Mollie Talbot

What's Going on When God Feels Silent

By Mollie Talbot

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[A letter from the trenches]

It’s at the point that the word “season” makes me want to hurl. I stood in my kitchen with one of my best friends the other day, laughing at how one can loathe a completely innocuous word because of its use in Christian circles. I don’t hate seasons, as in the four of them, but right now I hate “it’s just a hard season you’re going through.” I repel most Christianese platitudes at this point too: “let go and let God,” “God must be preparing you for something big,” “He has a plan,” “You just need to trust,” “Everything happens for a reason,” or my favorite, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that’s what our walk with Christ hinges upon--periods of time when we can’t even handle putting our feet to the floor in the morning.

I guess if people can’t sit comfortably with someone IN their pain and do feel the need to say something, I’d rather it be trite but positive rather than comparative or commiserative. They need to understand they’re only saying it to comfort themselves, not the person suffering. As a woman writing from the trenches, these awkward back-pat sayings fall flat, or worse, condescending and offensive. If I could “let go” of this “SEASON,” I would have six months ago. If trust were acquired as easily as, “you just need to trust God,” I’d no longer be seeing a counselor, doctor, naturopath, or acupuncturist.

Here’s the obvious: I am simply incapable of “letting go” of a weight that hits my defeated amygdala upon opening my heavy eyes and moving my exhausted body. I can’t magically muster more “trust” in the moments when I recognize the utter disappearance of healthy coping or muster patience for a child irrationally angry about the way his French toast was cut for him. Now for the more important reality: if I tried to mentally will this discomfort away, I’d be avoiding what God is doing in these moments of thinking and hurting. To “let go” or assign any other platitude to my pain would be disobedient for a human who was designed to think, feel, and grow from doing both.

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John Mark Comer of Bridgetown church in Portland, OR is doing a series on stage theory right now, and his obedience to discuss the dark, discouraging, unattractive but REAL aspects of our Christian journey has been breath on these dry bones. And here in my trench, it makes perfect sense.

To painfully oversimplify some of the information he’s teaching from for the sake of brevity, we all experience a first stage in our walk with Christ that involves what we perceive to be an emotionally near experience of God. There’s an increased “felt presence” in our first spiritual phase.

The explanation given was sweet to my fragmented heart. It’s not that God butters us up just to go distant; it’s that His grace in this first stage loves us by breaking our reliance on the world. He displays the marvel of His love for us by meeting our world-dumbed hearts where they are, fully dependent on fuzzy feelings of contentment. The problem is that in our pleasure principal mentality, we set up camp here in our faith and then question God’s goodness if the fuzzy felt experience of His presence changes. Bottom line: as in any relationship, it does and it will.

It’s to the point in my struggles with dead cat-grief, low testosterone, PTSD, chemical imbalances, trauma recovery, and the demands of motherhood that I might be delusional. But I no longer have any desire for this first phase faith; a season I was in as recent as a year ago. The box-checking and identity masking; the black and white lines I’d draw around the mistakes of others just in the hope of hiding my greys. The belief that I had to be something else to fit the Christian mom mold. Even looking back at it is stifling.

I would rather sit in my perception of God’s absence right now because, with a deep knowing that wasn’t available a year ago, I believe the opposite to be true. He is more with me now than ever. There was no depth in my first phase faith. No call to the creational spice God shook over me at my inception saying, “use these and change the world.” In these depths--in moments it feels like the 20 years of tears I’ve been shoving away are a tsunami breaking over my soul--I’m emptying myself to receive who HE is, what HE made me capable of, and how HE sees others. It’ll be scary, uncertain, and the pain will be bone-deep, but I’ll use the stars He laid to find my way; the compass I’ve been carrying only had me following others anyway. All He wants from me is to stay open; to receive, to change, and to grow.

I’m beginning to feel more powerful in the deep; in this perceived ‘absence’ of God. I don’t have the energy any longer to say “yes” when I’ve wanted to say “no.” I don’t mince words when asserting boundary lines that I previously people-pleased away. And I’m confronting my deepest life traumas with nothing but a butter knife because of the confidence that comes from God reminding me that the giant was already slain by me getting out of bed.

It’s in the reversal of the comfort platitudes that I’m finding focus. He has trusted ME with the depth; I don’t need to shame myself about not trusting Him enough. He believed that even if He changed His voice to a whisper that I would empty myself in order to hear it. He’s showing me that a box-checking, bubblegum faith is never what He asked of me in the first place. He’s even good with my hatred of the word “season.”

