I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to turn the page on this calendar year and put an end to 2017. It has been an awfully painful year, hasn’t it? Five terror attacks in the UK. The Barcelona bombing. Mass shootings, car bombs, and suicide bombs in Istanbul, Baghdad, Kabul, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria and many other locations around the world. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Nate. Two earthquakes in Mexico. And the Las Vegas massacre.
None of us is immune to the horror of these senseless acts of violence and destruction. We are stunned and grieved. Shattered. We all feel the anguish of what was lost, even if our lives were not personally affected by any one of these events. All of humanity shares in the pain and in the longing for recovery.
And we weep for those who have lost so much more than we have.
There are those who have suffered excruciating loss from the gut-wrenching events of this year. Some have lost loved ones. Others have lost homes. Some have found themselves suddenly alone in the world with no possessions and no family to depend on.
I cannot fathom their pain. It is bigger, more incomprehensible than the pain I have experienced in my life.
None of us is immune to suffering. We all experience our own private heartache and loss, smaller in scope for sure, but no less painful in our individual experience.
This year I lost my father. Then one month later, my mother followed her husband of 64 years. My daughter tore her meniscus, ultimately requiring knee surgery and months of rehab. My son’s health concerns have necessitated a leave of absence from college. And just this week we discovered a new problem in his eye related to his diabetes.
Years like this one are enough to make me just want to raise up my hands in surrender. Surrender to the bully holding me down. During years like this one, I long to shout UNCLE! to the forces in the universe that threaten to undo me. I have grown tired of the fight. Tired of reading of man’s depravity. I am unable to conceive of such hatred perpetrated against another human being. I have grown weary of the onslaught of medical crises. And my heart aches at each announcement of yet another natural disaster.
My heart cries out, Enough!
Maybe surrender is exactly what I need. Not surrender to the forces of evil that swirl and rage around me, flashing their jagged teeth poised to rip me asunder. Perhaps what I need most right now is to surrender to the creator God who is the force behind all that is good and pure and right in this world.
What might it look like if I opened my heart wide enough to consider that even amidst all the horror, God is still who he says he is – the God of love? Can I accept that even though horrors and tragedies surge unabated all around us, he is still enthroned over all the earth? What might it look like if amidst the firestorms of this year I would choose to look for the hand of God, still at work in his creation, still bringing new life where all had seemed hopeless?
I stand still before the mighty gorge. Quietly I observe all it has to teach me. The waters rage with great force tumbling over the solid granite slab. All is pounding. All is in motion. The water is relentless as it spills over the rock walls.
I catch my breath at the beauty and the majesty of the gorge. All I hear is the thunderous sound of the destructive water, powerful enough to move mountains and forever change landscapes.
Science teaches us that erosion continues in the gorge, not at the cataclysmic rate that was witnessed during the great ice ages, but at a slower pace that changes the landscape in less perceptible ways. Nevertheless, whether dramatic or imperceptible, forceful erosion is always a part of the experience of the gorge.
There is never a place of having fully arrived, where the gorge remains forever the same, forever placid, forever free of the forces that threaten to be its undoing.
At the gorge, the pounding of the relentless flow of water carries on undeterred.
And yet, even in the pounding flow of destructive forces, there are places of respite where new life can be found. Look closely. There settled in the cleft of the rock, new life does its own inexorable work of springing forth.
In our trials there comes a moment of surrender. Not the lifted hands that signal a giving up, but the lifted hands that declare, even in this, I will trust you, God. And in the surrender, we see new life.
In the atrocities of this year, I see new life when I observe the hand of love. I see the image of God alive in humanity in the kindness of strangers risking their lives to help and shield those fleeing a firestorm of bullets.
I see the face of God in those who give of their savings and their vacation to travel to help strangers rebuild their lives when disaster strikes.
I see the hand of God in those who log a ridiculous number of miles on foot or on the seat of their bikes to raise money to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, MS, and all types of cancers. There are warriors of love all around us, sheltering us, giving us much needed respite in the storms of life.
This is the place of new life. This is the place of hope.
And in this place, I am reminded that the promises of God still stand. Despite the evil all around, God is still love. Despite the chaos all around, God is still enthroned above the heavens.
And one day, he will make all things new.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)