Cheerleading in the Trenches
Oct 14, 2018 05:43PM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Bad news came in. A worry. A struggle. We encounter this “stuff of life” as we share burdens with others. I knew the weight of what this dear one was carrying while waiting on answers. I’d felt that weight before. In some ways, I was lugging around 10 pound weights of my own. The waiting place is a hard venue to hang out in. I’m not a big fan—but my best character growth tends to happen there.
As this friend shared her heart, I felt God prompting me. While I could not rush along answers or solutions (nor could I cast a clear vision of the future), I could point to God’s gifts along the way. Not in a forced, corny way. Not a: “Oh, this struggle is your little treasure. Take it out and pet it. See it shine!” kind of way.
No, more in the deep-down gritty trenches where ugly and dark shadows seem to crawl around us. That is where we look for the signature of God. Why? Because He is a good God, and He is good all the time. His name is Immanuel, which means God with us, so He is there in the trenches too. We can often see Him most clearly when the fog of life has drifted over and we are scrambling around for our flashlight.
So, I said to her: “My job is to help you find the signature of God in each step taken.”
Don’t we all want this? To know our Creator is with us, to see where He is acting on our behalf, to shine light into what feels and looks so dark in the moment? Sometimes a season of life looks impassable and impossible.
We are not meant to exercise our faith alone. That is the importance of fellowship to the believer in Christ. We need to cheer each other on. My friend had done the same for me many times.
These are the two founding verses for a “Parents of Children with Special Needs” support group I lead at my church. Can you see why?
Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
1 Thessalonians 5:11, 16, 17, ESV
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing.
On any given day, the parents in my group (including myself) might feel isolated, fearful, and without hope. But together, we are a force of encouragement—a pep rally of “You can do this!” for each other. Because we have met in the trenches with one another. We are not alone.
We all know people facing excruciating and enormous challenges: undergoing physical therapy after a devastating accident, becoming financially independent after a loss of spouse or job, making necessary health and diet changes after a scare, fighting cancer or other life-threatening illness, single parenting, raising a child with mental health or other struggles, climbing out of depression, etc.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t go one day without hearing a personal story like the ones above. We are all in the trenches in one way or another, whether we are the one extending a hand or the one stuck in the deepest mud and needing help.
There are other people I know who, whether it be a function of personality or experience or a matter of choice, they isolate in the stuck places. They don’t want to be vulnerable, so they tell themselves they are alone. Maybe they quietly desire a hand of help, but they push away what is offered. Maybe this was modeled for them, or perhaps they don’t know another way to manage their pain.
I never want anyone to feel alone. Because God is always with us when we believe in Him.
I was on a plane a few weeks ago when I noticed two seats over from me a man was clearly failing in health. Not temporarily sick but dying. I’ve seen enough cancer and illness in my day to almost smell it. The woman who sat across the aisle from me was his wife. She was tearing up and clearly weary. They had come to Phoenix from Alberta, Canada, with promises of hope from a hospital there, but by the time they arrived, he was septic. They told them to go back to Canada and straight to his hometown emergency room to die. (I may be missing some of the pieces of the story.) She shared snippets through her pain and shock. They had come with their older son who found this hospital, and they were prepared to stay several months through treatment.
Her statements still speak in my memory: “This was not the plan. I feel like God brought us to Phoenix for a reason. And now we are detoured, and I just don’t understand it. I am going home to watch my husband die. Where is God’s plan?”
Amazingly, I did not hear anger in her voice. She was merely mid-transition in a different direction, and she was waiting on God to show her next steps. There was disappointment and even disillusionment, but her faith was still ringing through.
At least a decade her junior and knowing the strength of the feelings she was carrying around, I felt that God wanted me to listen and show her where He was in all of it. He was there, but she was in torment, her husband spending last breaths on his way back home.
I started with kindness. (Now, none of this was my own wisdom. I had to pray and listen to God’s guidance throughout the entire interaction.) I offered my uneaten sandwich to her and her son. I acknowledged their hunger on many levels. Their weariness.
I listened when she needed to speak. I acknowledged what a tough turnaround of expectations and how hard that must be.
I then spoke into the amazing gift she was for her husband. How strong she was, and that God knows how tired she is, but He must be so pleased. She was passing blankets and arguing with 60 year old male pride, trying to get him to accept her help, even then.
I said how beautiful it was their family was in this together, that her 28 year old son came alongside. That she surely did an amazing job raising him for him to know it was his place at their side. Not everyone has that, I said. I said it was truly an honor to watch them in action.
In the end, I reminded her that it is not over until God said it was—not to set up false hope but because we both acknowledged the sovereignty of God. His ways are not our ways.
I told her I would be praying. I prayed quietly throughout the flight. But beyond that, I could leave her strengthened. I could speak edifying words. I could be her cheerleader when she was holding everything together for her family. I could wipe away a tear, and I could offer a hug and a blessing. I could give her the best gift I’ve ever received: Shalom, the peace of God.
I want to end with one of my favorite accounts in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. In it, after hearing instruction from God, Moses holds up the famous staff (with which he struck the Nile) to lead Israel into victory against the Amalekites. Moses was holding up his people, much as the woman on the airplane was serving as the strength of her family, but he grew weary. And when he did, God provided Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms.
Exodus 17:8-16, ESV
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 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. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, "A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."
We all need people to hold up our arms once in a while, and surely, many around us need to be strengthened as well. As we enter this next week, let’s ask ourselves:
- Who can I encourage this week?
- Who is in the trenches?
- Who has been there in the waiting place alongside me? I can thank God for them.
- Whose arms needs to be held up for a while as they fulfill God’s purposes and/or walk through their own battles?
I promise you that if you ask Him to show you, He will, because He loves to see us love and encourage one another.
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.