By Linda Rex
HOPE—Last night I read a post on the local police precinct page which told the story of a missing person. Struggling with depression due to the loss of a loved one, this person left her life behind and disappeared into the metropolis of Nashville.
As I read this story, my heart went out to her. I thought of what I might say to someone in her situation. It’s really hard to find anything meaningful to say to someone who is extremely depressed—I’ve been there, and it just doesn’t help.
My genetic makeup means my postpartum depression with both of my children turned into clinical depression, and in times of extreme crisis, I am susceptible to depression. I remember one day I forced myself to take my newborn son for a walk even though I was in a horrid blue funk. I could barely get one foot in front of the other. When I got home, I received a call from the nurse who helped with my pregnancy—she lived nearby and had seen me out walking. She asked me a few questions and then told me I was depressed. “Call the doctor,” she said.
I made the call and I’m glad I did. I learned that my mother had suffered this same difficulty with having her children and it was a natural response to what had happened to me. Depression is not something to be ashamed of or to pretend isn’t happening. It’s a real thing, and needs to be dealt with. If we need medication to help get our brain readjusted, then that is what we need. If we need counseling to change the way we respond to people or events, then we need to get it and make the changes needed to get well.
We express our love to our family and friends by getting the treatment we need, whether counseling or medication, and we keep with it, even though we may think we don’t need it any more. Some forms of mental illness require ongoing medication—we need to be humble enough to keep taking it even though we think we don’t need it any more. This is a real struggle, and I can understand when a person wishes they could live without this necessary medical intervention.
Taking into account our need for medication and counseling, though, we also need to grasp the reality to the core of our being that we are now and forever held in God’s love. We are entering the time of Advent, the time in which we contemplate and celebrate the coming of our God into our humanity in the infant Jesus, and we begin with hope.
The people of Israel and Judah had wrestled in their relationship with God for millennia. God called them into relationship with himself, explained to them what it looked like to live in relationship with him, and gave them a way of grace, of sacrifices and liturgy, through which they could draw near to him and express their love and devotion to him. As time passed, this nation turned away from God, experienced the consequences of having done so, and then turned back again, only in time to turn away again. Finally, God allowed the destruction of the temple and the captivity of both Israel and Judah.
In time God set the nation free to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. But from that time on, Israel/Judah has always been under the control of another nation. Between then and the time of Jesus, they experienced oppression, the desecration of their temple, and the lack of prophetic leadership. Lost in the darkness of God’s silence, the nation cried out for deliverance. And where there was such darkness, gloom, and despair, God entered.
We can get so focused on our despair, on our suffering or loss or the feeling that we are left all alone, that we often miss what is right in front of us. Indeed, as Luke writes, when we see everything falling apart in our lives or our world, that is when we need to realize that our redemption is near. God’s kingdom is at the door—for the simple reason that God is present, God is near, in the person of Jesus Christ.
God indeed entered Israel’s darkness and suffering, though in a way which was different than expected. God may have had a heavenly choir blessing the event, but God’s coming or advent was the birth of a baby placed in a manger, in humble circumstances, completely dependent upon his mother and father and caught in the midst of a dangerous world which was already seeking his death.
The coming of the Word of God into human flesh sparked the death of Bethlehem’s infants—the evil king Herod could not stand the thought of anyone being king but him. And yet, in the midst of this darkness and evil, the light had dawned. God was present in the person of Jesus Christ. God was experiencing every circumstance we go through in our broken world, coming to know personally the pains and trials of our human existence. He knew laughter and sadness, joy and pain, loss and blessing—everything which makes us what we are. And he did not sin.
It was not enough that God came to us to be where we are and what we are. He gave himself over completely to us, allowing us to do to him whatever we willed. He allowed us to pour out on him all our wrath against God, all our refusal to allow God to be the God he is. Since creation we have sought to make God conform to our will, refusing to submit to his. And Jesus paid the price for it, even though he didn’t deserve it.
Darkness—in so many ways. It may have seemed, as Jesus hung on the cross, that there was only death and oblivion ahead of him. But he knew the secret of hope: When everything is falling apart, our redemption is closer than ever—it is near, right at the doors. How did Jesus know this? Because he knew his Abba intimately. He knew that even though it felt like he was abandoned and all alone, that nothing could ever separate him from his heavenly Father. Nothing, not even death or evil, could separate the heavenly oneness of the Triune God as Father, Son, and Spirit. God’s love, which binds us to him, never fails.
Because of who Jesus is—God in human flesh—and what he has done—died in our place and on our behalf, rising again from the grave—we have hope. We may lose friends and family members to death, but we are bound together in Christ both now and forever, and death no longer has power over us. In Christ we have the hope of the God’s presence in our every day lives and circumstances in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s ascension to God, bearing our humanity, and the sending of the Spirit, means we are never alone, ever. This is our hope.
In the midst of horrific loss and destruction, God is still near. When we have lost those dear to us, are caught in despair and feeling all alone, the truth is we are never alone. Immanuel—God is with us. When things look as though they are coming to a catastrophic end—God’s redemption is near. Lift up your heads—for here he comes!