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
— Luke 14:28-30

I will not be one who began building just to find their resources foolishly depleted and their project in ruins. I estimated the cost of following Him when He pulled me from the pain of my addiction and when He placed me next to people who have lost babies, lost parents, and those who are losing themselves while saying, “I know He’s still there.” I’ve known the depth apart from God, but now I know depth WITH Him and the difference is that on this side, I’m willing to keep digging.

If you find yourself in a dark night, stop box checking and finish-line gazing and seek Him in the treatment and care of yourself. If you find that His voice feels disappointed, punishing, or despairing, check your volume dials--you’ve got the wrong side turned up. He may be quiet right now but that’s because He’s begun teaching you a language He’s reserved solely for you and Him. Give yourself time and tenderness as you unlearn the voices you’ve come to assume were His. Don’t be afraid to question, cry out, and break down. This is the kind of faith that moves mountains and slays giants; all you need is a broken compass and your butter knife. I’m in it with you.

Enneagram Basics for Motherhood, Marriage, and Friendships

By Mollie Talbot

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My husband and I will celebrate four years clean/sober on March 10th. My journey to and from that date has taught me more about God, life, love, and grace than I ever dreamed. But even more, is what facing rock bottom taught me about my identity. One of the life-rafts I was thrown in early sobriety was a tool called the Enneagram (any-uh-gram). My friend suggested it as a means of helping me find the voice God set within me before I began silencing it with vodka and pills. The Enneagram provided language to explain not only my behaviors but the motivations beneath them. Knowing this helped me work toward health and growth while beginning to embrace the pieces of myself I’d pushed away for being different. I began to recognize that "different" is exactly where God wants each of us because our different pieces fit together to make the body of Christ.

A brief background: The Enneagram is a few-thousand-year-old tool used for personality typing that sees us as nine interlocking types. A great description for those who feel this is too confining is to think of it more as nine different colors. There are countless shades of each and thus, room for growth.

Disclaimer: I never got caught up in fear of whether or not it was “evil” or had roots in mysticism and here are the reasons why:

1. I have confidence in the Holy Spirit’s guidance and discernment,

2. Nowhere in my studies has anything conflicted with the Word of God, and

3. I recognize that the more I learn of myself and others, the more I learn about my Father. After all, we are His image-bearers, created uniquely to fulfill a purpose He set out for us. To me, the Enneagram supports this truth.

Here’s a rundown of the 9 Enneagram types attached to the different aspects of God’s character that they each display.

1 “The Reformer” -- the goodness and rightness of God

2 “The Helper” -- God’s love and care

3 “The Achiever” -- God’s hope and radiance

4 “The Individualist” -- God’s creativity and depth

5 “The Investigator” -- God’s wisdom and truth

6 “The Loyalist” -- God’s faithfulness and courage

7 “The Enthusiast” -- God’s joy and abundance

8 “The Challenger” -- God’s power and protection

9 “The Peacemaker” -- God’s peace and oneness

This is not an introduction to the Enneagram or a how-to piece on discovering your type. As I said, you can resort to Google for further exploration if you wish. Instead, I want to use this opportunity to provide a few examples of how the Enneagram has helped me work toward health as a mother, wife, and friend. We can agree that as long as we’re on this side of Heaven we’ll continue to grow and change. The Enneagram teaches that working toward self-awareness while developing empathy for our differences can help us achieve harmony. I write this because, in addition to harmony, I’ve found confidence in the role God created me to fill.

The Enneagram and Parenting

As a parent, the Enneagram helps me identify patterns in my boys while providing a possible “why” behind their behaviors. Practically, this allows me to step into their perspective in order to communicate more effectively. For instance, my step-son Brady is the most helpful and peace-seeking pre-teen I’ve ever met (thank you, JESUS!). While we’re grateful, if we continuously praised these characteristics he might perceive his value limited to the times when he’s self-effacing, out of the way, agreeable, or serving others. So, instead of the blanket praise for these amazing traits, we empower the opposites. We have to remind Brady that while we appreciate his help, it’s not his job to parent his brother--that he gets to be a kid too. Then, because of his tendency to merge with whatever is going on in order to remain agreeable, we give him control. “What would YOU like to do tonight?” “How do YOU think we could be doing this better?”

