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So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NLT)
This was going to be my renaissance year, my “rebirth.” All five children would be in the same school district, for one magical year we would have a Kindergartener through Senior. Once I did the math a few years ago, I looked forward to this year immensely. It would mark a sweet ending of the “littles” for our family and the start of our children leaving the nest.
Honestly, I saw SO much free time in my imagined 2020-2021 school year. For me! I’d have coffee dates and hobbies and a clean house and I’d go for long walks and call my friends and we’d have coffee and laugh and talk about the things. Also, I would sort through every closet and I would make photo books for every vacation and also my laundry room would always be tidy and clean. And also, I would get a master’s degree online and maybe go back to work. Perhaps I would try my hand at creative writing groups or book groups or take a watercolor class. This year was going to be about ME. me. And also, me. I had a large grin and a large plan for my life.
But we all know how this went, don’t we? I am guessing that you might have had plans this year as well. And I acknowledge how very fortunate I am to have had to change only these plans. But it is funny. Because instead of hobbies and coffee dates and online courses and actual brain space, it has been virtual schooling with disappointed children and teenagers, fighting their own mixed feelings about isolation and turmoil. It has been disastrous living spaces and constant needs and thoughts begun but never finished (read: no brain space), five out of five needing urgent help “right this minute” at any given time during the day, which involved me trying to navigate new technology systems in hilarious ways. It has been zoom calls with far-away family and friends down the street, wishing we could reach through the screen and hug each other, if just to say I miss you and care so much about you. It has been late-night news feeds that have overwhelmed my heart and mind and the sorrow that is so big for so many that I cry out to know what is true about all of it, about who we are and what exactly is my purpose as a Christian in all of this. It has been grief – my husband’s father died last March, and we could only attend his funeral online – a traumatic experience in its own rite, with no real closure on his life. And it has been my own health issues – recently I was diagnosed with a rare disorder that explains the constant pain in my feet for the last 15 years, but offers few hopeful answers about healing, at least this side of heaven.
This year brought me to a crisis of my purpose here – and a deep realization that I have held onto my definitions of success and purpose, a weird mix of American evangelistic notoriety and self-glorifying independence. I wanted my dreams fulfilled in my way, and I daresay I have even felt deserving of it. But the idol in my heart has been exposed, leaving me the opportunity to “choose this day whom I will serve.”
I believe in Jesus’ compassion for me, but sometimes I do not. Sometimes I struggle to believe that faith in Jesus is enough in the darkest days. I do not enjoy feeling this desperate, this weak, this unable to know what I need, so dependent on His grace to make it through each day. I look back at other seasons where I thought I was strong, and I miss them. I miss feeling carefree and believing I had control over how life went today (no matter how deluded that belief was). I miss thinking I knew how tomorrow would go. I miss thinking I could make sense of things, to understand whys and hows of life.
But …..as dark as this time has been, Jesus has been here in every holy, excruciating, secret moment where my usual (instant) comfort has failed me. Nights I have lain awake, tossed wildly about by worry over the future, my health, my children. He, the One who sees in secret (Matthew 6:4,6,18) has been by my side…whispering to me, “Why are you so afraid, have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) - and granting new mercies as the new day dawned. (Lamentations 3:22) He has provided me a group of praying warrior-women who have consistently lifted me up and told me these truths: I am not alone (Deuteronomy 31:8), the Lord is my shelter (Psalm 91:1), hang on and endure - one day it will be better. (James 1:12) He has met me in the early morning hours in my reading chair, His Word providing a scaffolding of truth that has held me day after day, despite my constant fear that I am on a path that He does not know. (Psalm 119:103-105) He has even organized the “shuffle” mode on my music app, songs of comfort and truth in my ears timed just right to bring me to an honest, sobbing-my-eyes-out place before Him, a secret place only He knows and where only He can heal. (Psalm 51:6)
I suppose this is where the strength is, the secret place with Him. It is the place where Jesus comes alongside me. I am fully known by Him, both in what my struggles and in my response to them. This is where the mystery of the gospel makes the miracle of abundant life possible. As I approach the throne of my gracious God, He - through Jesus - gives the grace and the mercy I need to persevere, and even thrive (though thriving is far more humbling than I would prefer). I do not deserve such a gift – but Jesus has given it freely to me. He knows how hard it is to live on this earth. He loves me so much He chose to suffer the most extreme pain imaginable on the cross. He came and faced all the same struggles we do, and did it without sin, so that you and I could approach that throne of grace through faith in Him. What wonderful news! (1 Corinthians 5:21)
Though I am not pursuing the giant dreams and giant plans I concocted for this year, Jesus has invited me to something far more sustaining and fulfilling. Pursuing Him – and only Him. Through the quiet place of intimacy with Him and service for others, He continues to invite me to open my heart all the way to Him so that He can empower me to love those around me. He has invited me to trust Him to be my portion as I let go of the things I think I need to be happy and hold on tight to Him.
And strangely, though this season has been so very difficult, I can attest to this: He does pour out grace and mercy to help in my time of need. It has not always been how I have I wanted it,
but it is always what I have needed. His help is far deeper than an emotion or an idea or a change of circumstances - His help is an undeniable truth.
He is good. He is alive. He is with me.
Has this year been my renaissance? Certainly not in the way I imagined it would, but perhaps it is a rebirth. A rebirth where I am invited to grow more dependent, not less, learning that true fulfillment is not self-discovery, but discovery that Christ is exactly who and what I need.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)