Last December, I was at physical therapy for another appointment for my shoulder and knee. Oh the joys of arm bike, band work, weights, and ice and “stim” treatment! I hadn’t been in for a while because of a few weeks of the flu and then stomach flu (yuck), so there was plenty of work to do.
As my PT was working on my shoulder, we were talking about how things were going and catching up on life. I asked her about her Thanksgiving, and she told me that her young daughter was sick over the entire holiday with a stomach bug. As she described what her little girl went through, my heart filled with compassion, particularly since just a week earlier, I had had experienced the same, awful stomach flu. This poor little one. She was probably one-, maybe two-years old and so sick…she had no idea what was going on. She just knew she felt miserable. When it would end, she couldn’t have known.
All the while her mom and dad took such tender care of her, doing all they knew how to help her to feel better. Her parents likely held her close as she cried through the pain. They probably even wanted to take the pain away themselves so she wouldn’t have to endure it. But I’m sure she just didn’t get it. She probably wondered why her parents, who could do so many other things for her, were not doing more for her to make this terrible experience go away. Perhaps she looked at them through tear-filled eyes in confusion, not realizing that all along her parents loved her deeply and were taking the best care of her.
It was such a routine conversation, but it became a holy moment for me. It struck me how this is exactly how God is with us when we hurt. Just like this little girl sick with the stomach flu, when we’re in in terrible pain, deep discomfort, or sheer misery, we often don’t understand what we’re going through or why. Who doesn’t at times wonder with broken heart or our own confused tears, “Oh God, why?”
In times like these, it can be so difficult to see where God is. How can this be happening? Why isn’t God responding to my cries? Can’t He hear me? Is this soul-shaking pain really necessary? But the truth of the matter is, He’s there.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
He’s holding us… comforting us… soothing us… carrying us through… binding our wounds until we are better. And even after we are better, He stays with us.
Now, there is a difference with this anthropomorphic comparison between my PT and her daughter and us and our Father God. God is omnipotent and sovereign where our human parents are not. By His strength, He carries us through the storm, through the pain and never leaves us. In His wisdom, He knows what is happening and knows exactly how to comfort us, to heal us, to renew us, to strengthen us. In His love, He holds us close, captures our tears, and hears our loudest cry or faintest whisper.
We might feel darkness closing in. We might feel alone. Very alone. We might not understand why this pain is screaming loudly at us. But as we walk through this valley, we can take comfort in His promise and discover that God brings us close, offers us rest in His strength, and hides us in the shadow of His wings.
Isaiah 49:8-26 (emphasis mine)
Thus says the LORD,
“In a favorable time I have answered You,
And in a day of salvation I have helped You;
And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people,
To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages;
Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth,’
To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves ‘
Along the roads they will feed,
And their pasture will be on all bare heights.
“They will not hunger or thirst,
Nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down;
For He who has compassion on them will lead them
And will guide them to springs of water.
“I will make all My mountains a road,
And My highways will be raised up.
“Behold, these will come from afar;
And lo, these will come from the north and from the west,
And these from the land of Sinim.”
Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth!
Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains!
For the LORD has comforted His people
And will have compassion on His afflicted.
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
And the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
“Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.
“Your builders hurry;
Your destroyers and devastators
Will depart from you.
“Lift up your eyes and look around;
All of them gather together, they come to you
As I live,” declares the LORD,
“You will surely put on all of them as jewels and bind them on as a bride.
“For your waste and desolate places and your destroyed land–
Surely now you will be too cramped for the inhabitants,
And those who swallowed you will be far away.
“The children of whom you were bereaved will yet say in your ears,
‘The place is too cramped for me;
Make room for me that I may live here.’
“Then you will say in your heart,
‘Who has begotten these for me,
Since I have been bereaved of my children
And am barren, an exile and a wanderer?
And who has reared these?
Behold, I was left alone;
From where did these come?'”
Thus says the Lord GOD,
“Behold, I will lift up My hand to the nations
And set up My standard to the peoples;
And they will bring your sons in their bosom,
And your daughters will be carried on their shoulders.
“Kings will be your guardians,
And their princesses your nurses
They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth
And lick the dust of your feet;
And you will know that I am the LORD;
Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.
“Can the prey be taken from the mighty man,
Or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?”
Surely, thus says the LORD,
“Even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away,
And the prey of the tyrant will be rescued;
For I will contend with the one who contends with you,
And I will save your sons.
“I will feed your oppressors with their own flesh,
And they will become drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine;
And all flesh will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior
And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”