I hadn’t realized what was simmering beneath the surface until the words came out of my pastor’s mouth. For a long time I’ve been skittering along the razor’s edge. On one hand, good things that bring rejoicing and praise occur all around us. On the other hand, events of utter devastation occur simultaneously. If someone asks how I’m doing, there’s always a hesitation, because I don’t know if they want the honest answer or the made-for-polite-company answer.
My pastor could describe this tension so precisely, because it’s the human condition. At any moment, any one of us is experiencing both joy and devastation. When the exquisite joy washes over us in those near perfect moments of holding the new grandchild, watching the glorious sunset, selling the house just in time, smiling into the eyes of someone we love, or marking once-in-a-lifetime events, we know that the flush of perfect joy will be brief. It’s ethereal. It cannot be grasped.
The moment passes. Joy flees. Time marches on.
Simultaneously, in the middle-of-the-night wakings, the devastating challenges nag at our minds. The issue we can’t ever get completely ironed out, the ominous return of the same pain that takes us down repeatedly, the failing health of our elderly family members, the struggles we must watch our young endure as they grow through the same steep steps of maturity that we had to climb. We wring our hands. We worry. If we’re not careful, fear carries us away.
The worsening of my autoimmune disease this year has taken me back to dark places I never wanted to revisit. There I meet terror, paranoia, and agony. These I did not want to meet again. But this is life on planet earth. This is our state in these bodies made of dust. Everyone wrestles with frail humanity, failing bodies, and fleeting lives.
So, what’s the solution? We find it in two songs sung by two women, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New.
Hannah had been barren, her rival wife meanwhile popping out baby after baby to present to Hannah’s beloved husband Elkanah. That situation alone makes the modern woman shudder. I could not share my husband. Period. Finally, after much prayer, God gave Hannah a baby. Samuel was born. When he was weaned, Hannah took him and presented him to the high priest to be raised in service to the Lord.
Imagine years of inability to conceive, the blessed birth, and then the trip to give away that precious child. Joy and devastation would be in equal mix, emotions torn back and forth, rendering in two.
A similar situation of extremes presented itself in Mary’s life when an angel told her that she would bear God’s Son. At that point, Joseph wasn’t in on the inside story, and Mary was a virgin. Who would believe her? Would Joseph divorce her? Life as she knew it would never be the same. If ever there was a time for that familiar mix of joy and devastation it would be then.
And yet, what did each of these women do?
They sang songs of praise to the Lord for who he is and for what he has done. Their songs were so significant that they were recorded in Scripture in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (see below) and Luke 1:46-56. These songs foretold the coming king — Messiah — and revealed a God who reaches down and interacts with all the intimate parts of our messy, volatile, and complicated lives. He gives life, even in our “impossible” situations.
God reaches down and interacts with all the intimate parts of our messy, volatile, and complicated lives. He gives life, even in our impossible situations. Click To Tweet
Then Hannah prayed and said:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
2“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3 “Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.
4 “The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.
6 “The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7 The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
8 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
on them he has set the world.
9 He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.
“It is not by strength that one prevails;
10 those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
“He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Both women’s songs illustrate the uplifting truths that Job captured in his most painful moments: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:25-27 NIV).
Both women faced awful circumstances. Hannah leaving Samuel at the temple with Eli and his sons, described as “worthless men” who did not know the Lord. Mary faced the potential of losing the heart of a good man, her reputation, and her life, as she could be stoned to death, should her story not be believed.
Yet, they praised God. Why?
These women believed that God is who he says he is: That he is sovereign over every circumstance that touches our lives, that he is good, kind, and loving, that he truly does work all things together for the good of those who love him. They knew that there is none anywhere, no god, no idol, no humanly or worldly affection that is like the Lord. They knew there was no one besides him, no rock anywhere like our God. They believed he kept his promises. They trusted that he would take care of their situations, because he was all wrapped up in them.
Our faith and our core beliefs are revealed when the trials hit. Do we really base our confidence on who God is, or are we still relying on ourselves in some way? Do we worry and wring our hands? Or do we submit our prayers to him and then praise him for not only his answer, but for his character, his plan of salvation, and his mighty deeds?
Our faith and our core beliefs are revealed when the trials hit. Do we really base our confidence on who God is, or are we still relying on ourselves? Click To Tweet
Trials are necessary to bring us face to face with these questions, to cause us to dig down into our faith to discover how solid it is. “Lord I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” This may be our prayer when we see ourselves clearly in those dark moments.
What do we find there? Do we really trust the Lord of the universe? Are our eyes set on the eternal implications of our salvation and our future with him? Or are we fixated on the now?
Trials are necessary to cause us to dig down into our faith to discover how solid it is. We pray: Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Click To Tweet
In her agony and her joy, Hannah sang and so did Mary. We can follow their example and turn to the Lord of hosts in both our moments of joy and of devastation. He is with us. He never forsakes us. And he makes all things work together for our good.