I was talking about this with our neighbors Mike and Katie the other week, when Mike told me about the Bible Project Leviticus video. Have you heard about the Bible Project videos? They’re fantastic! Each video on a different book of the Bible is only about 5 minutes long and provides an excellent overview of the narrative and central message of that given book. Here’s the one on Leviticus. I had no idea about the literary structure of the book of Leviticus! The Bible is so rich!
There are so many facets to what Jesus accomplished on the cross and through his resurrection, I can’t fully wrap my brain around it all. Marvelous mystery.
A couple years ago, I wrote this post about Jesus being our final atoning sacrifice as he endured God’s full wrath (can you imagine??) for every heinous sin ever committed or to be committed.
This Easter weekend, I’ve been thinking about that curtain tearing and Jesus letting me enter into intimate, unencumbered relationship with Him. That I get to actually know Him, his very person, makes my heart burst every time I think of it! He challenges, disarms, and moves me with His unequivocal, personal love.
Which leads me to reflect on perhaps one of our most intimate moments that is forever burned in my memory. It is the day I wrestled with Him.
It’s not a feeling I had ever really known before. Sure, I had dreaded enduring a hard sports practice, or encountering a difficult person, or having a tough conversation. But past those experiences, true dread was not familiar to me.
Then, my dear dad was diagnosed with a possibly cancerous and inoperable spinal cord tumor, and I braced myself for the possibility of losing him. And my heart ached in a way it had never ached before. I’ve heard you’re never really ready to lose a parent no matter how old you are.
Dad’s most recent MRI had shown a mass extending from his mid-back to the base of his spinal cord. The tumor, we were told, was inside his spinal cord and appeared to be growing fast. That news made my heart sink. The night before my flight to be with my dad, Matt had held me in his arms on our living room floor as I knelt in a ball and cried until my head hurt.
Our new rental house had roaches, stuff was not unpacked, and…home was not “home” yet. It was just a place we were staying. Looking back, I’m grateful that we had a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in and running water and air conditioning and our arms and legs. But at the time, I just saw bugs and boxes, an empty womb and a possible upcoming funeral for someone I loved very much. My brain had been foggy for weeks. Matt thought it was because of my iron deficiency after the miscarriage. I don’t know. I just know I had the memory retention of a gnat and would wander into the kitchen and stand there wondering what to do next. I felt like I was aimlessly floating around without my brain.
The day of my flight home to potentially say goodbye to my dad and be with him before the surgery, God in his love and amazing ability to carry me when I have nothing left, helped me write 30 pages of sub plans, finish progress reports, and hold parent teacher conferences. In a way, school had been a blessed distraction to me, allowing me to focus my mind on something other than dad’s condition.
After my last conference, I ran to catch my flight, and once buckled in my airplane seat, was grateful to finally be still. I watched as foreigners holding Disney World paraphernalia boarded the plane, and I was relieved that many of them didn’t speak English and were too distracted to notice me. When the plane was in the air, the lights off, the engine humming, I leaned forward, head down, resting on my folded arms, and cried silently. “Oh Lord Jesus, please don’t let my dad die. I don’t think I can do this.”
I’ve heard from different people that it is important for the patient to go into surgery with a positive attitude, so I decided to steel myself and not cry in front of my dad. My prayer went something like this, “Lord, please hold me together and help me not to be a basket case in front of dad and mom for their sake right now. I want to be a blessing to them. Show me ways to help them right now.” And He was faithful to answer that prayer. He helped me hold it together during the days, until I could cry myself to sleep at night, trying to stifle the sound in my pillow so dad wouldn’t hear me. Perhaps more than the miscarriage, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. My heart felt like it was being shredded.
My brother came over to my parents’ house, Mom made our favorite family meal, and we reminisced as a family and laughed, then had a really intimate, powerful, worshipful prayer time huddled together. Laying our hands on Dad and laying our specific requests before God, we each went around and prayed, thanking the Lord for his faithfulness and graciousness to our family over the years, praising Him for who He is and for the what He had taught us about Himself through my patient, loving, forgiving dad. And we pleaded for healing, professing Him as the Healer and Great Physician. It was a very sweet and special time. (I did let myself cry during that time since we were all crying). My brother prayed an eloquent and powerful prayer. When it was my turn, my prayer was a little squeakier, but I prayed out loud for God’s peace among other things, and was able to verbalize to God that I trusted Him and released my dad to Him. When we said amen and held each other in a long hug, I felt relieved to have released those tears with them, and I felt God’s peace wash over me.
But then, that night, the dread hit me hard. Being honest with God was not a new concept to me. I had volumes of journals of our conversations together. Me crying out and asking Him questions. Him answering and assuring me with his Word. But the night before my dad’s surgery – possibly his last night on earth – I wrestled with Him in a way I had never experienced before. There in my childhood bed, at my parents’ house, alone, I had it out with God. I had never thought the things I was thinking that night. I had never said the things I was saying. I was angry with Him. Really angry and really hurt. I felt such utter dread about losing my dad. God felt far.
With tear-stained pillow and crumpled wads of kleenex scattered on the comforter and floor, I made my own personal plea. “God, I’m not healed from the miscarriage yet. Are you going to take my dad from me too? I’m not ready to lose him! Please, God, don’t! Do you kick your children when they’re down? Is that what you do? Is that who are?? Are you cruel?? Is this a side of you I don’t know? Who are you?!”
I knew that there was a real enemy who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. But I wasn’t wrestling with him. I was wrestling with the One I loved. The one who had the power to speak the pain away. It had been a year since I had re-read Job with new eyes and When God Weeps – books that had profoundly shaped my theology of suffering and my beliefs about God’s sovereignty in life changing, mind boggling, and comforting ways. But that night, when the pain was mine and real and excruciating, not somebody else’s and not just theological … I wrestled.
“If this is your will, God, then I hate your will. I do. I hate it. I don’t know if I want to be yours if this is how you do things.”
Even while I was saying these things, I was ashamed that I felt them at all. And so deeply. I was ashamed at my lack of faith and trust in his unchanging goodness in that moment. But oh, the hurt! And the anger!
And then, quieter and with shakier voice, “…oh God, I don’t want to hate your will. I’m frightened that I’m speaking to you like this. Please forgive me. Where are you???”
And moments later, He brought to my mind a very clear picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, weeping and asking his Father to take a bitter cup from him.
“Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.”
“God, if there is any way you can take this cup from me, please take it!”
And then the words that I needed His help to say again:
“Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done.”
Those words. Such trust and surrender in the midst of absolute agony. They always give me wondrous pause. And I forced myself to say them.
“Being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
And I pictured Jesus’s face with empathetic eyes looking at me, and I heard him say, “I know deep dread. I am well acquainted with it. You are not alone in this. I feel your dread and am right here feeling it all with you, my darling.”
And I laid there in His loving arms.
To be honest, I was so relieved that JESUS, the Son of GOD, actually felt dread in regards to God’s will. That was monumentally comforting to me in that moment. Ultimately, Jesus surrendered of course and drank the bitter cup, but my! what validation he brought to the human emotion of dread for me!
I pictured him mirroring me on that bed. When I buried my face and cried into my pillow, I imagined him crying into the pillow next to mine. When there was a lull, and I lay on my side sniffling, he lay on His side looking at me with the kindest, most tender, gentle, loving expression I’ve ever imagined Him looking at me with. As a quiet tear rolled out of the corner of my eye, a quiet tear rolled out of the corner of His. And there we lay, looking at each other, until I finally fell asleep.
I could finally rest, having encountered the Jesus who knew dread and could carry mine.