Rejoice! For today is the third Sunday of Advent and a time for us to reflect on joy.
This year I had the privilege of contributing to our church advent devotional which is comprised of stories from our church members as well as students from the OneLife Africa program in Nairobi, Kenya. I was particularly moved by the first devotion in the book written by Vivian, a OneLife Africa student.
Each person was challenged to share a story of God’s faithfulness in their lives as a testimony of and encouragement to have hope, even in the darkest of times.
May God’s faithfulness shine through my story.
The following is crossposted on Redeemer’s Advent Blog.
Wrapped snuggly in a small blanket, my son slept serenely in his cradle. I peeked over the side and closely monitored his chest to make sure it was moving up and down. After a few seconds, I felt peace as I confirmed he was breathing. With my mind momentarily at ease I climbed into my own bed and prepared to go to sleep. It was a bit warmer that night then it had been previously, what if my son was too warm? I turned to my husband and voiced my worry, “Do you think he might be too hot? Maybe we should have put a different shirt on him.” My husband replied with a logical answer, “If he is too hot, he will cry and let us know,” he assured me. “Okay,” I replied as I considered his answer. It seemed to make sense, but what if something else went wrong.
I moved a bit closer to my husband and asked, “Do you think he might spit up while he is sleeping again? Like the other day? What if he chokes on it?” My husband put his arm around me and in a reassuring voice told me that if our son were choking, we would hear him. Earlier that day I had looked up what to do if a baby was choking, so I knew I was prepared to handle that situation. I had one finally anxiety though, “But what—but what if he stops breathing and we don’t know, and we can’t do anything about it because it just happens suddenly. You know, what if he gets Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and he just dies? What then?”
My thoughts tumbled quickly from my mind to my mouth. I waited in resignation, confident that my husband would have no satisfactory answer for this worry. “God gave us our son,” my husband reminded me. “We just have to do the best with whatever time we have with him. We can trust God with his life. Do you want to pray to God about it?” Almost reluctantly I answered yes, and my husband prayed. However, as I tried to go to sleep more and more scenarios of what could go wrong flitted across my mind.
I had had a dream a few nights before where I dropped my son. What if I actually dropped him? People would think I was a bad mother. What if he was the only son God chose to give to us and I did something to mess him up? What if God chose that our time with our son was at an end? That would be sad; beyond sad; beyond comprehension. In the midst of the worries and anxieties, a small and quiet thought drew my attention. “Why are you thinking about these things?” it wondered.
Once, while perusing the Internet, I read that worry is a misuse of our imagination. As the possibilities of the worst bombarded my mind, I realized that I was indeed misusing my imagination. In the pause of this realization, I brought to mind a bible passage I had recently memorized. It was from Philippians:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
As I slowly went through each verse in my mind, I reflected on how Paul’s instruction could be applied to my present situation. Even if something bad did happen, I was called to rejoice in the Lord. In my heart I felt the weight of how hard that would be, but I prayed that God would give me the strength and resilience to rejoice in Him in all circumstances.
I marveled in the truth that God is not only ‘at hand,’ or ‘near,’ but that He resides with-in me.
Paul tells us that we are to pray about our worries and be thankful to God. Well, I had a lot of worries on my mind. So I presented them to God, and as I reflected on His provision in my life thus far, and as I recognized everything I had to be thankful for, I felt His peace settle over me.
In the passage, Paul instructs us in what ways we are to fill our mind and imagination. Our thoughts should abound with that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. It was quickly evident to me that none of my worries fell into any of these categories. Instead of thinking about all of the things that had not even happened, things that were ugly, and things that were lamentable, I began to think about things that fell into Paul’s categories…My son’s smiling face filled my mind as I remembered his joy when I had played with him earlier that day. I thought about how sweet he was as he cuddled into my arms. I thought about what plans God might have for his future, plans for goodness and hope…
Sometimes the darkness in my life seems small and fleeting. Sometimes I try to pretend there is no darkness at all. Sometimes I think I can handle everything on my own as long as I know enough, am prepared enough or am talented enough, but I cannot. It is only in God that I can find peace for my worries. God’s truth, love, and hope shines into even my smallest darkness and gives me strength when I realize the lies I have told myself.
How great is our God that he has given us his instruction to write on our hearts in mind through His precious Word! How wonderful it is that I can turn to him always in prayer and thanksgiving!
May we never lose sight of Our Father’s constant presence and availability during our smallest worries and our biggest tragedies. Amen.