At The Heart of It All
“By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me”
Somewhere nearby, a young child is learning how to play piano. Chubby fingers are mashing wrong keys, the wind delivering the clumsy melody into my home.
It may take some time, and it may take practice, but eventually he will be able to add this song to his repertoire and move on to the next piece.
I often find myself wishing life worked in a similar way - that when we are faced with a struggle, we can eventually command some sort of mastery over it, count it done, and never need to face it again. But, more often than not, it seems that life moves in cycles, and whether in our control or not, sometimes we get stuck rotating through the same difficult season over and over.
Depression rears its ugly head again.
Mistakes are repeated, opportunities are missed.
Relationships suffer another infidelity, another lie.
In desperate whispers we promise ourselves in secret that we will never hurt like this again. We declare the hard times over, celebrating in times of light and reprieve believing it to be true. But despite it all, sometimes we find ourselves here again, flat on our backs amongst rotting leaves and the stench of soil, wondering how it all unraveled and desperately trying to see the sky from the branches looming overhead.
The first time I walked through my own cycle, I trusted God completely.
The second time, I counted it as a challenge to my faith, and trusted Him again.
The third time, I considered that maybe God was teaching me a lesson in perseverance.
The fourth time, I started to blackmail Him in an attempt to twist His arm.
By the fifth, I gave up.
I drew a line in the sand and said this must be as far as my God is able or willing to go in my life, simultaneously marking out my own measure of faith.
God is so easy to trust when the going is good and I am getting my own way, but when He ceases to answer prayers the way I expect Him to, or when He doesn’t fit within the little box of understanding I try to assign Him to, I am very quick to accuse Him of abandonment.
Through this trial I don’t think I have truly been trying to learn about myself, or trying to better understand God. Instead, I have projected myself, my values, my ideals onto God, and given Him limitations and time frames to work within. I have assumed that the creator of the universe thinks as I do, wants the same things for my life as I do, and have reacted with confusion and anger when confronted with the fact that this isn’t so.
In all honesty, I am not really hoping for mastery over my struggles, what I truly want is control. I want control of my life, and control of God’s role within it. When I have called out to Jesus, it has been in panic, begging Him to stay by my side and to keep the light on, just as my young daughter calls out to me when I tuck her into bed and she becomes afraid of what will be hiding in the dark.
As I stroke her hair, and kiss her head, I always reassure her with the same words:
“When I turn the light off, your room will be exactly the same as it is with the light on. Your bed is the same, your cupboard is the same, your toys are the same. Nothing has changed. The only difference is, you can’t see it.”
In the same way, God’s character, His promises, His grace, His power and abilities and transforming love remain the same. They do not change just because our situation or perspective have. Although this truth is as simple as it is powerful, it can be incredibly slippery to hold onto when our hands are slick with tears.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
We don’t need to claw our way back to the light to be in God’s presence. We can encounter Him in the midst of our imperfection and sorrow, because He will always meet us exactly where we are. Our Saviour has suffered. He has walked this dusty, red earth and experienced the depth and destruction of heartbreak. Would He abandon you, His most beloved and precious, to the pain he knows so intimately?
He is here. Jesus is with you. Not standing above you demanding that you grovel at His feet, but instead lying beside you in this, the pit of your despair, His hair and clothes muddied and torn like your own.
He is here, in your failures and setbacks as much as your victories, and for that reason we know that these troubled times still have worth. Life is still being lived in these dark places, and life remains ever a gift, even when it doesn’t look the way we wanted it to.
It is tempting to console ourselves with dreams of tomorrows spent walking in the sunlight, to imagine ways in which God will lead us out of the shadow and into a place of hope. But if you are here in the darkness with me Lord, then hope can’t only exist in the glimmer of sky break beyond these looming branches.
Perhaps, just as ebony and ivory keys make up a piano, these contrasting moments of light and dark simply amount to a whole in which God is always present, and God is always good.
Perhaps these cycles we move through are not just endlessly looping, but instead spiral inwards, each rotation taking us closer to the core of who we truly are, uprooting old pain, revealing the fragility of our trust, and expanding our true, experiential knowledge of the God who exists at the heart of it all.
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”