Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
I find myself on the other side of the worst six years of my life. I’m not exaggerating, and I hope you’ll take my word for it. In the middle of those six years, someone asked me how in the world I was surviving it all. We were standing next to my car, with the sun beating down on the crown of my head and the wind blowing hot through the alley. It was the perfect real life metaphor. I remember that I leaned my left hip against the car and said to her, “The thing that surprises me is that I haven’t lost my faith.”
It still surprises me.
An old and wise pastor once said, “You’re either in a storm, coming out of a storm, or headed into a storm.” When I first heard it, I got it. Theoretically.
That is to say, I thought I got it. Now, more than twenty years from nodding my head at the pastor’s wise words, I know for sure I didn’t get it at all. It’s not that I hadn’t had any tough times. I had. I definitely had. But none of them had felt as dark and depressing and lonely and confusing as the six years I’ve just come through. Six years is a long time.
During those six years, I whined, I shook my head at my circumstances and my fist at God. I repented over and over again for sins I’d committed when I was in kindergarten—for every sin I could think of. I surrendered multiple times. I cried. I prayed. I searched the Bible for answers. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I took a lot of steps backwards. I said I was fine when I was most definitely not. I went to counseling. I took anti-depressants. I begged God to get me out from under the darkness, and I blamed God for putting me there.
You know those parts of the Bible that talk about the heavens being shut and God being silent? I’m guessing that’s as close as the writer could get to describing the devastation they felt. It’s a desolate place to be.
I remember the worst part was feeling like God didn’t see me anymore. But that wasn’t true. I know that now. There’s a story in the Bible. It’s in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus. The Israelites were in the desert. They’d been there for two months, and they were hungry. They were whining because they were frightened, and they thought God couldn’t see them. They thought God had put them out, turned off the lights, and shut the door. But it wasn’t true. Not at all. And on this afternoon, in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus, God promises he’ll send them food. And do you know what the people did? They turned to face the wilderness. And, incredibly, that’s where they saw God. Right in the middle of the place they didn’t want to go, the place they didn’t want to see. That’s where God was. Turning darkness into light.
I don’t underestimate the danger of writing these words, here on the other side of my own desolation. If you’re in the dark place, my words could come across as an admonition to “Just hold on! Things will get better!” I don’t want to be that person to you, not if you’re in a place where it takes all you’ve got to just lift your head off the pillow. I don’t want to make your darkness small or your worries trite.
I’d rather reach my arm in through the darkness until my fingertips touch yours. Just so you know someone sees you there.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What has been the worst season of your life? Did you feel as if God had abandoned you then? Did it ever feel as if God was with you then?
Do you see me, God? I need to know you see me. I need to know you have not forgotten me. I need to know you are in here with me. Hear my grumbling, Emmanuel. Have mercy. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Israel at the Red Sea and on the Way to Sinai (Exodus 13:17-18:27)
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