The Struggle

"But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." John 10:1-4

I hung my head low, struggling to make sense of the recent developments in our situation. I sat in a crowded room of strangers, but I felt all alone. None of these people knew how the news I had just heard set my world spinning. My phone vibrated as I received another text from my mom, so I didn't even see him slip into the room, not until I felt his cold hand grasp my shoulder. I jumped, and he smiled. He slid into the seat next to me.

Fear.

How does he always find me? It's like he knows when I get terrible news or find myself in a foreign and scary situation. He always happens to be there when I am feeling overwhelmed or vulnerable. He always shows up unannounced, never requested. I looked him over. He wore the same black overcoat, the same black pants and shirt. His clothes were crisply ironed; his sleek black hair was pulled in a ponytail. He always comes dressed for the occasion.

His breath tickled my ear as he leaned over and whispered, "It's over. You have no control now. You came here feeling confident and excited for the future, but you will leave here knowing the worst has come." Tears burned in my eyes as his deep, cracking voice sent chills down my arms. He's right. The worst has come, I thought. I accepted his words.

In the depths of my heart, I heard another Voice: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding..." Fear looked me in the eyes and shook his head. I quieted the Voice inside and let Fear grab my hand.

We gathered my things, and we slipped out of the room. Fear stayed close by my side as we made our way down the long, empty corridor toward the building's exit.

He walked quickly so that I had no time to think things through, only to feel the effects of Fear's closeness coursing through my body. My heart pounded fast, and the blood ran cold in my veins. As we stepped into the sunshine, I bumped into him without even realizing he was there.

Despair.

"Hello again, my friend," he said with his charming and alluring voice. He didn't seem to mind my intrusion, almost as if he were expecting my arrival. His tattered clothes blew in the wind, along with his greasy, tangled brown hair. He curled his fingers in a beckoning wave, and I followed him in the direction to my car. He placed his arm around my shoulder, and he drew me in to the whirlpool of his emptiness. The hopelessness of my situation washed over me, churning my emotions as those of raging waters stirring up a riverbed.

In the back of my mind, I knew I should run, that these two were not my true friends. The Voice whispered again, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest...." But their companionship always felt so natural, so comfortable. They were, after all, my familiar friends from long ago. I silenced the Voice and smiled weakly at my friends.

Fear and Despair laughed and talked of the developments in my life. They reminded me of every terrible thing, true and imagined, that did or might transpire. We walked in step as they talked and I listened. Their words made me feel undone, abandoned, alone. My heart ached from a grief I could not bear. As we turned the corner and my car came in view, I saw her standing there. I smiled an ironic smile, and I shook my head. I should have known she would come to the party, too. She never passes up the chance for a good time with friends.

Self-pity.

She stood there in her red dress and heels, regal and put together, as always. She smiled coyly as we approached, selfishness dancing in her eyes. "I heard the news," she said, her voice filled with anger and disdain. Her hate-filled, bitter words were an oxymoron to her beautiful appearance. "How could He let this happen to you again? After all you've been through, how could He not stand up for you this time? He does for everyone else." With each word she spoke, I felt anger and self-righteousness welling up within me. She's right, I thought. Has God not put me through enough already? Why has He tarried once more? Look at how He does good to so many others, even those who do not follow Him!

The Voice insisted in my spirit: "It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed..." My friends shouted their complaints against the Voice. I let their duplicitous words crowd out the Voice within, until He was just a faint memory.

We all piled into the car. I turned the key in the ignition, and I felt Fear's wiry hand guiding mine to the radio dial. We turned off the Christian music, finding instead a secular station. We blasted the music, soaking in the injustice of all that had transpired. I drove like this for quite a while, allowing my thoughts to be guided by these three companions I had picked up along the way. They spoke freely, and I listened intently.

My phone buzzed, and I glanced down to see a text from a friend: "I am praying for you." The words moved my heart and brought a comfort I couldn't explain. Self-pity saw the text, too, and gave a great harrumph from the back seat. "So much for prayer. Look where it has gotten you today. Nowhere," she spewed.

But the Voice grew stronger at my hesitation: "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” I began to recall the Truth to which I had given my life long ago. My friends felt the change in my demeanor, and they amped up their attacks.

"Your enemies will have victory over you. There is nothing you can do about it," Fear shouted accusingly.

"Your situation is over," cried Despair. "You have no hope!"

"A lot of good following Him has done you," Self-pity insisted. "You might as well eat, drink, and be merry, for you deserve better than He has given you."

"NO!" I cried. I pulled over the car, and I turned to the three who sat in my car. "Jesus, help me!" I shouted. They all covered their ears in disdain at the mention of His Name. "Forgive me, Father God," I prayed.

The Voice was strong in my heart once more. He reminded me of the job needing to be done: "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." I bowed my head, called my enemies by name, and in the Name of Jesus Christ, I commanded them to leave:

"There is no room for you here, Fear. For my confidence is in God alone. As the psalmist says, 'The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?' (Ps. 118:6). Despair, you have no hold on me, '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 me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord' (Rom. 8:38-39). And you, Self-Pity, with your lies and poisonous self-devotion, take a hike! I will not complain, but I will instead 'give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus' (1 Thess. 5:18)."

When I opened my eyes, they were gone. In their place, the peace of God had filled my heart once more. I remembered that my hope lies not in the present circumstances, dismal as they may seem at times. My hope lies in the secure foundation of Jesus Christ!

"For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay."  Habakkuk 2:3