Thank you, Abba, for loving us, for sending your Son to dwell in our humanity, redeeming us from all we brought upon ourselves. Holy Spirit, grant us the great hope of Jesus, that we may know with certainty that Abba loves us and will never leave us, no matter how things may look right now. Grant, loving Spirit, that we might experience the reality of Immanuel, God with us, in Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. … So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.” Luke 21:28 NASB
by Linda Rex
I love it when I get up in the morning and every devotional and scripture reading I look at has to do with that one thing God is dealing with in my life. Like this week when I was feeling so much of my life was out of control, everything I read seemed to be on the topic of control. When something like this happens, I get the sneaky suspicion I’d better be listening to what God is trying to say to me.
I believe we as humans go to great lengths to maintain control over everything in our lives and even in our universe. How much of our research into the intricacies of our bodies, our environment, our earth and our universe has to do with our desire to have some way to manage and direct what happens to us as human beings? I think we would be surprised at how much of what we do and think about every day has to do with this desire to be in control of ourselves, our lives and our world.
We get even more fanatical about holding tight to the things, people and events in our lives when we have experienced a lot of chaos and dysfunction in our early years or significant attachments. Sometimes this manifests itself in obsessive compulsive disorders, co-dependency and other mental or emotional struggles and illnesses.
In my opinion, the irony is the harder we try to control things and even to control ourselves or other people, the less in control we really are. Our efforts to be self-disciplined may work for a while, but often they fail us when we need them most. Our efforts to manipulate, manage or micromanage other people may give us an illusion of control, but they will end up destroying the very relationships and organizations we are trying to build.
It is true we were given the responsibility by God to steward, tend, and care for our world. This stewardship by necessity requires some measure of control over what is being cared for and tended. But I don’t believe God ever meant for us to assume it was all up to us. The only way it could be all up to us is if we were self-sufficient self-existent beings like God, and that’s not what we are.
As many of you are aware, I’ve been sharing the Celebrate the Grip curriculum in my preaching in recent days, and we’ve been talking about how each and every human being is held in the grip of grace. Since before creation, God determined we would be his adopted children and he planned his Son would enter our humanity and by the Spirit, bring us up into the Triune life. And through Jesus, God accomplished what he set out to do, forging for us a true humanity in and by his Son. Through Jesus and by his Spirit, God has made and is making all things new.
Talking about the grip reminds me of the many lectures and readings in which the concept of contingency was discussed in seminary. Contingency is showing up more and more in modern science and mathematics. It’s that thing some people want to call chance, but doesn’t work like chance does. It’s a whole lot more—like Someone designed and is designing things to work a certain way. And it’s something we can’t manage or control. It’s beyond us.
We don’t like things to be beyond us. Because when something is beyond us, it means that quite possibly there may be a divine Being Who has the right to call the shots in our world. We love our freedom so much—we don’t want anyone messing with our efforts to do what is right in our own eyes.
When our existence, or our future, or our daily existence, is contingent upon some divine Order or Person, then we are faced with the reality we are not lords over our own lives. This means someone else can change things in our world in such a way we may lose something we value, or we may have to struggle to do without things we think we should have. We may have to do difficult things or repent of unhealthy ways of thinking and being, and change. When Someone beyond our human existence has that much control over us and our world, we don’t like it.
Sure, we love God to be control as long as he keeps order in the world, makes the weather nice, and makes sure all the people are friendly and kind and respectful. But only because we want the world to be the way we want it to be for our convenience, comfort and pleasure. See? We’re still trying to be in control.
What about when everything in your life or mine seems to be in chaos? It can be hard to imagine God is still in control when everything in our lives seems to be totally out of control. But that kind of control is just an illusion. God has a grip on you and me which does not change. He won’t let go of us at all—we just need to trust him. And Jesus even gives us his faith so we can trust God in the midst of chaos and confusion when it seems impossible to do so.
So God says to you and to me, “Rest in me.” He calls to us by his Spirit to lay down our burdens of anxiety and fear, and to surrender all the control we imagine we have over the circumstances, people and things in our lives.
We need to be intentional about this. I find this letting go of control and fully resting in Christ is a journey. It’s a decision which is constantly being put before us—we’re tempted to try to do it all ourselves and to do it our way—or we’re called to lay down all illusion of control and to rest fully in Christ, and in his perfected humanity.
This verse which has been constantly popping up of late is found in Proverbs 3:5-6. As I remember it, it goes something like this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” It is a passage full of comfort and promise, and I thank God Jesus has already done all the trusting and leaning and acknowledging in my place. Now all that is left for me is to rest in his perfected faith in Abba in and by the Spirit. And that’s when my life is really under control.
Abba, thank you for being Lord over all, and thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have ensured our perfected humanity and our eternal relationship with you. Grant us the grace to release all control to you and to rest fully in your perfect love. Through Jesus and by your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5–6 NASB