Category  |  Suffering & Tragedy

Everywhere and Nowhere

A family friend who, like us, lost a teenager in a car accident wrote a tribute to her daughter, Lindsay, in the local paper. One of the most powerful images in her essay was this: After mentioning the many pictures and remembrances of Lindsay she had put around their house, she wrote, “She is everywhere, but nowhere.”

Although our daughters still smile back at us from their photos, the spirited personalities that lit up those smiles are nowhere to be found. They are everywhere—in our hearts, in our thoughts, in all those photos—but nowhere.

But Scripture tells us that, in Christ, Lindsay and Melissa are not really nowhere. They are in Jesus’ presence, “with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). They are with the One who, in one sense, is “nowhere but everywhere.” After all, we don’t see God in a physical form. We certainly don’t have smiling pictures of Him on our mantel. In fact, if you look around your house, you may think He is nowhere. But just the opposite is true. He is everywhere!

Wherever we go on this earth, God is there. He’s there to guide, strengthen, and comfort us. We cannot go where He is not. We don’t see Him, but He’s everywhere. In each trial we face, that’s incredibly good news.

Able and Available

My husband was at work when I received news about my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I left him a message and reached out to friends and family. None were available. Covering my face with trembling hands, I sobbed. “Help me, Lord.” A resulting assurance that God was with me comforted me through those moments when I felt utterly alone.

I thanked the Lord when my husband came home and support from friends and family trickled in. Still, the calming awareness of God’s presence that I sensed in those first few hours of lonely grieving affirmed that God is readily and faithfully available wherever and whenever I need help.

In Psalm 46, the psalmist proclaims God is our sanctuary, strength, and steadfast supporter (v. 1). When it feels as if we’re surrounded by chaos or everything we thought was stable crashes down around us, we don’t have to fear (vv. 2–3). God doesn’t falter (vv. 4–7). His power is evident and effective (vv. 8–9). Our eternal Sustainer gives us confidence in His unchanging character (v. 10). The Lord, our secure stronghold, remains with us forever (v. 11).

God created His followers to prayerfully support and encourage one another. But He also affirms He is always able and available. When we call on God, we can trust Him to keep His promises to provide for us. He will comfort us through His people as well as through His personal presence.

The Hand of Comfort

“Patient is combative,” the nurse’s notes read. 

What she didn’t realize until later was that I was having an allergic reaction as I awakened after a complicated open-heart surgery. I was a mess, with a tube down my throat. My body began shaking violently, straining against the straps on my arms, which were there to keep me from suddenly pulling out my breathing tube. It was a frightening and painful episode. At one point, a nurse’s assistant to the right side of my bed reached down and simply held my hand. It was an unexpected move, and it struck me as especially gentle. I began to relax, which caused my body to stop shaking so badly.

Having experienced this with other patients, the nurse’s assistant knew that a hand of comfort could minister to me as well. It was a vivid example of how God uses comfort when His children suffer.

Comfort is a powerful and memorable tool for any caregiver, and Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 it’s an important part of God’s toolbox. Not only that, but God also multiplies the impact of His comfort by calling us to use the memory of the comfort He gives us to comfort others in similar situations (vv. 4–6). It is but another sign of His great love; and one we can share with others—sometimes in the simplest of gestures.

Trust Tally

Before my husband and I surrendered our lives to Christ, we seriously considered divorce. But after committing to love and obey God, we recommitted to each other. We sought wise counsel and invited the Holy Spirit to transform us individually and as a couple. Our heavenly Father continues to help us develop healthy communication skills. He’s teaching us how to love and trust Him—and one another—no matter what happens.

Yet, even as we head toward celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary, I occasionally forget everything God has done in and through our trials. Sometimes, I struggle with a deep-seated fear of the unknown—experiencing unnecessary anxiety instead of relying on God’s track record.

In Deuteronomy 1, Moses affirmed the Lord’s reliability. He encouraged the Israelites to move forward in faith so they could enjoy their inheritance (vv. 1–21). But God’s people demanded details about what they’d be up against and what they’d receive, before committing to trust Him with their future (vv. 22–33).

Followers of Christ are not immune to succumbing to fear or anxiety. Worrying about what difficulties we may or may not encounter can keep us from depending on faith, and may even damage our relationships with God and others. But the Holy Spirit can help us create a trust tally of the Lord’s past faithfulness. He can empower us with courageous confidence in God’s trustworthiness yesterday, today, and forever.

Rooted in God

When friends moved into a new home, they planted wisteria near their fence and looked forward to the lavender blossom that would appear after five years of growth. Over two decades they enjoyed this plant, carefully pruning and tending it. But suddenly the wisteria died, for their neighbors had poured some weed killer by the other side of the fence. The poison seeped into the wisteria’s roots and the tree perished—or so my friends thought. To their surprise, the following year some shoots came through the ground.

