Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Oppressive Week and God's Love

Last week, my family and I went camping in the Sierras (grand and breath-takingly beautiful), and I hope to write about it soon, but before I did, I wanted to blog about something that happened just before we left.

What Happened First
The week before vacation, I felt like I had a hangover from General Convention. We’d left church after arguing with one of the deacons about whether GenCon mattered or not – he seemed to think nothing of the fact that they’d declined to pass a resolution stating that Christ was the only way to the Father. We, of course, saw this as denying the heart of Christianity itself. (To be fair to the deacon, I think he meant that it didn’t matter politically, not theologically. I’d argue about how entwined those two are. Still, not how you want to leave mass.)

Anyway, the week got harder as it progressed. By Thursday, I felt like I was in the middle of a storm. I hadn’t had a day that bad in ages – I felt like I did back in the days when I had a baby or two awake at all hours of the night and inconsolable during the day. I felt like I was getting beat up all day long – really. I remember standing in the kitchen feeling like I was trying to remain upright while someone was hitting me.

It did occur to me at one point “this feels like spiritual warfare.” And I managed several times to cry out to the Lord Jesus, asking for His help. And I believe He did help me: otherwise, I would not have bit my tongue as many times as I did. It would have been a lot worse without His help; I believe He kept a rein on my temper that day, when I was no longer able to. I think He spared my children a lot of yelling and granted them more kindness through me than was in my heart to give.

It was also a swimming-through-molasses day. Every time I looked at the clock, I was dumbfounded by how little it had moved.

Finally it ended. The next day was Friday, and Adam was home, in preparation for our vacation. That day was hard too – I kept wanting to snap at him as well as the children – but his presence was, as always, a grace, and things went a little better.

But that night, one of the babies, Anna, cried for hours after she had fallen asleep. We kept comforting her, telling her it was okay, but she kept waking us with her cries. Then, I myself woke up from a nightmare.

It was a demonic nightmare. It was easy to tell, because it was saturated with that particular feeling of hate and terror. That message of “we are going to kill you; be terrified”. Also it was easy to tell because as soon as I realized what it was, and spoke the name of Jesus in the dream, the demons revealed themselves, jumped at me and I woke up. They always end that way. No demon can withstand the power of Christ.

When I woke up, Anna was crying, and I realized that she might be being oppressed by the same things I was, so I prayed properly, and prayed for her, and told them to leave in Jesus’ name. She slept soundly the rest of the night, and so did I. (I prayed for the rest of the children too.)

What Happened Next
Now, here is where it gets interesting.

The first interesting thing is the dream itself. In it, I found myself in the company of other people who had left the Episcopal Church. Adam and I were living with them, and we were surrounded by the enemy. Once I woke up, I realized that this dream confirmed what my horrible week was about: it was spiritual warfare, and it was about what’s going on at church.

It sounds strange, but having that dream ended up being a relief! Even as I fell asleep afterwards, I was laughing in my prayers, laughing at the cleverness and the frugality of our Lord: He let me be oppressed for a time, but He made even the oppression serve His purpose, by making His enemies reveal why they were oppressing me. (And, as always, by letting the presence of my enemies remind me to hold myself closer to Him.) Truly, He is the Lord of all – even the wind and the wave obey Him, even the storm, even the fallen angels. Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The second interesting thing is that back in the middle of that oppressive week, I got a very encouraging email from my mom. I didn’t think much of it at the time – its compliments on my mothering seemed very far removed from my then very cranky self – but it was a bright spot in a hard week.

But on the weekend, I told her about my weird week, and about its culmination in my dream, and she laughed and said, “Oh, that’s why the Lord told me to pray for you! Do you remember that email I sent you? He told me when I sent it that you wouldn’t be able to hear what I was saying, but that I should send it anyway, and not say, ‘you might not see yourself this way.’ That I should just send it. You were on my heart so much, and I prayed for you a lot.”*

Do you see what this means? It means that in the midst of that dry, horrible time, when I felt like the worst of sinners, and was struggling just to take a breath without cursing, trying to be faithful when it felt like there was no point, that AT THAT MOMENT, the Lord Jesus was seeing me and loving me. He was prompting someone else to pray for me. He had not forgotten me.

