God, the Hope of My
Weakness and Despair
by Helen M.L. Chang, October, 2000
Have you ever felt weak and been in despair, been treated unfairly by life, been misunderstood and misrepresented...? If you have experienced any of these, you are not, by any means, alone. Although I was baptized just before going to England to do nursing, I was never taught the importance, let alone the need, to open my heart fully to the Holy Spirit for the conviction of sins before baptism. Little wonder that for years I never knew the joy of God’s forgiveness, the strength to overcome sins, nor the motivation to love the Lord in any meaningful way.
The trademark of my “Christian” life in those years was: “I could not help it”, because my life was full of weaknesses, problems and failures which led to much frustration and despair. Even though in theory I knew that God is Almighty; in practice, I wondered how could God intervene when the effect of my upbringing was so strong in my life? Even if He could, how long would it take?
In my early childhood, I already saw frequent quarrels and sometimes fights at home. The painful experiences of growing up in a family where my parents’ marriage was constantly on the verge of a complete breakdown left me with much bitterness, weakness and despair. At times, there was also the bickering and quarrels between my mother and half-mother, sometimes even involving their children. Being a very shy and timid child, I never showed my true feelings in the fear of causing yet another explosion at home. As I was later sent to a Christian school, the recurring thought since then was: if God is there and that He is supposed to love me, why has He allowed me to be born into such a troubled family? I wished I was never born, at least I wished I could end it all, perhaps, by being run over by a car. With such thoughts frequently in my heart, I continued at school until a relatively happy day arrived when Mother told me that Father had just agreed to send me overseas.
During the years away from my parents, I had relative peace so long as I was not reminded of home. At times I did miss Mother, but whenever the thought of Father came to mind, I became most unhappy and bitter. To my mind, I was just part of his basic responsibility but not the object of his love. This was further confirmed in my heart in that he never gave me the thing which I had always asked for, namely, to rent a piano for music lessons.
Among the messages that I heard in England, I thought the one on loving one’s enemies was the most inapplicable to me, since to my mind, I had no enemy. After a few years the Lord mercifully stirred my heart and the same question came repeatedly, “Even though you don’t think that you have any enemy, take a look at your attitudes and feelings toward your father. Is your bitterness towards him not due to some measure of hidden hatred? If so, are you not treating him in your heart as your enemy?” What a shock when I was eventually awoken to such a horrible truth! The months that followed saw me in despair. As though it was not bad enough to have been born and brought up in such a family, now I was also rightly charged for treating my father as my enemy! Oh, how I wished to die many times over because I just could not cope with such pain and guilt.
After some months came the first opportunity for me to visit my parents, so I began to pray in earnest a week before I was to see them. About three days later, much to my disappointment, my feeling towards Father not only did not improve, but got worse at every remembrance of him. Somehow about the same time, the Lord reminded me of a few incidents where I was obviously very selfish and mean in the way I used my time and energy especially in relating to my friends. As such thoughts gave me further disappointment, I wondered why the Lord brought these to my mind instead of granting me the warmth for Father that I was asking for? About two days later, the Lord began to remind me of His many mercies: firstly, the fact of His amazing provisions in making it possible for me to study and work in England. This is no small matter by any account: to get my father’s consent and for him to send me overseas was a great miracle in itself. This also meant a way out for me not to have to stay on at home - a thing which I never even dared to dream of. Secondly, because I never expressed my deep feelings, let alone knew how to deal with them, I brought into my marriage, though most unintentionally, many difficult and undesirable attitudes and behavior which caused much pain to my husband. Yet despite of it all, he has both endured and remained faithful in his love to me. This, I knew from my past, was not humanly possible especially as it was an ongoing thing.
Once I was reassured of God’s love for me, I slowly began to realize that His showing me my selfishness, hatred towards Father, and all the ugliness and sinfulness in me was not meant to cast me out as if to withdraw His love for me, but rather, it was meant to tell me that He has loved me even when I was utterly unlovable. Unlovable? Ugly? Sinful? That’s me? How can this be? Was I not, at the very least, better than Father? At least, I was not unfaithful, unfair, and unloving... like him, or so I thought! Now I was even convicted of the deadly sin of the Pharisees (Lk. 18:9-14) in not seeing the seriousness of my own sins, yet thought that I could see Father’s sin. What a great self-deception! By now the weight of my sins was sending me into utter despair. And the thought of His faithful love for such a one like me so overwhelmed me that I kept crying out to the Lord for His cleansing and forgiveness. Amazingly, the more I became aware of my sins, the more I began to lose sight of my father’s sins. It then became clear to me that Father and I were both sinners, desperately needing the Lord’s cleansing and forgiveness. Because of this conviction and awakening, without any effort on my part, I somehow began to identify myself with Father. The bitterness towards him then turned into forgiveness and genuine sympathy. When the day finally came for me to visit my parents, my heart was filled with much thankfulness and excitement, because the Lord has not only cleansed me from such sins but He has also granted me His love for Father in a manner completely beyond my expectations and imaginations!
