly aware we serve a God that answers promises, I also recognize he doesn’t often choose to answer promises in ways that align with our human understanding or show us the answer to our question of “why” in the way we expect. This is the reason perspective is so important. Without perspective we’re stuck in that place that says “you have to tell me why,” but perspective is allows for movement. Peter was able to walk on water when his perspective was Jesus, and I think when God adjusts our perspective to being awake to what he wants us awake to, and asleep to what he wants us asleep to, he allows us to move past ‘why’ into the spaces he is calling us into, even as the storm rages.
The space that we can move into when we courageously invite God into the storm, and he gifts us his perspective, that space is what I call rest. And if nothing else, true rest is simply togetherness with God.
Courage allows for perspective and perspective allows for rest. And rest is what we need in the midst of a storm we can’t calm on our own. God is in our storms, but the process of engaging courage, perspective and rest, allow us to move into the spaces in the storm where we can find togetherness with him.
In my year of learning about spiritual CPR I’ve been learning I spend a lot more time coming back to courage and perspective, than I spend in this space of rest. It’s easy to let my eyes shift away from the perspective God has given me, and to wrestle myself out of God’s presence in the storm. But as I practice spiritual CPR I find the rhythms easier to return to, like well-worn pathways that lead me back to ‘withness’ with Him.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation can be part of a process of restoring life but it’s rarely successful on its own; it needs an outside source. When we engage in this process of spiritual CPR we create a space in which we invite God to be our source.”
Here’s the thing with the real CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation. When I read about it I found that “CPR may succeed in inducing a heart rhythm that may be shockable.” In other words, CPR may allow for defibrillation that will result in the return of circulation to the body. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation can be part of a process of restoring life but it’s rarely successful on its own; it needs an outside source.
When we engage in this process of spiritual CPR we create a space in which we invite God to be our source. We invite God to inject life back into us in the midst of the storm. We allow God to be our cool drink in that dryness of waiting. We find peace and joy and fullness that allow us to sit in the storm with him, but not be consumed by it, because we are reminded that he is our hope.
One final thought: when I conducted a very scientific Wikipedia search about CPR, I came across something called the Lazarus phenomenon. In layman’s terms, it’s the phenomenon that is observed when cardiopulmonary resuscitation has failed and someone is dead, but then spontaneously comes back to life. It’s an aptly named phenomenon, and one that I believe brings the final bit of hope to these stormy seasons. As much as I can talk about how we should posture ourselves with spiritual CPR to face our stormy seasons, we also serve a God brings about miracles even when all hope seems lost. Even when we’ve failed at spiritual CPR we serve a God that can and does inject life into the stormy season: spontaneously responding with more than we could ask or imagine.
May we start with courage,