Another crucial step we’ve taken is in empowering his feelings. Not just identifying them, but expressing them. That right or wrong, he’s safe with us and so is his feelings. Brady needs to remember that who he is on his own (i.e. his needs, feelings, desires, and dreams) has a place within the Kingdom that no one else will fill in the way he’s meant to and that he is a helper and peacekeeper by simply being himself.

If you have some Ennea-knowledge you can see that we’ve trended tendencies of the 2, helper and the 9, peacekeeper. This doesn’t mean that he’s a 9 or 2. He’s 12 and has plenty of changing to do but because of our awareness of the types, we’re getting a jump on helping him round them out. If he’s 15 and struggling with self-absorption, isolation, reality-escaping, and frequent emotional outbursts, we’ll love him best by empowering the awareness that he’s not an island. That his thoughts, feelings, and self-awareness are made even more valuable by the knowledge that they belong to a greater whole. (At this point Ennea-friends, he might be showing tendencies of the 4 and 5).

My toddler, on the other hand, is currently a tornado of the 7’s joy and experience-seeking mixed with the independence and stubbornness of the 8. I frequently ask for his help to show him that it’s okay to ask for mine. I explain that I NEED his help with the laundry or dishes because he’s strong and brave and can do hard things… and then I melt when I watch his fulfillment come with such joy that he holds me which is unlike him, or when he runs to climb the couch and jump off of it, which is very much like him. Disciplining him needs to be the removal of the “fun” aka timeout. I try to encourage him to express his feelings when he’s upset, with WORDS and then when he throws things, we remove the fun until he can calm down. Timeout doesn’t work with a withdrawn child. I personally LOVED it growing up. ;)

Enneagram in Your Friendships

You can see how a basic awareness of the 9 types helps you communicate more effectively with people who don’t (and aren’t supposed to) see things as you do. Additionally, when it comes to our own inner-frustration, mounting resentment, or anger that we feel when our husband or friend lets us down, it provides the reminder to step out of ourselves. To remember to take a deep breath and think. What else do I know about this person? What are they showing when they know you’re going through a lot but keep personalizing your distance as something wrong in your friendship? What seems to be some other big stressors in their lives? How can you meet them in the fear they’re experiencing while still respecting your boundaries?

Or on the flip side--when you see a friend who is withdrawn and struggling, try to touch base and show love in a way that feels out HER needs rather than what YOU would want if you were struggling and withdrawn? The Enneagram helps us give other people room to see and do things differently than we do.

The Enneagram in Marriage

My marriage is the most beautiful place I’ve seen the Enneagram show up and bring with it the gift of grace for us to sit in, unwrap, and laugh when the realizations fell into place. My husband and I are a hilarious combination of seemingly opposite types. It has helped us identify the differences that we can better respect in one another while showing us there are certain things that actually unite us more than we realize. I am an introverted 5; a withdrawn, energy-conscious, cerebral, innovator-type who leans into the logic behind my feelings to come out on the other side with a lesson to teach. Kyle is an extroverted 7; he is joy incarnate. A perpetually-moving collector of happiness, goodness, experiences, and accomplishments who kicks anything that hurts pretty far under the bed.

I’m grateful that we discovered the Enneagram early because a combination of these two types without understanding or valuing the other person’s type could’ve been disastrous. Of course, we still bump heads but we remember on the recoil “Ohh Mollie, I shouldn’t have sprung that on you; I forgot you need time to process” or “I’m sorry Kyle, I didn’t mean to accuse you of not caring; it’s just that when I talk about feelings, I want your support even if you can’t relate.” What was great was discovering that 5s and 7s both spend a lot of time in their heads. 7’s thinking about what they could do or should do next and 5’s thinking about… well, everything. With this knowledge, we’ve been able to grow together while we work on being more present for our own self-health and for our family.

There’s power in recognizing that our unique gifts would be without purpose if it weren’t for the different and complimentary gifts of others. 1 Corinthians 12:12 says:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

The Enneagram has been a practical tool for helping me appreciate this verse in a whole new way. My hope is that you feel nudged to dig a little deeper today. If it’s not into the Enneagram then dig deeper into what makes you, you. I believe that being created in God’s image means that by exploring ourselves further, we’ll not only find more love for the differences we see in others but fall more deeply in love with the diverse and majestic characteristics of our Creator.

