Tis the season for overthinking.
I was in the car this morning and wrote this in my head. I had forgotten that I wanted to get it on paper, until one of my most encouraging readers contacted me and reminded me how long it has been since I have written here. So Wayne, this one is dedicated to you, dear brother. I wish I had something more jolly to write, but hopefully this will be refreshment to some searching, weary soul.
Today is the 5 year anniversary of the death of some friends. Their small plane crashed on a trip to see family, killing all on board, including the daughter of a dear friend and both of the sons of another. My heart twists and turns in my chest as I grieve with them today. Less than a week and they would have been opening presents already under the tree.
A news story popped up in my Facebook feed last week. It caught my attention because it seems a young woman had been shot not 5 minutes from my home. In following the story it was revealed that she had actually committed suicide. Turns out that she was in the choir at my church. She was married only 6 months before her husband discovered her lifeless body in their new home right down the street. Right smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season, yet such hopelessness at work.
Just last week in Gatlinburg, Georgia, they finished putting out fires that destroyed parts of the town and took the lives of several people. The fires descended so quickly that people were literally running for their lives. As it happens, these fires were set by a couple of teenagers just out to have a good time. Now these young people are facing a life mostly spent in prison in exchange for mindless “good time”. Instead of turtle doves and French hens, they will be hearing jail birds this holiday season while more than a few of their victims pick up the pieces of their shattered homes and families.
I don’t know if you have been following the story of Aleppo, Syria, but it has been a brutal one. Uprisings that led to massacres that have left this city in shambles. The pictures of the mothers and the children and the rubble just keep coming and I just can’t ignore the pain so evident. There are no twinkling lights or Christmas cookies in Aleppo this week.
All of this and more has been on my heart this Christmas and it has led me to ask the question, “Where are the guarantees?”. For most of my life, my heart has been leaning on things that are not promised to be here tomorrow…my husband, my kids, my business, my right mind, my money, my friends, my things. All these things we rely on daily to keep us “okay” or “safe” or “full of hope” and yet we are not in control of them or what happens to them tomorrow. Fear wells up if we think deep enough about life itself and how little we can control it.
As I said, I am an over-thinker. I have lived in much anxiety and panic over the years, partly due to this trait. But it is also what gives me a deeper perspective sometimes and what helps me to convey it. I think often about the meaning of life…the purpose of it all…matters of life and death. I have been known to also think “if I could just pull out my brain and throw it away, maybe I could live like an actual normal person”. But for some reason, I have to make sense of it all. When the pieces of life don’t fit together, I am overwhelmed and frustrated.
This is why I found myself deep in thought this morning about things that I cannot drowned out with hot chocolate and Christmas carols. How in the world does any of this make any semblence of sense? How can we reconcile such tragedy and a Sovereign God? And what guarantee do we have that we can live any part of our lives in peace and security when it seems that sometimes we are just a few more breaths away from losing everything dear to us?
We humans base our whole lives around guarantees and predictability. It’s why we buy insurance and use calendars. It’s why we develop systems and spend money to manage them. It’s why we set our alarms and leave ourselves reminders. We do our best to control our lives so that we can guarantee ourselves that it won’t all fall apart. It’s why we hate natural disasters. It’s why we seek out motives and investigate accidents.
It’s why we often hold as much of our lives back from Christ as we can without being obvious.
Honestly, I think that most Christians hold to a form of godliness, but they unintentionally deny its power. They go as far with Christ as they can go while holding their lives tight and then they just live in some sort of a holding pattern until they die…not really growing in Christ, but not really back-peddling either. They are comfortably Christian because they have no idea that what they are living is only a form of godliness. They want to be able to rely on the things of this world. They want guarantees and predictability because they want control. And when WE are in control, God’s power is inhibited in our lives…we become powerless Christians.
I think about powerless Christianity a good bit because for most of my life, I have been a powerless Christian. I want my guarantees to come from what I can see. But in seasons like this one, I realize that I don’t get that from life…noone does. And when that reality starts to sink in, I am left with one guarantee…one great hope…one way that any of what we see every day makes sense. It’s the guarantee that whispers to those whose world just came crashing down and the one that will help pick them up if they grasp its truth.
This life is not all there is.
