Our scripture reading this morning was in Hebrews 13 and as my youngest echoed these words,
Never will I leave you;
Never will I forsake you. ~Hebrews 13:5
I was struck again by the beauty of these words. Every year during Advent, we focus on Emmanuel, God with us. The knowledge that the God of the universe loved humanity so intensely that He would send His only Son to take on human flesh and dwell among us is astounding to me. It never gets old for me.
But this morning, I needed to be reminded that not only did He come THEN, but He comes NOW. His promise was not conditional and it was not meant just for the Shepherds and the Wise Men. It was meant for us too. The timeless God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever looked through history and saw us in our insignificance. And He sent His Son because He loved us.
I’ve experienced loss in my life. Some if it was intentional. Friends have left me and forsaken me. Other times, it was unintentional. Distance and time and life separated us and while those losses make sense, they are still hard for me to bear.
Now I’m watching my children face loss and experience the heartbreak of being forsaken. When you’ve loved and lost, it’s hard not to be fearful and to expect that history will repeat itself. You can feel that at any moment you will lose the friendship that has come to mean so much to you.
I want to tell my children that their friends will never leave them or forsake them, but the truth is that this would be dishonest. They will be left and forsaken. And sometimes they will be do the leaving or forsaking. I wish that I could save them from this. I wish that I could keep them from hurting others through their own immaturity or impetuosity.
But I can’t. And at my best moments, I realize that I shouldn’t try to save them from this. It’s part of their growth and their story. They will learn to love others well only by experiencing the disappointments and the fractures in relationships.
Suffering is part of their story as much as I wish it wasn’t. It has to be. How will they learn to run to Jesus and to fall on their knees before Him if they aren’t able to recognize their need for Him?
And so, these words comfort my soul. When friendships fail around me, when loved ones leave, when I fail and when my children’s sin prevails, my God gently whispers to my heart, I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. There are no conditions to His love.
If you are facing loss of any kind this holiday season, I pray that God’s words to all of us will seep into your soul. His promises offer true hope, inexplicable peace, sustaining joy, and unconditional love.
God has a wonderful plan for your life!
We love to hear these words, to believe in a kind, loving God who has everything under control and is working all things for our good. These things are true and they are biblical, but what happens when our lives don’t go the way we want them to, when we experience suffering and heartbreak and difficulty? If our understanding of God’s sovereignty is limited, we will struggle with trusting God when our plans go awry.
The first time I truly understood the importance of trusting God’s sovereignty was when I was a sophomore in high school. I knew my Dad had been struggling with chest pains for some time, but didn’t realize how dire his situation was until his doctor told him he had to have open heart surgery. Right away. Four of the arteries leading to his heart were blocked by 90% or more. The fifth was 75% blocked.
The next few days were a whirlwind. We watched videos explaining heart surgery and stood by my Dad’s side as he prepared to face his biggest fear. For a decade, he had tried to ignore the pain and the shortness of breath that had increased steadily over that period of time in hopes that he could avoid surgery. But he was now facing the inevitable and while he had known on some level this was coming, my Mom and sisters and I were surprised and in disbelief. My Dad was my hero. I admired the man he was and I loved him fiercely. All of a sudden, I was faced with the possibility of losing the man who was my biggest supporter, the one who understood me better than anyone, and one of my best friends. It hit me in the hospital, while he was in surgery that I didn’t know what I would do if he didn’t survive the surgery.
From my earliest memories, my Dad had been a strong example of trusting in God, of leaning on Him through prayer and of knowing His character through the study of His Word. So my first instinct when confronted with the possibility of losing my father was to pray. There is something profound that happens when we pray with submission to God’s sovereignty. When we are willing to say, “Not my will, but yours be done!”, there is a peace that passes understanding that floods over us. I experienced this peace in the hospital lobby all those years ago. I didn’t hear God speak audibly, but I knew in my spirit that if God chose to take my Daddy to his heavenly home, God would still be enough for me.
