When only Jesus remains-going through the fire.
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me." ( Psalm 23:4)
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills shall fall: but my mercy shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace fail, saith the LORD thy merciful God. (Isaiah 54:10)
"When you pass through waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through rivers, they shall not drown you. When thou goest into the fire, thou shalt not burn, and the flame shall not scorch thee." (Isaiah 43:2)
My dear friends, dear women of God,
No, this life is not pure sunshine. And often we wonder where God is right now-whether He has more important things to deal with than us.
Praise God even when the world is falling apart.
We all know this advice. Often it is followed by the compassionate look of our counterpart, who is somehow helpless in the face of our tears. Our confusion. Our not understanding.
Why now death, illness, farewell, Lord? I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared for this robbery, and why does it come through, if you love me? Why doesn't my innermost aspiration come true, why do you deny me what I desire so much?
2020 was a tough year for me. Not only did Covid corner us, not only did the Delta variant terrify us. Friends who stopped on the other side of the street to at least still smile with their eyes under a mask. Isolation. I remember after weeks of isolation, my son, then eight years old, screaming in panic in the car, "I have to get out of here! I'm suffocating here!" and that my heart broke at that moment.
No, it wasn't enough.
After a long period of deepest contestation, I had just re-emerged from the vortex of trauma when, out of the blue, a bullying campaign was launched against me, to which I was, in turn, helpless. The price? A child, a child we had long since taken so much to our hearts that we wanted to take her into permanent care.
We were on-call foster parents, and while the parting after months probably always hit us, and we accepted this as part of the job: the pain of letting go, the tears we secretly cried, this time everything was different. This girl looked at me with seven days, and she had my heart. She had my whole soul. She became part of the family, for seven months. Feeding, nursing, swaddling, carrying. Smiling at her. Her crib was in our bedroom, our son loved her. And then..began a bullying agenda that affected our innermost family life. To which friends responded with horror and we with a lack of support. I pleaded with God. I prayed. I convened prayer circles. I struggled. "Lord, not her! Don't take her from me. Ever. Never. But - things were to turn out differently.
When we left the contract, I was given three minutes to say goodbye. Not because she was neglected. Not because she wasn't safely bound- but because my supervisor didn't want me on the team from the beginning years before.
I broke down. Completely against my habit, the tears ran incessantly. I sobbed as if my own daughter had been taken from me. I resorted to booze to get through the day. I did not understand him. I didn't understand Jesus. I didn't understand why he allowed my heart to be so broken.
If he hadn't, there wouldn't be Daughter of Zion today. Because of this, only this, I sought what is called spiritual motherhood, spiritual connectedness. It was granted to me, and with it began a journey that would become even more turbulent, even more heartbreaking.
In December, a little more stable, so that I could smile again and only cry secretly when a sock of the little one fell into my hands, we got the news just before Christmas that my mother had contracted Covid. We all knew it was her death sentence. At 80. With asthma. After three strokes. Alone, we didn't want to believe it.
She died on the second Christmas morning. On Christmas of all days, I thought bitterly, holding on to the light of the candles. Christmas. How can Christmas Eve ever be the same, Jesus? How am I supposed to digest this pain now, too?
John Eldredge once said, as someone who encountered death too often, that the only thing that helps in grief is beauty. That's why we send flowers to a funeral, so that beauty will quiet the pain of grief, John said.
He's right. Beauty is hope. Beauty comforts, and needs no words to do so.
How does one feel when one is so robbed in such a short time? Shattered inside, as if the heart no longer has a place to flee to? How does one deal with losing one's mother when struck in one's motherhood? It was dark, it was like there was only, only Jesus.
In that time, God spoke hope.
He gave me hope, a vision, a dream. He called me, chose me, and while the world was struggling, I saw only this one light. I ran to God. I let myself be carried away into a world of hope and love, promise and comfort. He was the only one who accompanied me every day when I went outside to walk through the field. To see vastness. To be sure that the world was still there, the mountains did not waver.
There are so many that promise us that God will keep suffering from us. That God won't let something bad happen that we don't understand. When it does happen, we are not only shocked, but deeply disturbed, like children who have to learn that the world is cruel.
Where is God then? Where is Jesus? When your world collapses, when your certainties give way? When everyone stands in front of you and doesn't know how to deal with this pain, how to comfort you?
The answer is: He is in the beauty. He is where your heart longingly looks. He is there where your heart finds comfort, hope. In your longing, in your deepest depths. To open yourself to them, to believe in them, it takes courage.
It is the longing that is impossible. It is the dream that is impossible to reach without him.
He is in your sorrow, in your pain. He is in your despair, and he is the gentle breath that dries your tears. He is the one who lets you breathe in the midst of pain. He is the one who whispers to you: let me in. Look, take also the pain from my hand. He refines you, he fills you with depth, he burns away what you have to let go. It brings to the surface what is hidden in you.
It makes you thin-skinned, without any masks, the pain, the sanctifying fire of God. In your grief you meet yourself unveiled, and in the midst of it you recognize Jesus as your hope, as your truth, as your longing, as your goal.
When everything becomes dark, only he remains. But he brings you through it.
And when you are with him, when the valley is crossed, then you look around you and see the seeds, the diversity, the blessings that he has placed in you to make it blossom for others.
No, this life is not easy. The river of life is not calm. But he promises you something, our God:
Even when you have to go through the deepest emotions, when attacks burn like fire, even when you feel like drowning- nothing, nothing will ever destroy you. Nothing has the permission to wound your heart so deeply that you won't smile again one day. Nothing has the power to take away your joy. And nothing, nothing has the power to rob you of the choice to love.
Maybe that's not much right now. Maybe that's not what you want to hear.
That you will go through this valley, as we all do. But at the end of your journey, when you belong to him, you will understand one thing: That who you are in Him, it will never, ever die. Not in this life, and not when he calls you.
His love will carry you. And bring to bloom what burned to ashes.
Sibylle/Daughter of Zion.
The Bible, Luther 2017
Praise: Abide with me, Audrey Assad.