Book Review: on fear and waiting

On first glance you might not think these books have much in common. I didn’t plan on reading them at the same time and while I was reading them the connection between the two didn’t really occur to me either. But as I was laying down last night for bed (because don’t all great thoughts hit you right when you are about to go to sleep?) I realized how much they did have in common.

Shiloh is a fictional story written by Helena Sorensen. It is part of a trilogy and without spoiling too much, it is in many ways a creation story.  As in the true Creation story, evil enters in and in the land of Shiloh that evil takes the form of the Shadow. The land is cast in darkness and it is the hope of the people that shines out into the darkness. As their hope fades or grows, the light that shines out from them fades and grows. A cast of characters rises up against (and falls into) the Shadow and this is their story.

Still Waiting is true story, I’d almost call it a memoir in many ways, about one woman’s struggle to maintain hope in the midst of a continually difficult condition. Ann Swindell correlates her story with the story of the bleeding woman from the Gospels. It is a book that describes waiting and is filled with reminders of where our hope should lie.

Throughout the story of Shiloh, the characters wake up daily in a world shrouded with darkness. This darkness is all they have ever known and they have the choice to believe and continue to hope in the stories that they’ve been told through generations or give into the darkness and live with it until their time is done. I love that it’s not an easy story. We don’t live in an easy world and this parallel world is no different. We give into the darkness and we let our light of hope dim and even at times we let that light be completely smothered. This story of the land of Shiloh was tender because of the darkness that I found myself in a few seasons ago. Like Amos in the story, it was easier to give into the Shadow and ignore all the pain. But in the end, I knew I couldn’t keep drinking the water of darkness, but I had to find my way out into the light. I’ve rarely read a story where the ending sticks so clearly in my mind. The quartet of characters has a choice, to give into the fear literally racing at them or face the absolute unknown. Both options were incredibly frightening – yet one led to life and one led to death. The longer you live in a place of shadow the more we are faced with this same option. To remain in darkness is scary and crushing. But to step out away from the darkness is full of fear also. Ultimately, restoration only comes when we move out of the darkness.

This is where hope and waiting come in. In Still Waiting, Ann relates her struggle with a psychological condition that is enhanced by anxiety and fear. She can’t control it, yet she can control her hope in restoration. Each chapter is focused on an aspect of waiting – how waiting breaks us, weakens us, claims our identity, makes us angry, brings us shame, feels like suffering and is risky, yet in the end waiting is filled with grace. Waiting teaches us hope. In our weakness, in our darkest moments in the shadows, we can learn that our “weakness is a bridge to Jesus.”

One of the overarching themes in Shiloh was the idea of Identity. It is only in remembering who they are, who they belong to and who created them that they are able to reignite the light within them and free themselves and others from the darkness. Amos cries out to his sister that she has to remember and yet he struggles to identify what she should remember. Their lives had been fraught with so many memories that were so crushing;  yet even in sorrow there is hope living there. He reminds her of her gifts and he reaches out to her. It’s only in the remembering and the reaching out that the light begins to break through. The same goes for us as we struggle with hope and waiting. Ann reminds us that God has claimed us, he has renamed us and he is in the process of restoring us. It may not be a restoration that we want or in the time that we want, but it is still a promise that He keeps. We might eve be freed from one shadow only to be eclipsed by an even stronger one. That is where we have to decide whether we will give into the anger that will surely rise up or give into obedience and believe the promises.

Simoen and Amos are truly dark and light in the story of Shiloh. One gives into anger and the other obedience. Both of them have to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and both of them are needy. It is out of our need that Jesus comes for us and that the Light reaches them. But on the opposite side, it is out of that need that the darkness comes too. We cannot respond in obedience without knowing who we are and believing in the hope. And oh the risk. Ann reminds us through her story of that risk.

“Our desires and our dreams so often dissolve before us. Life is hard. Our hearts grow weary. Hoping feels too tender, too raw. Waiting for the fullness of our promised restoration threatens to usurp our hope.”

So it’s a question of where our hope lies. If it’s in us and our ability to push through or just ignore the darkness, we will fail. But be warned, we will fail when our hope is centered in Christ too.  The difference is where we fall. When I am grounded in the promises of the light; I will be injured, sorrow will come and I may continue to sit in this place of waiting for restoration. The difference is I am sitting in the light.


**note: I received the book still waiting from the author in compensation for a review.**
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free and released

In Acts 5, the apostles are arrested, put into jail and then set free by an angel who comes and opens the doors for them. They are arrested because they are in the temple preaching about Jesus. When the angel comes and frees them, where do they go? They don’t go into hiding, like I would do. They go back out to the most public place to begin preaching again. They are set free from their “bondage” and instead of going to a safe place, they go back into the place that will most likely get them caught again.

When they were miraculously set at liberty it was that they might go on with their work with so much more boldness. Recoveries from sickness, releases out of trouble are granted us not that we may enjoy the comforts of life, but that God may be honored with the services of our life. ~ M. Henry

Last year at this time I was in counseling for deep set fear and anxiety. I was almost at the point where I wouldn’t take a shower for fear of what might happen while I was in the shower and there were days where I wouldn’t drive my car anywhere for fear that something was wrong with it. I had lost control, but was struggling deeply with the fear of losing control. I was in deep bondage and I might as well have been in prison. I know that God has done a miraculous work in my heart in the past year. He has truly set me free from the prison I was in. But reading this passage this morning was a reminder that although He has set me free, He didn’t do it so that I would be comfortable.

My releasing from the bondage of fear – from the bondage of control & anxiety – were not so that I might live an easier life. Has my life been “easier” since last December? Sure. I can drive my car now with freedom. I can take a shower with freedom. When the fear and anxiety begin to creep up on me, I know what I need to do to counter that. But this passage was a wake up call to be doing more with this message; this healing that the Lord has done in me. I need to be like the apostles and share myself with others and share my story with others. There are a million places where I am still “in hiding” because of fear. I don’t want to go back out into the most public place and share myself with others. There are times I don’t want to share myself with my family! But the Lord is calling me to move deeper and out of my comfort. He did not begin this healing in me so that I could just float through my days without any sense of anxiety anymore.

I know the places that God is calling me to step out and trust Him. I know the places where He is calling me to walk right back into vulnerability. Because of what He has done in my life in the past year, I should walk back into those places with greater boldness knowing from where He has brought me. Just like the apostles.

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