The season of Lent is upon us once again. This happens to be one of my favorite seasons as it's one that is usually filled with contemplation, reflection, hope, and tends to usher in new rhythms. I also love the fact that the season of Lent starts during the later stages of winter, when most of us have grown weary of the cold, seemingly colorless, throes of the "dead" season, and ends in the early stages of spring, when life and color return as a new season of hope and light is ushered in.
I did not grow up participating in, or even knowing about, Lent. I didn't start observing Lent until about six years ago. For the first few seasons, I'd follow the usual procedure and give something up, but then I decided that it wasn't really bringing me closer to God or serving any purpose in that area, so instead, I decided to start adding habits and rhythms. I've done this for the last few years now and find it much more beneficial to my spiritual life. I plan to do the same for this season.
I’ve decided to work on honing the practice of Sabbath for the Lenten season. I’ve never really “Sabbathed” before, and I recognize that God calls us to do so for a good reason. We all need a day of rest and worship for our own good. I have friends who intentionally practice Sabbath by setting a day out of each week aside for rest, relaxation, and worship. While there is debate on which day should be our Sabbath (most are of the opinion that it should be either Sunday or Saturday), I honestly think that whichever day that you decide on is perfectly fine as long as it works best for you and allows you to Sabbath well. I’ve chosen mine to be Sunday simply because it is the day that works best for me in this current season of life.
A few ways I plan to help myself Sabbath well is to take the day off from social media and try to cut down on technology use in general, spend extra time in my Bible (I read my Bible every day as it is), and just rest my soul. I also have a few books I plan to read during the season, John Mark Comer's Garden City, which tackles the subject of Sabbath, and Beth Moore's Chasing Vines, along with my daily Bible reading plan. Another habit I want to hone and get better about is that of prayer. I want to be more deliberate and mindful in my approach to prayer. I’m currently using the book Prayers that Avail Much by Germaine Copeland to help me enrich my prayer life and will continue to do so throughout the season. My goal is to be more disciplined about going to God morning and night in order to start and end my days well.
Along with placing my focus on Sabbath and prayer, I also plan to be intentional in taking each Wednesday and making it a “quiet day”. I recently realized that I have been filling my days with noise in order to drown out internal issues and to run away from things I believe God is trying to tell me out of fear that I won’t like it. So I believe that on top of taking a Sabbath day, it would also be beneficial to me to take a day in the middle of the week and deliberately be quieter and still, to actively pursue less noise. For me, that means not listening to podcasts, music, TV, etc.. I want to make myself live in the silence for a bit. That doesn’t mean I won’t go about my usual routine and work, I will, just without a lot of noise. I hope that this will be doubly beneficial, because not only will it make me sit in the quiet and maybe help me hear God more clearly, but it’ll also benefit my overloaded brain (I suffer from migraines and sensory overload).
Less noise, more quiet is the general motto for this Lenten season.
I hope you all have a blessed season of Lent, and hey, let me know what you all are doing to observe this beautiful season!
My Shepherd leads me deep into the woods,
my senses gently awakened by the smell of pine and the sound of crunching leaves.
He brings me to sit with Him beside a babbling brook,
the sound of the water washes over my weary soul.
I am reminded that He leads me on the paths of righteousness,
and He does indeed restore my soul.
~ Liz Austin 2019
it’s awfully hard to do
It goes against my will
to keep pushing through
to leave the pain and the unknown
to make it better, to fix it, I must.
It makes no matter, the love He has shown,
I still can’t bring myself to trust.
That’s what it all comes down to.
Do I trust Him to be who He promises to be?
Do I trust Him to do what He promises to do?
Do I trust Him to come through for me?
Be still, trust, wait
can I let go and fall?
Maybe it’s too late,
will he catch me or will I lose it all?
Trust, it’s a powerful thing to do
and I’m not sure I can,
but I’m not sure I can afford not to.
~ Liz Austin 2019
I’ve been struggling lately,
I wonder who God is.
Is He there, is He real?
Does He hear me?
I read the Bible and it tells me He does,
but I keep talking and I’m not sure he’s hearing.
Maybe He doesn’t hear ME,
then again, maybe I’m not hearing HIM.
What I do know?
I know it’s far more beneficial to me to lean into the unknown, the uncertainty, the pain,
than to walk away and chase after the numbness, where there’s no pain or uncertainty.
The willingness to sit in the uncertainty, that’s where growth happens.
I want to grow, so I stay.
I hang on, white knuckles and all.
