“Ahithophel said to Absalom, “I would choose twelve thousand men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. I would attack him while he is weary and weak. I would strike him with terror, and then all the people with him will flee.” 2 Samuel 17: 1,2
In life, I think it is commonly known that all will experience periods of intense stress and trial. In the weeks since we returned to St. Petersburg in January, our family has seen some of these struggles come our way.
Of course there has been the stress of moving to the new flat, starting the new job, leaving family in the states again. We’ve also seen lingering visa issues (keep in mind that when you live and work in Russia, being denied a visa means being unable to get back to your home – your children’s home). We’ve had a last minute 4-day trip to Moscow to keep our vehicle legal. We’ve seen illness that kept our 4 year old daughter in the hospital for 3 nights. We’ve been required – again – to leave our home for 3 weeks in order to renew our visas. We’ve experienced separation due to missions meetings. We’ve felt the loss of loved ones who’ve gone to be with our Lord.
Through these weeks, there have been moments when I have almost felt like a spectator in my own home – able only to sit helplessly and watch. Charlie and I have both felt at times to be totally broken, and we’ve taken out our pain on each other, sometime ruthlessly. Laying next to Isabel that first night she was in the hospital, Charlie and I were able to talk on the phone. We grieved at the realization that Isabel’s inability to fight off the infection that was attacking her body was due at least in part to the stress that had come over our home in those weeks, and to Charlie’s and my incessant fighting and bitterness.
It was at that time that we also began to realize that we had been burning out. Life for us in St. Petersburg with our two children sometimes seems to be almost entirely about meeting the basic necessities. Kicking the soccer ball in the back yard or quiet afternoons relaxing in front of a movie together or even a couple of hours for Charlie and I to be alone are things that are very rare in our household. Things like getting out and going for a drive or going to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal or taking a walk in the park are events that carry with them a certain intensity, or stress, from which we’ve never been able to feel completely free since living here.
And of course, we’ve just returned from 4 months in the states, during which we spent almost every weekend at a different church, a different nursery, often staying with a different family who so graciously put us up while we were in town.
And I can’t explain the shame that comes with holding your daughter down while the nurses work to start another IV, or draw some more blood, and asking yourself, “Miki, why did you let it get this bad?
It was during this time in the hospital that I was able to spend some time in 2 Samuel, chapters 15-18, reading the story King David’s flight from his palace upon receiving word that his son, Absalom, had betrayed him, and was coming to take over the throne of Israel. As I lay there beside Isabel, crying and reading and praying, I felt for the first time in many weeks what was like a small breeze of the fresh air of truth into my lungs – like the first late afternoon breeze after a hot, humid South-Georgia summer day. In the weeks since, we’ve slowly come to see more and more that in our work, in our not taking care of ourselves, we’d left ourselves – our family – exhausted and extremely vulnerable to the enemy.
The enemy is the type to come upon the weak and vulnerable. He will attack mercilessly, and he will attack in the most delicate, private and painful places. And so, I’ve been asking myself –
What do we do when the enemy comes after our home?
In searching for some understanding on this crucial issue in the kingdom, I’ve meditated a bit on David’s response in 2 Samuel, and wanted to share some of the ideas that have been standing out to me:
1 – David left his home. 2 Samuel 15:14 – “Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom.” Now, it’s important to point out here 2 Samuel 5:11 and 12. Verse 11 tells of the king of Tyre sending supplies and workers to build that palace for David shortly after he’d taken residence in Jerusalem.
The very next verse, verse 12, says, “And David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.”
The construction of that palace had played a role in defining David as king of Israel. It seems that in this time of attack on that palace, he would have stayed without question to defend his home, the home that he relied on not only for his provision, but for defining who he was to so many as a man.
But David fled. This points to a couple of ideas for me:
- First, despite what others thought of him, he knew that he was not defined by his home, or his title. He was defined as a child of his Creator, God. When he realized that what he knew as home may be taken from him, he was willing to leave it immediately, and to follow his God.
- Second, he didn’t depend on the palace or his title to defend him. He trusted only God, and in that trust left himself seemingly more vulnerable in the eyes of man.
Recently I was having a conversation with an old friend from the U.S., who was commenting on how nervous he’d become at the state of our country and the directions it seems to be taking in many ways. “It’s really damaging the church in our country, “he said, to which I answered, “Yes, but it is so good to know that our relationship with our God does not depend on the state of our country.”
