Faith for the Dark Days

To see it on the calendar, this week appears all innocence and grace. Seven days lined up in a row, neatly strung together by mornings and evenings, full of expectation and promise. Little did I realize that it was a malevolent beast waiting to pounce and wreak havoc on my simple, easy life.

Not that I was completely unaware. I knew this week was going to be busy with organizing and executing a church dinner. I expected trips to Sam’s Club and late nights of baking and centerpieces. What I did not expect were missed writing deadlines, late nights of pastoral care, and the ache of being far from family when I most needed to be close. And what I certainly did not expect was my husband’s having to conduct a funeral for a mother whose children will grow up without her. Children the same ages as ours.

How deceptively simple that calendar looked last week. How benign.

On weeks like these, it’s easy to fall back on truisms—“You never know what the future holds” and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” and “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”—all in some half-hearted attempt to make sense of the chaos swirling around us. But I want to tell you that they are all lies. Dreadful, terrible, sugar-coated lies.

Because while I didn’t know that the future held, God did. And He let it come anyway. And I’m not so sure that grace means that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. In fact, I’m pretty sure that God does routinely give us more than we can handle; and I’m pretty sure that, more often than not, it does break us—if not physically from the sheer exhaustion of living, then emotionally from the sheer exhaustion of feeling.

So that on weeks like these, you find yourself longing for a better place and a better time. You find yourself longing for Home and Him. And I wonder if that wasn’t what He had in mind all along. In giving us more than we can handle, He forces us to turn to Him. In allowing things that break us, He ensures that only He can bind us back together. In our weakness, we find His strength. In our brokenness, we find His healing. And in our dying, we find His resurrection.

I’m beginning to believe that this is where faith starts. Faith starts at the tomb, not at the manger; faith starts with the dying, not with the living; and faith starts with seeds falling into the ground (John 12:24), not with the final fruit. So that for all the joy, all the beauty, all the wonder that this life holds, it is the pain that makes space for faith. The pain makes space for us to long for something better; the pain makes space for us to cry out for something greater. And we find that something—we find Him—not by avoiding the grave but by walking right through it.

I can’t predict that next week will be any less chaotic or that all the brokenness will suddenly disappear with the turn of the calendar. Time does not heal all wounds. But I have hope in Someone who does. It’s a hope that doesn’t always see and a hope that doesn’t always understand, but it is a hope that is real and beautiful and life-giving. And it is a hope that ultimately rests, not in my ability to endure the pain, but in His power to bring me back to life when I cannot.

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paynen's picture

When 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." It definitely does not mean that God will never give us anything that will break our heart, or take us to the very end of what keeps us sane. What it does mean is that God will never give us anything that is so unbearable that we can't help, but respond in sin. Every trial and temptation that God lays within our lives is within our power to respond in faith and hope. And even when we are stretched to the lengths of our human limitations God is compassionate and, by literal definition of the world, will suffer together with us through those trials, and carry us through them.

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