I gave an entire afternoon and evening to baking in preparation for our Thanksgiving festivities last week. After thumbing through a favorite cookbook and a glossy holiday magazine, I set my sights on making four chocolate pies in the variety of chess and marshmallow, brown sugar cupcakes, dark chocolate brownie cupcakes, fluffy caramel and peanut butter frostings to top it all. Looking back, maybe it was a little overboard, but I’d been asked to bring desserts to the meals and far be it from me to not fully commit to a dessert menu.
As the sun began to go down, I looked around at my messy kitchen. I had pies cooling in the corner and cupcakes ready to be frosted. I still had a lot to do, but I didn’t mind it. There was an order and a process in the kitchen that night that made sense to me. Some people dance their way through recipes, adding a flourish of this and a dollop of that, but I have more of an exact-science approach. I like to follow the instructions and leave as little as possible to chance (this also reduces the possibility of a fire in my oven, which has been known to happen upon occasion).
I’d listed my ingredients, lined them up on the counter. I had my mixer and blender ready to go. I had measuring cups, a flurry of sugar, and approximately twenty three thousand pounds of butter in the fridge. I knew, step by step, each measurement to be made and which ingredients to blend. I knew the temperature of the oven and I set my timer to ding at the right moments. Following those recipes meant I ended up with a counter full of goodies (and a sink full of dishes, but even that didn’t deter my satisfaction). I was content in the hands-on, plain-to-see work that led to an end result. It felt good to actually finish something, to accomplish what I’d set out to do. There was a beginning and an ending ~ and every step along the way was logical and clearly laid out before me.
I relished the calm progression of baking away those hours… because life sure hasn’t been following any sort of step-by-step plan over the last little while.
On a personal level, this summer and fall have brought plans I could never seem to keep, goals I couldn’t accomplish, dreams farther from becoming reality than I’d expected, a weight of regret, unexpected loss and sorrow.
On a world-wide level, this entire year has been one excruciating story after another… we have all seen and heard things over the past months that are utterly unimaginable, wholly heartbreaking. Sometimes it feels to me like the entire world is coming apart at the seams and it is hard to bear witness to this, it is hard to know how to help… what to do… what to say. This cry of David resonated when I read it in the 11th Psalm ~ “when the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
I’ve sort of been stuck in this balance of sorrow and trust, bewilderment and faith.
I’ve shied away from social media and writing here over the last few months because I needed the space to be quiet for a while… I’ve been tired and I’ve been overwhelmed by all of the noise out there. I think a part of me expected that, by now, that balance would have tipped further from questions into answers.
But sometimes there are no easily summed up explanations. There are no clearly laid out instructions, no step-by-step progressions that will lead to a predictable ending. This world is straining beneath the heft of grief and evil ~ and there is no simple solution to it all. No pat answer, no quick phrase that might be easily digested can make sense of it all.
And I realized, as I was thinking about all of this, that God knew ~ better than anybody else ~ that there was no easy answer. He knew ~ more than anyone else ~ of the broken-hearted, the evil intentions, the way the world was submerged in suffering. He knew the sin, the regrets, the failures, the sickness, the mourning, and the pain.
Sending Jesus into the reality of our earth was not a simple solution. Maybe we’ve heard it so often ~ God so loved the world that He gave His only son (John 3:16) ~ that it seems like the logical conclusion, the obvious choice… but wasn’t it actually the all-encompassing sacrifice of Father whose heart was broken for His children? Wasn’t it Father, Son, and Spirit rolling up their sleeves and stepping into the fray, making a way with their own power, their own sweat, tears, and blood because there was no other way? Wasn’t it a completely unprecedented and unpredictable move ~ God becoming man, choosing to suffer, so that He could break the chains we’d bound ourselves in?
It’s mystery to me, God loving us enough to give everything He could to bring peace, to bring healing, to bring redemption, to bring love into this world ~ into us.
