She sat in the dimly lit room, holding a frail, almost lifeless hand. The very hand that had cradled her as a baby. The hand that had fed her, bathed her, brushed and braided her hair, soothed away sorrows and stings. The hand that she had held when she walked to school, to church, to the store. The hand that had held her and comforted her when she had suffered losses and grief and pain.
They say that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, and this hand and the beautiful woman behind it had certainly changed so many people’s lives. Certainly it had changed her own life. And now it was slipping away.
She sang a last song, lost in the wonder of the quiet hush in the room, the stillness of the shadows, and time seemed to stand still. Her voice rose and swelled with an almost unearthly bloom as she sang the beautiful verse,
“To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing. To God and to the Lamb I will sing! To God and to the Lamb, who is the Great I Am, while millions join the theme, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on! While millions join the theme, I’ll sing on!”
She felt a presence in the room. Not an eerie one, like the feeling of being watched. It was a comfort. A strength that held her up, and a voice that said “I am with you. Do not be afraid.” She clung to that precious feeling as she sang on and on.
Finally she paused for a breath, and in that moment she realized that the other’s breath was gone. The face was peaceful, eyes closed in reverence, and looked as beautiful as ever. Radiant, even. In that moment she was finally meeting her beloved Savior.
She laid the hand down and cried for a moment. It was bittersweet as she breathed in the reality of what had just happened. No more pain, no more sorrows, beautiful bliss. But so much pain on this end. So much sorrow. So much missing and wishing for just a little longer. How do you let go of someone you’ve known and loved your entire life? The one who gave you life, who cared for your every need, who taught you how to walk, to talk, to read, to write, to care for a home? The one who taught you what it meant to love and follow Jesus? How do you let go of that beautiful hand?
She wrapped herself in the beautiful gift of His presence and rested in the knowledge that He knew best. That he cared. That he is near, and abiding with us. That he would never leave her or forsake her. And she found the strength to go on.
A Living Reality
I’m describing the scene my mother described to me of my grandmother’s death a few weeks ago. It’s impossible to put it into the right words, but when she described it to me, it took my breath away. When she told me how she had felt his presence so near, I cried. ‘
I’ve felt that too. And it’s so beautiful!!
I felt it when I was in labor with my son. I was weak and weary from an incredibly long, hard labor. I was losing the will to go on, and had no strength left. I cried out to him for strength and he answered. It’s impossible to describe the feeling, but in that moment, nothing else mattered. I felt him real and near and with me. He filled me with trust and my body with the strength that I needed. He carried me through.
I felt his presence when I stood on the beach in Florida a month ago, staring at the waves. They crashed over the rock and leaped at the shore and the water stretched for miles on end. I was grieving the very reason that I was there, that my grandma was passing away. I was grieving the fact that death is a reality we cannot escape. And there, undistracted by all the noise of the birds and the children playing around me, he met me. He was with me. He filled me with joy in his purpose and a sweet contentment to rest in him.
I felt his presence in the hospital room when my Amy was so, so sick. They told me her heart was probably not healthy, and it broke my own heart. I cradled her against my 9-month-pregnant tummy and cried and cried, begging the Lord for strength and trust and help. I stayed awake all night, and in the darkness and in the grief he met me. He was there, in that room, comforting me. Speaking peace to me. Assuring me that he was in control, and that all would be well. And it was well.
I felt his presence in the other hospital room, after I gave birth to my Amy, and I began to hemorrhage uncontrollably. I felt my life slipping away from my body, and all I could think about was Jesus. I felt him with me, holding me, sustaining me, and I begged him to let me live, for my family, for my children. And he heard. He helped. He was tangible to me in that moment, as though I could touch his presence if I had wanted to.
He is Near
The beautiful reality is that Jesus is near. He is with us, he is a present help. He is Emmanuel, God with us. It’s only because of our busyness and bustling through life that we often overlook or miss his presence. But it it there all the time!
It’s been in the moments when I realized I needed him most that I felt him most. I believe that he is with us all the time, but we get busy and forget how much we truly need him. When all the distractions are removed, when the busyness means nothing, and I’m facing something insurmountable, I feel him near. I think it’s because I can focus on only one thing in those moments. I can only focus on how much I need him. I realize my own weakness, my incapability to help myself. My pride and self-reliance is stripped away and all that’s left is a soul that craves his presence and his sustenance and his rescue.