God chose to spare my Dad’s life at that time and we were granted the gift of having him officiate our weddings and by God’s grace, he met all of his grandchildren (he died a few months after my youngest was born). But the lesson I learned, the necessity of submitting to God’s sovereignty in order to truly see his sweetness, has continued to impact my life in powerful ways.
When I chose to stick to my commitment of attending Moody Bible Institute instead of following my heart, God blessed in ways I never could have imagined.
When my fiance was rejected from being a resident assistant, my disappointment quickly turned to awe as God blessed my future husband with a part-time youth pastor position that would set the course of our ministry lives.
When I lost my first baby to a miscarriage, my heart was broken, but my faith never wavered and I have been able to comfort others with the same comfort that God has demonstrated to me.
When we faced hardship and rejection in ministry, we knew we could trust God’s plan even when it seemed so unfair, not knowing that God would use every one of our hurts to allow us to love others in God’s strength, not our own.
When my sweet Daddy would start to gradually forget everything and all we could do was love him through the slow losing of him, God had graciously prepared my heart, so that I knew, that I knew, that I knew that when God took his faithful servant home, it truly would be well with my soul.
God DOES have a plan for your life. And it IS good. But it’s not going to be according to your terms. There will be difficulty. There will be suffering. There will be hardship. But in the midst of it all, He will be with you, He will carry you, and He will be your strength. When you trust Him, you will still experience devastation, but there will always be hope. Hope in knowing that God is enough. Hope in knowing that this life is not all that there is. Hope in knowing that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Hope in knowing that God’s justice will prevail. Hope in knowing that His goodness will be evident in our lives.
We tend to shy away from submission in general, but what I have found is that submitting our plans and our perceived control is actually one of the most freeing things we can do. When we hold tightly to how we think things should be, we will be angry when it doesn’t go our way. We will fight circumstances that were never meant to be ours to control. We will feel the need to manipulate people who get in our way or situations that we can’t bear. But when we understand that we need to hold our plans loosely knowing that the good plans of our Heavenly Father are held securely in His hands, we are able to experience peace (that doesn’t make sense!) and joy (when humanly speaking we should be falling apart!) and hope (because we know that this life is not the end of our story!).
I like to think of our lives as a giant labyrinth. There is an overarching plan and God has written that plan into our lives. But our experience of that plan is dependent on our choices. At each stage in our lives, we are met with choices. We might make the “wrong” choice and end up in a dead end. Or we might go the “right” way and experience the joy and blessing of those choices. If we are depending on ourselves to make it through life, our tendency will be to say we trust God when all is going well, but to be angry at God when things seem to be falling apart. But when we understand that God is the one who built the labyrinth and He is above it, seeing where we should go at all times, then we can trust His sovereignty and submit to His leading. This doesn’t mean that we won’t face dead ends and have to turn around (pain, hardship, difficulty). But it does mean that in those difficulties, we know that His plan has not failed, that He will use even our heartaches for our good and His glory.
I can look back on my life and see how God has faithfully led me. My Dad’s open heart surgery was not about me, yet God used that experience to be a pivotal moment in my life. Ultimately, God did take my Daddy home before I would have wanted Him to, but my experience of losing my Daddy was so different than it could have been. I was able to submit to God’s plan for my Daddy to go through dementia, to move from his beloved Pennsylvania, to spend his last year on this earth in a nursing a home and through it all to love the Lord completely and wholeheartedly. Oh, how I saw God’s goodness and faithfulness through it all, but if I had demanded that God not allow anything bad to happen, my experience of all of it would have been exponentially more difficult.
I had learned a valuable lesson.
Submitting to God’s Sovereignty allows us to experience His sweetness!
The warmth of the sun and the glowing reds, yellows and oranges of the leaves beckoned us to the outdoors and we had to follow the siren call. School work was put on hold to be saved for the rainy, cold days that are promised in our near future.