I guess what I am trying to say is this: God knows that this world is in desperate need of light. He knows that we can’t understand everything that happens on our planet or even, sometimes, our own hearts. He knows our questions and He knows our struggle to hold onto hope, to faith… and, sometimes (nearly always, actually), we aren’t going to get clear explanations from Him. We aren’t getting itineraries or peeks into His long-term plans for particular situations. On this side of eternity, we don’t often see the answer to our ‘why’.
What He does give ~ what He has already given to us ~ is Himself. And in these in-between, wrestling times, I think we find a good example in Jacob ~ we determine in our hearts to hold onto God. The night grows long and we are tired ~ but we do not let go.
It might not be the easy answer, but this is the way of faith ~ to take Him for who He has declared Himself to be, to take Him at His Word, to trust Him to know what we can’t know.
I can’t see rhyme or reason in so many things happening, but the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:11) There is a plan for you and for me, for our families, for the Church, for this planet. While we can feel like the world is spinning out of control, it is not ever out of His control. We trust that in His goodness and in His faithfulness, the spiritual battle we are bearing witness to in so many ways is under His timing and authority… and we wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. (Psalm 33:20)
And what does this look like, practically speaking, in my life? It will probably translate differently for each of us, but for me?
It means taking deep breaths after watching the news cycle and remembering that God is the Author and Finisher of our faith, the One who is our portion when our hearts and flesh fail, the One who sings songs of deliverance around us when the world shakes. It means trusting Him every day when I drop my kids off at school. It means setting my hope on eternity and letting my actions follow that hope, instead of climbing into solitude and fear.
It means taking time to look at the stars, knowing not one is unknown or lost to Him. It means remaining present in my life even when I feel I’ve failed, because grace gives me the courage to try again.
It means crying through the Psalms, crying through most music, crying in the shower ~ and knowing that He hears, even though I feel alone.
It means surrendering my own mapped-out ideas, because I keep taking two steps forward and ten back. I have to let go of my frustration and the temptation to give up because my times are in His hands ~ and He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
It means His presence… it means comfort and peace even while I am perplexed and broken… and it means looking for His light and reflecting it in the best ways I know how in this place and in this moment of my life.
…and, yes, it means waiting ~ but waiting in confidence of Christ’s appearing, in confidence that His power and love have overcome darkness ~ in confidence that we will see this victory for ourselves, with our own eyes. I wait for the morning to chase away the weeping night, wait for beauty to grow out of ashes, wait for the Day that grief, death, and evil are forever defeated. I wait for the day the earth rejoices again, for the mourning to become dancing, for every son and daughter to cast aside sackcloth for joy.
All of this means that, no, I don’t have quick and easy answers to give you or a glossy picture of how things will turn out or a way to hand you step-by-step instructions on what you should do next with your life or what will happen next in this world.
But I can tell you that God Himself will be with you and He will guide you (even if it might be by one faith-required step at a time). I can tell you that His presence will abide with you. I can tell you that His promise is one of hope and redemption, life and love that will prevail over every circumstance. I can tell you that when no simple solution could be found, when we couldn’t get ourselves out of the mess of despair and hopelessness sin made ~ He reached out and saved us with His own arms, sustained us by His own righteousness. I can tell you that He is doing this still, reaching out and giving us His strength when we are weak, giving us His own Spirit so that we do not have to do anything on our own. I can tell you that even if you think He feels far away, He is still there.
While we don’t really know what to do ~ in this in-between time ~ we keep waiting on Him, keep believing, keep hoping, keep loving, keep doing the next thing He tells us to do… we keep shining His love and His light into darkness. We keep putting all of our trust in Him. We have Him ~ Father, Savior, King over all ~ and deeper and truer than anything else I’ve ever known, I cling to the truth that He is good… and that He is our portion, He is enough.
“You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young… do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding none can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and now grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
~ from Isaiah 40
In the day when I cried out, You answered me,
And made me bold with strength in my soul.
~ Psalm 138:3
When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,”
Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
Your consolation brought me joy.
~ Psalm 94:18-19