My refuge

My refuge

Even when I am a brute beast, my Savior gently rescues me.

Tracy Siegler

Therapists, social workers, counselors—they tend to ask questions that are fairly mundane. They want their clients to do most of the talking, so they make the experience as nonthreatening as possible and they keep things open-ended. That’s why my therapist really got my attention when suddenly her question was very direct.

“When was the last time you felt deep, complete joy?” she asked. “You know, when you feel like everything is just about perfect in your world at that moment.”

I’d already had several sessions with this therapist, and she knew a lot of the details of my life by now. She knew that things were generally pretty good. I’d had a happy childhood in a stable, nurturing, Christian family. I was married to a man I loved and who loved me. Our healthy, happy son was just over a year old. We had everything we needed, and yet, in five years, I could not remember a time when I’d felt deep joy.

I gazed at the floor, trying to come up with something. “Definitely on my wedding day,” I said. “But that was over five years ago.” I stared out the window, as if something out there would bring back a memory. “There must be something since then. Surely something when my son was born. . . . ” Nothing on the ceiling jogged my memory either.

“You’re thinking way too long about this,” the therapist said. “It shouldn’t be that hard.”

It wasn’t just that I lacked joy. As our fifth wedding anniversary came around, the picture was more grim than that. Too often anger and frustration with this circumstance or that offense made me rage inside. Sometimes I couldn’t keep it inside, and I was downright ugly to be around. My husband bore the brunt of my foul mood. A few times I yelled at my son, but even when I held it inside I feared that he would sense my grumpiness and pent-up rage. I feared it would adversely affect his emotional development.

I wish I could say that I prayed fervently that God would help me find joy. But when I was seething with rage, I didn’t pray and I didn’t want to look to Scripture at those moments. My default self, opposed to God, was firmly in control. I just wanted to be angry. Looking back, I can honestly confess with Asaph the psalmist, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you” (Psalm 73:21,22). The only prayer my troubled spirit was capable of forming was a feeble “Lord, help me. . . . Help us. . . . ” breathed into my tear-stained pillow from time to time.

Only God knows how long I might have let this go on—and how bad it might have gotten. But he had a plan to turn things around for our little family. We were preparing for my husband’s first deployment to the Middle East with the United States Air Force. I feared that our marriage would not make it through four months of physical separation. I feared that my mental state would prove harmful to my son’s emotional well-being. So I sought the help of a therapist.

The diagnosis was dysthymia—mild, long-term depression. I continued my sessions with the therapist. She coached me in coping strategies. I made sure I was getting sufficient sleep. I exercised regularly. I was faithful in my daily Bible study time. I read books about nurturing our marriage relationship and worked to apply what I learned. I ate nutritious meals. I allowed myself to relax and be unproductive once in a while. But the brute beast was always there, ready to rage if provoked.

Then one day the therapist suggested medication. I balked slightly, thinking surely if I really trust God—if I really have faith—shouldn’t the certain hope of salvation bring me joy? My Savior loved me enough to take the punishment for my sins upon himself. Shouldn’t that be enough to make me happy? Was I relying on pills to solve my problems, and is that a sin?

I talked with my husband about it. We agreed that if I did indeed have a mental disorder, it was okay to try some medicine. Besides, the time for him to deploy was approaching like a freight train. If pills might help, then we needed to give it a shot.

That was almost nine years ago. I have been on antidepressants ever since, with the exception of my pregnancy with my second son. God has given me the ability to feel joy again—the deep, complete kind. There are still problems in my life, and I still struggle. As a doctor once told me, “Medication can only make you normal. It can’t make you happy all the time.”

I have also found that medication on its own doesn’t do the trick. Regular exercise helps a great deal. I need daily time in God’s Word as well. I may end up taking those pills for the rest of my life. I’m okay with that. I don’t rely on pills to solve my problems, though. I rely on the Lord, who led me to the relief that the medication provided.

God told his people through the prophet Nehemiah, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (8:10). I have come to know that the joy of the Lord is my strength, even when I don’t feel joyful—even when my emotions don’t express what my soul knows. Now, by God’s grace, I am often able to feel the joy he gives through faith in his Word.

Psalm 73, the one that talks about the “brute beast,” ends like this:

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. (vv. 23-28)

God did not abandon me when my sinful nature was in control and anger and frustration made me rage inside. Thanks be to God that my husband loved me “as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25), because he didn’t abandon me either.

God waited until my spirit was quieted and then—in that still, small voice—he spoke to me gently through his Word. He showed me that his love is constant. Even when I am raging, his love is calm and steadfast. When I am a brute beast, he looks at me and loves me. Then he gently rescues me.

Tracy Siegler is a member at Christ Alone, Fort Worth, Texas.

 

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Author: Tracy Siegler
Volume 102, Number 1
Issue: January 2015

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