For the crushed in spirit...
“A cheerful heart does good like a medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
First things first, I’m a realist: Life can be hard, silver linings are beautiful but rare, and social media never really captures reality.
For all our striving to “put on a happy face” and “believe the best” we cannot escape the fact that Life keeps rolling along and we are often swept away in tumultuous currents beyond our control.
For me, Life is a bit of a daily struggle. Two of my three sons have a genetic condition that results in physical, mental, and emotional deficits ranging from mild to severe. Both of my boys fall within the “severe” range. Considering the amount of care I must provide on a daily basis, just for their survival, “Insta-worthy” cheerfulness is a far cry from my reality. It is a grind…all day long. I often feel alone, tired, and worried.
Hovering over the day-to-day strugglin’ is a nagging sadness deep within my soul. I don’t often talk about the depth of sadness I feel, because…well, between you, me, and the fencepost… it feels as if it will swallow me whole at times.
I have never desired accolades or recognition for doing what must be done, or for doing the “right” thing. (Remember: I’m a realist.) I simply believe that doing what must be done and doing it well is just the most honorable way to live in this world. So, that is what I do. And I loathe pity. (Don’t get me started on that…) So, although my life is difficult, I am not looking for praise. I only say these things to simply provide the backdrop I have for this particular verse.
For those who face a real and heavy life, having a “cheerful heart” can feel as a slap in the face or a fantasy too far to even reach. For souls who feel the crushing weight of everyday life, it can be hard to imagine the healing salve that cheerfulness could bring to a heart that has been wounded.
I want you to know that I know that feeling well. You are not alone.
For me, I did not need flippant trifles or empty distractions. I needed something real, something stronger than what praise, accolades, legalism, or carefree living would offer. I needed an abiding, endearing joy that would feed my dry, broken soul. There have been many seasons that I have struggled to take hold of the joy I so desperately needed to sustain my heart’s heavy load. In one particularly hard season, I remember waking up in the earliest hours of the morning, and before I would even shift the covers off to stand, I would pray “Lord, if you don’t get me out of this bed, I am not getting up. Help me face my life today.” And I meant it. I meant it as fervently as if I was calling for someone to pull me from the dangers of a burning building.
I wasn’t necessarily depressed. I was human. Life had become too much for me to face. It was too sad. Too discouraging. Too hard. Too lonely. Too…much. (In the words of my Mama, “All of my giddy up had up and gone away.”) I would keep praying this prayer through the day. I needed God’s sustaining strength…literally…at every tick of the clock and in each task I faced.
It should not surprise me that God met me there – every time I called for His help. But every time, I admit, I was astounded. He didn’t have to, but He did.
As I would lie in bed at night – amazed that I had made it through another day that I didn’t think I could even face – I would sit and wonder at a God who chose to show up in my most frail moments.
Although I could not always explain what God was doing, I knew He was changing my heart in deep ways. I began to shuffle out of my bed first thing in the morning and in a simple gesture of willingness, I would pray, lying on my back on the floor next to my bedside, as if I was about to undergo some sort of surgical procedure. All I could say was: “God, I can tell you’re changing me. You’re working so deep inside that I don’t even know how to comprehend or explain what you are doing. But, that’s ok. I don’t have to know it all. What I do know is that I need You to face this life you have given me. Great Physician, heal what is broken in me.”
Gradually, over time, I realized that these meetings were more than a tired, overwhelmed mother just trying to make it through the day. God was tending to my heart as He met me in those moments. He was plowing my heart which had grown hard in self-reliance and self-productivity. He was inspecting the soil that I had left unattended through “right doing” but not “wholly being” His. He planted the seeds that would bear healthy joy in my life. Solid joy.
This joy flourishes regardless of my circumstances, regardless of my burden, regardless of my needs, wants, or abundance because it is not dependent on me or whether it is “Insta-worthy”. It is His work, accomplished in my weakness, as He answered my cries for help.
His joy is a salve that provides the healing for which all of our hearts yearn. A true joy, deeply rooted, growing healthy and strong – unfettered by the world’s entanglements – a joy that brings healing to all the broken places within our souls. Our souls long for this kind of joy, noncontingent on circumstance, consistent and strong. Real.
The crux of the matter is that we cannot manufacture this kind of happiness. It is not pie-in-the-sky, rainbows-and-butterflies kind of thinking that bolsters our heart for the tasks we face. It is Christ alone that offers this sort of healing joy, found in Him alone, when we look to Him alone.
So, if you find yourself in a season of tremendous heaviness. If your soul feels dry, brittle, and your spirit crushed. If you long for true joy that can heal what hurts within, I have only one suggestion:
Cry out to the Lord. Pour out your heart to him. Make Him your refuge in this season. In your
frailty, open your heart to Him in such a way that allows Him to meet you there – right
where you are. And let Him do the deep work He is so lovingly willing and able to do.
(Gentle reminder: God is awfully good at doing what we can only do awfully.)
Lastly, I want to leave you with this blessing that I am praying over you as you read: “Let all those who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever shout for joy. May You shelter them, that those who love Your Name may rejoice in You. For surely You, O Lord, bless the righteous; You surround them with the shield of Your favor.” (Psalm 5:11-12) “May the joy of the Lord be your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).