At the start of last year I chose John 14:1 to serve as my touchstone verse for 2010. At the time I was preoccupied by the publishing grind, frustrated by my lack of progress and struggling to control the outcome. John 14:1 – "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me" – spoke to my need for control and my lack of trust. I thought about the verse often as I struggled to let God's will reign.
Little did I know at the time how important that verse would become for me during the year. When my mother-in-law Janice died in September, I struggled with the fact that she suffered so much. "Why did her dying need to be so prolonged?" I wondered. "Why did she, and we, need to experience so much pain and loss? What was the point of such agony? What purpose did it serve?"
I turned to that verse again and again, repeating it to myself as I walked the kids to school, as I drove to work, as I folded laundry.
"Trust in God. Trust in God. Trust in God."
When I succumbed to grief, when I found I couldn't answer any of the bitter questions that rose like bile in my throat, I discovered that all I could do was trust. The verse that began as a simple mantra to address a relatively insignificant problem became a lifesaving grace.
I didn't plan to choose a verse at the start of 2011. It crossed my mind, but in the flurry of holiday preparations and travel, I didn't have time to page through the Psalms or the Gospels to search for phrases that would soak into my heart. But just a few days ago, as I read the early chapters of Exodus, these lines jumped off the page:
"Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today...the Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm." (Exodus 14:13-14, NLT)
These words, it turns out, are meant for me, as I teeter on the edge of a brand-new year that bumps ahead of me like a pot-holed city road.
Like the Israelites poised and hesitant in desert wilderness, I don't feel particularly courageous or adventurous or confident. I don't feel especially positive about the new year. Instead, the twelve months loom large and burdensome, peppered with milestones that will sear with the ache of missing: Janice's birthday; Easter; a summer vacation at their Minnesota cabin; Janice and Jon's 50th wedding anniversary, missed by one short year; the one-year anniversary of her death. And like the Israelites, sometimes I think I'd rather say, "No thank you. I don't care to step forward. I prefer to go back to the way it was."
Moses tells me that God is with me; that he will accompany me and rescue me in the days that lay ahead. My role is simple: I need to stand still, to be still. To breathe out fear and keep my eyes open wide, watching for God's presence in the living.
Are you greeting the new year with a sense of dread or sadness? Perhaps Moses' words will be some comfort to you, too?
"Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today...the Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm." (Exodus 14:13-14, NLT