Sometimes we let Satan get the better of us. We listen to that wrong voice in our head and he wreaks all kinds of havoc. He particularly loves to get issues started in families, and I played right into his hand.
This summer when my oldest son returned home from his mission, my family gathered together for a luncheon at my house after he spoke in church. I was stressed about getting the food on the table because Brett, my husband's brother, had a long drive ahead with two little girls, and I had promised that we would be quick because I really wanted him to come over and eat with us. Just as I was pulling food out of the oven, My dad called everyone into the living room. They had moved my furniture and he was intent on having a family picture. I listened to the little voice in my head, "Why is he doing that? Brett needs to leave and you promised you would be quick. This is your house? Why is he taking over? He didn't even ask you. You don't want a family picture without Scott... "
Everything that had been joyful suddenly got squashed by those thoughts. I was frustrated and grumbled my objection to my mother. She brushed off my concerns and told me to just go along with it. More voices, "Your mom doesn't even care how you feel. No one understands."
With irritation showing I cooperated, apologizing profusely to my brother-in-law. I was embarrassed. "Your dad wouldn't have done that if Scott were here." But I took a deep breath, put food on the table and enjoyed the rest of the day. My son was home after all, and it had been a long two years with him far, far away in Chile. I was not going to let my dad or anyone else ruin my day... but the story was far from over. The stage had simply been set for a much bigger drama to play out. A drama that I didn't even see coming.
A few weeks later I got an text from my dad about the family reunion. He wanted to do another family picture. Apparently the one at my house was burry and he wanted to hire a professional photographer. "NOOOOOO! After everything that had just happened he wants to do another one! You don't want another family picture! Cooper won't be there (my other son, still in Ecuador on his mission). Scott won't be there. You just have a broken family. You don't want a picture to remind you that you are broken. He will replace the old picture with Scott. You don't want him to replace that picture. The old picture helps everyone remember. Everyone is forgetting. Everyone is moving on. No one understands." I didn't respond to the email, but the thoughts began to brew. They became an underlying current in my days, a sliver under the skin that festered and when bumped caused more pain and hurt.
Talk started about creating a family t-shirt for the reunion. Honestly, I didn't want to spend money on another t-shirt I wouldn't wear, I wasn't even excited about the reunion anymore. I kept dreading the picture. "You are only together for two days and you will spend at least half of a day getting ready for a picture. You don't even want to be in the picture. Maybe you will just break down cry and have to run away. You will definitely break down crying. Everyone will be mad that you are ruining the picture. No on understands..." Then someone posted an idea for the t-shirt. It had the family picture, the one taken against my will at my house, right in the middle. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. All of those feelings came flooding back on top of the new ones being systematically and methodically implanted in my brain. "No one understands you. You need to write your parents and tell them that you don't want to be in the picture." I wrote an email hoping that the vent would stop my hurting.
My daughter Rachel walked into the room and I vented to her too.
"Can you believe it. They want us to do a picture at the family reunion? We are only going to be there two days. Everyone will waste all of their time getting ready and we won't even spend time together. Cooper won't be in the picture, Dad won't be in the picture, and they want us to use the family picture we just took without dad in it!"
That was just the fuel my daughter needed to jump on board. She picked up my phone and typed a response. I didn't stop her. Everything completely fell apart from there. It was as if Satan had minions posed ready to feed negative thoughts to every person involved. Unkind things were said, people were offended and I felt worse and less understood than I had before. I tried to explain that Rachel's comments were fueled by our family's desire not to have a picture without Scott. I told them that I felt the same, but that only made things worse. I finally opted out of the text. I was so hurt by the comments. "See, no one understands you. Not even your family understands."
I got a reply email from my parents. They said they didn't even know what to say. That wasn't what I wanted to hear. I just wanted someone to say, "I'm sorry. We had no idea that this would be so hard for you. What can we do to help you? Do you need to not do the picture? We can wait until Cooper is home next year. Maybe you will be ready then. We can wait for you to be ready. No one is going to push you to do something you aren't ready to do." No one had said that. I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next morning I woke to the same cloud. I had to decide what to do now. What a mess! Was I going to keep fighting and stick to my guns? My mom sent me an email. I scanned through it and only saw judgement. I clicked it shut. "You should just not go to the reunion. They don't understand you anyway. They need to apologize to you. You are the one who lost a husband. That definitely trumps a picture." Then I took that path to completion in my mind... It was very, very dark. "That's only going to make things worse," I thought. "How would I ever get back? I don't like my family being mad at me. I don't want that."
For the first time I exerted control over my thoughts. I thought about it and I chose to ignore the voice to estrange myself. I chose the light. "How do I fix this?" I reopened the email from my mom and read it with new eyes. My parents weren't happy about me not being in the picture, but they respected my choice not to be in it.
