O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
My daughter is sick. It’s serious and it’s mysterious; we don’t know what’s causing it or how to treat it. We’ve tried every avenue available, and nothing has helped. Our hope is wearing thin.
It’s been going on long enough that I’m losing my grip on my belief that God is with us, that He will bring my family strength and healing and peace. It’s been going on long enough that I whispered, just once, in the dark where my kids couldn’t hear, “What if God doesn’t fix this?”
A few years ago when I wrote Create in Me a Heart of Hope, I was searching for reasons to hope when the world is confusing and ugly. After seeing horrible, unexplainable things happen to people I loved, and also watching the news and experiencing the same “unprecedented times” as the rest of the world, my faith was shaken and I found it hard to hope the way I always had before.
Writing that Bible study was a gift and truly saved me in a dark time, bringing me back to what I knew to be true and revealing to me more layers and textures and angles of that Truth than I’d previously understood.
So I know about hope. But it’s one thing to rewrap my arms around hope in a general sense — the kind that feels warm and fuzzy while still having the real bones of what Scripture teaches us about who God is and why He is our hope and how He gives us hope. And it’s another thing altogether to hold on to hope when my actual life is pulling me apart, piece by piece, tossing aside promises I’ve clung to and throwing unanswered prayers (or prayers that get a big fat “no” in response) in my face. It’s hard to hope when I feel like I’m fighting the biggest battle of my life alone.
My daughter is sick for so long that we no longer measure this season in weeks. As I’m writing this, it’s been more than two months.
And I get it! That’s not that long in comparison to a whole lot of things experienced by a whole lot of people. If that’s you, I’m so sorry you’ve been suffering for so long. But as anyone who’s faced trauma knows, when you’re in it, it feels like an eternity. And that feeling is overwhelming, whether your pain started an hour ago, a month ago, a year ago, or a lifetime ago.
I began this calendar year determined to read through the entire Bible chronologically. But a difficult year has taken its toll, and I’ve gotten out of the habit of regularly reading Scripture. The thing about the Bible, though, is that no matter how long we neglect it and no matter how far away we wander, it’s here for us when we return.
I guess it’s like God that way.
A couple weeks ago, the message at church began with the story of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew to follow Him (Luke 5:1-11). The sermon had little to do with hope or trust or healing or hard times. But thinking about those fishermen hearing someone tell them to put their nets out one more time, despite the long hours they’d just spent doing that very thing with no results? And imagining their resignation coupled with the tiniest sliver of hope as they did what He said? And then? When their nets were filled with so many fish it nearly capsized their boat?! Because they’d had just enough hope or, at least obedience, to trust Jesus and try one more time?!
Well, if you think I didn’t sit in that service sobbing like a baby, you would be wrong. At that moment the reason for my hope came flooding back. I remembered those nets full of fish. I remembered the woman who’d been bleeding for more than a decade, reaching for the hem of Jesus’s cloak (Mark 5:25-34), and the religious leader whose daughter had already died (Matthew 9:18-26). I remembered Sarah and Ruth and Hannah and Anna. I remembered the shepherds in the field and the weary world that pined for centuries, waiting for a Savior.
And I remembered the words of a melancholy hymn.
My daughter is still sick, and on the day I’m writing this, I’ve cried a lot of tears. I’m still struggling to hope, but I remember why I hope — and in whom I hope. I know God may continue to say no when I pray (or He may say wait or not yet or not that way). But I’m going to trust that He won’t leave us in this dark place, that He’s never left us. Christmas might be gone for now, but my hope is not — and I will keep singing carols of gloomy clouds of night and lonely exile, while still asking, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Are you in a season of waiting? Of pain or confusion? That can make this festive season so much harder, I know. So today I pray that you and I can remember why we hope, that we can join our voices as we fall on our knees in weariness, thankfulness, sadness, and whatever measure of belief we can muster as we sing, “Come.” As we whisper, “Are you still there?”
Lord, be with us.