As I sit here writing this blog I am looking across the room at my daughter who is on her computer catching up with friends. She’s not supposed to be here – she’s supposed to be in the bush in Kenya on a homestay with a Maasai family practicing her Swahili, eating lots of ugali and drinking Chai, and visiting each night with other members of the community around a campfire. But she’s not.
Like the rest of us her life has come to an almost screeching halt in the the past week. I was talking with a friend last night who said that she was grieving and wondering if life will ever look like it did just a week ago. I really related to what she was saying. I don’t think I am allowing myself to live in a lot of fear from this pandemic, though there are definitely times when I lose myself to panic for a few moments – particularly about my children. But I am grieving – for my daughter, whose experience was cut short, for all the seniors whose years are coming to an abrupt and unmarked end, for the small business owners whose hard work is spiraling down quickly, and for a future that I know will be changed from what I had envisioned. I don’t think there are many of us that will come to the other end of this unmarked.
I was having another conversation with a friend about the idea of God redeeming all things. While we are in the middle of a situation we can admit that it is hard to see how God is going to make beauty from things that, in the moment, feel like destruction. And let’s just be honest – sometimes it’s not that things just feel hard or destructive, but it’s that they are. Sometimes we have situations happen where even when we are days, months, or years away from them we still cannot see the good. We have trouble believing that he really does work all things out for the good good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose, or that he will redeem. Notice I didn’t say we struggle to believe he can redeem, but rather will he?
I want to believe that redemption means the pain is gone. I want to believe that it means the situation fixes itself, or something bigger, better, more beautiful comes along in place of what was lost. I don’t want to believe and live in the truth of being a Christian – that we are called to walk with him in his sufferings. Sometimes it seems too much to ask us to believe that scars that can be so terribly ugly can be breathtakingly beautiful at the same time.
As I worked through some very real issues in my own past that turned from bleeding wounds into thick scars on my heart I have understood a little better what it means to have God work things out. I can see a purpose in spite of the pain for most things. It doesn’t mean that I would choose it again – I am not sadistic. But I can see his fingerprints on the healing nonetheless. He doesn’t have to show me anything – any peek into what he is doing is a gift of grace. So in those places where I still can’t see even a glimmer of beauty I sit and wait. I may never see it on this earth – I understand this now, even if it does frustrate me. Redemption will only be whole and perfect in heaven, but sometimes he allows us glimpses of it here. There will come a day when he makes all things beautiful and right again. His way, his time.
And that has to be enough. Because it really is more than enough.
So I grieve now, being older and experienced enough to know that no, I will never be the same after this. The world will not be the same. We will all carry scars of grief and loss – some much more so than others. When I came back to the States after our evacuation from South Sudan I didn’t fit anywhere. I couldn’t fall back into patterns of who I was before I left. I had to grieve the loss of the comfortable old me and start to be ok with the new scars and bruises that I might never have an answer for. I wrote then about this concept then, quoting a passage from The Hobbit. Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he should go on this incredible adventure. Bilbo, being the cautious hobbit that he is says, ” Can you promise I will come back?” Gandalf responds in his usual honest way by saying, “No. And if you do, you will not be the same.”
We will not be the same after this – but somehow there is beauty and hope in that. I still believe that he will take these wounds and heal them, but even if we cannot see it, we can stand in the truth that we have been shaped to be more like him. Crucifixion hurts. The fire burns as it shapes the iron. Dying to oneself is never uneventful or painless. However, he will shape us to be able to better show him to this world because we have walked in his sufferings with him and know him even more intimately than before. Our scars from this time or any other area in our lives where we have known pain are real and permanent while we are in these bodies. But it is about his glory more than our comfort, and I think he is calling us to remember that again. When we reach the other side we will be able to say that we have sat with him in a depth of darkness that we had not yet experienced, and we are better for it. Because of that I do not mourn like those who have no hope.
So I leave us with this, because truth is truth no matter how we feel, and praise and thanksgiving are powerful weapons. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7) (emphasis added by me.)