My wife and I did not intend to have another year of sweeping changes in 2016. We never do.
We told ourselves this year was going to be different. The roller coaster was finally going to stop. No more big transitions like the previous eight years of marriage.
We had already been through the stress of getting married, buying a home in D.C., me getting diagnosed with a disruptive chronic illness, having a baby, having another baby 19 months later, a significant divorce in the family, selling our home in D.C., moving to North Carolina for a new job, moving back to D.C. for another job, and buying another home in D.C.
Raquel and I wanted a nice, calm 2016 — one that was exciting, but in a good, non-stressful way. It was not meant to be.
Before 2016 was over, we began attending a new church after being at the previous one for a decade; we had a new baby who was in pain for his first six weeks; I got a new job; we dealt with a significant conflict; and I had some bizarre developments with my illness. All this and more sucked up a ton of our emotional energy, and now three months into 2017, we’re still worn out from last year.
Everybody’s Doing It
Last night, Raquel and I were talking about the constant bumps during our first nine years of marriage, and we wondered out loud why this seems to happen to us every year.
“It would be nice to have an easy year like some of our friends did last year,” Raquel said.
We couldn’t think of anyone.
Some of the many stressful examples in our friends’ lives included cancer, having new babies, starting a church, poverty, serious marital problems, emotional breakdowns, publishing and promoting a book, buying and selling a home, caring for an elderly mom with dementia, having a falling out with siblings, getting fired, and having a toddler who went for weeks barely sleeping.
Our friends, like us, have often felt spiritually dry and emotionally low during these times. And a lot of it has to do with the sense that we’re doing something wrong, that the dullness in our souls is a result of our distance from God. Fears like this take hard circumstances and convert them into hopelessness, and I think that’s exactly what the Enemy of our souls wants.
Exploiting the Valleys
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis tells the story of two demons playing with a man’s mind and diverting him away from experiencing God’s love. One tactic the demons employ is keeping the man from realizing that emotional peaks and valleys are a natural part of life.
The senior demon explains that it is in the valleys, “much more than during the peak periods, that [a human] is growing into the sort of creature [God] wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. … He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.”
“Do not be deceived,” he cautions the junior demon, “[o]ur cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Unexpected Relief Through the Weird Game
In these times, I have to remind myself that God is not absent, and He can still work in me and through me. The path through the valley is not an infinite one. It eventually leads to another mountaintop or at least a plateau. Relief often comes when I least expect it, but in the meantime, I often feel drained and have little to give. That’s where I’ve been for the last few days and especially last night.
I drove home tired and disappointed in myself. I was overwhelmed at work, I felt disconnected from my church and friends, and couldn’t find my phone.
As soon as I opened the door, my five- and seven-year-old daughters came running up wearing their pajamas inside out and asked me to play with them.
“Daddy, go upstairs and put on your pajamas inside out. We’re playing the weird game tonight.”
“Girls,” I said without smiling, “I am really not in a good place right now, and I just need to try to find my phone.”
They wouldn’t drop it, and for the next hour they kept asking me to change my clothes. Their persistence finally won out, and to their delight, I took off my suit and put on inside out pajamas. I ate dinner with them, put my giggling baby boy in his crib, and watched them laughing as they passed gas for fun — and I slowly started feeling a little lighter.