The melodic tones of my phone alarm begin, and I am instantly awake. 4:30 in the morning. The comfort of my bed and thick darkness outside invite me to rest a little longer. Tempting invitations indeed, but, ironically, I am glad for the lingering darkness. I still have time. I shuffle around in the dim light of my bedroom, donning an extra fleece and warmer socks. I move quietly down the stairs, grab a granola bar, and head out the door to meet my waiting friend. The morning is dark and cool. We still have time. Mumbled “good morning’s” are all we manage at this point, but smiles of anticipation are on both our faces. Green lights and open roads make for a swift journey to our favorite spot – our only spot, the perfect spot. The calm waters of the lake stretch before us as we walk to a vacant park bench. My body rests against the cold metal; shivers and smiles are the usual morning blend. With our eyes peeled on the eastern horizon, we wait in silent anticipation. In a matter of minutes, the morning breaks open. And the glory that I awoke to witness unfolds before me.
The sun begins to rise.
As habitual as our dawn outings have become, I am still drawn to the faithfulness and constancy of God that is wrapped up in the splendor of the sunrise. From the dawn of time (pun definitely intended), the Lord has been faithful to light the eastern sky every morning. Not a day in history has passed that the sun has not risen.
Days that hold the greatest joys and deepest sorrows of our lives. Days filled with life given and life taken away. Wars and floods, weddings and birthdays, hospital visits and daily commutes. First steps and last breaths. Days marked forever in history, and days filled with the ordinary and mundane. Every. single. day begins in the very same way, no matter what it holds. In the wake of the horror, before the celebration begins … in the midst of all that is just not okay in our world, the sun will rise in the east.
Beyond poetic sentimentality, the sunrise daily proclaims the infinite faithfulness of the Lord. The opening of each day is marked by the constancy of our God. The dawn naturally renews our hope for a new day, a “fresh start,” another opportunity to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
The morning hues soon give way to full daylight, radiant and bright or perhaps hidden and dull by cloud cover. Still, the day opens wide before us, and we step into the responsibilities of our lives – finishing yesterday’s projects, attending to family needs, washing dishes, writing reports, answering phone calls. But in accomplishing the “regular” tasks of our day, we also encounter the unexpected, the messy and the unplanned. Sooner or later, we face circumstances that mock the hope we began our day reveling in. We are slapped in the face with realities that bitterly remind us that things are not okay.
(Note: From this point on, I am speaking specifically of afflictions that we face as believers and the glory of knowing Christ through suffering. I am not comprehensively speaking to the evil and suffering in our world; nor am I implying that because “things are not okay,” we are not called to extend compassion and actively help those in need.)
I recently came across a song by Jon Thurlow. Having never heard the song before, I listened closely to the lyrics of the chorus.
Things are not okay, right now // And they won’t be, till You come back, Jesus.
A sobering reality, and a truth that I don’t often hear expressed so plainly in a song … or much at all. Things are not okay.
These words lingered in my mind. More than lyrics that get stuck in your head, these words struck a new chord deep in me. Things are not okay. We wrestle with this reality, I wrestle with this reality. We are overwhelmed with the pain that surrounds us and the trials that fill our lives.
Things are not okay, and we are not okay with that. We want to fix the problem, heal the illness, dodge the suffering, bypass the pain.
Perhaps we have forgotten that both the peace of Christ and the troubles of this world will characterize our lives as believers. (John 16:33) Perhaps we have forgotten that in the center of our suffering, Christ invites us to know Him. And in the midst of our pain, He lifts our hearts to hope for Heaven.
As the chorus lines continued to resonate in my mind, I felt an odd sense of relief. I found comfort in knowing that Christ’s return will bring complete newness and full healing. Comfort because in the face of all that is not okay in my life, all is well because of the sweet presence of Jesus. Comfort because the difficulty and sorrow have a poignant way of reminding me that this earth is not my home.
Let’s lean in together, friends. My personal experience with Christ and painful grief is true and, I pray, encouraging; but it is the words of Scripture that speak with greater authority on the comfort I’ve found.
The painful grief I speak of is the slow decline of my father I face everyday as one of his caregivers. A neurological disease is crippling both his body and his mind, limiting his movements, inhibiting his speech, and clouding his memory.
Every morning, I wake up to the reality that things are not okay, right now. Sometimes his decline brings stark changes; more often the loss is subtle. Regardless, grief permeates every day … things are not okay, Lord. This is not okay.
The grief, the pain are real and sometimes overwhelming, but I cannot deny the comfort I have found, the joy I have found in knowing Christ Jesus my Savior as I never have before.
And that is the goal, is it not? That is the purpose of our lives as believers. To know Christ Jesus our Lord. To say with the apostle Paul that everything is a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Our pursuit is to gain Christ, not to avoid troubles. Our joy is found in Him, not in our comfort.
In the face of all that is not okay, I know Jesus. I am clinging to the One who has overcome the world and whose power is made perfect in my weakness. (II Corinthians 12:9-10) What greater treasure can we know this side of eternity?! Abiding in the One who walks with us through affliction, who is ever forming us to be more like Him. (II Corinthians 3:18)
Hand in hand with knowing Christ through affliction, the reality of Heaven comforts and fills me with hope. This world, riddled with pain and stained with sin, is not my home.
Elisabeth Elliot writes in her book, A Path Through Suffering –
Heaven is not here, it’s There. If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.
Longing to be with Jesus. Longing for Heaven, where the pain, the grief, the heartache are gone forever. The hints and precious glimpses along my journey with Dad – the moments when Heaven invades the heartache of my world – are sweet and unforgettable. They are tangible reminders that Christ is present with us here and now, and that one day, He will return to bring us home.
These comforts of knowing Jesus through suffering and longing for my home in Heaven are ever-expanding realities. Realities that break open and spill all over my days of grief and joy, sorrow and longing.
It won’t be long before my friend and I are back at out favorite spot watching the sun rise over the lake. I rejoice, for the Lord’s constancy and goodness, heralded by the sunrise, are present throughout my day!
With the new hope the sunrise brings every morning, I am reminded of my eternal home where pain and evil are no more. I am reminded that the same Faithful One who unfolds the dawn is the One present with me in the pain.
In the midst of my afflictions, He is making me more like Him and increasing my longing for home.