I wish I could pull up a chair and listen to what’s on your heart. Chances are, it’s something pretty big. And chances are, you’re having trouble finding someone who’s willing to listen, empathize, and share in your pain.
I’ve been there… a few times.
One such time was after Brendan, our fifth child, was born to my husband and me in Haiti, where we’d been missionaries for three years. I was already managing our twin seven-year-olds, one with special needs, our four-year-old, and our seventeen-month-old.
Brendan was colicky and demanding, the weather was unbearable, and I experienced a sense of oppression (or depression) like never before. I felt completely trapped. I felt claustrophobic, even outdoors. We couldn’t leave Haiti for a break, because we were in the process of adopting our oldest three children, and their paperwork was forever stuck.
I despaired. All I could see ahead of me were years of exhaustion.
For the first time in my life I felt no hope that tomorrow or the next day, or any day after that would be any better. For the first time ever, I understood why people would consider suicide. That sounds melodramatic from this point of view seven years later, but back then I had lost perspective.
I longed for someone to listen to me. Really listen.
Not just listen for two minutes and then offer advice and cheery words like, “Oh, just enjoy these years with your little ones! They will fly by!” I wanted someone to get it. The funny thing was, I was surrounded by wonderful people. I did have a community of friends, a husband who loved me, and family in the U.S. praying faithfully for me. I wasn’t alone, yet I didn’t feel understood.
I began to grow bitter, wondering why people weren’t helping me. But if they did help, I found myself thinking, “Too little, too late!” When someone would have only five minutes to talk on the phone, instead of being grateful for their gesture of love, I was angry that they could not give more.
I placed heavy expectations on those around me and enjoyed a perverse sense of satisfaction when they failed to meet those expectations. I was miserable.
And in my misery, God reached down to me with a Psalm I had never yet really understood, for all its popularity.
Psalm 23 (NIV)
1) The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2) He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
This grabbed me. The idea of someone letting—no, making me lie down sounded too good to be true!
3) he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Here I stopped and cried. My soul was completely dried up. There I was in Haiti as a missionary no less, supposed to being walking “in paths of righteousness,” but unable to do anything to please God because I was so depleted. I begged God to restore my soul.
4) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I wasn’t dying (except to self), but I perceived my surroundings as the “valley of the shadow of death.” There was plenty of evil around me to fear. Our nights were serenaded by voodoo drums — part of the neighborhood voodoo ceremonies inviting demon involvement and even possession.
5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
God would prepare a table for me? All day long I was preparing the table for our family of seven. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner — everything was made from scratch, because that’s the only way to cook in Haiti. Every meal was me serving them: cutting their food, giving them seconds before I’d taken a bite, spooning things into their mouths, wiping up spills, listening to complaints about the food! The idea of God preparing a table for me to feast at — even the figurative picture of it — humbled and amazed me.
6) Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I had been completely convinced that “burdens and weariness would follow me all the days of my life and that I would live in Haiti in misery forever.” But God offered me goodness and love and His house.
Change was not instantaneous. I had established a pattern of thinking negatively, and I still had a lot of stress in my life, but God was at work. I meditated on Psalm 23 day after day. When I was tempted to despair, I would come back to Him again, pleading with Him to restore my soul.
And He did.
Over the days, weeks, and months, His Holy Spirit restored my joy and peace.
God proved to me that His ear was always listening.
I began to realize that no one on the face of the earth could have listened well enough to satisfy me.
Yes, anyone who did listen was a blessing and helped point me to the One Best Listener, but no one else could have restored my soul.
Do you need a listening ear? Like I said, I would love to offer mine—and if you really don’t have a person you can talk to, write me and I’ll listen to you and pray for you. But the Lord’s offer to listen is even better.
Not only will He listen, He will restore your soul.
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8)