Grit your teeth, clench your jaw, glue your feet to the ground.
Do what you have to do. Just stay with it.
Some of the most precious things on earth have to go through fire
to be molded into their most beautiful state.
~ Liz Austin 2019
I’m angry at God….
I only just recently admitted that to myself. I’ve been in a funk for the better part of three months and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I felt out of sorts, restless, upset. Somewhere deep inside me, I knew I was fiercely avoiding something. For a while I continued to do my Bible studies, though begrudgingly, but then eventually, I just stopped. I stopped praying…… I just halted my spiritual life.
I knew I was avoiding something, I could FEEL it, but I wouldn’t admit what that something was. All I knew was that I didn’t want to deal with it or address it in any way. Instead, I spent my summer trying to keep busy and ignore the issue… but it was there the whole time, just sitting over there in the corner waving at me, wondering why I wasn’t addressing it. No one knew I was going through this…
Season? Period? Crisis?
I couldn’t even name what it was that I was going through. To the outside world, I was the same as I’ve always been. I was perfectly fine, completely together, completely committed to my faith. But the truth was: I wasn’t. It’s not that I ever doubted the existence of God or that I completely walked away from Him. It was more like when you’re really upset with someone and you just need some time and space, so you walk away for a while. You don’t leave them, you’re just not right next to them.
I recently read an advanced copy of Annie F. Downs’ new book, Remember God and that’s when the realization hit me. Remember God finds Annie questioning whether God is always kind. We know He is all powerful, we know He is good, but is He truly always kind? (Side note: Remember God is a stunningly honest, beautiful book in which Annie allows herself to be truly vulnerable and raw with the reader about her relationship with God. It’s the best book I’ve read this year, and I average 100 books a year.)
That was my issue. I wasn’t so sure that God was truly kind all of the time. Did He answer our prayers all of the time? Did He even listen to them all of the time? Because I wasn’t really feeling like He did. The answer is, of course He is always kind. Of course He always listens to us, even if we don’t feel like He does. And yes, He answers our prayers. We may not feel like He’s answering our prayers simply because we’re not getting the answer we want, which is exactly why I was feeling the way I was. I wasn’t getting what I wanted, so I was angry.
I wanted the pain to go away. I wanted to be healed. I wanted to stop having to deal with the endless symptoms of an autoimmune disease. I wanted to stop dealing with the pain and issues from the brain trauma I had suffered over a decade ago. I wanted to move forward with my life. I wanted to land that job. I wanted to feel adequate enough to finish writing that book. I wanted to be financially stable. I wanted…
I’ve learned that sometimes we don’t get what we want from God….. But we get what we need, when we need it. It may not be when WE THINK we need it, but it will be when GOD KNOWS we need it. And my goodness is it beautiful when it happens. When you can look back and see, ah yes, that was from Him and gracious did I NEED that right then. It’s amazing how clearly things become when you’ve gotten a good distance from them. You realize that in fact, you didn’t really need that thing you thought you did right then, that maybe you weren’t ready for it. You can see that God actually did come through, maybe not in a big way, but more often, in many small ways that add up to something incredible.
I was angry at God because ultimately I was scared. I was scared that He wasn’t hearing me or that I wasn’t hearing and understanding Him. I was scared that I had been abandoned. I was scared that I had no future. I was scared that nothing was ever going to work out. I was scared that I’d never hear from God again. I was just scared and you know what scared people do? They run.
I ran from God and tried to hide away and ignore the hurt and the questions. I was scared by my own uncertainty about God. I thought I had dealt with all of this already. Didn’t I climb that mountain already? Didn’t I already wrestle through and come out strong in my faith? How could I possibly still have questions and be uncertain about God’s character?! The truth of the matter is, we’re always going to have questions that want answers, and it’s ok to question God. David questioned God, Moses questioned God, and you can too. I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure God would rather you go to Him with questions, than walk away from Him. After all, we’re allowed to ask our earthly fathers questions, why can’t we ask our heavenly Father?
I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll get all the answers you want from Him, in fact you probably won’t. I can tell you with absolute certainty, that by going to Him with your questions, you’ll come out with a deeper faith and relationship with Him. After all, the deepest relationships generally come after struggling, wrestling, and leaning into the problems, the questions, and the uncertainties. I’m speaking from experience. Coming out of a really hard, scary, painful season filled with uncertainty, once I finally went to God with my questions, my hopes, my hurts, my pain, my uncertainties, I could feel the turn around. That’s when things changed. That’s when my relationship with God changed. It’s deeper, we’re closer. I’m not scared or angry anymore.
