Taking reassurance from the words of Corrie Ten Boom
I stood staring at the tiny unmoving form with my heart thudding strangely against my ribs. Nollie, always braver than I, stretched out her hand and touched the ivory-white cheek. I longed to do it too, but hung back, afraid. For a while curiosity and terror struggled in me. At last I put one finger on the small curled hand.
It was cold.
Cold as we walked back to the Beje, cold as I washed for supper, cold even in the snug gas-lit dining room. Between me and each familiar face around the table crept those small icy fingers. For all Tante Jan’s talk about it, death had been only a word. Now I knew that it could really happen – if to the baby, then to Mama, to Father, to Betsie!
Still shivering with that cold, I followed Nollie up to our room and crept into bed beside her. At last we heard Father’s footsteps winding up the stairs. It was the best moment in every day, when he came up to tuck us in. We never fell asleep until he had arranged the blankets in his special way and laid his hand for a moment on each head. Then we tried not to move even a toe.
But that night as he stepped through the door, I burst into tears. “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can’t die! You can’t!”
Beside me on the bed Nollie sat up. “We went to see Mrs. Hoog,” she explained. “Corrie didn’t eat her supper or anything.”
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam – when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffed a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the times comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.”
(Taken from Chapter 2 of The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill)
The story above is just one of the gems from my all-time favourite book, The Hiding Place. It’s a story I’ve been thinking about a lot this past week or so. The week has been a very full one, and, in many ways, a very good one. You may remember a few weeks ago that I mentioned I was traveling through what I thought to be one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Well, this week I spent a few days not traveling through, but stationed right in that lovely spot. I was really looking forward to it, and indeed the first couple days there I genuinely felt almost overwhelmed by the place, as if I just didn’t know how to physically or mentally process the raw and unadulterated beauty I was being faced with (I know that may seem a bit overdramatic to some of you less interested in hills and trees, but quite honestly, my enthusiasm is to be wholly attributed to just how wonderful this area is). But the third day went a bit differently. But then, mainly due to my own lack of planning, I had a bit of a disastrous day with buses and taxis and scheduling in general. In the end, it was really a day of amazing feats of God’s graciousness and attentiveness to me, because I literally thought I was going to be stranded for the night in a city that was not the one my hostel was in, with no way of getting back and possibly no way of getting to be where I needed to be to catch the 10-hour bus back home in the morning. Only due to the quick-thinking kindness of a very caring and gracious taxi driver, I caught the very last bus of the night to where I needed to be by mere seconds, and only because it was 15 minutes late. Yet, after all those mini-miracles, I think what remained the most disappointing thing of the day was not the parts of the schedule that didn’t work out, but the fact that all my enjoyment from what should have been a perfectly delightful day was drained by the fact that I was all worked up the whole time with fears that ended up not even coming true.
When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
Corrie Ten Boom
Like my days of travel this weekend, the season I’m in in life at the moment has been quite an unsteady one, clouded with uncertainty towards the future, and uncertainty on where to be and what to be doing. This past week has involved some big decisions regarding these things. Those of you who know me personally know that my mom’s health has been a bit unsettled these past few years, and though we don’t feel afraid for her immediate future, being reminded of the fragility of life for the ones we love can also be an unsteadying feeling. This weekend after I got home from my travels, I was having trouble feeling like I was being bombarded with those horrible “What if’s?” What if this job I want doesn’t work out? What if this change means I’m giving up on some of my dreams forever? What if leaving behind my current friends means I never experience this quality of friendship ever again? What if being in this new situation means I have to leave behind or turn off parts of myself because there’s not opportunities to exercise them in the same way? What if I just don’t fit in and don’t like where I am? What if doing x means I miss out forever on y?
Part of the fear in these “what ifs” comes not just from hypothetical scenarios, but from real-life experience in the area I’ve made a decision in, and knowing that realistically there are things that could indeed be quite hard. But this is why I love Corrie’s story and her Father’s response to her fear.