We had great hopes of traipsing through pumpkins to find our favorites, but our plans were thwarted when the word CLOSED became visible on the entrance sign. I had slowed down to make the right hand turn, but continued on instead. “Perhaps the farm to the left will be open,” I thought to myself and slowed down again to head in a new direction.
Apparently by that time, the person driving the truck behind me was displeased at my indecision and slammed on his horn as he passed me.
And I cried.
It was a bit of an extreme response to a not-that-big-of-a-deal situation, but I had too much pent up emotion and it poured out the moment I was pricked.
My husband had spoken truth over me earlier that day. You are absorbing difficulty for God’s glory. Wise words. Beautiful words. But. My rebellious heart responded with I don’t want to.
Ministry is about absorbing difficulty for God’s glory. It often involves feeling betrayed and being mistreated, ignored or criticized. Most of the time, I am able to accept these difficulties as part of the transformational work that God is after either in my own life or in the lives of those who have hurt me (either intentionally or unintentionally). After all, Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV) Ministry is not supposed to be easy and it is the struggle and difficulty that causes me to run to the cross faster than anything else.
But there are days when I have taken too much of it in. When I feel myself collapsing under the weight of it all. When I am at a saturation point and there is no more room to absorb.
As I turned around in the muddy parking lot of the next closed pumpkin patch and headed to the one place I was certain would be open, I reflected and pondered and prayed. Four pairs of eyes were watching me closely, attuned to my emotions. I needed to get a grip.
And then God’s love flooded over me as it always does when I cry out to Him. Becky, you’re not meant to carry all of this. Yes, you will face difficulty for my sake, but they hate ME. Of course they won’t be happy with you. You love me and I know it and that’s all that matters. What they think doesn’t matter.
Deep breaths reverberate through my chest as we pull into the next parking lot, this one flying a welcome flag of OPEN. The invitation draws us in and I begin to feel tranquility wash over me. The bright blue sky contrasting with the bright orange pumpkins and multi-colored mums and the sound of my children’s joy and laughter as they race to find THE pumpkin, remind me to shake off the sadness that has threatened to consume.
You are absorbing difficulty for God’s glory. “But how much can I take?” I wonder.
Well, I can’t take much at all. This I know for sure. I like to think of myself as strong, but the truth is, there is a fragility to me that shocks me at times.
But Jesus! He is my Rock, my Strength and my Redeemer. When I am absorbing difficulty and fully relying on Him, then the difficulty doesn’t stay with me. It’s not mine to fix or to handle. I take it in and pour it out on my Savior. And He takes it all on Himself.
That’s when He’s glorified. When I rest in Him and not in my own strength. I can’t handle much, but I don’t have to, because Jesus is more than enough.
My rebellious heart changes to a redeemed heart. Bring it on! I think, a smile pulling on the corners of my lips.
Recently, I finished reading “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky with my high school “Great Books” class in our homeschool co-op. One of the characters, Sonia, is described as having “insatiable compassion”. Later in the book, when she discovers that the main character is a murderer, her response is surprising. When Raskolnikov says to her, “How strange you are, Sonia. Embracing me and kissing me after I’ve told you about that. You don’t know what you’re doing.” To which she replies, “No, no, there is nobody, there is nobody anywhere in the world now unhappier than you!”
My class was incredulous with her response. Who responds to a confession of murder like that?!
My response was that God does. That’s exactly how he responds. His love and compassion towards sinners (that’s all of us!) is insatiable.
It’s incredible really. That He would look on us with all of our sin, our failings, and our inadequacies and move towards us instead of running away. How can He do that? It’s because He looks at us with eyes of grace, seeing what He can do to change us and make us right with Him. There is no sin he can’t forgive, no hurt he can’t heal, no brokenness he can’t fix.
I was reading all of these things and having all of these thoughts at the same time that our country was embroiled in the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the accusations that were made against him by Dr. Ford. As I watched and read and considered all of the varying opinions among politicians, friends of the individuals involved, and social media
discussions arguments, I was struck by how different responses would be if everyone had insatiable compassion.
