Thursday, June 17, 2010

how to encourage a younger woman and be honest at the same time

Here's an email exchange between me and my dear friend and mentor Heather (some of you will know who I'm talking about!).

Her email to me is a good example of how to encourage a younger woman while being honest about life's difficulties. I've taken out some of the personal details, but Heather gave me permission to share the rest with you.

Like the women in last week's post, Heather is honest about how tough things can be; but unlike them, she doesn't leave it there: she talks about God's ongoing faithfulness to her and how he brought good out of her suffering. I was warmed, uplifted, and encouraged by her email, and God used her words to replace my persistent discouragement and doubt with hope and faith.

I'll start with my rather gloomy message to her - inspired, I might add, by the warning of an older woman in the long-distant past about how life gets harder all the time!

Dear Heather,

Thanks for your lovely newsy email. ... It is good to hear about how you are going – although troubling too, I’m sorry about all the health issues [with sick parents] ... I’ve been wondering how on earth you’re managing to juggle everything ...

Not sure how you do it. I feel like I’m drowning under life’s demands and my complete lack of organisation. This year has been really tough, with whooping cough, looking for high schools for Lizzy, and conflict and change at our church, on top of which I’ve been sick on and off this whole last month or two, so I’m pretty exhausted.

My sister-in-law says that her last year with a child full-time at home was wonderful, and I keep comparing my year to hers and feeling guilty about not enjoying my last year with Andy more! But life is what it is, and even though I think I’ve got the balance between ministry and family pretty right now, I’m still very busy (aren’t we all?) and it’s been a tough year – nothing I had any control over.

I keep reminding myself that God is in control (even when I’m not!) but it’s hard to find this reassuring. Is all this normal? I look at your life and think it’s only going to get harder! Where do you find the strength?

Love Jean.

Here's her response.

Hi Jean,

So sorry to hear that you are feeling so like you are drowning. It has been a really tough year for you guys – thank God Steve’s long service leave is coming up!!!!

In my experience life just happens in different ways to different people and some years are easy and some are hard. It isn’t necessarily the same for everyone. Just like some people have an easy time when their kids are bubs and a harder time when they are adult and others have the reverse. In my experience too those that have it too easy often don’t learn to depend on God as deeply as those who have it tough. I think all my models of Christian godliness have learned it through the school of hard knocks.

Don’t presume that my life has always been as rough as it has been over the last couple of years. My first year in Melbourne was pretty easy ( except for the self imposed stresses of settling into a new city / job etc). Things only started hotting up the following year after Andrew’s Mum had her first bad stroke.

I have often thanked God for such a stress-free year when we first arrived. I think he knew the move was all I could cope with at the time!!!! It is only since we settled into life here and built friendships and a support network that the difficulties began. God’s preservation I am sure!

Don’t look at my life and get scared. Many of my stresses are self imposed (Andrew’s change in job and the shift to Doncaster and the decision to study to enhance my ministry etc). Others are just a new life stage with aging parents – you experienced one aspect of this when David died. It’s hard, but like parenting you get better at dealing with it as you go.

I look at my life at the moment and see hardships but also heaps of blessing. [She talks about God’s mercy in bringing her baby grandson safely through a serious illness, and gives some personal examples of how grief and suffering have brought members of her extended family closer to one another and to God.]

I sometimes think I am just a slow learner and need to learn everything the hard way! But God has taught me so much through the episodes of hardship I’ve faced over the last few years that I feel privileged to have the opportunity to grow so much in my relationship with him even after about 45 years of Christian walk.

Will continue to pray for you and the family



In an interesting postscript, I sent this post to Heather for her approval. She received it at a particularly discouraging moment and wrote to me, "It is good to read this over and be once more reminded of the security God has proven time and time again that I have as I trust in him. Strange that even my own words telling of his love and tenderness in caring for us can come back and provide comfort!". So our words of encouragement to others return to encourage ourselves.

image is from InspirationDC at flickr

1 comment:

Rachach said...

I found this post really encouraging. I sometimes look at the lives of others who have it tough and worry that I wouldn't survive it. Heather's words were filled with joy and hope and that really comforts me too! She sure is a good example of encouragement. Thank you.