What a year it’s been. Actually, it’s been more than a year now since COVID-19 changed everything around us. If your COVID journey has been anything like mine, there have been some moments of beauty, yes. But far more so there have been moments of difficulty. Heartache. Heartbreak. Questions of why. Fears. Silence. Unknowns. Uncertainty. Add to that whatever your personal life has been (and maybe is still) throwing your way… I know at least for me, some days I’m amazed that I’m still upright.
It was about this time a year ago that an everyday life that was difficult but somewhat doable turned into near-constant chronic stress. Little did I know with that first majorly stress inducing incident that it would be the beginning of what I can describe with little else than the word “unraveling”. I would last several more months before we moved me from Virginia to Illinois, but to this day I can only thank the Lord that I made it out of Virginia in as much of one piece as I did. Since calling Illinois home some things have definitely gotten better, yes. And I’m undoubtedly trending in the right direction. But the sense of wilderness that I kept feeling in Virginia – the idea that the big dramatic exodus is over, that God has moved in mighty ways but that now it’s time to just sit tight and learn and wait – has only continued.
Back in June many of the symptoms and a lot of the stress finally began to dissipate. It was a gift for sure. Unfortunately, though, some of the symptoms have worsened again. Like I said, I’m still trending in the right direction, but things continue to not only be not easy… they continue to be hard. Really, really hard. And heavy.
Over the last several months, as I’ve called Illinois home, I have begun to unpack some of the emotions and hurt and brokenness that hit during my season in Virginia. All of the questions wanting to ask God why. All of the questions about the validity of my experience in Spring 2019 if life was now this excruciatingly hard and if I was once again struggling so much. Time and time again I have had to cling to the reality that the character of God is dependent NOT upon our circumstances and feelings and experiences but upon who He is and what His word says and upon the promises He gives.
Last night I happened upon a song that I first heard several years ago. As I cued it up I couldn’t remember much about it, but just that I had found it beautiful and encouraging. Then we got into the chorus, and I remembered why I loved it so much… and it also caught me off guard with its relevance and timeliness…
“’Cause You are mending the broken-hearted
You are making all things new
And You’re rebuilding out of the ruins
A city of hope with the ones You love.”
For any of you wondering, the song is “City of Hope” by Amanda Cook. It’s mostly based off of the passage at the beginning of Isaiah 61…
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.”
Isaiah 61:1, 4 ESV
It’s a beautiful passage – in fact, Jesus quotes it during His ministry and then declares that “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:20, ESV).
But the reason this song struck me is because of a different scripture passage in which we are reminded that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted…
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
Psalm 34:17-19, ESV
It’s a passage that I have known for years. It’s a passage that a brother in Christ had me read in a moment of huge distress a few months ago. It’s a verse that I heard quoted recently in the context of very real grief.
Not only is our God mending the brokenhearted… but He doesn’t stop there. He is making all things new.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember these things when we are faced with the wilderness. The wilderness is quiet. It’s exhausting and even confusing sometimes. It’s frustrating for so many different reasons. We know from experience that our God is going to provide and keep His promises, but after several months of struggling to see more than our DAILY provisions… a steady glimpse more than a few days into the future might be nice.
Unfortunately, though, Jesus taught His disciples to pray… several hundred years after the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness… “give us this day our DAILY bread”.
I get the impression that God wants us to be able to trust Him for things on a day-to-day basis. That even though we might not see how or when, He’s not going to leave us high and dry to fend for ourselves.
During a season of wilderness in our lives, it’s also so easy to ask God “why”, to question Him in really any capacity we can think of. “Why did You allow this?” or “Why didn’t you save or protect me from this?”
Over the last several months I’ve been grateful for the support of an incredible home church along with some incredible leaders and pastors. As I’ve met with one of the pastors a number of times, on occasion we will sit in the sanctuary and spend time in prayer and talking through some things. There has been a lot of insight gained and healing received in those moments, and there have even been a few moments of that still, small voice of God giving me a word or a phrase or something to hold onto.
A question that I asked sometime in the last few months was “God, after all that has happened since leaving home, with how much pain and broken heartedness there has been in my life, HOW on earth can Your promises still be true?” But as I sat there in that church, my heart was reassured… “My child, my promises could not be MORE true as a result of what you have been through. They are true now more than ever.”
Talk about a reality check and a gift of great comfort all at once. Between moments in prayer with God like that and the moments when He has felt close, much of my life over the last several months has continued to be in the wilderness. In some ways we will never fully leave the wilderness until we get to Heaven, but in other ways we can have many different types of seasons within our life here on earth. Since living here in Illinois there have been glimpses of an earthly “promised land” as could only come from Him, but we’re not entirely there yet.
I guess He still has much for me to learn here in the wilderness.
But it’s during these seasons of our lives spent in the wilderness that clinging to the promises of God and remembering who He is become absolutely essential. Silence and time cannot change or diminish who God is. He is bigger than all of it.
I could put it this way…
God’s silence in our present has little to do with anything in the past or in the future. If it says anything about the character of God, it tells us NOT that He is a cold and distant father – but rather that He loves us to the point of doing what is best for us, His children, even if it means that our current circumstances remain less than ideal.
His silence here and now can never take away from what He has done in the past, no matter how big it was or how distant He feels now. And it can never take away the reality that He wants what is best for us, His children, and that He will stop at nothing to have our hearts and to make His love known to us.
The bridge of the song I mentioned earlier speaks to this truth…
“We’re the ones you love.”
That’s it. It just repeats that line. So yes, it’s stereotypical modern worship music. It’s repetitive. But it’s a reality that I think many of us need to hear over and over so that it can MAYBE begin to sink in.
We may not feel it now. And we may not feel or see it for another few months or even few years. But – visible to us or not – God is mending our broken hearts. He is proclaiming our liberty when we feel captive. He has released us from the chains of our prisons through His death on the cross and resurrection. He saves us as we are crushed in spirit.
And whether we see it on this side of Heaven or not…
He is rebuilding our hope.