I feel like my life has been marked by near-constant seasons of transition for the last several years. Two years in the desert, unexpectedly expelled, then to the US trying to figure out what was next, South Sudan, war, back to South Sudan, marriage, 9 months of intensive travel for work and support raising, Egypt, failing health, completely ever-changing work environment, green card process, US, home assignment. And now, applying for work, ready for whatever and wherever is next and… waiting.
The waiting is hard. It would be so nice to know, pretty much any of it, in advance. But I can look back, at every single point, at every single transition and seeming impasse… faithfulness. So many times, in just the nick of time, God has provided for me and for us and worked things out in ways I couldn’t fathom. Not without heartache, not without difficulty, and not without waiting, but in ways true and sure enough, I know it was only through the hand of the Father.
So in this new season of waiting, this new time of looming transition ahead, I take so much comfort in that. I trust God. I know he faithful. I know he is good. I know he has come through for us time and time again.
A dear refugee friend has been dealing with pain every day for more than two years, and lacks answers. Other friends are barely able to feed their families, and some nights go hungry. People still die of hunger every day. Cholera is preventable and treatable and yet thousands are dying in Yemen, not to mention the 6 million people on the brink of death due to preventable famine. Mass rape and civil war persists, after decades, in South Sudan. Children are shot by police, and their families don’t receive justice. The mentally ill are on death row. People go bankrupt over medical bills. Families are broken, lives are lost, homes are devastated and destroyed.
I know God is good. I know God is faithful. I know he cares for me and for all of his children. But I also have seen war and poverty and pain I cannot fathom. I still desperately believe in God’s love for all of his children. But evil persists, justice tarries, ceaseless wars are fought, and sometimes I just don’t see God’s faithful hand in the nick of time for so many others in the way I’ve seen it in my privileged, relatively safe, and easy enough life.
Experiencing war, knowing people affected by genocide, being friends with those who have experienced true persecution has made me appreciate the lament Psalms and the Old Testament prophets so much more. I’ve spilled tears in my Bible next to their words pleading for justice and crying out in pain, grief, and sorrow. They take on new meaning when you’re in a city at war. Something like the shadow of death begins to feel palpable when gunfights and artillery appear to be coming closer to where you are hunkered down with a bunch of children.
The OT prophets were books I never really dug deep into, even though I was a school of religion student in university. But now, now they feel like old friends.
And when people ask how I’m doing and I’m honest, which is, not well. Most of the last few years, really, not well at all, and they quote Jeremiah 29:11 – “I know the plans I have for you!” – to me, I generally want to scream or cry. But mostly scream.
Not because it’s untrue – it is true; God didn’t lie. But God says this to Jeremiah, and then Jeremiah gets thrown into prison and then down a cistern. Jerusalem falls, the exiles get carried away, and Jeremiah eventually dies a foreigner in Egypt. God tells Jeremiah of his good plans – and Jeremiah still suffers.
In spite of all pain and suffering, God is still good. But it doesn’t mean that we’ll get the jobs we need or that I’ll get better. It doesn’t mean I get to offer easy answers to my friends who have known some of the greatest evils, heartache, and hardship in the world. (And who in spite of all that, trust God with a faith that surpasses anything I can understand.) We don’t get to quote this verse to others in pain and go about our lives. We are called to the hard work of suffering with those who suffer.
When I talk about my own pain, or about the unfathomable pain in the lives of street children and refugees I’ve been lucky enough to love, can we please not use ancient words as a cliché response? As an easy out? I’m convinced the Christian life means a lot more of entering into the pain of the world than we would like to believe. This entering into requires we leave cliches and easy answers at the door.
Pain doesn’t need easy answers, and it can’t be fixed by them. It needs faith, hope, and love shared in an embodied form. It needs the incarnate Christ. It is what the church is called to be. A people who enter into the pain with each other, the suffering of the world, declare there is hope, and together do the slow work of building the kingdom of heaven here.
Given. Colored pencil on paper. 2013.