[Editor’s note: On Friday we released a new song by Ron Block, Jeff Taylor, and Rebecca Reynolds (also featuring Julie Lee). Rebecca, the co-writer of the song, also wrote this companion piece. It’s well worth your time.]
I wish I could tell you that I never have any doubts about God, but trust seems to run strongest in the very young and the very old in faith, and I am neither. When I say that I doubt, I don’t mean that I doubt everything. For instance, I rarely doubt that God exists. Walking in the decay of a December wood, reading through a journal of this year’s medical discoveries, listening to a Bach aria, scrolling through Hubble updates, I can tell that God lives.
The stuff of earth doesn’t provide a complete theology. In fact, it often leaves me with as many questions as answers, because the Almighty will not be pinned to a card like a giant stag beetle. However, the beauties and wonders of the universe do tend to point me toward a Creator. They whisper that He lives within and beyond the dimensions in which my brain operates.
What I doubt most often is that God loves me, and usually that doubt rises from pain. It can be hard for me to understand why Someone with the power to stop hurt wouldn’t do it.
When pain lasts a long time, I can begin to wonder if my suffering is a result of punishment, or if God just doesn’t like me very much after all. Cognitively, I know this sort of thinking contradicts the gospel. I could point to verses in the Bible and prove to you that this doubt is invalid. Still, there is something deep inside me that struggles here again and again.
This Christmas completes a difficult year for our family. Two weeks before school began, my husband was asked to resign from a church that he planted and pastored for ten years. The town in which we live is industrial, and the leaders of our church decided that they wanted to take a more corporate approach to ministry. They explained that they wanted a CEO-type leader instead of a shepherd/teacher.
We understood this decision. It is true that our vision for ministry is not business-oriented. (I’m an artist. My husband is a gentle, patient, teaching soul.) However, the request hit unexpectedly, just as I was entering the flurry of a demanding new teaching job, and just as we were learning that my father needed serious heart surgery. For several weeks, I felt like I was falling off a swing.
At first I just wanted to die. I could barely even breathe. I was devastated to learn that people I loved considered our investment disposable. It took months to scroll back through a decade of memories, reexamine faces I had thought safe, and realize that things had not been what I had imagined.
Then, as the days passed, my sense of rejection expanded from man to God. I thought that maybe friends and leaders weren’t the ones rejecting me, but heaven itself. Maybe God was throwing us away, too.
This has been one of the hardest years of my life, but it has also provided a pain that I needed to know. God is using this particular humiliation and loneliness to show me things about his love that I couldn’t have known in safety and comfort. Furthermore, I am not the only one who has ever lived through rejection. As a writer, as a friend, as a mother, God saw fit to train my soul in how an essential sorrow works.
Maybe you have lived through a rejection, too. In fact, the world is so full of hurt, it’s likely that you have known pain far more severe than mine. Maybe your spouse was unfaithful, or maybe you lost a close friend to betrayal. Perhaps years of a relationship were pushed aside, or maybe you were shunned by a group of people to whom you had given everything. It’s possible that a parent broke your heart, or that a sibling used you. It could be that a thousand tiny disappointments finally collected until you grew so bruised that you could hardly function at all. As I sit here making words for you, trying to reach my hand out to yours, I wonder if you are sitting in your chair, staring into the computer screen, knowing the full ache of being disposed.
Children of this long, discarded night, will you walk a while with me? Would you tuck a weary arm through mine so that we can step in cadence and talk over the bitter questions that rise from such years as what we have had?
If you are very much like me, you have already been trying to make things better for a very long time. Do I see exhaustion in your eyes? Have you used up all your strength? That is what most of us do, I think. When trouble threatens to break us, we threaten trouble by working harder. Some troubles overcome by labor, I suppose. But there are other sorts which cannot be defeated by effort, though we spend everything we have upon them. We work, and we work, until one day we wake up and realize that we are working more from habit than from hope.
Perhaps your hope has even died. Mine did for a while. I lived with a fear of drowning choking in my throat. I struggled like a man treading water, tangled in ropes, fighting in a vast, roaring ocean. I fought my way through each day encumbered by the bonds of my own labor’s strain. Do you know what this is like?
Then come step with me into the night. It’s freezing out here. I’m wearing my duck cloth jacket. The hood has fallen back so that the winter wind stings my ears. You are standing beside me, blowing heat from your lungs into the pink cup of your fingers. The grass below our shoes crunches. Without speaking, we turn our faces up to the expanse, blinking our burning eyes against the void, finding nothing to see at all.
How empty it is. I am tempted to squint and try to find an angel in those clouds. I am tempted to do that because this is the sort of void that I don’t like to explore. I’d rather make something up.
Where is God in our pain? If He loves us, why would He veil Himself behind the pitch of night? Why would He refuse to come to us in the way that we were expecting? Doesn’t He know that we are so tired it seems as if our hearts are growing back into the earth? Doesn’t He know that we are like Adams being unmade by sadness, being turned back from warm flesh into sod and into stone? We stand like forgotten towns, waiting for a Messiah.
There is only quiet and cold between us for the full pulse of an hour.
Then, standing beside you, I remember a song stitched from the best old stories. It was woven from the first tales we believed, tales of beauty, and battles, and the kindest of Kings. Those stories once blew against my heart like breath on a fire, like wind on the strings of an Aolean harp.
I will sing as much to you as I can remember. However, this tale will require all of your thirst, all your want, all your pining, bitter grief. It will ask you to follow the thread of your pain like a dim lantern, into the trajectory of love, and watch while every honest emptiness is torn asunder by radiance.
