I think sometimes it’s hard for me to trust God, because I fear He might be manipulating me.
Despite all the words the scriptures have to say about His character of love, kindness, and truth, at times my default method is to assume I’m being manipulated.
Those neural pathways have been well beaten down in my brain for as long as I can remember to pay attention to what people really mean despite what is coming out of their mouth. I might be told I was pretty, but that was only so I’d feel better and not complain about my looks around them. My family didn’t like complaining or fussing. They much preferred I hold it together. My life felt like it was always about giving them what they needed so they wouldn’t get upset. I didn’t even realize until recently how painful and physically debilitating it has been.
I never learned as a kid that it was ok just to be me. There were times I let my guard down and had some fun, but I don’t think I ever got away from the thought if I do the wrong thing I could lose what I had. It’s been an incredible amount of pressure to carry around.
I’m learning through counseling and by listening to teachings on God’s grace that it’s ok to be me. The pressure has gotten better, and even physically I am starting to feel better. My stomach doesn’t act up as much as it used to, and the condemning voices in my head have gotten quieter. But every once in a while the pressure sticks it’s ugly head up again.
Yesterday, it happened again. I called my mom to tell her that I wasn’t going to my mother-in-law’s funeral. This meant I wouldn’t get to come by and see her. My daughter and I had made the decision to stay home, rather than go to the funeral, because she was anxious about going and so was I. My daughter also suffers from depression, and I was concerned about how the funeral might cause her to struggle more. We’d said our goodbyes during my mother-in-law’s final weeks and decided to stay home and celebrate her life by doing something fun in her honor. This decision gave us both peace, and my husband was 100% supportive.
I immediately began to dread calling my mom to tell her that my daughter and I weren’t coming. I knew she wouldn’t be happy about it, and I was right. When I told her we weren’t coming, because I didn’t think my daughter was up for it her first question was, “What’s wrong with her?” I told my mom that she’d just lost her grandmother! My mom continued about how she hated she wasn’t going to see us. She offered little support and voiced how upset she was that we were not coming. Then I asked her about meeting us half way for the holidays in the upcoming weeks. This would enable us to spend several hours together without either of us having to travel too far. She told me she didn’t know if my brother was willing to drive two hours, that it might be too far. When I saw it was obvious that she was not going to let me off the guilty hook for not coming, I told her I’d talk to her later and got off the phone. I felt sick to my stomach and wondered why it was so difficult for my mother just to offer support? Why so much of the time did I feel guilty around her?
If anyone else had this conversation with a parent and asked my opinion, I’d tell them that they were being guilted and manipulated. I’d comfort them with words to not let it get to them and to only do what they thought was best for them and their child. I’d tell them guilt was never a good motivator. But telling myself is another story. The guilty feelings just don’t want to go away. I’d made my mother unhappy and this was a big no no.
God is not a manipulator. He saw my pain last night, and I believe put it on my husband’s aunt’s heart to comfort me. She texted me last night asking what time we were leaving for the funeral. When I texted her back that my daughter and I weren’t going she said, “I think that’s a good idea,” and it’s her sister’s funeral! I immediately texted her back “Thank you for your support.” She had no idea how much I needed to hear those words.
I love the verses in the Bible that tell us Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness and that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance…not guilt or manipulation that God places on us. He came to save us, not condemn us. He loves us and calls us the apple of His eye and His friends.
In the final days of my mother-in-law’s life, these truths shined brilliantly through. She’d been manipulated for years by her abusive ex-husband. She’d struggled with guilt over her own decisions she’d felt had made others unhappy with her, too. On one of her worst days she told me she was wondering if she’d done something wrong to cause her to be in the place she was. I found myself offering her the same comfort God was giving me…that He doesn’t give us burdens but takes them instead. He didn’t want her to feel the pressure of guilt, but rather the relief of His presence during this dark time. She began shaking her head in agreement, and quoted this scripture to me.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV
It was one of the last verses she quoted before she was unable to speak any longer.
In the days that followed, it was clear to me that God was with her just as He promised he would be. In the peaceful dreams she was having of a place that was real, in the church group that stopped by and sang “It is Well” three nights before she went to her eternal home, I sensed the comfort of His presence. He wanted us to know it, too. Immediately following her death, her sister and I were in the store shopping for a new outfit for her to be buried in and the song “Tears in Heaven” was playing over the store speakers. It was another reminder to me that God had taken her burdens and taken her home to a place where she’d never know guilt or shame or hate or tears or pain again. She was home and surrounded by the kindness and goodness of His redeeming love. He’s so good and kind and He loves us and calls us His friends. God’s not a manipulator and I thank Him for continuing to remind me. He knows our pain and He wants us to tell Him all about it. He wants to take our burdens so we can be the unique people He created us to be. We are never a burden to Him. What a relief! Oh how I thank Him for taking the pressure off.
Rest in peace, Nana.