A Watershed Year
Motherhood was not as expected. Sure, I knew in my head that there would be sleepless nights. I thought I was more than ready, after preparing by reading popular pregnancy books and websites, and I knew all about the sacrifices that I would make – things that I would give up, like having a quiet romantic dinner for two.
Motherhood brought me the sweetest little girl that I could ever hope for. Yet it also brought on a host of fears. What if I mess up as a mom? What if she turns out to be an unruly teenager? I worried about not bonding well with her. I kept telling myself that every new mother has these normal baby blues and that I would manage soon enough.
But my mind kept churning out worrisome thoughts. My body did not go back to the way it was before pregnancy, and I began to doubt my husband’s love for me. Things got worse when I heard about some of my friends’ soured relationships. I could not imagine what they were going through. I couldn’t help wondering how this could happen to marriages of church-going people. I did not want to accept that God allowed this kind of thing to happen, because it meant accepting that it could happen to my family, too. What can I do to have more faith in God?
After maternity leave, I went back to work with an anxious heart. I wanted to return quickly to my usual work routine because I prided myself on my performance. But in reality, I had to try harder than usual to focus. My brain insisted on cluttering and emptying thoughts at random. I started worrying about my job security and sanity. Then, my boss lost his home overnight in a fire that, thankfully, did not claim any lives. But it certainly brought home the realization that our relationships, worldly possessions, careers and even our lives could literally go up in flames without any warning. Why did these things happen? Does God care?
As these events progressed, I hid my feelings from others. I began to feel ambivalent about going to church (I was attending a church in Boston back then). I went to church as usual, but I was not really there. Our fellowship attendance was fairly low then, which was in itself quite discouraging. We then joined a new group in the fellowship for young parents. This suited me fine, since I would not be expected to do much sharing as a new member of the group. Yet, in some ways, I did want to share what I was feeling — if only someone would ask me first. When someone did ask me whether I would resume playing the piano for singspiration time, I declined because I wanted to be detached.
Even church activities that I had previously enjoyed seemed like “artificial sweetener” to me. I was trying to avoid talking with people because I did not want to break down in front of everyone. Yet, I felt that surely someone could see how unhappy I was — don’t they care enough to ask? Sometimes, I allowed myself to openly shed tears at church, just to see if anyone would ask me why I was upset. Only a couple of people did. It seemed to me that most people, including me, came to church to learn about the love of God and then left without really sharing our hearts and our lives. I feared that our church was like the church in Laodicea: “So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:16-17) I was keeping up appearances of being a Christian, but I knew my faith was shaken quite badly.
And so, my list of anxieties kept growing faster than my baby daughter’s weight. I prayed to Jesus to hold on to me, for everything around me seemed to be falling apart. Worries festered into doubt that gnawed its way into my soul. Every child longs to know, does my Father still love me? God, where is the joy and peace that Christians are supposed to have?
During my appointments with my doctor, she routinely asked how I was feeling. I said I was fine. At one appointment, however, I was already upset when I reached her office. Her continued sincerity just broke my defenses down and I confessed my unhappiness. However, I rejected her suggestions for anti-depressive medication, fearing addiction and being seen as unstable. I simply refused to acknowledge the possibility that I had post-partum depression, even though it was a thought that had occurred to me before.
Around that time, one of our church missionaries shared about her ministry and mentioned her daughter had such a bad case of depression that she nearly threw the baby into the garbage can (happy note: Grandma saved the baby!). Her story jolted me out of my pride and fear. At a follow-up appointment, I finally agreed to have my doctor prescribe medication. I felt much better and could view things with a brighter perspective. I then realized that God had provided for help many times at each appointment, but I was simply too prideful to accept it.
It is like the old joke about a Christian preacher who went up to his rooftop surrounded by flood waters and prayed for help. A canoe and motorboat went by, and people yelled to him, “Get in!” The preacher said, “No, my faith will help me!” Then a helicopter flew by and dropped a rope to him, but he was resolute. “No, thanks, my faith in God will help save me!” And when he came to heaven, he asked, “Why didn’t You help me, Lord?” The reply was, “Well, I sent you the two boats, and then the helicopter, but you wouldn’t get in!” Sometimes God provides help in ordinary ways, often simply using other people to help us. But we are hindered by our own grand expectations of what we think God should be doing.
