27 Jan In the Day of Trouble
I didn’t know how to write about grief. Grief is long. It’s hard. It’s messy. I wanted to write like someone who shares from the other side of sorrow, like a traveler who has completed a hard journey with strength. Like someone who tells of storms and close calls with danger, not with a sting but with deep belly-laughter. I’m not there yet! But I can share how I’ve met God, in the middle of my grief, as Emmanuel—He is with us.
I went into missions young. After a youth marked by depression and isolation, I wanted to spend my newfound depth of faith building a new life overseas, somewhere where I could serve and see lives changed. Very honestly, I probably had mixed motives. I thought maybe if I could love so much and be so loved by those in community around me, if I could fill my time being busy with ministry, that the loneliness of my youth would become a faint shadow. I believed if I continued to follow God, things would work out nicely for me and my life would be filled with joy and excitement.
God set me on a little island in Asia. I was captivated by the beauty of my new home. I was teaching youth, learning the language, and exploring tiny sea villages. Maybe this was where I’d stay forever! I’d see those kids grow up and walk with this community for years. I was going to marry my best friend. His family was building a house nearby. We dreamed of sharing the gospel across the nations together. Our friends and us would all do worship ministry for years to come, and I would be so very fulfilled!
But my relationship was abusive. I struggled, trying to bend myself into what he desired, losing my dignity and becoming unrecognizable in the process. I was an actress, performing the role of a happy, successful missionary with a thriving, godly relationship. I so wanted this to be my reality.
My soul was starving.
I traveled home for what was supposed to be a very short visit. But after a long-needed but much-unwanted Skype breakup from my horrendously decorated middle school bedroom, my plans to return to the island and to the students I loved died.
I fell into a deep depression and I became very sick. My friends didn’t know what to do with my grief and a few stopped talking to me altogether. My ministry support stopped, weeks home turned into months, and I felt trapped. The life I was building, the years I had given so open-heartedly, all shriveled up. I fell into a well of self-hatred and accused God of abandoning me.
I had pictured my life like a mountain; I expected challenges but awesome views, traveling from glory to glory alongside friends. But my mountain looked grim and lonely. The path behind me was gone, so I couldn’t return to anything familiar, yet I couldn’t see ahead and had no will to keep going.
In the middle of my mountain-picture, I felt the voice I feared I wouldn’t ever hear again speak:
“I am your shelter.”
In the darkness, I saw Jesus inviting me into a little cave. It was small and simple and prepared just for me.
“Lay down. Rest. I’ll make tea and stay with you.”
Wasn’t I supposed to entertain Jesus? Stay up with Him?
“Rest. Be as you are. I’ll take care of you.”
I rested. Too weak to help prepare food or drink, I laid heavy with exhaustion as I listened to the soft clattering and whistle of kettles and little cups. Jesus’ presence was pure comfort, with no expectation for me to perform. His presence was concerned for me, yet He hummed softly as if He was entirely assured that I would be all right.
There was no hurry.
Rest overtook me like a blanket that wouldn’t let me move.
“I will stay here as you rest. When you’re ready, I’ll help you sit up and eat. One day, we’ll walk together out of this cave—but not until you stay here a while.”
The pain and exhaustion made it almost impossible to imagine being okay, but I felt myself breathing in and out, not by my own power, but by the breath of God keeping me alive, sustaining me until I could heal. This picture overwhelmed me with comfort. This God I blamed for all the ways I felt He’d betrayed me was unfazed and entirely unthreatened by my anger.
I wish that was the end of my journey with grief, but the next few years were filled with loneliness, confusion as to where I was supposed to be, death of loved ones, more heartbreak, and no answers. But over and over again, I felt God invite me back into shelter.
“I will always make shelter for you, and you can always come in to rest.”
I became quicker to go in, and more comfortable letting Him take care of me in my weakness. I sat up sooner, trusting Him to tend to my wounds without flinching back. I was quicker to eat the bread He baked for me there and drink His water without resistance, more ready to lean on Him as we journeyed onwards.
These shelters became not only places of sorrow, but also of joy and intimacy. Songs were written together in the cave. The empathy I felt surrounding me came from one who had known grief, rejection, and betrayal deeper than I could imagine. My heartbreak was His; there was no pain I walked through that He wasn’t also deeply acquainted with.
My friend, this man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), is walking beside me (Isaiah 41:10), He will always make me a shelter when I need it (Psalm 27:5), and He will always bring me back out into light (John 8:12).
I haven’t come out the other side of grief neatly. Praise God, He is making my embittered heart grow soft, but I still wait for some wounds to heal completely. I may not see perfect restoration or reconciliation on this side of Heaven. But had my journey been simple, I may never have known these shelters or the incredible sweetness I experienced with Him there. Those tears wept with Him, precious as gold.
We watch as the world throbs with grief—the sharp pain of lives lost, the dull ache of disappointed hopes. We’re alone in the ways grief has touched each of us uniquely, yet we’re all trying to stumble forwards with paths erased and maps upside down.
Grief is long, it’s hard, it’s messy.
But I promise you this: more than I or anyone else, Jesus is deeply acquainted with your sorrows. Wherever you’re at on your mountain, He makes shelter for you too. He is so gentle to care for you there and so faithful to bring you back out again.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:5, 13-14 (NIV)
Amanda Stangland (YWAM Tokyo Staff)