Insatiable compassion would mean that if a young woman is attacked in any way (whether it results in rape or not!), she would have trusted adults in her life that she could run to. She would know that they would open their arms wide to her, they would believe her, and they would not condemn.
Insatiable compassion would mean that if a young man acted inappropriately, he could admit his guilt and seek restoration. He would know that his actions would not be tolerated, but grace and forgiveness were his for the taking if he was willing to do the hard work of repentance.
But that’s not the world we live in. I was shocked that so many were shocked that Dr. Ford didn’t tell anyone outside of therapy for three decades about what she had endured. When I was seven-years-old, I was at a neighbor’s house. My friend’s dad was watching television and as we walked through the living room on our way outside, I glanced at the TV. All I remember is that a woman was getting into the shower and when she turned on the water, blood came out instead. I had nightmares for ten years afterwards. I never told my parents, because I knew they would not have approved of their daughter seeing what she did. In my little girl mind, I thought they would be upset with me. As an adult, I realize that I should have told them, because it’s the concealing of trauma that actually keeps healing and recovery from happening. My situation in comparison to what so many women have had to endure is so inconsequential, yet it helps me to have compassion. If I felt that I couldn’t tell anyone, then I get why young girls feel incapable of telling their story.
What would change if we all KNEW that we would be heard and not judged if we shared our stories? I have two daughters and two sons and we talk with them frequently about the unconditional nature of our love for them. We don’t want them bearing burdens on their own for fear of losing our love or our trust. I’ve shared my nightmare story with them, because if I saw something I wasn’t supposed to see in a world where I was sheltered and protected by my parents, I do not want to be naive and think that my children will never see something I wish they wouldn’t or encounter a situation that will leave them feeling powerless.
I was equally shocked that so many were shocked that a teenage boy would get drunk at a party and try to have sex with a girl. My thirteen-year-old son has heard “locker room talk” and he has been homeschooled for two years and most of his interactions are with kids who are either Christians or have strong moral backgrounds. It’s a cultural expectation that boys will be boys and while I abhor this expectation, I don’t understand how we expect any different when this behavior is celebrated- until it isn’t. Underage drinking is encouraged by many and tolerated by most. Girls are encouraged to dress in certain ways to get the attention of boys. Do girls deserve to be taken advantage of boys? Absolutely not! But are there societal changes that could occur to make these stories rare rather than common? Absolutely!
What would change if no drinking under a certain age was enforced by parents and compassionate adults? If boys were taught to value girls and treat them as the priceless treasures they are, could they ever force a girl to do something that she doesn’t want to do? My children are imperfect sinners, so we have plenty of opportunity to practice valuing others and it makes me wonder what would change in our society if we all practiced this. If we would all have to come up with three kind things to say to someone if we were mean to them. Or we had to do something nice for someone if we acted in a way that was hurtful.
A lot of opinions get thrown around when political issues arise and it always baffles me when I see Christians speak in hateful ways about individuals or groups of people that they disagree with. It’s almost like we feel we have a pass when we’re discussing these issues. I don’t understand it. We are to be imitators of Christ, which means we need to seek to respond to situations the way He would
With insatiable compassion.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
“Praise the Lord, my soul; who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:1,4,10-12
“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:1-4
What would change if we actually lived this way? What if we followed Christ’s example and sought to be like-minded in ALL of our interactions? What if we based our compassion on God’s standard and not our own? What if we treated others not as we feel they deserved, but as Christ sees them?
As I drove home tonight from dropping my oldest two off at youth group, I heard the Tauren Well’s song, “Known“. There is a line in the song that says, “I’m fully known and loved by you.” This is the love God has for each one of us. He knows us completely, yet loves us unrelentingly.
He knows what happened at that party all those years ago. Both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford are fully known by God. There is nothing hidden from Him. But his response is not to run away from them. It is to love them.
All scripture references are from the New International Version, Biblegateway.com
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Signet Classic, 1968. Print.