Calm my anxious heart!
Calm my anxious heart! Is that even possible? Whether you are married or single, a mother or grandmother, there are very many things in our world that can cause our anxious hearts to race out of control. Is it possible to live in the middle of this muddle, with a calm heart, a quiet mind?
I got married at 19 years old to the love of my life. Stan was a handsome young Christian man, whose chosen profession was in the family owned business in the mining industry. He was the man, God made for me, I knew it. I knew he had had some struggles growing up that some of the events of his early years at home had left deep scars on the sweet spirit & sensitive heart of his little boy who had now become my husband.
Well, Stan’s unresolved pain became frustration and unforgiveness, which lead to a life of anger, resentment, impatience & bitterness. Unresolved issues with his family and at work were brought home causing tension & harsh words. The perfectionism he had grown up with was now directed at me and even our children as they came along.
I too grew up in a Christian home. I am the second of five children. My Father was a pastor, so I was in church whenever the doors were open. As a child, I would best describe my temperament as contented, peaceful, compliant not wanting to make waves and to stop them if someone else did. My childhood and early life were generally peaceful & calm. Part of that may be personality but a significant part of it was that some foundational truths were being built into me that would shape my life.
My faith grew as I spent time with God reading the Bible & talking to Him, my understanding of who He is grew. I read many stories in the pages of Scripture that expanded my knowledge who He was, what mattered to Him, how He wanted me to live. I read biographies of heroes of the faith. I met missionaries that had gone to the jungles of Africa to tell people about Jesus. I decided I wanted to be a missionary nurse in Africa when I grew up. Imperfect, but growing, the general trajectory of my life was a desire to serve the Lord.
It was a sunny Sunday morning shortly before our 6th anniversary. Our two small children were playing in the cul-de-sac, as Stan & I sat on the front step watching. Since he now came to church only sporadically, I had decided to stay home with him this morning instead of going alone again! I was lonely. I wanted so badly to talk to share with him what was going on in my life and to hear about his. Our lives had gone separate directions in many ways, as he spent more and more time at work. I spent more and more time with the alone with the kids & involved in our church.
I began to tell him of a visit I had been on with a team from our church that visited new comers. I had shared with this man how God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins and that if we believed in Him, He would forgive our sins & cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The man became silent, then quietly said that he didn’t know if God could forgive him for some of the things he had done. At this point in my story, Stan became silent as well. When I asked him what he was thinking, he said he felt the same.
In the moments, and then hours that followed, a dark shadow was cast over my life as Stan shared with me a side of him that I didn’t have a clue existed. He told me that he had been involved in using cocaine over the past year. Floored, I asked many questions and he answered. Then he said, don’t ask me anything more. I’ll tell you the rest when I’m ready. My mind whirled. The rest? The rest? You mean there’s more? What could be worse than what you just told me? … So much worse that you had to wait to tell me the rest! Later that day, when I couldn’t wait no longer, I asked him to tell me about the rest. For about a year prior, he had been having an affair and that rather than being at work all of these long hours, the two of them had been using cocaine. Completely blindsided by the events of the last 12 hours, I felt as though my whole world was spinning out of control. A tornado, earthquake & hurricane all together had just blown in and my little white house with the picket fence was no longer in Kansas nor Africa! Instead, it was in shambles, strewn around the countryside in Fort McMurray, Alberta. My heart was more anxious than it had ever been. When the dust settled however, I realized that what was left standing was my relationship with God. Rattled to be sure, but it was still there. Because of the after-shocks that followed, my faith was being tested to the limit. It was at this time that I entered what I call the dark night of my soul. I began to question God. Why had he allowed this? He knew. I didn’t. He knew that I had just wanted to serve Him & not have any nonsense in my life. He knew! I felt almost as betrayed by God, as I had by Stan. Why should I have to go and be tested for STD’s. I hadn’t done anything wrong! How humiliating. We went to see our pastor for help. He mumbled a few things, but nothing of real value, and never spoke of it again. He had no idea what to do with us. (We found out years later that he was having an affair himself with the church secretary) Where else could I turn? What was I to do? Forgive. I knew, I needed to forgive. That meant you didn’t keep talking about it, right? Unconditionally. Remember – I was to love him unconditionally. Surely it must be over after all, he confessed to it when I hadn’t even known anything about it. Why would he do that if it wasn’t over? Then, within days, I discovered I was pregnant with our 3rd child. I felt helpless, alone, and afraid. How was I going to raise three children? I loved my children dearly, and I loved being a mother, but during this time, my anxious heart raged within me. I actually stopped going to church for a while, because I wasn’t fine, thank you very much!
