We are more than a week into spring where I live. Yet the ground is still frozen, trees and bushes are covered in snow, car bumpers are lined with icicles, the wind blows strong and cold.
It’s been 3 weeks since the young man at our church passed away suddenly. I found myself on my knees on the bathroom floor when I heard the news. How does a body deal with this information? My husband came rushing up the stairs – he had just retreated to the basement for a Sunday afternoon rest. His face was pale, his hands shaky, fingers fumbling on his phone as he tried to confirm what we so desperately hoped was a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, a terrible game of telephone between doctors, family and friends. This was the first time death had come to someone we knew at such a young age. Someone we spoke with, laughed with only hours before.
Tears streamed, I groaned out of agony for our friend’s wife. Her deep pain, though I could not comprehend it, grieved my spirit. My sadness erupted from another place, too. I was just starting to rediscover my faith, excited about my newfound courage to pursue God. And then this. The tragedy, the shock, the despair bewildered me. Could I still believe? How could a God that is good allow this to happen?
I sat on my couch one afternoon this week, gazing out the window, watching the snow fall. The house was quiet, peaceful. Outside everything was turning gloriously white. I thought how this sight was a perfect depiction of the intimacy of God. How his love and his grace cover what is bare, barren, and alone. He takes what is broken and he makes it beautiful, even whiter than snow. His Love clings to us, consumes us, and promises to never leave. When it snows the sky becomes a blanket of grey, hemming us in, like the Holy rest He tenderly places over our weary bodies.
The snow whispers His nearness.
This revelation brought me to my knees again, but for a different reason. Now “I recognized my rebellion” (Psalm 51:3). I didn’t love God. I had been using him like a genie in my back pocket for so long now, beckoning Him when I needed help but not truly believing he was listening. It wasn’t a matter of life and death to me, I wasn’t desperate for Him and so I often ignored Him. I was riddled with doubt, too selfish to offer him the child-like faith that he is so worthy of. As the psalmist wrote, against him and him alone had I sinned.
Even in the bleakness of winter, when there’s a chill in our bones that we cannot warm, when earth is hard as iron, Jesus comes close. During the winter of our souls we may even feel the closest to Him. Our despair has made us desperate, our deaf ears and sleeping hearts have been shaken, awakened.
Jesus didn’t promise us an easy life. His very words were that we would have trouble but in him, we would have peace (John 16:33). He didn’t promise that our lives would be void of pain – He called us to take up our cross and follow him, to be just like him, yet didn’t sorrow overwhelm his spirit, too? (Matthew 26:38)
What we do know is that we are not alone. He is Immanuel – God with us. With us in the darkness of our weeping, holding us up under the burden of our pain. We take courage, for he “is close to the brokenhearted, he saves those whose spirits have been crushed.” (Psalm 34:18)
In our pain, we do not go unnoticed. He sees my heart, He sees yours. And if we let him, He will enter and swarm our very being. But not without change for he wants to remake us, renew us, restore us. He’ll come the way a blizzard overtakes a city. Yet His storm is powered by Love, it hails down truth.
His voice howls within our souls. Deep calling to deep. A heart that rages to be one with ours, a passion that tears down the walls that separated us. He rips apart the lies that kept us distant and afraid. He drives away our false gods, upturns our false security. Knocks us to our knees.
Until, there is no space between us.
Until, he is all that is left in the temple of our hearts. And we finally see he is all we ever needed.
Even now, in the face of tragedy and pain and loss, my heart is being pulled to His. For nothing can separate us from Him – not even death. I am beginning to understand how high and how deep His love is, though this is a journey of a thousand miles and I have only taken the first step.
This is our joy. A most powerful, everlasting, untouchable joy. That God is so very close. Close enough to know the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). Close enough to know our every sorrow and to catch our every tear (Psalm 56:8). Close enough to hear the beat of our hearts for he has made them his dwelling place. Close enough to know every fabric of our being, for he is the one who knit us together (Psalm 139:13). He knows the parts of me that are faded, which threads have come loose, where there are snags and tears, which pieces are blotted with stains. He is that close. Close enough to know my words before they even leave my lips (Psalm 139:4).
He is all around us, within us, his right hand upholding us.
This is our joy, and He is the source of it all.
I don’t understand very much about grief. Much of what has happened in the past few weeks overwhelms me. But I refuse to let confusion separate me from what I know to be true, or else I would be returning to a shallow faith, based solely on circumstance. Right now I am clinging to this joy, with eyes that still brim with tears and lips that tremble I am declaring this triumphant truth:
But I am close to God, and that is good. (Psalm 73:8)