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Kindred Spirit
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Wendy Wippel

With my girls away at school, my job is largely hysteria control, teaching them roommate spats can be reconciled and cars fixed. It's only later in life that we generally have to come to grips with problems that have no fix. That's when faith is really tested. And when Immanuel acquires real meaning. 

Apparently I have reached a tipping point in life. For the last 20 years, raising and homeschooling my children, although certainly there were bumps in the road enough to go around, by and large everybody I knew had tidy, happy little families and spent their time watching their kids' ball games and concerts, grilling out, going to church on Sunday, and maybe hitting the beach on summer break.  Life for most everybody, most of the time, was good.

Then I hit 50. And now (seemingly suddenly) it seems that everyone I'm close to (who happen to be also roughly my age) are facing huge, seemingly hopeless situations. And struggling emotionally.

One homeschooler whose husband abruptly divorced her, forcing her to clean houses with her children to survive.

One who's sister's health has necessitated 24-hour, hands-on care for nearly a year (spending nearly 100 nights on the fold-out piece of foam called a bed in her sister's hospital room), with no end in sight.

Two whose teenage sons have made choices that will have devastating long-term impact on their lives.

Two whose husbands have completely checked out of their marriages, both physically and emotionally .

Another whose daughter embezzled all her money, disappeared, and forced her to file bankruptcy (The daughter is now in federal prison.)

Another friend whose son, hit by a semi-truck on his way home from college, will spend the rest of his life in a long-term care facility.

My husband, for whom a surgical procedure gone awry now threatens to end his career at its prime.

It's a fallen world, and eventually the fall-out catches up with all of us.

Convention in these situations seems to be to offer spiritual platitudes: 

"Just turn it over to God." "You have so many things to be thankful for." "We all have our cross to bear."  And the best: "I'll be praying for you. "

In fact, that one is what sparked this column. One of the suffering friends above texted me this weekend, confessing that she wanted to tell people to stop praying.

Because it was a waste of time.

(Let me say here that this woman is one of the strongest Christians I know. )

Because God wasn't listening.

And that's the worst part of the deal when we find ourselves in this situation (a problem that God seemingly won't fix, when every ounce of our being screams out that the situation must be fixed.)  That the "thorn in the flesh" we've encountered absolutely, positively CAN'T be part of God's will.

(It wasn't part of God's will, BTW. God created the world and said it was very good. Man muddled it up. But that's another topic.)

So we pray, and we cry out to God. We pray and we find some promises. We pray some more. But the cavalry, seemingly promised by calvary, never comes riding over the hill.

So we pray some more. But eventually, as we pray, a horrible thing happens. Doubt begins to creep in. We start to doubt God's faithfulness. His power and mercy. His love. 

And when you've known all of the above, firsthand, it's an unbearable, unfathomable,  desolation.

A desolation that demands consolation. Is promised consolation. (Isn't it?)

From whence shall that consolation come?

1) We gain consolation from the knowledge  that God loves us and cares about our lives. ("casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." I Peter 5:7)

2) We gain consolation by knowing that He is able to make all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)

And foremost (but one we don't think about really, too much).

3) We are consoled by knowing that He understands what it's like to be human.  (For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Did you catch that? He was tempted, as we are. In everything. 

Maybe He even doubted God.

As a matter of fact, He did. And it's recorded for us, in Isaiah 49:

The Lord has called Me from the womb; From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name.  And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, And made Me a polished shaft; In His quiver He has hidden Me.”  “And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’ Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain."

Jesus is talking in this passage. And He is saying that even though God called Him from the womb, things went seemingly awry.  He fulfilled all the promises and performed all the miracles, but the people He was sent to redeem unbearably, unfathomably, rejected Him. And so He mourns, expressing the desolation of the life that didn't go the way He would have chosen.

"I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing."

We don't always get an answer this side of paradise, but God gives Jesus an explanation in Isaiah:

“And now the Lord says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, And My God shall be My strength), indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”  Isaiah 49:5-6 NKJV

God apparently had a much bigger vision than Jesus the man.

To me, that is from whence real consolation comes. We know that Jesus understands our pain, and it matters to Him. He keeps a record of our tears (Psalm 56). He's promised that those who mourn will someday be comforted. We know that ultimately the trials of this world are temporary. Because someday soon we'll be headed home, where Jesus Himself will wipe the tears away the tears we sowed as we reap a harvest of joy in the Lord's presence.   

And We know that His plans for us transcend our very temporary (though all too painful) circumstances, even though, like Paul, we might not know the reason for our sufferings. We have a promise that our sufferings are not for naught. They have a purpose, thought it may be yet unseen:

"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (II Corinthians 4: 16-18)

I'm still praying for green pastures and still waters as I walk through this valley of death.  But the real comfort comes from knowing that the Lord is my shepherd.  And He will see me home.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: On Giant's Shoulders

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