As a matter of fact, it is only a tiny speck on the timeline of eternity. I know. I know. You’ve heard it all before, but very few of us actually live this life as a springboard to the next. We don’t live with a perspective that takes into account heaven and hell on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, most Christians do not want to think about eternity. They simply want their inheritance now so they can spend it. Hence, the reason that we hold so tightly to control because God is always working our present together with our future in mind. He is always working toward the eternal, even when what is happening makes so little sense to us in this present life. And we don’t like that, because sometimes it means walking with Him through some really hard, but “necessary to the big picture” things.
Friends, we can walk through life with a form of godliness and continue to deny God the opportunity to be powerful in our lives, but we will continually lean our lives on things that crumble. We are taking the greatest risk of all by relying on things that will inevitably pass away. And when tragedy comes or destruction hits or there is another war or another bombing, we will find ourselves in fear of what tomorrow will bring, lost in the unknown, and wasting all of our great opportunities to invest in the Kingdom. We have built our lives on quicksand and though it might seem stable for a while, eventually and inevitably we will sink.
THIS is why when those angels broke into song “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to men!” the shepherds rejoiced. They had lived on the quicksand of this present life for far too long and they were ready for some guarantees! That baby Jesus born in Bethlehem, ya’ll, HE WAS OUR GUARANTEE. Our guarantee that this world is only our temporary home. The guarantee that the best is yet to come. The guarantee that we would be able to navigate this life with the God who created it inside of us and that He would bring us fulfillment as we fulfilled our purpose on earth.
Jesus is our guarantee that humanity is redeemable and that every circumstance allowed in the life of a child of God is an investment into something bigger. After all, He, Himself, ended up on a cross, dying a horrible and seemingly senseless death. If we had been there to watch, we might have stood in horror with the disciples wondering if the only guarantee in life was death. And it was…until He tore up the contract that death was holding over our heads and rose to life instead. Because of this, there is hope and a future for all who believe.
My friends that lost their dear family members in a plane crash 5 years ago have lived some of these words of mine…they haven’t had a choice. They can no longer find their guarantees in presents under the tree. They must rely on more than light displays. They need The Light to walk this season. I have been so incredibly inspired by their love for Jesus and the way that He has given them strength to keep going and growing through what is now 5 Christmases of the most painful reminders.
That precious woman who committed suicide just the other day, I believe she is with Jesus. She knew Him and He was her Lord and Savior. She couldn’t endure the mental torment that somehow had captured her in its claws, but I fully believe that when she escaped this world, it was right into the arms of the One who could hold her…the One who could free her. I still struggle to understand the mess that has been left behind, but every time I picture her with Jesus, I have peace. She is safe for all eternity and this is the most important thing. This is what will carry her family through the grieving.
Gatlinburg is rebuilding and there are stories already of how the church is being used in the starting over process. The opportunities to be light have not dwindled and many are able to now see what they are missing in their lives because they can no longer rely on a guarantee of things. In an instant, fire can take everything earthly, but it cannot take the hope of redemption. A fire resets nature. All the forests that have burned will regrow even more beautiful and green and dense and healthy. Just another way that God tells us, “this isn’t the end”.
And Aleppo, oh Aleppo. Such a very tragic story and taken together is overwhelming to compassionate hearts. But Aleppo, Syria has always been a stronghold territory of Islam. Their allegiance to Allah runs deep and far and wide there and they have always been more likely to lynch a Christian than to listen to one. Right now, though, while the need is so great and the wounds so deep, they are hearing the Gospel and many are receiving eternal life. They have lost all too much in this speck on the timeline and they will likely never be the same while finishing their mission on earth, BUT what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?
My friends, it is much better to lose your life here than to lose your eternity there. None of these temporary trappings can give you any guarantee, don’t let them lie to you and say that they can. Your time and energy and attention are so much better spent in the pursuit of Christ. Next year at Christmas, our own circumstance might be like that of the ones around us that we throw sympathetic glances at as we go on our merry way. Some things are not within our control whether we want them to be or not. We really have no worldly guarantees.
But here is the reason that we can still celebrate this Christmas wherever we are, whatever we have lost, however life has slapped us across the face.
“Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. You know the way to where I am going.”
“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ”
Jesus told him, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:1-5
If you believe what He says, you have all the guarantees that you will ever need.