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Those first, best stories were true, Discarded One. While we tend the flocks of our lives on this biting, barren landscape, the ancient throng divides our sorrow, in wonder it now declares:
“Love is born. Love is born!”
Love is born, and we are chased by it. Even now, in this night of our particular darkness and rejection, in this bleak, freezing, shared silence, grace gathers us ’round like a celestial chorus.
We are seen. We are wanted. We are loved.
The Holy One is come for you, and for you, and for you, and for me.
Fear not. All glory be to God on High.
Rebecca K. Reynolds is the editorial director of Oasis Family Media and Sky Turtle Press. She is the author of a text-faithful modern prose rendering of Edmund Spenser’s 1590’s epic poem, The Faerie Queene and of Courage, Dear Heart by Nav Press. Rebecca is a longtime member of the Rabbit Room, and she has spoken at Hutchmoot both in the US and the UK. She taught high school literature for seven years and has written lyrics for Ron Block of Alison Krauss, Union Station.
So beautifully and costly-graciously said. Thank you.
These words — the story and the song — are beautiful. And timely (as they always are).
“Essential sorrow” crystallizes the kind of message we’ve been hearing for the past few years. I’m kind of afraid to walk around the corner and ask what it means — but it’s comforting to know that dear friends have gone this way before.
This is heartrending and true. Thank you for sharing such honest and vulnerable words here.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! How is it you can put so much salve in your words. Oh Yes, I know; this is how the Savior deeply loves us through you. Thank You.
I totally relate to these words, but could never have articulated them this well. What constantly comes back to me is ‘oh ye of little faith’ … but in fact, we are but human. And to find God in trials and tribulations is indeed a true test of our faith. I struggle every day with this… thanks for sharing, as I often feel I am the only one.
This theme has been on my heart lately. Thank you for your beautiful words.
Oh, Rebecca. This is so beautiful. It is pure gift to me this Christmas. Bless you.
I’m grateful for the encouragement, Rabbits. It makes me sad that you understand this, because that means you’ve been hurt, too. But I’m also terribly grateful for your companionship on the journey.
I’ve been reading through Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Ezrah and I see the fall of Jerusalem and Captivity in Babylon as a time we may never know. Yet the same struggles apply. We are in troubling times in a more subtle way, attacked by enemies that sneak into our hearts, even as Babylon wore down the walls of Jerusalem. We are experiencing the ache of the Israelites in Captivity, longing for a Savior to come and rescue us and take us down the super highway in the dessert to the Promised Land. What makes me mourn and pine away is that I deserve worse. If I’m honest with myself, my heart longs for the wicked ways that caused Israel’s fall. I am walking the knife’s edge of betrayal to my God and my family. What do you do when you see that in yourself and not just in others? Yet, each new day, each look at the bitter selfish self, I grow stronger in Christ. Why? Becasue I begin to spend each moment with Him. I think God puts us in places to make us yearn, to make us ache for Him. I can’t say I enjoy this time in my own life, yet I wouldn’t give it up for the world and I won’t go back to happier times. Joy has taken over where simple happiness was before, and songs like this one ring to my core and make me weep and celebrate for what is Holy and Good, not just pretty words and music. Keep struggling Brothers and Sisters, and keep sharing. It helps us all!
Have these lyrics been posted somewhere?
Tenika, they’re on the original post: https://rabbitroom.com/2013/12/come-children-of-this-long-discarded-night/
Matthew, you are so right about pain being clarifying. A few days ago I read the book of Jude right before falling asleep, and I could barely close my eyes after. I don’t mean that all of those traits are found full blown in me, but brokenness allowed me to look down the trajectory of the impuses which pass through me and see how, if unchecked by God, I would certainly end up in a place I never want to be. Sorrow has broken down many of my flesh-based defenses. It is such a frightening thing to see what I would be without Jesus. He fights me for His reign in me. That’s a painful love, but if there were a big red button to slam that asked Him to, “Bring it on, no matter what,” I would grit my teeth and hit it fast. I beg Him to overtake me. Then I wrestle against Him when He does it.
Well put Becca. Makes me think of Jacob wrestling with the Angel. We spend our whole lives thinking we can wrestle with God for our blessing (the one we think we want/need), and we even have the gall to think we’ve won. God graciously tells us we have won and blesses us with what He knows we need, then puts our hip our of place so each step reminds us that He is in full control and strangely that His blessing is sure.
I’ve been walking through the wood of loneliness for quite a while now – many miles to get home, wherever that may be. But then I found your message. I knew it was for me, because you summed up my year in one sentence:
“It could be that a thousand tiny disappointments finally collected until you grew so bruised that you could hardly function at all.”
And somehow you knew how hard I’ve been trying to push back the darkness. I have these little sparks of happiness – singing Christmas concerts with the symphony, handbells, choirs and glorious music. But then the concert hall dims and the instruments are packed away. Then the flame quickly dies and like the hapless little girl in Andersen’s tale, I’ve run out of matches. And the only sound I hear in the night is the scratching of the needle on the vinyl – reminding me that the music’s over.
And then this morning, wondering if my heart will ever be ready for Christmas, I find this. And I remember that I’m not alone in the wood. You’ve gone ahead of me and left this to hold onto – to remind me that it’s ok to be in this place and to keep searching and trying to follow “the trajectory of love”. And clinging to the hope that Christmas will find me in this darkness and envelope me in its glory.
Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing that hope, and all that it cost to share it.
Jennifer, how beautifully you captured that in words. I got a big lump in my throat and tears in my eyes when I read it
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