Surviving the Doldrums

Finding genuine contentment in the waiting place.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:12

When my kids were young my favorite family read-aloud book was a story about a discontented fisherman’s son. All he wanted was to get in his boat, catch a breeze, and sail as far away as he could. But every time he set out he got caught in the doldrums. He was neither moving forward or backward, he was just stagnant. Stuck.

I loved the book so much because I can completely relate to that feeling of stuck-ness. I often picture myself sitting in the middle of the ocean on my pieced-together, Huck Finn raft with my little tree limb mast and mainsail made of old bed sheet staring at the sky, waiting for the wind to move me along to my next destination. But the wind doesn’t come. And my discouragement grows as hot as the sun beating down on my face. There’s not a thing I can do to make the wind pick up and blow me ashore. I just have to wait. And waiting is hard.

At our house, we often call the doldrums the “in-betweens.” Those times in life you find yourself between where you’re leaving and where you’re going. That may be a major transition, say, moving off to college, or it may be something smaller, like a season of stillness between ending a season of active ministry and beginning another. Typically, before the doldrums, there’s a season of mountaintops and valleys when the Lord is showing Himself powerfully. You are awash with His goodness, feel His presence almost tangibly, and hear His voice loudly. But during those in-between times, those waiting times, those doldrums, especially if the waiting lasts for a long season, you find the voice of God grows muffled, and His presence is faint.

51bcvjaaq1l._sx373_bo1204203200_.jpgIn one of the lesser-known Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace arrive in Narnia and meet Aslan on a mountaintop. There Aslan gives them four specific instructions about finding the lost Prince Rilian. He then blows the two down into Narnia below, but gives them this warning, “Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly; I will not often do so in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care it does not confuse your mind. And the signs you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look when you meet them there. That is why is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”

Aslan knew Jill and Eustace would face the doldrums, a stuck place, and they would need help to find their way back to the truth. In the waiting place, your mind can trick you into believing lies, about yourself and about your Father.

This season I’ve found myself in the deep throes of a nasty, despairing doldrum. I’ve found myself shouting my questions and frustrations to the stillness, “Who am I, Lord?” “Are you there Lord?” “Will you meet with me?” “I can’t do this.” “You can’t use me.” “I am inept and inadequate.” And I wait for His familiar whisper, and it doesn’t come. My heart aches and then I begin to recount what He’s told me so often on the mountain and in the valley. And I begin to take those steps that take me back to what I know:

Step 1: Examine My Heart. (2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 139:23-24) I ask the Lord to help me take a good, deep, honest look at my heart and mind. There may be a sinful habit or stinky attitude or some pervasive disobedience I need to bring under the authority of Christ. Repentance always brings restoration.

Step 2: Take the Next Step. (Psalm 37:34) When I am waiting on the Lord, I need to be sure I am seeking to keep His ways. Even, and most especially, if I don’t “feel” like reading my Bible. I read it. When I don’t “feel” like praying, I have to be honest and tell God how I’m feeling. When I don’t “feel” like meeting with that person or doing that Bible study. I do it. One step of obedience at a time. And that obedience is more times than not a serious struggle.

Step 3: Stand Firm on the Truth. (Ephesians 6:13-18) Here’s where faith becomes sight. In the doldrums I may not hear God’s voice clearly; I may not sense His presence, but I don’t have to have those things when I have the Word. I read it. I memorize it. I say it to myself over and over and over again. I can trust his instructions—even when the way is stagnant and foggy. Just as Aslan said, the way those instructions are walked out may not look like I expect (rarely do things turn out like we expect), but I can trust the Author is true to His Word.

Doing these steps while in the doldrums is tough. In the doldrums, apathy tends to want to invade your heart like Southern kudzu. You’ll have to fight to cut back those desires and inclinations of the flesh and find your way back to the truth. As Psalm 27:14 tells us waiting is not inactivity—even in the doldrums, your Abba is working on your behalf. To wait well in the doldrums takes supernatural strength and courage. And God is faithful. You keep seeking Him and one day you’ll find this powerful fresh wind of the Spirit comes and instead of your makeshift raft getting capsized, you’ll find the King has helped you build a sturdy vessel that can withstand the waiting.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

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“What Are We Doing?”

“Oh Lord I’m not going to Hell!”

It was a declaration. She was adamant. The sweat was dripping from our brows into our eyes. The sting of it making an already dreadful experience worse.