Just before Christmas of that year, I found out that both the drugs and the affair had continued. Stan’s family and I did an intervention and under much pressure, he agreed to go to Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs for treatment. Now six and a half months pregnant, broken & beat up emotionally, I followed him down there for the family program. My children needed me with or without Stan, and I knew I needed help. Betty Ford Center is not a Christian counseling center, but coupled with much time with the Lord, I did find some useful tools to help me cope. While there, Stan re-committed his life to the Lord. We picked up the pieces and went home & began to try to re-build. Yes, I would forgive, but I had drawn a line in the sand. No more! Never again! Within a few months, Trevor was born. I cannot explain, what happened. I can only tell you what did. Trevor was born with a cleft lip & palate, & a heart murmur. This hurled us into a different world of doctor’s appointments, children’s hospitals & the like. To this challenge, I responded differently a sense of peace and God’s hand settled over me. This child needed us together. His middle name is Alan which means harmony. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed, the night he was born, and crying out to God that He would bring harmony to our home through this child. The years that followed contained some of the elements we had already been through the anger, the bitterness, the frustration remained. Stan still had not found victory over the things that bound him. In fact, if he were to tell you, Stan would say that while he had a desire to serve the Lord, His own selfish desires still reigned supreme.
In 1988, we had left the family business to join a ministry dedicated to sharing the message with Jesus Christ with people around the world. I was overjoyed. Perhaps now, surrounded by other believers, Stan would find the strength he needed to overcome to gain victory. For me, my walk with God was central and most important in my life. The more trouble there was at home, the more I cried out to the Lord. I spent many hours in Bible study & prayer, seeking answers for how to live how to be a godly wife & mother, no matter what finding comfort, solace for my often anxious heart. I wrote out page after page of my heart cries to the Lord and He was faithful to walk with me. As David says in the Psalms, He lead me beside still waters, He restored my soul
Fast-forward 20 years.
It was February of 2008. Stan was on an overseas trip to Thailand, as he often was. While there, he had gotten very ill and had sought medical treatment. He was put on strong intravenous antibiotics and had to return to the hospital each morning. They were also doing all kinds of tests. He called me and wanted me to come over and be with him. I booked a flight and was there the next day. He seemed to be very concerned with the tests. I didn’t really understand what He was so concerned about as we had both been tested many years before and had been cleared of any ongoing issues. I wasn’t worried about it at all. God was in control. My heart was not anxious.
I awoke with a start in the middle of the night, however, when I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit and as clear as a bell, I sensed the Lord saying, “Ask Him about the rest! Ok – so now I was awake – those distant but familiar words sent my heart into very anxious mode! I felt anything but calm! I lay there quietly contemplatin – now what? What was my next move? I lay in bed, asking God to ‘calm my anxious heart’. I asked Him for wisdom…for grace.
I got up the next morning and was doing my hair when Stan awoke and started talking to me. Seeing that I was in my own world, and not responding, he asked me if I was ok? I’m not sure, I said. Is there anything we need to talk about? After a slight hesitation, he told me that yes, we definitely needed to talk. We were clearly at a cross roads – again! Over the next hour before his hospital appointment, Stan began to tell me that God had finally put him on his back and gave him an ultimatum. He needed to come clean with me. The story that unfolded was beyond anything I could have even imagined. He had been involved with many women, not one …of many sorts, around the world including here, now. Infidelity & unfaithfulness had been a part of his life since before I met him, and all of the way through our married life. While he hated his life –the lies, the deceit & the destruction that he had caused in our family, he had no idea how to stop. On more than one occasion he had contemplated suicide. Over & over, he would ask God’s forgiveness & vow to never do it again but….But he had not known how to break free. Several times he had gone to a pastor or Christian co-worker for help – but it seemed no one had answers. He knew I had every right to leave – but he asked me not to. He had asked the Lord to forgive him once again, and now he was asking me too. He wanted to be free. All cards were on the table. Strangely, I had a sense of peace at that moment. A God given calm heart. I truly believed that he was sorry…that he was ready to give in to God once and for all. But I had no idea how to proceed. How does one process the fact that all you ever knew for the last 28 years was a lie? I had nowhere to go but on my face before the Lord. 70 x 7, 70 x 7, 70 x 7 reverberated through my head. I remember standing in the shower – my anxious heart screaming out to the Lord, I can’t – you’re going to have to help me!
We extended our stay for a few more days past the end of his treatment, as I needed time to think. Calmness enveloped me as I felt God’s arms around me and I sensed Him saying I could leave if I wanted, but that He had a better plan. It was an ongoing battle to stay focused on God & not let them overwhelm me. When we returned home Stan went to each of our children, parents & siblings and told them the truth about what had been going on in his life. He asked for their forgiveness & support in whatever we decided in the future. For the most part the responses were cautious – hesitant – grateful he had come forward but unsure what to do now.
Stan went to his ministry partners and told them his story. He offered his resignation to the ministry but also offered to submit to whatever disciplinary action they felt necessary should they decide to keep him on. He needed help and he knew it. They accepted his resignation, paid for a few counseling sessions for us, and bid farewell without further adieu.