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Held in the Unsearchable: Embracing Postpartum Weakness

By Mollie Talbot

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I called it! Seven weeks ago my husband and I welcomed our second baby BOY into the world. Huxley Knox was on a mission when he made his entrance with facial bruising as a result of flying into the world within 6 minutes of pushing. He’s perfect, truly.

Except for the colic, the still undiagnosed GI issues, and the reflux. Did I mention that I can’t have dairy or soy and that I’ve lived the past 30 years as a cheesitarian? Maybe here is where I should say that these issues have him waking up every two hours at night for feedings so we aren’t sleeping…and that he doesn’t go back down after 4am. Okay, now is for sure where I throw in that my cat of 9 years, the one that was at my side before my husband came along and weathered my addiction with me disappeared two weeks after Huxley’s birth.

So it makes sense that at my 6 week postpartum visit with my favorite OB in the world, after filling her in on everything she said: “Something isn’t right Mollie, you’re not yourself.” Tears I’ve unknowingly held back for the last 6 weeks fell as she wrapped her arms around me saying, “It’s okay, this is too much.”

But, I’m pragmatic. I knew all of this was a lot for even the strongest of humans, which I’m not, but I kept at it. I stayed yoked with my husband, keeping him posted on how I was feeling. I’d cry late at night when I really missed my cat, or thought I heard him, or passed the laundry room where his litter box used to be, or the crib where he slept in the weeks leading up to Huxley’s birth. I was letting myself feel it. I’m a social worker by trade and I wound up fighting an alcohol addiction as a result of poor coping so it’s safe to say I stay on top of my feelings and communicate through them to avoid being overtaken (or relapsing.)

I reasoned through Huxley’s lack of sleep and colic, reading articles, trying new things, eliminating others, and making sure I remembered that this had nothing to do with me or who I am as a mother. I tried to reason my way through my grief over my cat. So I applied logic there too; I recognized I needed to feel this loss but that I didn’t know how. I shared with close friends that I felt isolated in my grief because it’s a cat and that it made me feel crazy to share the depth of my grief. As for comfort, what can you say? You can’t apply the typical platitudes of “He’s in a better place” because let's face it, a coyote likely ate him and I’m pretty sure the saying is “all DOGS go to heaven.”

In the midst of all of this, we discussed my stepson’s visit over Christmas. I tried to consciously prepare myself for how an already difficult relationship would look with the added 600 emotional pounds I’m lugging around. I then went into social work mode again. I set up boundaries with my husband by saying I’ll need more space and alone time to process while he’s here. It felt extra heavy to know that this boy deserves my best and that I am far from it.

So, when my doctor spoke the words, “You’re not yourself,” the scaffolding of logic and research I’ve built around my recent chaos just…collapsed. In a way, so did I. The weight of my back-burner emotions crushed the steel beams of my research, preparation and logic.

I feel like things had to get worse for a couple of days before getting better. I was even more irrational and irritable than normal. I was devastated every time Huxley would cry out in obvious pain and I was again, without a solution. And sweet Banks—his toddler curiosity and joy were probably the only things that got me out of bed.

Then, as I sat in bed one morning with Huxley, feeling the weight of it all, my husband checked on me and said: “I’ll be there in 5 minutes, I’m almost done reading my bible.” He has no idea but hearing that flipped a switch in me. When he said he was reading his bible, I realized that in the last 6 weeks I’d only gone to my Father when I was crying out in defeat; chalking the spiritual drought up to “newborn season.” So right there in bed, I pulled up my bible app while holding my sweet, fussy son and was met with the verse of the day.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and UNSEARCHABLE things you do not know.
— Jeremiah 3:33

I read this and read it again when an ethereal peace hit me in the chest. I felt a kind of warmth begin to radiate outward. My heart rate slowed, my shoulders released, and my breaths deepened. A white flag seemed to rise above my head, taking with it the burden of ‘fighting’ or ‘figuring out’ how I’m supposed to navigate this season.

God was saying to me:

Stop the research. Stop with your logic. Come to me, CALL to me. What I have for you right now won't be found in articles or collecting information to encase yourself away from the pain. Feel that pain knowing I will show you how to take your next step. I’m a light for your path where the ‘solving’ puts chains on your feet. Unsearchable Mollie, that is my love for you.

His plan of Love for me is tailored to penetrate what I perceive to be my strengths, my gifts… my armor. Because sometimes my armor tells me to keep moving, to not ask for help, and to figure things out alone when the reality is those are my strengths but HE, not my studying, are what gave them to me. Furthermore, what if in this season I’m meant to be a bit weak. To sit in this moment and dwell on the peace I felt when I read the word ‘Unsearchable.’