We had been to the grocery store.

On a Saturday afternoon.

In July.

In Alabama.

As we hurled our groceries into the back of her sporty SUV we were drenched in sweat and covered in stress. The blacktop parking lot only served to make a bad situation worse. We had filled our baskets with food enough to feed a family of nine and maneuvered our way through others who had set out to do the same. As we navigated the crowded store I had heard her informally curse under her breath several times. She has some standard phrases of unofficially cursing which include but are not limited to:
“For the Love!” “Come on people Get it together!” and “WHAT ARE WE DOING?!” (She often says this with an emphasis on the we and the doing)

She is an enthusiastic user of the English language and there have been many a popular phrase whose genesis was with her. Her level of patience and clear exasperation with people and the situation was evident that day. This was clearly evidenced by the response she had given me, “It’s not that hard.” Whereupon receiving instructions on pexels-photo-498701starting her car, I looked at her dumbfounded. Unlike my own tired old minivan with duct tape holding the seats together, her vehicle did not require a key. In fact, there was no ignition in which to place said key to start the car. I stared at her, mulling over how exactly I was supposed to turn the key in the nonexistent ignition “Just get in, push the pedal, and push the button.”

“It’s a button?”

“Yes! It’s not that hard! For the Love!” A string of informal profanities propelled me out of the grocer. To my surprise she was right. It wasn’t that hard. Technology and engineering at its best, a far cry from a hand crank Tin Lizzy.

As we meandered our way back to our place of lodging, I began to ponder on that declaration. The one about going to Hell, or rather not going to Hell. I thought about the certainty of her declaration, the authority with which she had spoken it. It was the kind of certainty that accompanies a fact. A vow of sorts. An altogether different kind of swearing.

As I’ve pondered on it still and giggled to myself, my sister’s words still ringing in my ears, I too have given pause and examined my eternity. I’ve pondered about what a declaration means for me. Not just any ol’ declaration though, that one in particular. As a Christ follower, I can confidently declare, “Lord, I’m not going to Hell.” The King’s Word says that He can restore to us the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12). I was five years old when I met Jesus. When I declared I would be with Him forever in Heaven. Five, hardly a kindergartener, yet I knew I loved Him. Back then, I would not have necessarily defined myself as a “Christ follower,” I hardly knew how to follow anyone, other than my parents and my soon to be Kindergarten teacher, yet there I was, riding down the road in a green 1970-something Chevy Impala giving my life to Jesus. The faith of a child, blindly committing to Him my everything. A decision that to date supersedes any other I’ve ever made. I do not distinctly remember jumping up and down in celebration but I do remember being happy about it. The certainty that had come with knowing not my future, but the outcome of my eternity, there was comfort and joy in that. There still is.tomorrow

My Mama has a sign in her kitchen, likely a gift she received, that says “I may not know what tomorrow holds but I know Who holds tomorrow.” I suppose that sums it up nicely. I can trust my future is in the Hands of My King and in knowing that I needn’t worry about what will happen, or not happen, tomorrow or the next day or the next. I need only to trust Him.

I like to keep it real. I have real flaws. I’m a real hot mess. I try hard to be real honest, and if I’m being real, I will admit on a day-to-day basis I do not behave as if I am overjoyed with my salvation or that I trust Jesus to take care of tomorrow. I’ve come to realize that may be partly why I struggle so.

The second part of Psalm 51:12 says “grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Perhaps, therein lies the solution to the problem. The joy of one’s salvation, the beginning of a beautiful relationship – how exactly does one get that? The answer seems to be simple.
Go back. Now I know I can not be five years old and even if I could master that one, I’m not sure I’d want to, those teen years were hard to say the least. However, what I have learned is when a relationship gets tough, it helps to remember how and why it began. My relationship with Jesus is the same way.

Ask for a willing spirit. I can pray and ask for a spirit that is willing. Willing to be all that He calls me to be. The Holy Spirit that lives in us has the power to sustain. To maintain that state of joy even when my emotions want to dictate otherwise.

fire-orange-emergency-burningI would venture to say that an Alabama summer isn’t as hot as Hell, although there are certainly times it feels like it might be really close. There are sometimes subtle reminders that I can take comfort in and one of those is knowing that in Christ, my salvation is secure and I can be thankful for a guaranteed eternity and a gracious King who gave Himself for me so that I can boldly take hold of His promises and know without a doubt that I am not going to Hell.