When I was the mother of young children I needed a weekend away like a passenger on the Titanic needed a life-jacket and seat in a lifeboat. Desperate for adult conversation and a few blissful hours without wiping noses or bottoms, the occasional time away with other Moms was a much-needed respite.
Now, however, I have many opportunities to slip away as needed and am not drowning in my children's needs as I was way back then. Frankly, Homeschooling is one of the easiest things I do. (If that statement doesn't throw light on the fact that we have other difficulties, nothing will.) A chance to get away with these ladies served more to deepen the budding friendships with them... and get far enough away from my laundry room and various "projects" so that I would actually be able to relax. Jim, Erin, and Isaac were going with the Venture Crew for adventures in ice climbing, so they wouldn't be needing me anyway.
So Friday afternoon I hurriedly threw a few necessities into my travel bag, grabbed my Bible, a notebook, and my favorite coffee mug, (The one with the big yellow kitty on it) and scooted out the door. I rode with a friend and after negotiating heavy traffic around Reading we finally arrived at the single-most-tranquil spot in Berks County, possibly the whole state. At the end of a winding lane, in the midst of the wooded hills of the "Historic Oley Valley", is the beautiful old stone farmhouse which had been graciously lent to our group for the weekend by the parents of one of our Moms. Almost instantly all cares of the week slid from my shoulders as I entered this home.
Our first night was simply spent with enjoying dinner together, visiting, and staying up entirely too late playing games. In the morning we shared a lovely breakfast, had our devotion time, and then the woman who would be our speaker arrived. Barb shared from Ephesians 3 and John 15 about abiding in Christ.
This was no lightweight teaching. Having the strength to comprehend, (grasp with my mind) what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know, (apprehend in my heart) the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that I may be filled with all the fullness of God requires abiding in the vine, (Christ) and trusting the vinedresser, (God) to do the pruning which will increase my fruitfulness. Meditating on these truths in light of our own personal "pruning" was a blessing.
After lunch we had our final session together in which we spent more time sharing than listening. We began with sharing practical ways to incorporate more time in prayer and the Word into our busy days, which is always helpful to hear. The questions Barb asked varied from one topic to another, and I honestly can't remember what I was addressing when I spoke up at last.
I felt rather safe when I began; after all, I wasn't going to say anything about our current or past struggles, even though they had been before me the entire day as we looked into the Word and listened to Barb teaching. My lead-in, as a matter of fact, involved a story about a friend, leading to a comment he made in light of the struggles with which he was dealing, concerning the goodness of God.
"We don't ask God to bring good out of this situation, because He has already promised in His Word that it is for our good. We ask Him instead to give us a glimpse of what that good may be."
And then it happened. That all-too-familiar tightening of the throat, the flooding of my eyes, the hot rush of emotion burning up my back, neck, and face. And I was sobbing. (Why must I always cry?) Yet I pushed on, turning to the Scripture which I was referencing.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good..." Romans 8:28
And then to my point. This verse is closely followed, (after Paul has expounded upon who "those who love God" are) with the seat of my confidence in the goodness of God.
"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:31-32
By the time I got to the end of this verse I was a puddle. I closed my Bible, grabbed a napkin to wipe my streaming eyes and blow my snotty nose and sat quietly for the rest of the session as my shaking subsided.
I've had time to ruminate a bit on what exactly occurred there, and I can honestly say that I was not crying out of grief or fear over our circumstances. It may not have been very evident at all to those other dear women, but sadness was not the source of my tears. They know that I certainly have situations in my life right now that would justify a good cry after a meaningful Bible study— isn't that what these retreats are for anyway?
No, they weren't sad tears. They were tears of joy.
In the midst of all the mess and uncertainty of our perilous situation my heart was breaking for the joy of what my God in Christ has done for me. Paul continues further:
"Who is to condemn? (Well, Christ himself had every right to condemn me, but instead...) Christ Jesus is the one who died— more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation (got that), or distress (got that too), or famine, (figuratively, yup, got that one as well) or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
"For your sake we are being
killed all the day long
we are regarded as sheep to be
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:34-39 (parenthetical comments mine)
I will spend the rest of my life learning to grasp with my mind and know with my heart the love of Christ my Savior. His love surpasses my ability to know it fully and completely; and yet he spares not a dram of his love, but has lavishly poured it out upon me. It may not show outwardly in the circumstances which heave and swirl around me, but deep inside his outpouring of love fills my fragile heart to bursting.
I am not a conqueror because the difficulties have melted away; they continue. I am a conqueror because these difficulties do not now, nor ever will, stand between me and the love of God. In fact, these trials are being used by my loving Lord to prune me, to shape me, and to deepen my understanding of His faithfulness. It makes no sense on paper, but my heart knows the truth. There is nothing more precious than Christ, and he died for me, he is even now interceding for me, and he loves me more than I can comprehend.
Yes, joy can break a heart.