This year has been a doozy. Dear ones whom I love have suffered immeasurably. Devastating injuries, sickness, death, divorce, struggling children and the inability to just pay their rent have beaten them, literally, to a pulp. I have watched friends weep, begged God for mercy on their behalf, and sat in frustration as the circumstances just. don’t. let. up.
So where is God?
We are just weeks away from Thanksgiving and, understandably, there are many of my sisters are just aren’t feeling it. Eating Turkey and counting blessings are going to be a stretch this time. You are putting on a happy face but, in the quiet of home and alone you want to shake your fist at God and ask, “Why me?” “Why us?” It’s easy to go down a steep, scary road of anger and bitterness and just want to walk away from it all. God just seems so distant. You doubt He is even listening…
What just happened here? ; )
Did you crack a smile? Maybe, for just a split second, you forgot you were mad.
Now, what I am saying here is not an attempt to be simplistic and dismissive. The struggles of this life are all too real and it is incredibly easy to get sucked down and lose any motivation for getting out of bed in the morning. Life on this side of eternity is hard. In fact, as you probably know all too well, it can be excruciatingly painful. We get so focused on the hard that we walk like we are being dragged through spiritual mud. We consistently look down at what is temporary instead of focusing on what is eternal. (Because, the truth is, the temporary feels eternal.) Our steps come to a screeching halt because we just can’t move forward any more.
Brennan Manning, in his beautiful book, Abba’s Child, says this:
For me, the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present risennes of Jesus Christ.
Let that sink in. One of the things I most want to encourage us to do through the words I write in this space is to “Live forward into who we will be.” Unless we lean in to who Jesus us IS, we will not be able to accomplish that goal. So who IS Jesus? He is so many wonderful things. But the key to it all, the cornerstone of our ability to walk through the fires of suffering without falling into the Pit of Despair is this:
He is risen.
There is incredible power and hope in those three words. Because Jesus is risen, I can lift up my face from my circumstances, stop listening to the creepy voice at the door of the Pit of Despair, and look up. I can look ahead with hope because the risen Christ is beside me, behind me and carrying me in this present moment.
Because Jesus is risen, I have hope that every fire we walk through, every tear shed and prayer desperately uttered with what little faith remains is going to be worth it the moment I stand face to face with my Savior and hear him utter those long-awaited words…”Well done.” And in my imagination His words continue, flowing over my body like cool water on a hot summer day…
“You did it. You hung in there and trusted me when you didn’t understand. I’m so proud of you. Come on in…Home is waiting. Rest, sweet one.”
We are quickly approaching the season of Advent, a time of waiting, of longing. When I think back to the waiting world of over two-thousand years ago and the four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments, of the silence the children of Israel endured for so long, I can’t help but believe that many of them had given up on the promise of the Messiah…he had become nothing more than a fantasy or fairy tale.
But not all of them. Do you remember Anna? Luke chapter 2 tell us that she was a prophetess, and that after just seven years of marriage (being widowed, most likely, in her late teens or early twenties) she had lost her husband and been alone for 84 years.
Eighty-four long, lonely, years of watching her friends have babies and grand-babies. Eighty-four years of hearing the women chatter about their husbands and families as they gathered to draw water . Eighty-four years of sleeping in a bed, alone, and dependent on menial labor and the generosity of God’s people for her sustenance.
It would be easy to be bitter. Eighty-four years is a very long time to live with dreams unfulfilled. But, instead, Anna worshiped. Luke 2: 36 says…
She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers.
Day and night, her focus was on one thing…worshiping her Father in Heaven and believing Him for the promised Messiah. She did not let up, despite age and, very likely, exhaustion, staying in the Temple area and pouring her very soul out to God.
Then one day, Simeon, who lived his life in a similar manner to Anna, “In prayerful expectancy,” broke through her focus with exclamations of praise and thanksgiving to God as he laid eyes on the infant Jesus. Anna heartily joined in, singing out loud to God with all of her heart and telling everyone around her who this baby was and why they should also be shouting with excitement!
In that moment, I bet those eighty-four years disappeared. And I also bet she would live through every lonely moment again to experience what she did that day.
When we are in the thick of suffering, it seems endless. Faith becomes tiresome and prayers feel forced. The days go by at a snail’s pace, seeming to get longer and more exhausting with each one that passes. We might feel isolated, outcast, and alone. We may even go down the road of bitterness, shaking our fists at God and angry at the apparent injustices we have had to endure. This is not a surprise to God. He knows our weaknesses better than anyone. But He does want better for us. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says God wants us to thank Him no matter what happens. How is that possible when the struggle is so heavy our backs are breaking from the burden?
Well, if I look at Anna’s life, it appears victory over circumstances…finding joy… is rooted in worship. I don’t know what, exactly, she prayed for over the course of eighty-four years, but when she saw Jesus in the arms of Simeon with a bewildered Mary and Joseph looking on, it all came together in that moment. Anna was not alone. She was in the presence of the Lover of her soul and she was complete.
Oh, my sisters, how I have struggled with this. So often I let difficulty break me and cause me to forget who I am, Whose I am, and who I was created to be! I am not like Anna, unfortunately. I am more like Wesley, the farm boy in The Princess Bride, strapped to the torture table so the creepy little guy can suck my life away and all I can do is cry. But when clarity returns and I see God’s hand and purpose at work, a new strength is found and He begins to transform me. When I stop thinking about all the things I think I deserve and realize I have been given the promise of eternal life because Jesus IS risen, well, what more can I possibly ask for? Does this sound simplistic? Probably. But it is the truth. In Christ I have everything. Whatever I lack here, in this life, awaits me in abundance when I live forward as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
We are less than three weeks from Advent and I would like to throw out a challenge. For the 21 days of Advent, let’s live like Anna. Simply. Prayerful and choosing to be full of hope. It involves three simple habits that we can foster over this season:
- We will purpose to get up early and greet the day with our Bibles open and our palms outstretched in expectation.
- We will intentionally breathe prayers to our Father throughout the day, inhaling His peace and exhaling our fears.
- In the evenings, we will take the time to look back on the day with gratitude, maybe lighting a candle and enjoying a cup of hot tea. We will choose to end the day with hope for tomorrow, relishing the quiet and letting our Father restore our souls.
In worship is our focus changed, in joyful expectation is God able to lift up our faces and help us to see over the horizon to the new day that is dawning. Now, as we prepare to gather and celebrate Thanksgiving, is the perfect time to say honestly to God, “I don’t understand. I hurt and I am struggling to believe so, please, help my unbelief. I choose to trust you.”
Advent begins December 3. This gives us plenty of time to prepare our hearts and, maybe, buy a nice new candle. 🙂 This year, the season of Advent could be transformative if we are willing to begin these simple habits of daily worship. Will you join me? If so, please comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to encourage you and see God do what only He can do in your life!
Together, we can kick the creepy little guy out of our lives and walk out of the torture chamber with our heads held high! Let’s not give him one more minute of our existence. Are you ready?