It recently occurred to me, though, that even though I am older, I can still give up and miss out on many potential joys when I choose to succumb to, and steep myself in, present fear and pain.
Switching gears a little, imagine that you are the successful owner of a business and have a beautiful family with grown children and a spouse with whom you can share life and grow old with. One day, though, you receive news that successive waves of vicious people have abruptly and ruthlessly taken away every last piece of inventory you owned, and the authorities are powerless to recoup your losses. Soon after, you are told that all of your precious children have perished after a storm destroyed the place they had all gathered to eat together in. And after all of that, you yourself fall ill, and your spouse, caught up in the anguish within their own heart, can no longer speak peaceably to you.
Could you imagine that? Can you believe that all of that happened to a man named Job? That all of those aforementioned tragedies came upon him within the span of two chapters? The Book of Job has not always been a source of comfort to me. Before I was saved, I used to think it stood as perfect proof that the God of the Bible was unspeakably cruel and clearly unloving. And even now that I have been walking with the Lord for a few years, I still don’t think I have come to make sense of it all. But even though I don’t yet fully comprehend everything, I can’t deny that God has been opening it up to me and using it to minister to me in profound ways.
Earlier this month, I found myself in Job, and one verse in particular stood out to me. To set the scene, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, three of Job’s friends, had gathered to comfort him. After seven days and nights of mourning, Job speaks straight from his pain, curses the day of his birth, and at one point says:
“For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.” – Job 3:25 (NKJV)
When my now ex-boyfriend and I first came onboard at SRVGC (church), we held a couple of GYYL (Grill Your Youth Leader) sessions. We passed out index cards and pens to the youth and told them to write down any questions they had for us. In retrospect, this was probably a real rookie mistake, lol, but we (mercifully) received a range of solid questions.
I’m not sure if you can see it, but the last question on the bottom card written in blue ink is: “What is your greatest fear?”
I can remember telling them that I feared being alone.
This garnered a chorus of “aww’s” from the group, and I was confused until I realized that they thought I meant being alone… as in without my boyfriend. While I certainly did care very deeply for him, I said what I said with a different relationship in mind – my relationship with God.
Now I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38-39), but sometimes I still allow myself to doubt that, and that’s usually when I really begin to crumble and fall apart. What I’d like to highlight in this post, though, is that as far as I know, God has taken me to a place in my walk with Him where the thing I fear the most, is something that ultimately can never come to pass. Let me try to explain what I mean.
This thought was something that dawned on me when I let Job 3:25 really sink in. Three chapters into his story, Job proclaims that everything he most feared in life has come upon him. I’d say that he was absolutely justified in saying so. I then started to think about the circumstances that had unfolded in my own life in the past couple of months – being dumped, stepping up as the Youth Director after my ex stepped down and left the church, having my boss go into early retirement, changing jobs, being the only young adult at my church. Lord Almighty. I had never asked to be a leader. I had never asked to be, in some senses, abandoned. I didn’t ask to feel these feelings of rejection and worthlessness, confusion and helplessness, all while needing to be strong and purposeful before my youth group and church family.
But as the hurt and anxiety began to rise up in me, along with the temptation to despair, it was as if the Holy Spirit asked me: “Iona, don’t you know how Job’s story ends?”
“Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. […] After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days.” – Job 42:12-13, 16-17 (NKJV)
Everything Job feared had come upon him, but that wasn’t where his story ended. As I sat there with The Word, God was, in that moment, reminding me that my current pain was just that, something present in this moment, but something that would not last. And even if I were to suffer all my life long, my ultimate destiny is an eternity in Heaven with Him.
Rewinding a little, if you’re anything like me, the whole reason you fear certain things is because you believe that if they happen, something – an opportunity, your whole life – will be shattered beyond repair. That you will be, somehow – emotionally, mentally, physically – broken beyond redemption.
In his 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton wrote: “The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer. Because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”
Like I said before, I used to hold a really warped view of God as someone who just toyed with us human beings, who took perverse pleasure in allowing us to experience painful situations. Now, though, I am beginning to see something else. Far from seeing the act of allowing me to experience trials as being cruel and unusual punishment from a capricious deity, I see it as an act of love from my Father in Heaven, the one true God who sent His only Son to die to not only set me free from sin, but from all the, as Merton put it, “smaller and more insignificant things” that I fear. Jesus sets me free from, as Job put it, the things I most fear and dread. When I find myself right in the middle of something I feared, and realize that I can still not only survive but thrive because of the mercy of my God, my heart rejoices. It is in those moments that I come to know deep in my soul that those things I fear cannot break me beyond repair or redemption; my sovereign Savior is the One who defeated death itself and rose from the grave in glory.
I think the Apostle Paul put it best when he said:
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned that in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV).
Am I trying to say that I walk around not fear anything? No. This is definitely a lesson God has had to keep reminding me of, but I know that I am quicker to trust more fully in Him each time trials come. I am more willing to turn immediately to Him and to reject refuge from lesser things. I believe I experience more deeply the peace and assurance that are my blood bought birthright.
Dear brothers and sisters, are you finding yourself in an overwhelming situation? Have the things you feared come upon you? Resist the urge to run away from God and to someone/something else. Resist the urge to retreat into your own self. Pour out your heart to Him; He alone saves. Reach out to your family in the faith and allow them to shoulder your burdens with you. Be encouraged. Wait upon God and watch Him move powerfully in your life. These circumstances and the pain that you feel are not how your story ends. Cling to God, allow Him to grow your faith, and be set free from your fears.