We have all been there. We cling to the promises of his Word, and we fall at the foot of the cross, leaving the desires of our hearts which he has promised us (Ps 37:4). We beg for the “good” that he promises will come of our anguish (Rom. 8:28), and peer through hot tears, looking for the joy that is supposed to greet us in the morning (Ps 30:5). Yet often we are greeted by another dark night, walking again through the valley of the shadow of death.
What do we do when the joy doesn’t come? What do we cling to when we feel we have lost everything? We cling to his promises, not because we are fools or delusional, but because we literally cannot endure a single loss, wound, or sorrow that he did not willingly endure for us first.
This time of year is difficult for me. The perfect baby boy we buried at 19 weeks would be turning four soon, and the last baby we lost, whose delivery caused the events that led to my hysterectomy, would be turning two. The last four years have been full of letting go, trusting God and learning how to weep like Jesus did for Lazarus, and yet full of hope in the inevitable victory over death. When death overwhelms us, when pain is unrelenting, we have to choose to trust, to believe, to persist. Jesus had to choose. He sweat blood in the garden because he had full knowledge of the suffering that awaited him. He asked his perfect, loving Father to take the cup. But the desires of Jesus’s heart were synonymous with those of the Father, and so he took the cup, and he drank from it.
I have railed against heaven in my grief. I have begged to see the glass more clearly so that I can understand. But what I have learned is that, ultimately, what God asks of us is what he asked of his son; we say, even in our brokenness, even if it is covered in fear, “Not my will, but yours be done.” There are many more promises in the Bible that assure us he sees our suffering. He saves our tears (Ps 56:8), he counts the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), he has made a place with many rooms where there will be no suffering, no pain, and all that has been lost on earth will be restored in heaven. We cannot pick and choose the promises that bring us comfort, or appeal to our sense of what we think God is calling us to. The ultimate promise, the only one that matters, is the promise of his death and resurrection, the promise that he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
In the meantime, he longs for us to be at peace. He was at peace in the garden, even while blood came out of his pores. He was at peace on the cross when he forgave us for all our sins, for our unbelief, for our selfishness. I have been walking with the Lord for a long time. It has been a life of many sorrows, many losses, and a tremendous amount of physical pain, but I can honestly say he is a God who keeps his promises. Because, amidst that pain, I have known unspeakable joy, and the blessings of my life far outweigh the things that have hurt me. And the promise I cling to the most is that what I see now only in part I will one day see as a whole. He tells us again and again to come confidently to his throne that we may receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb 4:16).
The challenge we will always face on earth is our great desire to control our lives. Often my desires are good, selfless, holy, but that does not make them the will of God. Until our prayer truly is that of Jesus in the Garden, or Mary at the Annunciation, we will lack peace. The good news is that God is so patient and kind. And I find that if we overwhelm our souls with gratitude, his peace comes more quickly.