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AfterWords | Even in the Depths | Soul Care Sunday (March 5, 2023)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Amy Hoyle

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. Psalms 139:9–10

During Soul Care Sunday, we were led through some breath prayers, which often begin by becoming aware of your own breath.

As I focused on breathing in and exhaling, two themes arose—Breath and Lament.

The last four years, as I’ve journeyed through sickness, grief, the loss of my parents, and deep depression, I’ve often felt I was at the bottom of the ocean—breathless in the depths.

The night my mom went on hospice, I had a vision. God played back all the events from the last few years. As the Lord played back all the suffering, I was overcome with gratitude. All these events trained and prepared me for the months to follow. The lessons God taught allowed me to walk alongside Mama in the way of the Lord. I testified to the heart and character of God, while empathizing with the deep suffering and battle she was enduring.

Even in my grief and lament, His goodness was unfailing. And, the preceding years of suffering produced deeper peace, deeper trust, deeper joy, and a stillness in my soul as God abided with me.

In the soil of my undoing, God met me there.

One of my favorite Psalms is 139. I really relate to the Psalmist as they contemplate the inescapable God. Someone gifted the book, God Knows Me! by Joel Anderson, when our first son was born.

Based on Psalm 139, a little boy and his cat travel through the different places where God is.

Although written for children, I often think of this book and its illustrations. This simple children’s book reminded me that even in the depths, God is there, too.

Where could I hide from You? Could I ever run away from You? If I went up in outer space, You are there. If I went to the bottom of the ocean, You are there, too. If I could fly past the clouds to the other side of the sea, Your hand would hold me safely. If I say, “Surely I can hide in the dark,” even the darkness would be as bright as daytime to You.

I used to worry melancholy wasn’t very holy.

Growing up, I felt I always had to choose between happy or sad. When I looked around, it did seem everyone had settled in their disposition and I felt the swirly-dervishness of all the emotions all the time. I was teased growing up for being quick to cry, and I think I resolved to try and keep it together.

I trained like an Olympian for 40+ years to be fine—everything’s fine. That nature is so hard to overcome. And I don’t know why I exerted so much energy trying to rewire how God, in His love, made me.

As a young child, I spent months at a time eight hours away from my parents in Greeneville, South Carolina at the Shriners Hospital.

I witnessed countless other children going through similar experiences, some with much harder stories and challenges— amputees, burn victims, etc.

Because of my early experiences, I was markedly different— not just in my physical ability, but in my emotions.

When other children were carefree and full of dreams, I was contemplative and anxious, trying to understand death, heaven, eternity. I had big thoughts and big questions and big emotions.

And God gave me such a gift in my father, who my Mimi said was a melancholy child and a melancholy man. Looking back, I see how God, in His kindness, gave me a kindred spirit in my father. Despite his melancholy, I never considered him less holy. I took comfort in the deep well that was his heart, mind, and spirit. He was a quiet, strong man of God, and like me, he often needed to retreat in order to ponder, process and hear the quiet voice of God over the loud voice of the world.

Along the way, bad theology led me to believe some of my emotions were displeasing to God. That my depression was displeasing to God. That the time it took to process the lessons He was teaching and put into practice was displeasing to God.

It wasn’t until we arrived at The Parish that I learned about The Dark Night of the Soul. Understanding this concept allowed me to give myself grace and acknowledge the hard. I more clearly began to see and understand God’s heart is always for us. He is a loving Father who delights in all of us— simply because we are His beloved. And, as we are patient with our own children when they are learning a new life lesson or skill, so is the heart of God.

He is with us in the joys and highs of life, and equally with us in the depths and despair.

Through suffering, I’ve learned new—and true—aspects of God’s character and heart, and it’s completely transformed how I view myself. Again and again, He whispers and reminds, “I never despise your humanity.”

His unconditional love has helped me love and accept all the parts of myself. I know even in the depths, He is there.

At the crossroads of my humanity, and His holiness, God has been and is the steady in my spinning world.

As far as nowhere; as far as eye can see—from east to west— there is no place you don’t breathe. When all is laid bare, at the bottom of my grief, if I make my bed below the earth, I will find you. — “Find You” by Audrey Assad

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