by Sharon Barshinger
Right before we entered Lent, Jessica Klien gave me a devotional called, “The Journey to the Cross” by Will Walker and Kendal Haug. It started out describing the pattern of God drawing people into the wilderness, stripping everything in order to more fully give Himself to them. The devotional started on Ash Wednesday, which was February 26th. In that period of time, I felt very much that I could identify a sort of “wilderness” that God was taking me through in order to bring healing. And I really appreciated that analogy, because it helped give me a sense of peace as I knew that the next several weeks were going to be really challenging. What I didn’t realize was how challenging they were going to be. In addition to the “wilderness” that I was already walking through, the weeks following Ash Wednesday have brought loss after loss after loss. A potential relationship I was excited about ended up going a different direction than I hoped; my kickboxing gym was closed, followed by my jiu-jitsu gym; I lost my job; my ability to see my friends, attend church services and take communion; my chance to have my debut kickboxing match; one of the special needs guys that my family has cared for for 21 years died and I didn’t get say goodbye. There are probably more that I could list, and you all have your own lists. We have entered into a period of loss and drought and wilderness. I know I am not alone in feeling this way, but it is exhausting. Especially because it is easy for me to look on the past several years and focus on the many, many losses that I have gone through - often forgetting the overwhelming number of blessings that are woven alongside. When Ash Wednesday came round, even though I was in a stressful situation in that moment, I really believed that God was beginning to restore what “the locust has eaten” - a verse that many people had quoted to me in encouragement as I wrestled with deep heartbreak and despair in the years prior. For God to instead lead me through a path that felt like more was being stripped away from me rather than restored, was really challenging. And as I sit and type this I know there is the potential for even more to be lost. I have a ticket booked to Singapore on August 29th, and I am praying that I still get to board that plane, but I know that dream and goal may be delayed or even denied. As I have wrestled with being tired of feeling like I’m in a constant wilderness and longing for the promised land, God has brought Philippians 3:7-11 often to mind: 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. And what has been an encouragement to me is be at the place where I can testify that it is true. There is nothing that I have lost in my life up until now that Jesus has not used to bring me into a sweeter relationship with him. The only difference with this stretch of wilderness for me, is that I’m not kicking and screaming and swearing at Him as much as I used to. Because I have seen His goodness in the midst of desolation. Because I have seen His faithfulness to me in the midst of straight up blaspheming, sacrilege, and idolatry. That doesn’t make it less painful. I’m crying as I type this. There’s a lot of sorrow and grief in this whole situation. A simple example is I really, really miss my gyms. I miss training. It’s something that Jesus has used to be an amazingly powerful means of healing in my life. It gave me goals and a purpose for my future. But as much as it sucks to have to train at home, I know that it would be better for me never to hit a bag again if it meant that I got more of Jesus. And I think something I’m realizing as I have had to dismantle my expectations of what it meant for Jesus to want me to have life and life abundantly, is that even though there are aspects of things that I have lost in my life which I may never see a restoration of in an earthly sense, there is always a restoration of it in spiritual sense, in that I get more Jesus. And that’s the biggest upgrade I can get. He’s the only one who can deal with my sin, the reality of death, and give eternal meaning, dignity, and love to my life. There is no one that I could be in relationship with, experience I could have, or possession I could own, that is more beautiful than Jesus and the love He bestows. I still struggle to rest in that. I don’t want to make it seem like just because I don’t cuss God out as much that I’m some perfectly contented saint who doesn’t find less obvious ways of bucking against what God is doing. But I’m grateful to be able to be more confident in what Jesus is doing, even if I still don’t like it and feel like my plan was a better plan. Jesus has just proven Himself to know what is best for me over and over again. Even in situations that one can’t imagine goodness being worked into, He is able and faithful. In that, I wait. I love how God has timed this crisis through Lent, through Easter. We’re on Holy Saturday today which is an awkward day. It’s after the death of our Lord - who Himself experienced monumental loss so that He could pour Himself into us - but before the resurrection. We’ve experienced the loss and are just waiting for the restoration. But it’s coming. Tomorrow we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. The ultimate loss that impacts and threatens our lives has been defeated. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the end of loss and the beginning of restoration. And we still wait. Because in forty more days we celebrate the Ascension and the reality that Jesus is coming back to bring to finality what was declared by that empty tomb. Jesus promised that in this life we would have trouble. We know this is reality because we have all experienced the deep brokenness of our world. It’s especially real to us right now. But He also promised that there is a day coming when He will wipe away every tear and there will be no more sorrow or sickness, or death, or mourning. Instead there will be joy and life everlasting and we will finally be able to dwell perfectly with God - Our Beloved Restorer. As we experience loss and uncertainty and a myriad of emotions, I hope that as we honestly express our pain to Jesus that we can cling to the truth that God is making all things new - especially our losses.