We see the image of trees flourishing and perishing when the prophet Jeremiah relates them to God’s people who either trust in the Lord or ignore His ways. Those who follow God will send their roots into soil near water and will bear fruit (v. 8), but those who follow their own hearts will be like a bush in the desert (vv. 5–6). The prophet yearns that God’s people would rely on the true and living God, that they would be “a tree planted by the water” (v. 8)..

We know the “Father is the Gardener” (John 15:1) and that in Him we can trust and have confidence (v. 7). May we follow Him with our whole heart as we bear fruit that lasts.

 

Surviving the Wilderness

In the 1960s, the Kingston Trio released a song called “Desert Pete.” The ballad tells of a thirsty cowboy who is crossing the desert and finds a hand pump. Next to it, Desert Pete has left a note urging the reader not to drink from the jar hidden there but to use its contents to prime the pump.

The cowboy resists the temptation to drink and uses the water as the note instructs. In reward for his obedience, he receives an abundance of cold, satisfying water. Had he not acted in faith, he would have had only a jar of unsatisfying, warm water to drink.

This reminds me of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. When their thirst became overwhelming (Ex. 17:1-7), Moses sought the Lord. He was told to strike the rock of Horeb with his staff. Moses believed and obeyed, and water gushed from the stone.

Sadly, Israel would not consistently follow Moses’ example of faith. Ultimately, “the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed” (Heb. 4:2).

 Sometimes life can seem like an arid desert. But God can quench our spiritual thirst in the most unlikely circumstances. When by faith we believe the promises of God’s Word, we can experience rivers of living water and grace for our daily needs. 

How Long?

When I married, I thought I would have children immediately. That did not happen, and the pain of infertility brought me to my knees. I often cried out to God, “How long?” I knew God could change my circumstance. Why wasn’t He?

Are you waiting on God? Are you asking, “How long … ?” Before justice prevails in our world? Before there is a cure for cancer? Before I am no longer in debt?  

The prophet Habakkuk was well acquainted with that feeling. In the seventh century bc, he cried out to the Lord: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (Hab. 1:2–3) He prayed for a long time, struggling to reconcile how a just and powerful God could allow wickedness, injustice, and corruption to continue in Judah. As far as Habakkuk was concerned, God should have already intervened. Why was God doing nothing?

There are days when we, too, feel as if God is doing nothing. Like Habakkuk, we have continuously asked God, “How long?”

Yet, we are not alone. As with Habakkuk, God hears our burdens. We must continue to cast them on the Lord because He cares for us. God hears us and, in His time, will give an answer.

 

 

Hovering Over Us

Betty’s daughter arrived home from an overseas trip, feeling unwell. When her pain became unbearable, Betty and her husband took her to the emergency room. The doctors and nurses set to work, and after a few hours one of the nurses said to Betty, “She’s going to be okay! We’re going to take good care of her and get her healed up.” In that moment, Betty felt peace and love flood over her. She realized that while she hovered over her daughter anxiously, the Lord is the perfect parent who nurtures His children, comforting them in difficult times.

In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord reminded His people how when they were wandering in the desert, He cared for them as a loving parent who hovers over its young. He never left them, but was like an eagle “that spreads its wings” to catch its children and “carries them aloft” (32:11). He wanted them to remember that although they experienced hardship and strife in the desert, He didn’t abandon them.

We too may face challenges of many kinds, but we can take comfort and courage in this reminder that our God will never leave us. When we feel that we are falling, the Lord like an eagle will spread His wings to catch us (v. 11) as He brings us peace.

Sweet and Sour

When our toddler first bit into a lemon wedge, he wrinkled his nose, stuck out his tongue, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Sow-wah,” he said (sour).

I chuckled as I reached for the piece of fruit, intending to toss it into the trash.

“No!” Xavier scampered across the kitchen to get away from ne. “Moe-wah!” (more). His lips puckered with every juice-squirting bite. I winced when he finally handed me the rind and walked away.

My taste buds accurately reflect my partiality to the sweet moments in life. My preference for avoiding all things bitter reminds me of Job’s wife, who seems to have shared my aversion to the sourness of suffering.

Job surely didn’t delight in hardship or trouble, yet he honored God through heart-wrenching circumstances (Job 1:1–22). When painful sores afflicted Job’s body, he endured the agony (Job 2:7–8). His wife told him to give up on God (v. 9), but Job responded by trusting the Lord through suffering and afflictions (v. 10).

It’s natural to prefer avoiding the bitter bites in life. We can even be tempted to lash out at God when we’re hurting. But the Lord uses trials, teaching us how to trust Him, depend on Him, and surrender to Him as He enables us to persevere through difficult times. And like Job, we don’t have to enjoy suffering to learn to savor the unexpected sweetness of sour moments−the divine strengthening of our faith.