What word is He holding for you in your current season? The one that will pierce your armor and reunite your purpose with His?

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be here riding a rollercoaster of joy and grief thankful that His ‘unsearchable’ love has me tightly buckled.

Releasing Control and Embracing God's Design for Your Family

By Mollie Talbot

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I really want a little girl. I don’t know why; they sound complicated, emotionally volatile, and terrifying but still, I know my husband would father a daughter so beautifully that I might feel remiss if at the end of our lives I don’t get to see that relationship lived out. Here’s where I should mention that I’m 35 weeks pregnant and we don’t know what we’re having. With both of our pregnancies, we’ve chosen to forego the gender reveal in lieu of a big ol’ hospital surprise. 

When we tell someone that we’ve chosen not to find out, we’re often met with the response “I don’t know how you do that, good for you, I’m just too much of a control freak.” Ladies, let me just tell you this is the exact reason we choose not to find out; because this is one of the few times in my life I can discipline my desire for control in a way that puts me in near-constant submission to trusting God’s will and design. So then when you find yourself at 35 weeks gestation with a desire to give your husband a little girl but almost entirely convinced you’re getting another little boy, you’re driven lovingly to your Father’s arms for comfort and reassurance. To crawl up in His lap and say “I’m doing it again Dad. I’m not trusting that your way is better than mine. Will you remind me again how far you’ve brought me?”

As believing moms, we’re in a constant tug of war with our desire to white knuckle the outcomes of our family or to relinquish control and trust our Father. We set up systems for success—plans and calculations that help maintain the heart of our homes. If we didn’t have some of these systems, we’d end up with hangry husbands, empty refrigerators, and some pretty creative means of accidental cloth diapering. We have to make it to the grocery store, or at least clicklist here and there and sadly, cleaning is an unfortunate necessity every once in a while. But when we can no longer accept interruptions to our plans and calculations as areas that God is present and working in, then the thorns of our sin will begin to draw blood.

Isaiah 55: 8-9 says,

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’

But do we believe this when our second grader comes home from school crying because the same twit from first grade is in her new class and tormenting her again?

Or when we find ourselves transactionally approaching our marriages, riding on a wave of building resentment? “I just cooked dinner after cleaning, running errands, and taking care of the kids all day and you’re telling me you won’t even be home for it?”

Do we believe God’s ways are higher than ours when we desire nothing more than to grant our husband his silent wish for a daughter when we just KNOW that we’ve got another boy coming… and it’s breech?

This is not a message saying you should suffer in silence, or submit and sacrifice your needs and wants—it’s merely encouragement to contemplate that even when you’re frustrated someone else has shown up during a nap time you were going to use to write, that God might have work and love waiting for you in a moment that looks completely unlike your initial plans for it. That His ways, His thoughts and His will are higher than yours and worthy of your whole-hearted trust.

I write this from the eye of the storm. I may be peace-filled enough right now to put language to the conflicting feelings in my heart about the gender of this sweet little baby and my fears about it being breech but I’m also prepared that the second wave of the storm will still come. That I might need to crawl back in my Father’s lap after a C-section and brand new baby boy to have Him walk me back down memory lane saying, “Mollie, remember when you stood on the steps of the AA hall smoking a cigarette and bawling your eyes out? When you threw your head back in defeat and asked, ‘Why me, God?’ You didn’t see Kyle’s love for you then; you couldn’t know Banks’ blonde curls; just as you don’t see what I have in store for you now. TRUST Me, but even when you don’t, you’ll know where to find Me because your posture toward Me will never alter My proximity to you.”

This morning, as if by some sort of sweet encounter with the Holy Spirit, I laughed hysterically with God when Banks, my two-year-old boy broke into my room at 6:45am saying “MAMA! ROLEY POLEY.” I laid there smiling in the dark at how sweet these moments are; that he woke up after thinking about roley poleys and rushed to come tell me about it. That was until I felt something small on my neck and realized he hadn’t been dreaming of pillbugs at all, but instead had legitimately found one on his floor and ran immediately into my room and put it in my hair. I laughed hysterically and began my day with an extra heap of joy as I recognized—I don’t know many moms who would calmly pick a bug from their hair first thing in the morning and thank their son for wanting to share it with them. Maybe boys are exactly what I need.