It’s not as though these moments are extra-supernatural or anything like that. The Bible tells us over and over what a hope we have in Jesus because he is near. He is not a God far off and removed. He came to earth as a human being and lived a life just like us so that he could IDENTIFY with us! What kind of a god would do that? One who loves his people and truly desires to know them intimately. He’s not a God who rules from afar, like a puppeteer or cruel slave-master. He is with us.
Think of the original creation. God walked with Adam and Eve. He was with them. Tangibly with them. And then they sinned and that sin separated God and man. But Christ broke down that separation by his death and calls all to repent, to follow him, and to be known by him. He truly delights to know his people. So many religions are based on a distant, unforgiving, unloving god. A god who demands obedience and perfection and gives no way to attain that. A god who cannot possibly sympathize with or relate to his people because he’s so far above them. Our God, the One True God, is not like these so-called gods. He is WITH US. He tore the veil that separated God and man, he sent his son to the earth to walk with us and become one of us, and so he knows perfectly how to care for and love us.
God with Us
The word Emmanuel means “God with Us.” God, in human flesh, with us.
Is God with you? Do you feel his presence? Do you come before his presence often, in the full assurance that he hears your prayers, that he is holding you and sustaining you and WITH you?
I admit, I forget this reality so much more often than I should! I try to live on my own strength (pathetic as it is). I try to plan my own life and do my own things and forget that Christ is with me. Really with me.
I forget to call on him sometimes when I’m having a hard day as a mom. I forget to draw from his strength. I neglect his word sometimes, and I have seasons of dry prayer. I allow things in the way of my relationship with him.
I used to cringe when others would talk about having a “relationship” with Christ because it sounded so nominal, and kind of weird. But I’ve realized it’s truly what he desires from us! He wants to be in fellowship with us daily, moment by moment, sustaining and guiding us as we discern his will and delight in his presence. He wants a relationship that is full of love and life and joy in him. And I need to do so much better at cultivating and enjoying that relationship!
The Bible talks repeatedly about Christ being with his people, and about us being with him. Romans talks about how we are IN CHRIST. Jesus talked about ABIDING IN HIM in John. 1 Corinthians talks about FELLOWSHIP with Christ, and BEING JOINED to Christ, and being MEMBERS with Christ. Ephesians speaks of how we are ONE BODY with Christ. Colossians describes how we have died and our lives are HIDDEN WITH CHRIST in God. So many more. Some of these may refer specifically to the corporate body of Christ, as his church, but I think are applicable to us as individual believers. The point throughout Scripture, though, is the idea of a Savior who is intimate with his people.
What’s holding you back from a deeper fellowship with Christ. What hinders you from feeling and knowing his presence?
Is it a job that you are too busy doing?
Is it your home, and material concerns?
Is it your children and a crazy household?
Is it a lack of discipline or laziness with time in God’s word?
Is it your craze to get healthy or fit and you’ve lost sight of more important things?
There are so many things that will continue to try to pull us from our fellowship with Christ, but we must resist those things. Weed them out and get rid of them, if we need to, but don’t allow them to grow. Busy lives and too many distractions will do exactly what they are intended to: they’ll keep us distracted from Christ. They’ll make us forget our purpose, and drive us to do meaningless things in the pursuit of money, or happiness, or whatever else.
We must fight that. We must ask Christ to show us more of his glorious presence. We must make the time to enjoy that presence, undistracted by life.
We must learn to love Jesus as he loved us.
My favorite hymn is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Listen to one verse of it:
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free, Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, Shall come to the thee, O Israel.
Emmanuel has come, and he will come again, to finally save his people. But right now, even here, he is still with us. He abides with us.
Rejoice this New Year in the fact that we have a God who is near. We have a Savior who is with us. We have a Redeemer who delights to be our friend and our brother. We have a King who washes his servants’ feet, who is humble and meek and mild. We have a ruler who will someday be with us for all of eternity. We will walk together on a new earth.
Rejoice in Emmanuel: God with Us.