It’s almost officially winter, but I’m calling it now because I think America needs the fall season to be over. I know I do. I didn’t say much about all of the craziness that has gone down between the election and theological stances because I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was happening, and I still can’t. I need to put all of that behind me and focus on Jesus now. He’s the only hope any of us have anyway. No president or public figure will ever fully satisfy us, will ever walk in the perfection that Jesus modeled, and they will certainly never die for us the way He did. Are you ready to move on with me?
Do you watch “This is Us” on NBC? It’s the newest best show on television. Rocky and I have a date every week to watch it together, and there is no cheating and watching it alone on Hulu first when we can’t watch it live. I got caught doing that a few weeks ago and it did not go over well. I digress.
This show is thick in family values and struggles and every week they lob hard hitting storylines, brilliant dialogue and just the right amount of humor to keep us from completely falling apart. It’s truly a fantastic show and I often watch it twice in order to glean even more from it.
This past week’s episode (no spoilers) has a quote from a dying man that struck me so deeply that I’ve had to sit and wrestle with it a little bit.
“I did not expect God’s grace, but now I had to open myself to the pain of it to feel the joy of it.”
I have to pause for a minute even now, days later to let it sink in and for all of my thoughts to unfold. What a profound and tragically beautiful statement. “I had to open myself to the pain of it to feel the joy of it.”
My first though was, “Um, no?” because how could God’s grace require pain in order to receive joy? And then so many pieces of my own story started to filter through my thoughts and . . . I remember.
I remember now, with tears about to spill down my cheeks, how painful it was to receive that grace. Not only the pain of my sin and betrayal, but the ache of having to face the one I love and own my actions, but also the agony of bringing it to Jesus and asking Him to wipe it away as if it were nothing significant, when I felt like it was the most significant failure of my life to date.
I will never forget that struggle and all that Jesus showed me through my healing and forgiveness. I will never forget how much it hurt to admit to Him that I needed a kind of grace I wasn’t sure He could give me. My transgressions seemed so much bigger than what He could cover. But my joy was made complete when He kept His promises, took my sin and my shame to the cross and there they disappeared before my eyes.
Next I thought about Jesus and how He asked the Father to spare Him from the cross. Can you imagine that pain?
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Pain before joy. Pain for the sake of joy, even, because the very fact that Jesus made that sacrifice means that He and I get to be together. He is my reward and I am His inheritance. I’m not sure if I were Him, I would think I was such a prize, but He loves me that much. What a sobering thing to meditate on.
He loves you so much that when He could have escaped excruciating pain, He instead chose to die so that you would have the chance to know Him, to not be defined by your sinful nature, but instead to be loved and chosen, cherished, and accepted. His pain not only equals His joy, but ours as well.
And then, the Lord brought to my mind all that He has been showing me about our most recent move. There has been much pain in our lives as we have uprooted ourselves time and time again. This last time, I prayed a prayer very similar to Moses’ prayer in Exodus 33:15.
God had told Moses to start leading His people to the promised land, and after He told Moses that He would go with them, Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.” Those words came out of my mouth so many times as we prepared to leave Austin. If this move wasn’t precisely what God wanted, I wanted Him to slam the doors shut in our face. I did not want to leave Austin.
I did not expect things to go back to normal here in Fort Worth, as I’ve said many times, everything has changed in the few years we’ve been gone, and at first it was really hard because I hadn’t prepared myself for how much I had changed. My priorities and my life are completely different now than they were before, and that has made coming back more of an adjustment than I expected. Add to that the fact that the job we moved here for disintegrated before our eyes after just a few weeks of settling in. I have to admit that when that happened I was a little angry. I hadn’t really recovered from the pain of moving yet, and now the whole reason we’d done it was gone.
I was jarred, wounded, and a little indignant about the whole experience, and I was really worried about what people would think, just like Moses was.
“How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”
17 The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”
18 Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.” Ex 33:16-18
God promised He would go with us, and when it looked like everything was falling apart, just like Moses I said, “Prove it!” God showed up for Moses, and He showed up for us, too.
Rocky’s job situation was remedied within days of the other one failing. It was a very nerve-racking experience to say the least, but God took care of us; we never missed a paycheck, and Rocky is seeing the favor of the Lord pour out upon his work like never before.
Finding a body of believers to join in worship with was honestly my biggest concern. We knew what we wanted, but we had no idea where to start looking, and the Lord had to break down a lot of things in my heart specifically in order to show me where He wanted us to be. Worshiping in this community has been my greatest joy, and there is a part of me that wonders if this place is what it was all about. As painful as it still is to think about what we left behind in Austin, if finding our place in this congregation was the purpose, then the pain was worth it because of what God has done in our family, and the joy that we have found here.
It has taken me months to recover from the pain that was required in order to receive God’s grace in this new season, in this house, in these schools, and in this church body, but joy has been set before me, and I feel like I am just beginning to see it unfold.
I am thankful for what He has brought me through in order to reach a place of joy and fulfillment. I didn’t expect His grace to be so thick and palpable here. I had to open myself up to the pain of it in order to receive the joy of it.
My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you are able to see the joy Christ has set before you through the pain of what you may be experiencing. He is your hope. He is your anchor, and He has what you need in abundance. Take your broken heart to the cross and let Him wrap Himself around you, let Him be the One who holds you together.