As I turn the page to fall, I pause and reflect on my summer. Like many, summertime gave me the time and space to read some good books. Recently, an old friend returned a book to me that she had borrowed. Initially, I only vaguely remembered the book but its title intrigued me: Letters Never Sent. My initial skimming through the book turned into eagerly reading it cover to cover. It is based on the author’s experience growing up outside of the United States, and later, as an adult, living and working in another country. Many of you know that my husband and I lived out of the country for almost a decade, and our two youngest children spent their childhood outside of the States. It has been some time since I have written about that experience but this book triggered many memories.
Letters Never Sent is a story about loss, unexpressed grief, and the gift of healing. Though I related to the author’s story because of my mission field experience, I think it is a book for all. As the author observes, everyone alive has hidden griefs, some unrecognized even to themselves.
My experience in mentoring others and now serving as a spiritual director or companion to others has shown me that we all need God to heal past pain, restore relationships that are broken or weak, and set us free from the slavery of trying to please others instead of God. We each need to come to terms with who we are, in God’s eyes and God’s kingdom. Have you let God settle for you who you are? Have I? I suggest that is a worthy endeavor for us all, and a gift God wants to give each of us.
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God renew your minds from within. Then you will prove in practice what is His good and perfect and acceptable will.” Romans 12: 1, 2.
People can be held captive not just in a physical sense, but by their memories and by feelings they judge that they should not have. When God gently allows us to remember and cry in a safe space, even two or three decades later, light can come into the darkness. The work of God sometimes hurts. But I don’t know if we can ever really know God until we are forced to cling to Him so closely. As the author explains: In every one of our lives, God requires a precious thing. For each of us it’s different, but it’s always precious; it’s the one thing we think we can’t bear to be without.
God will take the very thing you think you can’t possibly give to Him and make it the same thing that brings great blessing.
I heard a woman say that she had to learn to forgive many people in her life just for being who and what they are. I would add that God wants us to accept his forgiveness for who and what we are or have been.
A Biblical definition of comfort is to sigh with someone. What a gift it is to have someone simply be with you and sigh with you. How divinely powerful it is to encounter God, who wants to sigh with us. God shows his face in the depths of despair as well as in the heights of joy. God’s inescapable presence is everywhere. May we grow in this awareness. May we accept that our own needs are as important as those of anyone else God sends us to minister to. And, it is okay to be ordinary, if that’s God’s will.
In the familiar Old Testament story of Job, we see that God gave Job time. He let him vent his feelings and ask his questions. He waited without jumping in. (How often do we try to explain God’s ways when we’re only guessing?) God never did explain the reason for Job’s suffering; He only reminded him of who He is. This is how God expects us to care for one another.
May we become a model of redemptive, comforting love.
Too often we punish or judge others or ourselves before discerning the root cause behind the behavior. Letters Never Sent vividly shows us that emotions cannot be ignored, denied, or repressed without consequences. Ruth’s story illustrates that coming to terms with our honest emotions is an important channel for spiritual growth.
My own life experience has shown me that my wandering away from the Divine ultimately blessed me with experiencing God finding me, pursuing me, and rescuing me. The penetrating gaze of God can be compared to the gaze of a physician, probing and discerning the evasive but death-dealing symptoms of disease. There is no power like the power of Divine healing. God’s gaze can also be likened to that of a mentor who sees hidden potential, and is sensitive to the inner drive of unrealized dreams. As we let go of our fears and allow God to draw us to Himself, we can experience this healing, and then we can offer God’s healing touch to others through us.
As we enter into autumn, a season of change and letting go, may we be open to the God Isaiah describes here—open and willing to receive these graces, and to act on God’s behalf to minister in this way to others. What a great assignment for life.
“I have come to bring you fresh news. I have seen your depression and affliction. I have taken notice of your broken and bursting heart. I have come to wrap it, to stop the flow of the old ways, and to dwell there in your new heart, to become the ruling influence of your life. No more does the pain of life and the lies of the Evil One have to control you. I have come to deliver you from those things and from him, to establish Myself within you as Truth. To open the eyes of your heart. To set you free from sin and to set you free from yourself—to become what I have always intended for you to be!”
Isaiah 61:1-3a (Paraphrase, Brent Hanson, Moriah Foundation)
***This blog was inspired by Letters Never Sent: One woman’s journey from hurt to wholeness by Ruth E. Van Reken.