Exchanging My Sackcloth for Gladness
Mar 27, 2016 02:35AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Sometimes we think if our pain isn’t instantly taken away, God has somehow left us. God doesn’t abandon people. People abandon people.
And people walk away from God.
Despite my heart’s desire, I wasn’t able to see my father as he lay dying for about 10 days between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December. The choice was made for me. The wreckage that has left in my heart and mind in the days since, just three and a half short months ago, cannot even be adequately described. Pain like this does not even have a name or definition. Grief doesn’t quite describe it. Trauma comes close. It’s like three elephants sit on my chest every day. Sometimes they get off to go get something to eat, but they usually wander back without warning and sit back on top of me again. It’s paralyzing.
Maybe this Easter you have made it through or are currently facing something similar.
I don’t know much right now, but I do claim this: I know more than I ever have how near God is to the brokenhearted because when the elephant sits on me, the panic that ensues only calms down when I remember Christ is holding my hand.
Please understand: I don’t stop hurting. It’s not a rescue.
It’s a presence, and it’s one I can fully trust.
Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV, Moses
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Until this week, I was still adorned in mourning clothes (in Bible times: sackcloth), covered in black from head to toe.
Why am I being so transparent?
I’m sharing this because I imagine others out there are mourning something or someone and need to know
how very near God is.
I needed to know, so life slowed down, and I found out.
Psalm 34:18, ESV, King David speaking
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
At first all I could do was cry, rock, call out: “Jesus, help me!” I would retreat to my room for hours at a time, when I didn’t have to parent or care for anyone, and lay down and pray. Christmas was a blur. We went to my husband’s father’s home in Alabama, and other than playing some card games with my amazing nephews and nieces, I pretty much therapy-colored my way through the end of December.
I would pray as I colored. I cried out to God openly and honestly, no matter which phase of grief I was currently in. I would tell Him whenever I was angry (okay, ripping POed). I would cry out my feelings of betrayal, abandonment, disappointment, and even shock. I would pray for healing for myself and others, for the ability to see blessings through the pain, for relationships to be righted, for me not to sin in my pain and anger—all while furiously coloring one mandala or folk art scene after another.
Every step of the way, no matter my feelings, there was a comfort beyond what any person could offer. There was a Friend sitting with me. There were times I could almost picture Him lifting my chin, wiping my tears, which perhaps was my imagination but spoke to how very close I felt He was. I would ask Him to cover me with His wings.
Psalm 91:4, ESV, author unknown, possibly Moses
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
And I felt covered. I was able to rise above the heaviness to increasingly handle more everyday tasks. The weight did not disappear, but God helped me carry it. Like I said, He wasn’t a knight in shining armor riding in to take the burden so I could have a pain-free life. It reminded me more of Moses when Aaron and Hur helped hold his hands up.
Exodus 17:12, ESV, Moses narrating
But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
During this time, I started to call out to God by His many names:
- Lamb of God
- Prince of Peace
- Holy One
- Mighty King
- Suffering Servant
- Foot Washer
- Righteous Sufferer
- Just Judge
- Alpha and Omega
The more I declared who He was, the more I believed it to be true. I declared it over this season of my life.
And when I put “my” in front of each of those names, wow!
My husband has always been an incredible comfort, so it didn't surprise me when he stepped in to hold me up. God surely provided for me there, and I am so grateful, but some of the less "expected" encouragements provided a space where I could see God's signature and His incredible nearness as well. Know what I mean?
For example, when I needed:
- Counsel: He provided three different small groups of women who share my faith to offer it.
- Biblical understanding: He offered me not one—but two!—pastors.
- A shoulder to cry on: Tender friends rallied.
- Some straight talk: Brave relationships with authority in my life spoke truth.
- Family to grieve with: A cousin offered me a place to mourn.
- A plan for facing a few events: A prayer accountability partner and a therapist brought a fuzzy time into greater clarity.
- A reason to leave the house and start to step back into life again: The right friends came alongside without pushing me too hard.
- Love to knock on my door: A friend greeted my pajama-ed, bed-hair self at the door with a drop-off mocha.
Sometimes it was tangible and sometimes more relational. Yes, He often used people to provide needs. That’s what He does.
I can also say with complete certainty that He sat with me through my coloring days, fury days, and stare-at-my-children days and
quieted me by His love.
Zephaniah 3:17, ESV, Zephaniah the Prophet
The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
God our Father makes these promises to us in the Bible. We either accept His promises as true or we don’t.
I tried them out during a devastating time in my own life, and I testify that they are 100 percent true.
But—you have to step into it and believe it. He’s already there if you’ve invited Him into your life. And if you haven’t, call out now. What are you waiting for?
“I need You, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior. I accept Your sacrifice on the cross for my sins. I believe you died and rose again and offer me eternal life with You.”
I stopped wearing black this week. It’s not a magical week. It’s just time. The Lord was near when I wore black, and He remains near now,
holding my hand,
stepping with me slowly,
like a soft dance,
until I can make the full transition that Psalm 30:11 speaks of—
—and I will.
Psalm 30:11, ESV, King David
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness…
Happy Resurrection Sunday! May He clothe you with gladness!
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.