I still don’t have all the answers I want. I still don’t have everything I want in life. But what I DO have is a fresh certainty about who God is and what He will do. I know that he will chase and pursue me Every. Single. Time I walk away. This time He did it in the only way He could have done it, by placing a book by an author I absolutely love in my hands. He didn’t give me what I wanted, but He gave me what I needed. Reassurance.
I didn’t know that that was what I needed. He did. Because God IS all knowing. God IS all powerful. God does hear me. And yes, because God IS kind.
For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord! - Psalm 117:2
You stripped away the armor, took down the wall,
you broke, cracked, shattered it all.
You put me in the wilderness, but still under your domain,
and I’m left with nothing but the pain.
I am tired, I am weak,
I cannot walk, I cannot speak,
I’m left wondering how it all went so wrong,
I find no comfort in pithy answers or pious songs.
I feel my last bit of strength wane,
and I’m left with nothing but the pain.
My throat feels constricted, my voice gives out,
the pain in my muscles and joints continues to mount,
your silence, you seem to maintain,
and I’m left with nothing but the pain.
Where are you? Where did you go?
Do you hear me? That’s what I’d like to know.
Are you there? Are you really kind?
These are the questions to which the answers I need to find.
To let someone suffer seems so inhumane,
but here I am, left with nothing but the pain.
Is this how life will be?
Is this your plan for me?
Constant pain and illness.
I cannot find you in the stillness.
Your love and grace are supposed to sustain,
but all I’m left with is the pain.
~ By Liz Austin 2018
* A prequal to The Mountain View
I walked away from the mountain, dragging my soul behind,
I was looking for answers, but found none for I was blind.
I walked through the valley, no peace to be had,
no light to be seen nor reason to be glad.
With no way to help myself, no hope to be found,
there was no laughter or songs, no not a sound.
How did I get here? To where can I flee?
What can I do to get up off my knees?
Misery and pain are my companions,
as I walk through the dark, dark canyon.
Sorrow and confusion cling to my soul,
years of anxiety and fear have taken their toll.
I tried to live on my own wit and strength,
my faults and mistakes compose a list of great length.
Where did I go wrong? What have I done?
Not one thing I’ve tried has worked, no not a one.
I’ve been brought to my knees here in the valley,
a wilderness in which I do not wish to dally.
I turned back to the mountain, was it calling to me?
I heard a whisper, “You’re where you need to be.”
On my knees? I didn’t understand.
“Just ask and I’ll give you a hand.”
It was time to trust in something greater than myself,
if not for my soul, then for the sake of my health.
“Ok, I need help. I cannot do this on my own.”
“I’ve been waiting for you to realize that you are not alone.”
A simple conversation with a powerful impact,
for I learned that He could make up for all that I lacked.
An enormous weight was lifted from my shoulders,
my fears and weariness no longer crushing me like a boulder.
I got to my feet, under His strength not mine.
I saw the mountain and knew that I would be fine.
Making my way, looking forward to the climb,
I knew that I would find the answers this time.
~ Liz Austin 2018
One day as I was walking through the journey of life, I came upon a group of souls. I couldn’t help but to observe them as they scattered all over, running in this and that direction. They all appeared to be looking for something, though I wasn’t sure what. When I got closer to one of them, I asked what it was that it was searching for. The soul replied, “Why purpose of course, what else is there to look for?” I pondered this answer for a bit as I continued to watch these souls scramble around in what appeared to be a growing desperation to find what they searched for. I thought it a noble thing, to search for a purpose in life, but yet the souls didn’t seem happy.
Just as I was about to question the searching soul further, I caught a glimpse of another little soul a distance away from the others. This soul was different from the rest, as it seemed joyful all the while shaking its head at the others. I strolled up to the little soul, and as I reached the place where it stood, it smiled at me. I asked, “What makes you so happy? Why do you shake your head at the others?” The little soul smiled brightly at me and replied, “What makes me happy, you ask? A great many things make me happy. Big things make me happy and small things make me happy. But what brings me the most happiness are the little moments and details in life that cannot be explained by words. I find these moments and details most enjoyable. But alas, you’d be hard-pressed to find something I don’t enjoy. LIFE is enjoyable.”