So it was during that visit I first told Father of the Lord’s merciful dealings with me. I sincerely asked for his forgiveness for my hidden yet real hatred towards him in the past. I also wanted to show my concern for him because the Lord loves him and would love him even through me. Shortly after that, Father wrote and expressed how much he was comforted in seeing the change in my life; his only request was for me to extend this love also to my half brothers and sisters in the days to come, because he has begun to see some hope in the possibility of his children not to remain as enemies for life. Although my jealousy, envy and bitterness against my half family also vanished at the time when I saw my terrible sinfulness before the Lord, it was years later when I returned to Hong Kong again that I had the opportunity to reach out to each member of my half family in person.
Once Father and I were reconciled, I realized that this was due to the powerful effect of the Lord’s conviction and cleansing of my sins. Only now could I know God’s power for real: His power in convicting us of hidden sins (if we do not insist on our being clear of sins), and His power in restoring broken relationships (if we confess sins to the person whom we have sinned against). This, in fact, was how the Lord began to replace despair with hope into my life.
Although I had been set free by His gracious power from bitterness, hatred, etc., I had yet to know His gracious power daily to help me not to fall into sins, especially not to allow sins to stay in my heart and still behave as if I could serve and please Him. Among many challenges to my weaknesses, the most frequent and difficult one is none other than when being corrected. Generally speaking, I considered myself teachable (that is, correctable “within” reason). This meant that whenever I did not consider the person’s correction as “within” my acceptable reasons, then I was judged an unfortunate victim of his/her criticism. After all, it was only fair to honor the good intentions of my actions; should my action have had any undesirable effect on others, it may be mostly due to some other factors, so why should I have been the one responsible for it? With this attitude, I may evade the real issue: the effect of my actions. When I harbor this attitude I soon find myself becoming more unhappy and grumpy, more ready to justify my actions, more convinced of my own opinions and judgment, even more ready to start blaming and criticizing others especially for the unhappy state that I was then in. In short, I was becoming less and less sensitive to His Spirit’s conviction of sins, thus less able to discern the truth, especially in matters relating to my unhappiness. By the Lord’s kindness, my husband had cautioned me many times of the serious danger of this attitude. I am much indebted to his patient endurance in my slowness in coming to see the light. Once I am more willing to face the truth, I can see the serious warning in His Word: in 1 Cor. 10:10 that grumbling and murmuring is a sin unto death! This is not to say that the wrong attitudes were dealt with in one go or did not arise again; but that the Lord is still continuing to mold me in this matter of being corrected.
Although I am very weak when facing correction, I often take courage in remembering the examples I have seen in some of those who are serving the Lord with us. There are, at least, five very outstanding examples I witnessed in which when they were being corrected by others, including by those who were spiritually younger than themselves (even without prior knowledge and in the presence of others) have shown such readiness to accept correction without any self-justification. I thought how can that be? Why would they not explain themselves since they had the opportunity? Later as I realized the sincerity of their actions, I began to see the beauty of His gracious power in their lives, because such attitudes and response are not humanly possible. There were also those who after being corrected have been placed under suspension from service for a few years! No wonder then these “weak and ineffective” persons have since shown forth more of God’s life and have drawn others to the Lord. This, I can see, is the solid evidence of God’s humility and grace at work!
Since I have, for so long, been weak and ineffective (the two seem to be inseparable), I have always identified myself with the weak, especially with those who have had very painful experiences. I have known those who lack human ability or courage, but have faithfully and humbly used whatever the Lord has given them, and who have, over the years, shown forth the beauty of His gracious enabling. I have known those “strong and effective ones” who later became weak due to some personal/interpersonal trials, how they then learned to rely more on His gracious power, and who have thus become more understanding toward the weak. As for those who never became weak, they have tended to expect, if not demand, that others should become strong like them! I have also known those who think themselves “strong and effective”, either due to their human ability and qualification or due to an increasing sense of self-confidence and self-worth especially from the respect and praises given by men, and who have subtly become more and more unteachable - just like me when harboring attitudes of unhappiness as shared. When this attitude is allowed to grow in the heart, one soon becomes less aware of one’s sins but more aware of others’ sins, eventually one could become spiritually blind, even unaware [see the Lord’s warning in Jn. 9:39-41]. Would to the Lord that I may never dare to insist that I can see lest I become blind and my guilt remains like the Pharisees!
In my thankfulness to the Lord, I always want to thank my husband for his teachings (especially his patient correction to me at the expense of much suffering to him). From his messages on “My power is made perfect in come to know the source and the secret of his strength both in facing his own weaknesses but especially others’ like mine. I am deeply thankful, though not always instantly, that he always takes a serious stand in the face of any attitudes and behavior that do not befit a follower of Christ, because this is no longer a weakness when one sins yet refuses to see the truth and to repent. As his patience has been sorely tested by me over the years and yet he endured, no wonder that at times, he can be more patient than me with the weak.
My deep concern now is: unless I am being cleansed [from sins of commission and sins of omission] and renewed by the Holy Spirit everyday, otherwise the subtle yet deadly attitude could still grow, then my conscience would become dull. If I by then could not discern my own spiritual condition, how then would I have the spiritual discernment in other matters including the things of the Antichrist in the days before the Lord’s return. So I invite the weak to take courage with me; let us together keep watch and pray. The Lord is our only Hope in the face of our weakness, and if need be, our despair also.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church