My “Jesus is Better” bracelet is tarnished and worn.
I think that’s appropriate.
It’s had to be repaired four times in the last month.
I think that’s also appropriate, because Jesus really is better than anything, including a piece of jewelry designed to remind me of that truth.
Vulnerability is hard for this weak soul.
It’s hard for me to open up and let people see hurt and struggle and wrestling with trust and circumstances beyond my control. Not only am I scared they’ll reject me (or try to fix me) after the confession, but I constantly battle condemnation for struggling in any capacity or form, and letting other people in opens the door for them to condemn me for it too, while also adding to their burdens when all I want to do is make things better for them. And then there’s the voice in my head that is always screaming that struggle, tears, and hurt equate no faith, no trust, and no confidence in the Lord.
But is that true? Is it Scriptural? Is it a sin to struggle? Is it an affront to God’s character to be sad and aching for promises to be fulfilled? Can one trust Him while being heartbroken? Can trust exist in darkness? In grief? In depression? In a dark night of the soul?
These are all questions that have surfaced in the last several weeks.
So, because Scripture tells us nothing we go through is for ourselves only but for the building up of the entire body of Christ, here I am gluing my gaze on the Lord and being vulnerable on this electronic paper in hopes that He might be pleased to use it for someone else.
If you follow me on social media, over the last month you might have seen daily Elf quotes, posts about Christmas giveaways from Lettering for the World, and smiling faces from when my nephew took me on a fancy Christmas date (look how protective and cute he is?).
Those things are purposefully posted for the joy and encouragement of others but they don’t always show the whole story.
I’m ashamed to say in the days leading up to one of the most joyous times of the year—the celebration of the birth of our Savior—it was hard for me to find the merry in Christmas. The last 12 months (the last three in particular) have pummeled my heart and brought me to a position of darkness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
It seems as though every day brings a new burden for the people I love, which brings a daily rediscovery that I am helpless to do anything to relieve the hurting hearts around me. Death, grief, job loss, financial hardships, church issues, relational aches, marriage pains, sin exposure, divorce—everything hurts and everything is too big and heavy for me to carry.
The groans for redemption are screaming.
The cry for God to help is constant.
The reality that I have no control has never been more clear.
The ache for deliverance is real.
The spiritual warfare is at an all-time high.
Last week, our pastor told us to be thinking about the biggest gifts and blessings of 2017 and prepare to share some of those a few days later at our churchwide Christmas dinner.
My heart sort of seized up at his announcement. I mean, I knew 2017 was packed with blessings and so much undeserved goodness, but there has also been a lot of darkness, and the shadows always want to choke out the light. I confess that over the last several weeks I’ve allowed the shadows to claim momentary victory more often than I wish were true.
The enemy is a bully.
Sin is deceptive.
Darkness is a thief.
And God is stronger.
So, as I prayerfully thought over the year, asking the Lord if there was anything He wanted me to share at the church’s Christmas dinner, everything kept swirling back to a couple of things (which I ended up sharing through buckets of tears):
- 2017 was the hardest year of my life.
- This too is a gift.
Because the Bible informs us that everything God does is an act of grace toward us, that means He is just as active and good in the pain and hard things as He is in the moments of visible beauty and triumph. So this year, though harder than anything I’ve ever experienced, was brimming with mercy.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
This is the comfort in my affliction,
that Your promise (Word) gives me life.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep Your Word.
You are good and do good;
teach me Your statutes.
Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious and merciful to me,
For my soul finds shelter and safety in You,
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge and be confidently secure
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
Who accomplishes all things on my behalf
[for He completes my purpose in His plan].
-Psalm 57:1-2, AMP (also known as my lifeline verses)
God is here.
He is accomplishing all things on behalf of His children.
He is completing my purpose in His plan.
He gives my soul (prone to wander, Lord I feel it) shelter, safety, refuge, confidence, and security.
He has met me in my darkest moments and proved His sufficiency.
He has carried me time and time again out of the miry clay and set me in a broad place.
He has cleaned me up, brought me to His table, fed me with good things, and is even now in the process of mending what has been broken.
Second by second He breathes new mercies into this abundant life—still so much more than I deserve—and reaffirms and reminds that He is not going anywhere but that all of this is working to produce joy and worship and glory beyond our imaginations.
He has reminded me that my rights, preferences, and desires were sacrificed to Him the day He saved me and that His ways are true and better than anything my tiny brain could dream up.
Here’s one of the most extraordinary gifts of 2017: even in the most excruciating moments when the tears won’t stop, when I miss people so much I feel like I can’t breathe, and when it seems as though I will not survive another second, God has proven faithful.
My heart and flesh may fail
But God You never will
You are my strength and shield
My portion forever
-Emmanuel, God With Us by Austin Stone Worship (also my theme song)
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let Your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
In every moment of 2017, God has been whispering for me to lean in.
Lean into the circumstances that He in His mercy ordained.
Lean into people (not isolation).
Lean in when it would be easier to jump ship and run.
Lean into God’s sovereignty.
Lean into submission.
Lean into waiting.
Lean into boundaries.
Lean into the truth.
Lean into sanctification.
Lean into the Gospel.
Lean into the Word.
Lean into weakness.
Lean into the wilderness.
Lean into the flames.
Lean in when it hurts.
Lean in when it’s gloriously wonderful.
Lean in when it’s excruciatingly hard.
Lean into the pain.
Lean into victory.
Lean into the cross.
Lean into trust.
Lean into the darkness and find the light.
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
God is teaching me to worship in the darkness while being so kind as to begin piercing this dreadful darkness with His light. Though the aches, pains, and burdens are still very real, He is allowing vision into what is always true: He is fighting for His children.
He never stops.
He never leaves us.
And He never stops pursuing us or our joy, even when the information our senses take in screams the opposite.
Here’s more good news: God is not frustrated by our finitude, as Joe Rigney said in The Things of Earth. He is not embarrassed by our weakness. He is not ashamed of our need for Him. He remembers we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). He does not run from us in our desperation and heartbreak. He draws near as we draw near to Him. He reaffirms His love for us. And He meets us in our brokenness.
Why can we lean into the sorrow, the trials, the hurts, the pain?
Because Jesus is better.
He is better than anything He could ever ask us to give up, walk through, or sacrifice back to Him—the rightful owner of all things.
He is better:
Than our hurts
Our hardest days
Our best days
Our greatest loves
Our deepest wounds
And knowing Jesus is better than knowing what He is doing.
He is trustworthy.
He is steadfast.
His love never ceases.
His heart for us never cools.
He is near.
He is gloriously active.
He is true.
He is holy x3.
He is life.
He is unchanging.
He was forsaken so we never would be.
He has redeemed us from our rebellion.
He has given life where there was death.
He is worthy of every ounce of praise we can give.
He does all things well.
So we can lean in.
From old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides You,
who acts (works) for those who wait for Him.