I thought about its answer, it seemed so full of contentment, but then I looked over at all the searching souls and wondered what made this little soul different. The little soul smiled simply at me, as if it knew what I was thinking. “They search and I enjoy,” it said. Wanting the little soul to explain further, I asked, “What do you mean? Don’t you want to find a purpose and place in life? Why do you shake your head at the other souls?” The little soul smiled that content smile of its and walked on a ways, until it came to the side of a brook. It motioned for me to sit beside it on a large rock, and then it proceeded to explain, “They spend most of their journey searching, while I’ve chosen to spend mine enjoying. While they search and search for what they think is missing or lacking, they end up missing all the beautiful, joyful things around them. They may make it to the finish line, but they’ll find that they have missed the journey all together. What you do or become isn’t near as important as how you got there. I choose to enjoy what’s around me, to enjoy the journey. I do what I love and enjoy. I pursue the things that I am passionate about. The purpose in life isn’t to live forever, nor is it to be something in particular. The purpose in life is to live it and enjoy it. It’s not the beginning or the end, but the journey from and to that counts.”
With a warm smile and a wink, the little soul got up and leisurely walked on down the bank, looking this way and that, being sure not to miss anything.
Now, whenever I find myself getting caught up in the searching and the end result, I remind myself of the little soul and its words of wisdom. It’s the journey that counts
~ Liz Austin 2017
I went up to the mountain looking for you,
I stood there on your creation looking at a sky so blue.
I sensed a powerful presence,
Your loving essence.
I felt a stillness, time didn’t exist, nor sorrow or strife.
Standing at the top I was reminded of how small I am.
You are a powerful lion, while I am but a lamb.
You are infinite in your wisdom,
a loving father reigning over His kingdom.
Time and again your mightiness has been shown.
As I stood there on the mountain alone,
I saw the truth of life.
The mountain is Your view,
The valley below is my view.
I can’t see the whole picture from below,
a point of view so shallow.
But You are on that mountain, You see the whole thing,
Your steadfast love to which I cling
guides me through my journey and shows me Your truth,
like Abraham, Moses, David, and Ruth.
You see the very depth of life,
every twist and turn,
infinite in Your knowledge, You have nothing to learn.
I found the truth up on the mountain:
God is here and His grace overflows like an endless fountain.
When life seems so uncertain,
I pray and His plans are revealed to me as He draws open the curtain.
I remember that God already knows what’s in store,
He knows what will happen next as he did before.
Though I be in the valley below, He is on the mountain looking down.
I wear His shield of grace, He wears the crown.
~ Liz Austin 2018
Have you ever found yourself smack dab in the middle of a spiritual wilderness? A season when faith and everything else just seems really hard, to the point where you feel disillusioned, lost, and even scared? You wonder where God is and why He isn’t speaking to you. You try to open your Bible, but you just can’t seem to get your heart into it. You try to make time to nurture your faith and spend time with God, but for some reason or another, you never do. You feel like you’re in a funk, inexplicably off, and scared that you’ll never get back to spiritual civilization. Those who have yet to go through this kind of spiritual season have no idea how it feels and how it can affect every other aspect of your life and being. Your soul grows so weary. It feels worn out to the point where you’re not sure you can go on. You start questioning everything you’ve believed, thought, and felt. Next thing you know, you’re in a full-blown wilderness, trying to find your way out.
I recently went through my first “wilderness season.” I don’t remember the exact moment I entered the wilderness period or how I came to find myself in such a season. We humans always want a reason or a cause for something. As I examined myself and my life, it seems that I just gradually slipped into the season. I was busy and stressed. I was tending multiple pots on the stove of life, and it was an emotionally stressful period for me. I just slowly slipped out of the habit of making sure I made time with God and got into His Word every day. I had so much going on and I had to make room for everything, and I’m sad to say, my spiritual life seemed to be the natural one to go. I didn’t think it would hurt if I just slacked off for a while believing, “it’s fine, I’ll be fine, it’s not like it has that huge of an effect on me anyway. I’m a devout Christian, strong in my faith, surely slacking off for a little while won’t hurt.”
Guess what? It did.
I’m not sure how long I was in this spiritual wilderness before I realized where I was and that there was a problem. One fine day in the autumn, I took my laptop and papers outside to get some fresh air while I worked. I paused in what I was doing, in the middle of a thought, when I happened to look around me. Surrounded by God’s beautiful creation, all of the colorful leaves made the mountains and woods look like a patchwork quilt, and I suddenly realized something was wrong inside of me. I can’t explain why or how I came to this realization, but all of a sudden I realized how weary and numb my soul felt. I started to take inventory of my soul and my spiritual life, and I soon realized that I seemed to be running from something. It struck me that I hadn’t opened my Bible in a long time, I stopped praying and talking to God, and I even arrived at the point where I couldn’t really bring myself to go to church (I had missed a few Sundays in a row leading up to this realization). I felt so incredibly disillusioned, lost, confused, and downright panicked. I had two main questions: How did I get to this point? And, more importantly, how do I get out?
