Everyone has their thorn in the flesh.
For some people it’s as intense as sexual obsession, for others it’s as insignificant concealable as judgementalism. Some people are fortunate in the sense that their thorn is specific. A gambling problem, a gossiping issue, a porn addiction. These are very articulated, obvious struggles that – while not easy – can be pinpointed and dealt with.
But then there are other thorns that are less concrete. Insecurity. Fear. Or in my case, doubt.
This is somewhat of a hard pill to swallow, having grown up in church going almost as far back as I can vividly remember. The doubt wasn’t there then, though. And it didn’t manifest itself as doubt, which is doubt’s MO, I’ve come to find.
No, at first – and up until very recently – it was only hypochondria. Of cancer, really. First it was breast cancer, and I believed that once I had myself checked that it would be fine. And yet here I sit two breast ultrasounds, innumerable physical checks, an ovarian ultrasound, a thyroid ultrasound, and a brain scan later, and as I write this I am struggling to push back the dark thoughts that I found a lump this morning. I am 25 years old, and despite my need to lose weight, I am in almost perfect physical health. I have hypothyroidism, but that’s it. No chronic medical issues, no high risk factors, no family history. My fear of this is not based in reality.
I struggled have been struggling with it for a long time. Why am I still so afraid of something that isn’t there?
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t cancer itself that I was scared of. It was dying. But why on Earth would someone who believed in eternity be afraid of dying? Well, for one thing, the idea of leaving my toddlers motherless is terrifying. I think the idea scares any mother on some level. But I should have had faith that I would see them again, they have an amazing father who would take care of them if anything ever happened to me, in addition to my wonderful mother who would do everything she could to preserve their memory of me.
So I knew it went deeper. I dug, and I dug, and I dug, until finally I found the root.
There was a huge hole in my faith. I don’t know where it came from or how it grew so intensely undetected for so long. Like cancer.
Once I realized this I began to dwell on it, and after a few weeks of thinking and praying, I entered what I feel has been the darkest valley in my faith that I have ever experienced. I was tiptoeing rock bottom. And then the voices came.
“How do you know any of this is real? How do you know you’re not a fool talking to a ceiling? This could all be some great hallucination that men made up centuries ago out of desperation. Where is the proof? Even if there is a God, clearly He isn’t interested in you, because He’s ignoring you completely.” They came continuously, without end, for months, and months. They beat against my head, and it took every ounce of conscientious effort to keep them at bay. But I was growing weak, and weary, and no matter where I looked, I found no rest.
I poured my heart out to one or two people, I cried that I didn’t know why God wasn’t answering me when I asked Him to speak. I knew women who heard from our God so vividly in their ways, they’re so sure of His direction, He is so clear with them, and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting that. I told them that I was pushing back these thoughts but that I felt like they were beating me down.
I braced myself for a scolding, because only the weak admit they doubt. Only the weak doubt in the first place. But scolding never came. Instead, there was only an embrace of “You’re okay. This is an attack, and you’re okay.”
For a few days I felt empty. I felt like I had given in to the doubt and accepted that if God was real, He didn’t want me.
But it didn’t make things better. Instead of battling doubt, I was now battling hopelessness, because if there is no God, there is no eternity, and there is so much more to fear. When I die, I never see my children again, I never see my family, I cease to exist. It was hopeless.
And then I had a thought thrust upon me that hooked itself into my soul.
It was Jesus, on the cross. Not as a redeemer, not as a savior – though he was and is all of those things – but that was not the way I was looking at him. I saw him as a son. A man who felt forsaken was crying out to his God.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46
The point, I felt in my heart, was not in the comparison of situations. Clearly I am not bearing the sins of the world on my cross. The point was the response.
Jesus had all the power in the world at his disposal. He could have allowed his pain and heartache overcome him. He had a choice, and he chose God. Even when his God seemed to abandon him, He refused to give up. He chose to cling to his God in spite of silence.
This was my choice. I could give in to my doubt, or I could press on, knowing that I might continue to be met with silence.
So I picked myself up, and I shouldered my proverbial cross again, and I began to trudge up my hill – yes, in silence.
My faith legs wobbled at times. I had a serious battle hang over. Emotionally and spiritually I felt like I had been run ragged. And then I heard this from a friend, and it stirred something inside of me.
“God is not an emotion.”
My feelings do not change Him or His absoluteness. The only thing our feelings can change, if we let them, is our perception.
So I pressed onward. I began to speak out loud when the thoughts of doubt came.
At one point I was driving at night and they hit me again, and instead of giving in, I spoke shouted at the top of my lungs: “Praise God! Praise God! PRAISE GOD!” over, and over, and over, and over. Until I was sobbing and shouting, and the voices were gone. The scent of doubt lingered, but the attack had ceased. I had kicked over my first domino.
The days since have gotten progressively steadier, aided by the encouragement of wise friends.
But today was the day that I feel like I’m making strides forward again.
There is a song by Jason Gray called “Remind me who I am”, and some of the lyrics – the ones that penetrated my heart – are as follows:
“When I lose my way, and I forget my name – remind me who I am…. If I’m your beloved, can you help me believe it?
Tell me once again who I am to you, who I am to you. Tell me, lest I forget who I am to you, that I belong to you.”
Doubt attacked my very identity. I don’t think there was ever a point when I was really convinced that God did not exist, but rather that He was not real to me. That I was not His. If Satan can effectively impart this belief, it will be his greatest success and lie.
Salvation is frequently referred to as marriage. We are the bride, He is the groom. I am the bride. I am.
And earthly marriage is meant to reflect our heavenly marriage. The needs we have in the physical realm are needs we have spiritually. Intimacy, reassurance, adoration.
If my husband stopped telling me he loved me, if he went away and we didn’t talk for months at a time, there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that I would feel abandoned, that I would feel neglected. Those feelings of security and intimacy would fade.
Now imagine that we were separated for some reason, and the most thorough way we had to communicate were through letters, writing.
Weeks go by and I haven’t seen or heard from him, so I send letter after letter begging for reassurance of his love, that he’s still on my side, that he still wants me. But I never check the mailbox. So no matter how many letters I send, I am not allowing myself to receive any response, and mistake that for a lack of response on his end. He writes back every day, long letters declaring his love and affection, his plans for us, beseeching me to trust him. They’re all right there, in the mailbox, if I’d only take the time to check.
And then one day I do. I open my mailbox bible and find love letter upon love letter upon love letter. All confirming my requests for love. The words I’ve been dying to hear, the water I’ve been starving for.
His word is a love letter. It is a story of Jesus and His present, living, adoration for us. For me. For you. No matter what your feelings try to tell you, this love is constant, it’s consistent, even if you can’t see or hear Him.
This was one of the hardest and most humbling things I’ve ever had to write, but I knew that I had to share it. I haven’t overcome my hypochondria in its entirety, but I refuse to let our enemy take it and run away with my hope. I will not trade a great romance for a shady one night stand.
So, if even one person is struggling with the heartbreaking thorn of doubt, if you feel like your first love doesn’t love you anymore, then there’s something you need to hear.
Check the box, because dear sister- you’ve got mail.