The Truth About our Trials: Learning Obedience

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There’s nothing quite so devastating as feeling like you are giving your all to the Lord, following him, trusting him, serving him, only to feel like he’s snatching away your happiness and asking you to move in a direction you would never have chosen for yourself. Trials feel that way, whether it’s an unexpected diagnosis, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the passing of a loved one, an unforeseen bend in the path of life. These trials set us reeling, our hearts bleed.

If I’m being honest, which I like to do here in my “candid” writing, as many folks call it, this was definitely one of the biggest contributors to the hardness of my heart, to my missing heartbeat. I have felt like I have been faithful to the Lord, and he has asked me to lay down my desires and walk a completely different path than the one I wanted to choose. As if our good works entitle us to anything… I have grappled with acceptance for many months now. And I’m not sure I’m there yet. May was to be the month that we would begin trying for our third child, but with all that has unfolded with my health, and with the many unanswered questions we have, that dream is on hold, perhaps indefinitely. It has been heartbreaking to lay down that dream and continue trusting in God’s goodness. I have known from the moment I had my final neurology appointment that this was going to be an exercise in obedience.

As I have pleaded with the Lord and fought a deep discouragement in my heart, particularly in my ministry of writing, I started feeling a gentle nudge in my soul to kneel before the Lord in worship. This is more than a little outside of my wheelhouse for a typical Sunday morning. My heart, I am sad to say, was too prideful to kneel before my Maker. It is literally painful to write that. What’s more painful to expose is that I continued to feel that nudge, week after week, and I brushed it aside. In hindsight, I think this small choice is perhaps the largest reason that the Lord has allowed so many trials to persist for so many months. It’s been the breaking of Catherine Burleigh. My heart needed to be humbled to the point that I was willing to kneel, to relinquish my own desires and dreams to his will and his desires for my life. I have fought this for many months.

My heart broke the week before my knee did, but the process felt like one fell swoop. I cried out to the Lord, “Do. Whatever. It. Takes. I can’t live like this. I will take your path.” Once I chose obedience, once I began the attempt to accept what he has for me, my heart turned toward him and his words began to flood my heart again. He reminded me that in him there is always hope. His plans are good. He fulfills the desires of my heart. Life may look different than I have planned, but his goodness will never fail. It was the beginning of a heartbeat.

In some ways, I still feel like I am in the breaking process. My will still contends with his; I still battle to daily choose his path over mine. There is still a part of my heart that is fiercely clinging to my own dreams. Through everything we’ve experienced with Sophie, I have learned that acceptance is a process. It’s not something that happens overnight. And I can only trust that the Lord will be patient with me, continue to speak to me, as I wrestle with all this. I am thankful for his kindness, his gentleness, his grace, as I walk through yet another path of acceptance in my life. Some days are easy; I feel content with life as it is, and I’m ready to move forward with what’s next. Other days I spend fighting the tears moment by moment. But my heart is set on obedience.

I realize that our own obedience is not a magical chant or spell that we can use to obtain what we desire. That’s not the point. God is my Master, and he deserves my obedience for that alone. Obedience acknowledges his wisdom and that his plan is far superior to my own. Neither is disobedience necessarily the root of all hardheartedness, of all our heartbreak, of all our trials. But for me, it was a contributing factor. And I suspect if we all look closely, we may see areas where God has been nudging us, but we’ve been too stubborn to take the steps he’s asking us to take. He will wait. He will continue to refine us until we are ready. It has taken me a long time to act in obedience, far too long, I must admit. But the results are breathtaking.

My heart is starting to beat again. There is still pain from the trials we have walked, still walk. There are still dreams that I don’t want to die. But there is peace. And a heartbeat. A blessed heartbeat.

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