White Picket Fence Syndrome
I have known Cris for so many years! I love how she has allowed God to write a story though her pain! You will be moved by the strength and compassion that God has formed in her though trials and hardships. Her story will encourage yours as you find yourself trying to build your white pickets and for every one you put up, another falls down. – Willow
WHITE-PICKET-FENCE-SYNDROME: A state of mind where a person blindly holds on to the idea of their perfect lifestyle, regardless of the inevitable life factors that make it impossible for it to be true.
It made perfect sense to me growing up. Algebraic thought patterns applied to my reality. If A + B = C then….so if I loved God plus lived a “good” life, shouldn’t that equal a white-picket-fence life? Then life happened and it happened big time. Was it God’s plan for my life- these things that happened? I confess I may not be able to make any sense of it this side of heaven, but it is my reality and Jesus was there in the midst of the pain and sorrow. I can say with great assurance that as I reflect back over my life it is very obvious how my Heavenly Father prepared me. (Note to self and others: don’t ever tell God that you will do whatever He calls you to do if you are planning on an easy life!)
Romans 5:3-4 (Phillips translation):
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.
It was spring of 1984 and my husband had just been fired from his Music Pastor position. We were already having marital struggles and I had no idea what was going on. Then God gave me this Romans passage. Full of hope? Full of joy? Are you kidding me, God? I want those things but I don’t want trials and troubles. Yet there I was. Overwhelmed with fear. Confused about our marriage. Clueless as to what was coming. But the one thing I knew was that God gave me these verses and many others for a reason.
I begged God to reveal to me what was going on with my husband. I cried out to Him many times in the shower, and I mean I truly cried out. Then on the Saturday after Christmas 1984 my life was turned upside down. While crying in the shower, God told me that my husband was having affairs with men. What I believed was shaken. Dreams of a white-picket-fence life were now shattered by a storm that was ripping my fence out of the ground and tossing it around like a hurricane.
The Message version of the Romans scriptures say, “…continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles…” Hemmed in. No way out. I was there. Yet I was being told to shout my praise to the God Who inhabits, lives, dwells in the praises of His people. It works! The more I praise, the more I feel God, the more that I feel that there is some hope in the darkness of my dank prison.
If you grew up in the church you probably have heard that you should never, ever, under any circumstance pray for patience. Why you ask? Well, the only way to learn patience is by being in a situation that requires a lot of patience – which most of us are not born possessing. But The Message says troubles “can develop passionate patience in us.”
Passionate and Patience – not two words that should go together in my mind, but there it is. Passionate: expressing, showing, or marked by intense or strong feeling. Patience: the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
Okay, God, if this is to happen it will definitely take Divine intervention because I want to kill someone or at least slightly maim them. You are calling me to not just be patient but to be passionate about that patience? It happened almost immediately. God called me to stay faithful in this marriage. He wanted me to stay in the “house” even though my white-picket-fence had now been damaged seemingly beyond repair. Seriously God, have you seen me walk on water? I read the scripture in Psalms saying that You know our weaknesses and that we are but dust. Yet You are asking me to walk in the Divine. I can barely get my kids ready for school and get myself to work on time, never mind become a super saint.
“Tempered steel of virtue” – yep, The Message translation throws that in there just in case you don’t already think that there is absolutely no way you will survive. I guess the word virtue is going to make me dismiss the “I want to kill or maim” mood I was in. But tempered steel – that I like! I’ve always been a strong female. Even as a little girl I was the anomaly of girls in that generation. When God lined girls up and gave them a quiet nature that never questioned anything, I apparently was in another line! As a child I questioned scripture in a pastor’s home….my poor, sweet, Mom! No wonder my Dad became what I call my “handler.” By 12 years old I had not only accepted Christ but promised Him I’d do whatever He called me to except go to Africa. I had read “Foxes Book of Martyrs” and sobbed as I told God I would be willing to stand up for Him no matter what the cost. Is this what it had come to? Was “this” going to be what made me a woman of tempered steel?
And last but not least from The Message we read, “keeping us alert for whatever God will do next – in alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged.” I do not like expectations. Lots of pressure in that word. Lots of opportunities for failure. But expectancy – makes me think of spring and watching with expectancy as the crocus and daffodils break through the soil even sometimes with snow on the ground. I could hardly wait for Easter because I love spring flowers. Hope after bleak desolation. A realization that weeping endures for a night but that joy comes in the morning. Hope. I love hope.
My husband died of AIDS related diseases in 1990. I was left to raise my two young teenagers. I can’t believe it’s been 30 years since God gave me the Romans 5 passage. As I confessed right off the bat, I sometimes dream of the white-picket-fence life. But the only guarantees we have as followers of Christ is that He will never leave us or abandon us. He has to be faithful to His Word because He cannot lie, He gives us beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, and peace for despair. (“Beauty for Ashes” – Randy L. Scruggs and John W. Thompson)
While I hold no secret strategy other than relying on Jesus, I can stand with full confidence to say that God will see you through whatever trial you are going through. He is with you in the valley, in the darkest of secrets, in the pain of what has been done to you – He is there even when you don’t feel His presence. May the Lord open all of our eyes to see His holy presence; open our ears to hear His loving words of comfort and care. May He make us more like Jesus and give us the strength we need to glorify Him. May He hold you close to His heart in His tender arms of love and give you a hope that will not disappoint you! – Cris
Romans 5:3-5 (The Message)
We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!