Lessons Learned and New Mercies Found in Hard Places

 

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Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

God is our strength and our provision even in hard times. Hard times come in many guises: a major illness, death of a loved one, the loss at a job, the desertion of a spouse or the betrayal of a friend. In the words of Eliphaz, humans are “born for trouble as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

Hard times, much like sleep, are a necessary and natural part of life. I have matured because of my struggle with both hard times and sleep.

By definition, few comforts exist during hard times. Enormous energy is needed to acquire the essentials for life: food, shelter, sleep and fellowship. I have been jobless for more than six months and am definitely in the midst of hard times.

I would have never visualized myself among the long-term unemployed. Yet, here I am feeling needy, vulnerable and fully cognizant that I am “at risk.”

Into my heart comes a Rhema word. The word still rings in my spirit: “Be still and know that I am God.”

I hear and I imagine that my feelings probably mirror those of Peter as he walked on the water. Like him, in the midst of a storm, I hear a call to stillness and a call to growth.

How am I to understand stillness in the midst of my turmoil? How do I practice waiting on God when the storms of life continue raging? I found answers when I understood the similarities between stillness, or waiting on God, and sleeping.

Sleep is vital for life. It may look like inactivity but sleep is a dynamic process and is necessary for health and growth. Still, young children sometimes resist sleep and consequently experience grogginess, behavior problems, colds and impaired functioning. Caring parents counteract their child’s resistance by enforcing regular bedtimes and ensuring children have adequate sleep.

I need to sleep. During sleep energy is restored, strength is renewed and consciousness is altered allowing me to dream, problem-solve and re-create daily challenges in a safe environment.

Sleep is like stillness. As I wait on God, I am refreshed, I mature and I grow. Like the apostle James (James 1:2), I must welcome hard times with joy and redeem the time by refocusing on Him – looking attentively to Him for direction as old things, old thoughts and old ways of being become new.

Seeing things differently is uncomfortable and scary. I find myself running to His word for strength and for hope. Although my vision is changing, my situation remains the same.

Obstinately, I remain standing on what I know. God is a good and caring God. I shut down external stimuli, relax in His grace and Providence and continue to wait.

Waiting on God is an attitude of the spirit that is reflected in choices and actions. I diligently monitor my words, choosing to praise Him rather than to whine or complain. I also continue to live in obedience, persevering with my job search routine: networking, sending out resumes, scheduling interviews, sending thank you notes and doing volunteer work in the community.

I wait knowing that God is trustworthy. He is at work and will sanctify all things — even the hard things — for my good and His glory.  Amen!

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
 to guide the future, as He has the past.


Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
 All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Words: Katharina von Schlegel, 1752. Music: Jean Sibelius, 1899

Purpose in the midst of emptiness

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What do you do at the latter stage of life when the road ahead seems narrow, dark, lonely and frightening? What do you do?

Well, if you are like Naomi in the book of Ruth, you go back home. You go back to the folks who knew you ‘when.’ You go back to the place where folks have no choice but to take you in. You return to family.

Going back home can be traumatic. Folks there generally measure you against a past image. Their reference point tends to be unrealistic, outdated and wrapped up in their personal expectations of you.

That’s what happened to Naomi when she returned home after the death of both her husband and her two sons. Listen to the question the women who knew asked. They said, “Can this be Naomi?”

What do you think they saw? Was it the fact that she had aged? Could it have been the wounds left by the death of her husband, and the scars caused by the death of two sons? Perhaps they saw the fatigue from traveling and the anxiety that generally accompanies poverty and homelessness. I imagine all this must have marred her.

Listen to Naomi’s response to the women, “The Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21). The grief, loss, anxiety and perhaps even shame are captured in her response. She is now old and empty, and old age is definitely the wrong time to be empty. Yet there she was – hungry, poured out, devastated, and possessing nothing.

Sometimes emptying out is less about our mistakes and more about stepping into God’s purpose. Naomi had not sinned, yet she was afflicted and it was painful and humiliating.

In her season of emptiness Naomi waited and hoped in the Lord. So, let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, to wait. “Wait in hope for the Lord,” (Psalm 33:20).

Just as we were born with nothing, ‘emptying out’ return us to nothingness where we are left naked, hungry, wanting and vulnerable. There, we again learn the ways of the Lord as He directs, protects, provides and preserves. He is the same God who said, “No one is to appear before Him empty-handed,” (Exodus 34:20) and so always leads us back to a place of rest and provision.

If you are empty and waiting, be encouraged. Just as Naomi’s heart, home and hands were filled, so too will our desires be fulfilled. God will not leave us empty-handed for long.

He always provides. He continues to order our steps and He will use even this time of loss, grief and perhaps even shame to perfect us and to fulfill His purpose through us.