I had to choose.... taking the picture was going to be hard. I had lots of feelings of anxiety and fear about how I would feel that day. But if I didn't take it, then next time would also be hard. What was I going to do when one of my kids got married? "If you take the picture it will help heal things with your family... I will help you do it." This voice was different than the first. It wasn't pushing me to escalate things. It wasn't rioting my emotions... it was calming them. There was a feeling of peace in the idea that hadn't been present in any of the ideas before.
I knew what I needed to do. Now I just had to do it. Apologies were made and we had an awesome time at the reunion. Taking the picture wasn't even as close to as difficult as I had imagined. Everything had been blown out of proportion in my mind. I really do have a great and supportive family. No wonder Satan wants to thwart that! He wants me to feel isolated and he wants to create contention.
As I have reflected on this experience, I have had eyes to see more than I did at first. I recognized the three voices in my head that day. One was from Satan, one was my own and one was the Spirit.
No matter what happens to us, no matter what trials come into our lives we are ultimately more than our thoughts, feelings and emotions. We are the SELECTORS of our feelings and emotions. That means that as we control and direct those thoughts and feelings we determine our destiny. We become a product of what we choose to dwell on and what we choose to do with the external circumstances of our life.
Understanding that we have the power to choose our thoughts begins to give us the strength to resist the bad ones. It also helps us to start to discern the evil ploys that Satan uses to try to get us to be paralyzed or to act in ways that will limit our happiness.
Satan is subtle. He is sneaky and he wants us to instinctively act on his suggestions. That is exactly what I did. He used my grief to goad me into being offended. He lied and told me that no one cared about me. He isolated me and talked me into seeking outward validation instead of going to the true source for peace. Those thoughts made me angry and pulled me from the Spirit. He talked me into acting when my emotions were strong and raw and unfiltered.
When Satan strikes, his attacks come on suddenly. They are stinging, mind-gripping unsettling thoughts. I have learned that Satan can use grief to pull me into selfish, inward thoughts. I did the wrong thing that day and Satan scored. What I should have done was to take those bad feelings to the Lord. Instead of turning to my family for reassurance and emotional help, if I would have prayed for help to deal with those feelings... if I would have asked for His grace to fill me, then I would have avoided all of the bad feelings and hurt that happened that day. Relationships wouldn't have been injured and needed to be repaired.
When I finally chose to go to the family reunion with the intent to strengthen family relationships then I received more help to get through it. I wasn't perfect at it, but I was enabled as I tried to act. If we go to the Lord in prayer and specifically ask for grace, and then find a way to positively act and give grace, His grace can begin to flow through us. As the scriptures describe, we can receive, "grace for grace." We can get help to overcome those bad feelings.
I recently learned this strategy at a widows conference and I can't wait to purposefully test it out. I have inadvertently done this before, and it worked really well, but I think if I do it consciously it can be so much more powerful.
If we can learn to recognize Satan's ploys and then choose to go the opposite way 200%, we can teach those evil voices that their ploys won't work on us. We can make their efforts backfire and that will limit their recurrence.
Just think about it for a minute... If Satan knows that his efforts will unleash a powerful force for good. He may just choose to let the sleeping dog lie. We can choose to just ignore the voice, but if we identify it and actively choose to fight him, I believe our result can be powerful. I believe that he will stop his attacks sooner if they cause a response that thwarts his plan.
Satan knows my triggers. He knows how to get me going, but if he repeatedly doesn't get a response, he backs off. I know this from personal experience. The beginning of a diet is always the hardest. The beginning of an exercise program is filled with the desire to just skip today, but after repeated action, those voices begin to diminish and just fade away. When they pop back in, it doesn't take near the effort to dismiss them.
The key then become the ability to recognize and discern that voice that pulls you inward. Never act on that voice, and when it comes, commit to do an about face and run the other way.
I know God gives us power to overcome. I feel it daily in my life. It's amazing, it's enabling and it's worth every effort to get. It always flows when I turn outside of myself and try to do good.
I love this poem by Henry Van Dyke
I hold it true that thoughts are things:
They're endowed with bodies, breath and wings;
And that we send them forth to fill
The world with good results or ill.
That which we call our secret thought
Speeds forth to earth's remotest spot,
Leaving its blessings or its woes
Like tracks behind it as it goes.
We build our future, thought by thought
For good or ill, yet know it not.
Yet, so the universe was wrought.
Thought is another name for fate;
Choose, then, thy destiny and wait,
For love brings love and hate brings hate.
May we all sow seeds of love... even in our loss and grief, and may God fill you with His grace.
Check out this post in my new website: HowDoIGoOn.org