Too many times I had prided myself in my faith in God. However, God showed me that this pride in my faith is a subtle, yet just as deadly, attack on our relationship with Him. As a Christian, it is natural for me to acknowledge that God is in control of my past (by taking care of my sins on the cross) and my future (by promising eternity with Him). But my constant worrying showed that I did not trust Him to be in control of my present circumstances.
A guest speaker at the church helped me realize that there really is no “present time.” Every second from the future that passes by will immediately become the past. So, God really is the God of all circumstances and of all times. Faith in God is truly a gift from God that should be much cherished. It is not something I can work hard at getting more of. The only thing I can do is trust in Him, every moment.
In time, I realized that God was starting to answer my questions above (in italics). That He loves us is not just a concept to be digested with our minds, but one to be experienced with our hearts. Although I could not see Him in the midst of my troubles, Jesus was there. He prepared for the help that we needed even before we realized we needed any help. Although I might never know why God allows unhappy times, He does care about us.
The despair and separation from all things good is a terrible feeling. If Hell is like depression, I don’t want to be there. Looking back, I had fallen for the big lie that I was utterly alone and hopeless. For Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) It is not our loving God who forsakes His children; as the old “Come Thou Fount” hymn reminds us, we are the ones prone to leave the God we love.
As part of my journey through depression, perhaps not surprisingly, I read a lot from the books of Psalms and Job. The Word of God was healing. King David often poured out his feelings of betrayal, repentance, and anger before holy God, yet he often ended with notes of confidence in the Lord’s power, wisdom, leading, holiness, vindication, and of course His love. Instead of ruminating on my worries, reading the Psalms helped remind me of the goodness of God. And to answer the question of “Why did this happen, God?” Job was shown that his focus should really be on “Who.” The Almighty is sovereign. As we repent in dust and ashes and return to Him, He lovingly restores us.
In that one watershed year, God led me to see that I could not trust in material things, spouses, parents, career or health. For these things perish or leave us eventually, sometimes too suddenly. True peace and joy are found with Jesus. I need to trust and hold on tightly to Him. Cling to the Lord no matter what!
Encouraged by my husband, I started rejoining church and fellowship activities, including starting to serve in the children’s ministry. In time, I learned that it was not that people at church didn’t care; they didn’t know how to show their care and were not sure how to approach the hurting one. Even my husband was unsure of what was happening and didn’t know what to do. We had to walk through the experience together.
I gained a different outlook against my fears of the unknown future. It is not the common “Nothing to fear but fear itself,” but rather “Fear God, and trust in his enduring love.” For Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Another wonderful verse is “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) Even when things seem really bleak, there is always hope with Jesus.
Interestingly, God also gave me chances to use this experience to minister to others in their dark times. I wrote down this personal experience to share with others who might be going through some of the doubts, fears and spiritual weakness that I had gone through. Following the publication of the story in the Boston church’s magazine, three sisters reached out to me for encouragement when they had similar challenges. God is indeed our Holy Shepherd.
Someone asked whether Christians should share stories of times when we doubt or lose faith, in case it makes non-Christians question our God’s might. To me, the answer is clear. If we choose to give accounts of only our positive experiences with God, it makes both God and us look good. But by including our doubtful, insecure, and even angry experiences when God does not answer us promptly, we can truly show God’s grace and mercy when He does answer us. It displays the truth of our sinful natures, and it makes only God look good.
It is all right if my flaws and failings can be seen by others. That is why I need Jesus. It is God who never fails. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
I am resharing the story here at ACCCN after so many years in the hope that someone here will benefit from hearing that God truly holds us in His loving hands. We can trust Him and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is the Son of God — His truth will set us free. And whether we’re in our dawn, noon, or twilight years, each of us has a story to encourage fellow believers and honor the Lord’s work in our lives. May He provide us the courage and opportunities to share our lives with Him and with each other. Praise the Lord, for His love endures forever!
Author: May Yai