He thought on that for a minute, and then said, “I think I might use that next week at our small group!” We must be willing to let go of the things by which others try to define us. God is steadfast. His love and authority will never fail us.
2 – David was not afraid to grieve openly. “But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.” 2 Samuel 15:30.
In the months after Jasper’s birth, many people asked me about the differences between our daughter’s birth in the U.S. and his birth at the Medical University of St. Petersburg.
“Were the rooms clean?” they would often ask. The best answer I could give was usually, “Yes, they were very clean, but they were not sterile the way Isabel’s room had been in the states.”
This is a significant difference in many areas between the cultures I’ve realized. Of course, in many ways, a sterile environment can be very good in keeping down the spread of illness and disease.
Unfortunately, however, I recently heard the word “sterile” used in a rather negative connotation, as a missionary friend was describing to a Russian his view of the condition of the church in the states. But as I thought through his description, I found that in some ways I think he may have been right.
Not only are we conscious not to transmit physical disease and illness with sterile environments, we are also careful not to give off any indication of emotional or spiritual illness that we may be experiencing in our lives – particularly in the church setting. It makes me think back to the times that I have played the part of the prowling enemy, spreading the news of the struggles of a brother or sister in church disguised as a request for prayer, but really as a form of terrible entertainment and a way to make me feel better about my own existence.
Or the times that I’ve looked on at the emotional outbursts – the crying out – of another in their time of trial, and have regarded such individuals as perhaps less educated, or less civilized as myself. The times that I’ve handled such situations with what I called grace, but which was actually condescension, mockery, and patronization.
And I have to ask myself, how much damage have I done? How many have I left feeling so isolated – so ostracized from the church that they’ve been forced to find other outlets through which to work out their grief? How many could have known a greater intimacy with their God, but for my closing the door to their open, free expression of grief and sorrow in the church, safe in the presence of their Creator?
3 – Finally, David trusted God through the entire trial, and submitted fully to the path that had been laid out before him. “But the king said,”…If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”” 2 Samuel 16:10
Many know some of the story of our first year living in Russia, and of some of the trials we experienced that year with the pregnancy and birth of our son here. One of the words that I felt the Lord speaking to me throughout that year was the word “submit”. And so, even in our mediocre efforts, we sought to do just that, to just trust the Lord and to submit to the trials He was allowing in our lives.
A few months after Jasper’s birth, I was in a service at a friend’s church on a Sunday that communion was to be served. In preparation for the serving of the bread and wine, the pastor said to the congregation that all were welcome to take communion that day.
“All we ask,” he said, “is that if there be any grievance against you, which you have not forgiven, that you ask the Lord to show you that unforgiveness in your heart and that you choose to forgive your brother or sister before taking communion today (referring to 1 Cor. 11:28).”
In the moments of silence that followed, I closed my eyes and asked the Lord to reveal to me any unforgiveness that I was carrying in my heart.
The Lord said, “Miki, there is unforgiveness in your life.”
“Who, Lord?” I asked. “Who have I not forgiven?”
“Me.” He answered. This answer came so clearly – and startled me so that I opened my eyes and looked around the room, almost to see if anyone else had heard it.
I told myself that this couldn’t have been right. I closed my eyes and said, “I’m sorry, Lord. I’m not hearing You well. Help me to listen.”
“Miki,” He answered, “you’ve been hurt by all that I have allowed you and your family to experience in these past several months in Russia. You’re mad at Me, and you need to forgive Me.”
Tears began to form immediately in my eyes. After a few moments, I said in my spirit, “Lord, I forgive You.” At this point the sobs came, and came. I began to cry so that I excused myself from the service (note point #2 above!), and when I returned an older man came to me and said, “Are you okay?”
We have to be willing to trust the Lord in all things, knowing that He will allow us to walk paths that will leave us broken.
One of the enemy’s major weapons is to cause in us a fear of suffering. I certainly am not advocating an active search for suffering in our lives. But I think David understood the value of suffering not only in the furtherance of the kingdom of God, but also in his personal knowledge of God and in his experiencing God’s love in his life.
We’ve been hearing a great deal in recent days about some of the suffering that has been coming into many of your lives. I pray for a new intimacy and awareness in your spirit of the magnificent grace and love of Almighty God, particularly in the midst of the incredible trials you face. He does not leave us, He does not forsake us. If you are laying in the place of broken-ness, I pray you may feel His arms holding you, carrying you, and that you may experience a renewal of life and truth as His spirit washes over your body, your home, your life.
Love in Christ Jesus –