Again, we were alone – without godly support or help. The people in our past had failed us – it was hard to pick up the phone and call again. The story was too big…too unbelievable…too hard to tell. (I must interject at this time, that there were people who knew bits and pieces of our story, who were doing what they could along the way. Both of our families – sisters, brothers, parents were praying in the background and I’m absolutely positive & ever grateful that that is a good part of the reason I am able to tell this story today.)
Shortly after this there came a day when I started to cry, and it was as if the floodgates had opened. I couldn’t stop. I lay down on my closet floor – and stayed there for three days. Stan brought some praise music for me, and I lay there and cried out to the Lord to remove any shred of bitterness, anger, or resentment. I knew that unless he did, I too would become an ugly hurtful person – remember, hurt people hurt people. I didn’t want to become one, but I knew that on my own, I had no hope of dealing with this mountain of pain. Again, I can’t explain what God during those days – I only know He did it. Calmness again settled over me – and I knew He had done a miracle. It was however a calmness before the next storm. We plodded on – attempting to make our marriage work – but the mountain was so high! So steep! In the middle of our turmoil and looking for help, we became entangled in a cult that seemed to offer help & hope of restoration. More shattered than I knew, I ignored many warning signs along the way…becoming convinced that God had finally sent someone into our lives to help. My eyes shifted from the Lord, to a person…a man…the pastor…for counsel. While Stan saw through him sooner than I, and tried to warn me, I would not listen. I thought Stan was again just being his old critical, perfectionist self. In his frustration, Stan succumbed to his old ways & was unfaithful once more. I was done…not just done – DONE! With the same determination I had stayed, and prayed, all of these 31 years, I left…never to look back! I walked out the door. I didn’t slam it. In fact I closed it rather quietly…with a set determination. I was DONE! The thought of that better plan was now ancient history. I was angry! And vulnerable! And under such a cloud of deception, that it felt like everything I ever believed was tumbling down the mountain with me – until I tumbled straight into the arms of the very man I thought was sent to help! Someone whose advise which I took without question, was anything but godly! Through all of this, however, God was at work in my own life, weeding out things I never even knew were there. I too, was capable of things I never thought possible. I am ever grateful for a God of grace & forgiveness! During this time, while we were apart however, God got to Stan’s heart. He spent hours & hours on his face on the floor, crying out to God to restore our marriage and to bring me home. He sent me many emails telling me what was happening in his life – which I completely ignored. I had fasted, prayed & forgiven for thirty-one years. I had no interest in making it to thirty-two! I was done. My heart could take no more. Forgive him – yes – I had no choice – but go back – no way! Until one day, out of the blue, someone asked me, “Were you done, or was God done?” It made me mad. How could they even say such a thing? They knew my story! But…it planted a seed, and I began to ask God – ‘Were you done?’ Cause if you weren’t, I don’t want to be done either. My heart was already shattered to smithereens. I didn’t want to give Stan, nor myself a shred of hope, if it wasn’t truly of God. I told Him He would have to show me clearly – Himself. I didn’t want someone elses visions or dreams or pictures or even Scripture verses. A few weeks later, He did –in a way that only He could…but that’s a story for another day. With some fear & trepidation, but my eyes fixed firmly on God, I went home. That was just over five years ago – the best five years of my life!
What you do need to know is that God has restored our marriage in a way that was beyond my wildest dreams. No, we are not without issues. There are still ripples of the past – Stan has had many different health issues over the last few years – some quite probably resultant of the lifestyle he chose those many years, and some only God knows why. But they have been the refining fire for Stan. But I have had a front & center seat, as I have watched God – through His Word – transform a man from the inside out. In his words, His greatest downfall has become His greatest victory. Stan says, he made a choice to become a righteous man before the Lord – with or without Brenda. When he made the choice, God gave him the power. As He spends time with God, the anger, resentment and bitterness as a way of life are gone. There has been a true renewing of the mind. The old man is dead.
The sweet sensitive spirit that I fell in love with, shines. Our home is no longer harsh & desolate, but full of love, forgiveness & healing words – reflections of God’s grace & mercy. There is hardly a day – certainly not a week, that one or the other of us is not in tears, saying, ‘Look what God has done!’ Over and over, something will happen – I’ll forget something, or break something or whatever. In the past, he would have been angry or frustrated at my clumsiness or forgetfulness. But now, a pained look will cross his face and he will have an ah ha moment of how he used to be – how he would have reacted in the past. Gently wrapping his arms around me, he will say I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for the pain I caused you and the kids. I’m so sorry for my selfishness. You know I forgave him long ago – it’s not me reminding him of how things were.
Our message – we have a choice – every day of our lives, we get to choose. We don’t always choose what happens to us, but we get to choose how we will respond. A long time ago, I decided to follow Jesus. In a time of deep pain, I faltered, but got back up. Five years ago, Stan made a choice. He decided to follow Jesus – truly – not just in words – but with his whole heart.
Jesus is the one true way to Calm Your Anxious Heart.
Have you decided? What path will you choose?