I know this is true all the time, but it is so rarely I am shown it so concretely. This time though, He gave me the privilege of seeing His love for me. Looking back I can see that in the moment when I felt the worst, when I felt dry and beaten and discouraged, He saw me, He loved me, He helped me. And He was kind enough afterwards to show me that it was so.

I know it’s corny, but I’ve loved that poem Footprints since I was a small child. A beach house we stayed in once had it on the wall of the bathroom, and I read it over and over. And that week, I got to see that the idea I loved as a child was true: in our darkest of hours, when we feel most besieged, our Lord is not just with us, He carries us.

Call on His name, for He cares for us.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*When I was talking to my mom, and asking her what she thought about my experience, she told me she was going to answer like we were back in the village she worked in as a missionary. In that village there was a lot of witchcraft, and things that are usually hidden here in the States were much more open there. (You can read more about the reality of spiritual attacks in Jen's post here. My own take on it is still there in the comments, and the discussion following that post of hers was really good, I think.) Anyway, Mom pointed out that spiritual oppression is exactly what you ought to expect in a church that just coporately denied Christ. Leaving individuals (and even individual parishes) aside for the moment, at GenCon, the coporate church declared that they didn't need Jesus to save them. To be frank, when you take yourself out of the protection of Christ, you're vulnerable to the forces of evil.
-And because of that, I add my second note: please, when you think of it, pray for my friends who are still in the Episcopal Church. The Christians who remain there remain on hostile ground. They are beseiged. It's a dark place to be and they need your prayers. Thank you.


Anne Kennedy said...

Dear Jessica,
Thank you so much for writing this. As I read it I realized why I've had such a hard time blogging this year. I think its because I feel so raw and broken in the face of such black evil. Not only have we experienced it personally (Matt is going to have a deposition in a few days which so stresses me) but we've watched it day by day. When I sit down to write the immensity of it wells up before me and I don't even know where to start.
And also, I had a very similar dream like experience, as a child on the mission field. Spiritual oppression and warfare are so real. Matt periodically goes through the house and church anointing, blessing and exorcising because we and our children are frequently oppressed at night by this kind of evil. Sorry about the long post. Many many prayers.

Amy said...

I also want to thank you. I, too, have experienced much spiritual warfare in my life - especially in the last few years as my hubby prepared to enter seminary, complete the program and become ordained...and during our separation from TEC. The Evil One was constantly prowling about seeking my weaknesses and those of my children. I was never brave enough to blog about it so I thank you for making your battle known.

With time, I have developed a keen awareness and ask myself all too frequently 'Is this from God?' So often, I find myself rebuking Satan 3 times in response to my own question.

Also, I might suggest picking a Scripture that speaks to you about the power of God to overcome evil at times such as you have experienced.

And, finally (sorry so long)a prayer for you and your family:

The Armour of God

Lord Jesus, by Faith, I now put on the whole armour of God. I put on the Helmet of Salvation, the Breastplate of Your Righteousness, I gird myself about with the girdle of Your Truth. On my feet I put the shoes of the Gospel of Your Peace. I take up the shield of Your Faith (which surrounds me like a tent) and the sword of the Spirit (which is God’s Word). I cover myself with the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses me from all sin and around me like a cloak is the Holy Spirit. I praise and thank You, Lord Jesus, for all that You have done for me, and I relax into You now, knowing that You are protecting me from all evil intents and purposes. Thank You Jesus.
I pray also that I may yield to the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.


I don't mean to presume that you don't already use these tools but I have found them helpful along the way. As Anne said, this is very real...and very dangerous to your spiritual health and that of your family

Praying for you all...

Jessica said...

Thanks, Anne and Amy, for the comments and the insight. It's good to not be in this alone.