“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. ” Ephesians 6:11,12
I attended a Mother and Daughter retreat this past weekend with my 10-year-old. My intent was to give her my undivided attention…it was going to be just about her and I. From the moment I pulled up into the familiar camp parking lot, however it was apparent the weekend was going to be different than I expected. One after another, many familiar, happy, beautiful faces emerged from vehicles that had arrived just before us, one of which was one I had committed a great sin against which ultimately caused her much suffering. I was actually happy for her and her girls that they were able to have this special time together, unfortunately for me, it brought on a flood of memories of my failure, which resulted in some other acquaintances emerging onto the scene who were very unwelcome. I could feel my heart pump harder and quicker as these unwelcome acquaintances were all heading in the direction I needed to go to get the weekend started. Although I felt like turning on my heel and running, I took as deep of a breath as I could, prayed and moved forward…not because I felt like it but because I knew that going backwards was not an option. I entered this crowded space and found myself standing toe to toe with not only these precious mother&daughter groupings, but more so these old acquaintances who wanted nothing more than to crush me… their names are Shame, Fear, Judgement, Doubt, Guilt, Loneliness, Not Good Enough, Overlooked and Hopelessness. The group was so large and so very present! After checking in, my daughter and I headed to our cabin, and they followed close on my heels. After claiming our bunks, I rummaged through my suitcase looking for Armor. As I was struggling to put it on I was thinking “this is not going to help…it doesn’t feel strong enough. God, I wasn’t expecting to have to wear armor at THIS retreat at THIS camp!” As I took another breath, I was able to remember His past faithfulness and determined to look only into His face. I said out loud to myself…”I’m here for my daughter, no one else. I will just fix my eyes on God, ignoring these intimidating foes. Even though I don’t feel it and even though it appears all strength has left me, I will just move forward.” Well, these adversarial acquaintances showed up everywhere, and I had to keep reminding myself that I was there for Anna, and to focus on my Father’s face. By the end of the evening, I was weary. So… despite being only 9:30, I went to bed. As I was lying there in the dark crying to the Lord, He knelt down beside my bunk and simply yet emphatically whispered “There is no condemnation! This weekend is not about them. Carry on in spite of them.”
The next morning I woke up at 5AM (who does that at a retreat?!!!). Since it seemed everyone else at Camp was still asleep, I walked to a lovely prayer room in the middle of the woods that overlooks a peaceful lake. I started the fireplace, pulled up a chair, opened my Bible and began to cry….”God, I thought Shame and Guilt had moved away, and Fear only comes around here and there. Lord, I can’t believe how big Loneliness appears and seeing Overlooked added a fresh layer of hurt. Although Judgement and Not Good Enough show up regularly to all the places I go, I’ve been more purposeful about turning way when I see them coming. Hopelessness seems to leave for good and then just shows up again!…well, I can tell You this, both Doubt and Hopelessness may have packed for the whole weekend, but they can just go home now! ” After my rant, I decided I should let God speak. I found my Father faithful, in fact He had planned this day’s readings weeks ago when I had decided to read three chapters of Psalms each day. He was talking to me through Psalms 25-27 and it was very pertinent. I especially appreciated Psalms 27:3, 7&8:
” Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear… hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When You said, Seek My face my heart said to You, Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Wherever my daughter and I went throughout the weekend, those old acquaintances followed, but my Father always went ahead of us and was found waiting for us. He met me in the morning Bible session and reminded me again to ‘turn my eyes toward Jesus’. He invited me to listen to Him during a workshop where I was reminded that I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made” and when I’m discontent with who I am, who I wish I could be more like, it saddens the Holy Spirit, for He made me exactly the way that I am. He told me to ‘put my heart at ease…for this is what God PLANNED for me-for this weekend and for my life!’ In the evening Bible session He told me again that my sins are gone, I am forgiven! He also told me that when I start to get off course, He will arrange circumstances so that my focus/my aim will remain on Him. I can’t say the weekend ever became relaxing or comfortable, but I was made stronger by my Father each moment.
By the end of the session on Sunday, I was pretty tired and I asked Anna if she would mind if we skipped breakfast and just headed home. She said that was fine and then took the opportunity to remind me that we’d be passing Culver’s at some point. But even the trip home was anointed, because I was able to hear a sermon by Irwin Lutzer from Moody Church on Psalms 23 that essentially encapsulated what God took me through during the weekend. Lutzer explained that the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a real valley in Israel that is harsh and difficult and many have not survived it, but shepherds would take their sheep through it in order to bring them to higher, more fertile ground. And even more… sheep being timid creatures wouldn’t want to venture through it, so a Shepherd would sometimes carry a lamb on his shoulders so that the mother of the lamb would feel compelled to follow, which would then cause more of the flock to follow her. If it weren’t for my daughter wanting to go to camp, I would have had no reason to go. Isn’t that precious?! That just makes me cry all over again. By the time the sermon was done, I felt fully loved by God. I’m sure my daughter thinks ‘Mom has lost it!’ because I just let the tears flow, but I was able to explain to her that God was talking to me and when He does, I often cry. It was also a rare opportunity to show her my vulnerability so that she feels free to do the same.
To bring this experience around full circle, while listening to Lutzer I happened to remember that my Bible reading for Friday morning, the day on which we left for the retreat, had included Psalm 23 (because as I said previously, I have been reading 3 chapters in Psalms a day, and Friday’s was chapters 22-24.) I remember reading chapter 23, but it came across more as poetry and not personally impactful; little did I understand on Friday morning that God was preparing me.
Thank you God for being so faithful. Thank you for planning my days so specifically and purposefully. You are so good. Amen.
Link to Irwin Lutzer’s sermon: