Over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a beautiful family who is suffering a brutal tragedy. The mom, pregnant with twins, found out at 6 months that one of her unborn in-utero babies had died, while the other one grew beside it normally. The doctors became quite concerned about the status of her pregnancy, for the demised baby needed to stay in utero so as not to upset the other baby’s growth. Ultrasounds, specialist meetings, and consultations ensued. Month after month of agonizing over her growing belly, full of the promise and joy of a growing baby, and the heartbreaking reminder of death and unfulfilled plans.
I met with the couple in September to plan out a memorial service for baby #2 once the baby #1 was delivered. There, sitting with the husband and pregnant wife in their living room, the reality of their loss was so poignant. “We are stuck in the middle,” they said, “between tremendous fear of the unknown and anticipation of joy. Everything is so mixed up.” We prayed together and I encouraged them to cling to each other and to their shared faith in Christ. I promised them that God could be near to them, even when our present realities make God seem like a distant landlord.
The next day I stopped by this small urban lake close to where I live for some time with God. I found myself upset and confused and needed some time to be in nature and time to pray to Him alone. There, walking around the lake, as a light rain fell, I cried out to God. Lord how do we continue to feel your presence at times when our lives are literally pregnant with horrible loss and tremendous joy? What is the promise you’ve given us if we can’t ever know how things are going to turn out? I stood by the lake, praying and crying, and seeking Him for what felt like a long time.
See, we live at the intersection of joy and sorry, loss and gain, hope and pain. These are the places where our faith must be formed. If we can’t believe in times of both great happiness and harrowing sorrow, we won’t really believe at all.
Jeremiah 17 states, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust is the Lord, For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit.” (17:7-8) What does the verse say? Though we often wish the promise of God says there will be no droughts! There will be no hard times! The scriptures of the bible are clear: the drought will come, hard times will come…but your faith will sustain you.
In our current culture, we don’t have to worry about droughts as much as people in ancient Israel where the thought of hunger and famine was very real. But instead of droughts, we can read this verse with the word DOUBTS. For ancient Israel, God’s fullness was in the promise of constant provision. But in modern times, we want to know that God will never be far from us and that we will constantly be assured of His presence. And when God feels far, doubts emerge. But Jeremiah says “blessed is He (or she) that continues to hope!” Despite the doubt, or the drought, your faith can sustain you!
When I gathered a little while ago with the same family, the much-anticipated delivery of their babies, one alive and one dead, had happened. The delivery had gone well, their healthy baby was perfect, and they spent some time with the baby who had passed. I led a small memorial service for the couple and their family. We prayed, took communion together, and shared memories and stories. Though tears flowed as they remembered their loss, there was also new life and joy in their midst, as they were literally clinging to their healthy son while saying goodbye to the unborn child that didn’t come to fruition. They told me about the Jeremiah 17 verse, and that they chose to name their healthy baby Beckett, which means “one who dwells by the brook.” They were clinging to the promise of scripture that our faith can make us like trees near the water, with healthy roots to sustain us in times of dryness. And their hope as parents is rooted in their son’s name- you, our son, will dwell by this river.
Tim Keller says: “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.” We fail at this quite often because we want to be “strong” in our faith as a measure of our own worth. But Keller nails it here quite clearly- we can simply keep our eyes on Jesus when we are too weak to stand and He will provide for us. He will be near to us.
As Christians in a fallen world, the question plagues us and gnaws at us at times like a hunger pain. God, how do we continue to trust your promise of provision in the midst of challenge, loss and pain? The Savior, Jesus Christ, has already come and promised to make all things right. But the savior isn’t here now. Why God? What does this mean for us, living in a time between two worlds? NT Wright and many others have coined the phrase “already, not yet” to speak of this distance between the promise of new and abundance life already promised and delivered by Jesus and yet still waiting the fullness of the revelation when Christ returns one day. We live into this tension, the waiting between two worlds, called to love and live and serve here now, fully invested in both a future promise and the present reality. But some days this distance between the “already” and the promise of the “not yet” feels so far apart. It is in these days when hope is a choice, when confusion feels like a main advisor to my inner psyche, and God’s promise feels far.
Then this morning, in the pre-dawn silence of my darkened house, this promise comes through scripture again. The book of Hebrews states, “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying ‘I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.’ And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.” This is huge….its already been done in Jesus Christ. The promise has been fulfilled. God was faithful to his people Israel before Christ, continually dealing with them with grace and mercy and provision despite hardened hearts. And when Christ came He instituted a new relationship with God for us all, the promise of blessing and multiplication. It’s already been done. Hebrews continues, “We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.”
Whatever storms you are facing, whatever challenges are before you, I hope you can cling to Christ- the object of our faith- that can plant you with deep roots and can be an anchor for your soul. There is a greater hope than what we see with our eyes- it is the true life of faith in Jesus. That is the promise of being brook dwellers!