I remember hearing several wonderful Bible teachers say that when you go through a season of spiritual wilderness, you need to lean into it, not run from it. That is true. The only place running away or avoiding will get you is even more lost, deeper into that uncomfortable wilderness. Ignoring the situation by staying busy or doing something else will get you absolutely nowhere and it certainly won’t fix things. Believe me! What does everyone say you should do when you get lost? You should turn around and go back the way you came. Don’t keep walking in the same wrong direction. Turn back. In a spiritual wilderness, you need to turn back to God. As soon as you do, He’ll hand you a map and a compass. Now, He may not bring you out of the wilderness right away, in fact, He may allow you to take a little longer getting out, but rest assured, He’ll be with you every step of the way.
As soon as I had that big realization that autumn day, I prayed for the first time in a while. Now, I’m not that person who can come up with those poetic, beautiful prayers like some people. I’m more of a simple, get to the point type of gal, so I prayed with every fiber of my being, “Lord, get me out of this.” You know what happened? Nothing. No big sign, no cloud formations, no voice from above—nada. At least, at the time I thought nothing happened. I talked to Him, asking if He saw me, if He heard me, and where in tarnation was He? Nothing. After a few minutes, I started to get back to my work, figuring it was helpless and I had other things that needed to get done, I’ll deal with this later—but then a book popped into my head. I had had this book for almost a year and hadn’t read it yet. My “to be read” pile shifts and grows continuously. I couldn’t get this book off my mind. It was about soul-keeping, all about how to nurture and guard your soul. It became clear that I wasn’t going to get anything done, so I went and found the book, and started to read it. It was like a soothing balm to the soul. It was enlightening and convicting all at the same time. I soon realized, days later, that God was indeed listening, He was there, and He did indeed do something after all. Around that same time, I came across a song by Lauren Daigle called “First.” The basis of the song is that we want and need to seek and keep God first. I highly recommend listening to this song. It sure helped to remind me to check my priorities!
God didn’t take me out of my wilderness right away. Instead He gave me a map and a compass. Step by step He brought me out, but it took time and effort. I slowly started working my daily time in the Word back into my schedule. I started praying and talking to God again. I started a new devotional that was without a doubt God-ordained to come out right at that specific time and it has been a huge help. I went back to church even though it felt weird and uncomfortable at first.
The only way I can describe what happened in that season is spiritual warfare. Something got a hold of my unguarded soul, and dragged it into that self-inflicted wilderness from God. I realize now that I had stopped believing and hanging on to God’s promises and truths. I subconsciously made the decision to turn away because things were hard and difficult and not going the way I had planned. Key word there was “I.” I wanted my plans to work, without consulting God’s plans, which trumps anything I could ever dream up. I walked further away from Him when I felt that he was silent, that He wasn’t there. In reality, He was always there. He had never left me. I had left Him. I had turned a deaf ear to His words by not opening my Bible and opening my heart and soul to what He had to say.
The truth of the matter is I wasn’t brave enough to listen to what He was saying. I was scared that He wouldn’t agree with my plans and what I wanted. I wasn’t as strong in my faith as I thought I was, because if I was, I wouldn’t have been afraid to hear His words. I would want His plans over my own. This wilderness opened my eyes. It convicted me and pushed me to do better and more importantly, to keep growing in my spiritual life. We must keep growing and learning. I now see that the wilderness that I once thought was uncomfortable and scary ended up being a lifesaver. God saw that I was in trouble long before I did, and He knew exactly what I needed. He went into battle for me and with me. I am so thankful, grateful, and blessed to have a Father like Him, and I now I thank him for that uncomfortable season in my life.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” Romans 8:28
When you find yourself in a hard season, lean into it and lean into God. Do not turn from Him, rather, chase after Him like your life depends on it—because it does.
By Liz Austin
****** Originally published in the Daily Grace Co.'s Be Still Magazine, Issue 07. *****
Born and raised in Upstate NY, Liz is a freelance writer. She has written for websites, blogs, and magazines for the last 10 years. She works as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a proofreader and beta reader for several authors, all the while working on her first book.