When we’re experiencing anxiety, a response we often get from others is, “Oh, don’t worry, it will be fine.” And, while just a moment’s examination reveals that that answer is incredibly vague and really has no substance to it, I think most of us looking back on these times would agree that most of the time things really do turn out just fine. But truthfully, we do actually live in a fallen world with brokenness that permeates all areas of life, and sometimes the fears we have turn out to be very real. There are health crises and difficult work environments and imperfect people, and we may very well be impacted by any or all of the above. We were never promised that life would be easy-breezy; in fact, quite the opposite. Instead of giving us meaningless vague reassurances, Jesus explicitly warned us, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)
But that’s not all He told us. The full verse actually goes, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Here Jesus isn’t telling us to base our peace on the fact that our fears probably won’t come true. No, His foundation for peace is much more solid than that. The resource He gives stands firm regardless of how circumstances turn out, and doesn’t depend on words like, “probably”. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, x probably won’t come true.” but rather, “Don’t worry. Because whether or not x comes true, I will be with you, and there’s nothing in this world that I am not sovereign and victorious over, or anything that can separate my love, attention, mercy, and compassion from you.”
In this life, it is a good thing to pray for God’s blessings and powerful interceding in all aspects of our life. But there will also inevitably be times and areas in which we come face-to-face with this world’s great brokenness – if not in some more dramatic fashion, then perhaps, just like Corrie was afraid of, just the experience of losing loved ones to old age. It is more likely, however, that we will experience multiple seasons of disappointment, of physical, emotional, or spiritual pain, of broken dreams, difficult relationships, or many other things that cause us dread. Comforting ourselves and attempting to assuage our anxiety with “Don’t worry, it probably won’t happen” doesn’t help us much anymore when the thing does happen, or even once we’ve lived long enough to reply with, “Yes, probably…but it’s happened before”. Instead of meaningless half-truths, we need to turn our hearts to the Full Truth of Christ and remember that, when we are in these seasons, so is God. And He is the God who is still victorious over life and death, still our Provider who gives us everything we need, still our Brother and Friend when we are lonely, still the Good Father who nurtures us with gentle love, discipline, and wisdom, and still the Jovial Good King who rules the world in justice and delights in showering us with good gifts.
On the way home from my trip this past weekend, I stood alone at an isolated bus stop on a lonely country road waiting for my 10-hour trip home for nearly two hours before a lady from a nearby hotel ran out and told me the bus company had called and asked them to find me to say the road was closed and the bus I had booked would not be able to make it for me after all (they sent a taxi for me instead to take me to a place that would cross paths with the bus so I could hop on there. But I digress…) I’d had a bit of a bad feeling something like that was going to happen, and as I stood there waiting and waiting those two hours with no internet or phone to help me figure out what happened, the anxiety indeed started to build. But as I looked around at all the beauty of the nature around me, something about being upset just seemed so wrong and at odds with my surroundings. So instead, in an attempt to set my heart and mind aright, I started to quietly hum and sing some worship songs to myself. There were a few cars that drove past, so I tried to be careful about not looking like a crazy person, but as I sang the lines from those old songs, I realized that even though my bus fears actually could come true (which, in fact, they sort of did), what was really the worst that could happen? I still had a God who cared for me, who fought for me and was on my side, and if this God had built the world atom-by-atom, had commanded angel armies, had given me every single breath in my lungs and beat of my heart without forgetting once, what was fixing one bus trip to Him, really?
He is the One that knows our deepest darkest selves, and yet loves us enough to die for us so that we can be with Him for eternity. The One who has fought the world off our backs to open our eyes to the Truth and bound us to Himself in faithfulness. The Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief, who Himself faced the darkness of this world and wept over its brokenness in person. Yes, in this world we will indeed all face trouble. But, dear brothers and sisters, take heart! For this man, this Lover of our Souls, He has overcome the world. Each day has enough troubles of its own; we were never promised the energy or resources to deal in this moment with what may or may not be coming in the future. Like little Corrie and her Father with the train ticket, it may not even be wise or helpful if we were given what we needed too early. No, whatever troubles our train may be carrying when it approaches, our Lord has just what we need to face it in His good, loving, and providing hand. And we can rest in the fact that He will give us the exact resources we need to deal with the day of trouble exactly at the moment when we need them. Whatever troubles you fear are on the horizon, take courage, brother and sister! Your loving Father holds the ticket in one hand, and your tiny fingers in the other. And He promises when the train arrives, what He’s kept safe for you He will press into your hand – just in time.