Thursday, September 29

Stood Up

Stood Up

Read Psalm 33

Contributed by Melissa Howell, pastor’s wife, mom to two sweet boys and co-author of the devotional book for teens Fusion: Where You and God Connect. Thank you Melissa, for graciously offering this article.*

On a morning train from Rome bound for Naples, Italy during our backpacking trip across Europe 8 years ago, my husband and I were forced to share a train car with some of the coolest friends we have ever made – Andrea and Paul. They were warm, open, fun-loving, adventuresome Christian young people from Oregon, and we became almost instant friends. By the time the train ride ended, we didn’t want to leave them, so we followed them to their campground overlooking the sea and spent 3 amazing, fun-filled, memorable days in their company. Together we toured the ruins of Pompeii, ate exquisite pastas and sampled dozens of gelato flavors, swam in the Mediterranean, and explored the streets and shops of Sorrento.

At the end of the 3 days, being so reluctant to part ways, we all promised each other that we would meet in Paris a week later under the south east leg of the Eiffel tower at noon.

They caught a train to a wedding in Malta. We crossed the border into Germany.

And a week passed.

At noon on the appointed day, Greg and I eagerly positioned ourselves plainly in front of Eiffel’s south east leg, and waited. Hundreds of people milled around this vast area underneath the tower, as we earnestly searched for our friends’ faces in the crowd. We had grown so close in only a few short days, and we couldn't wait to see them!

But 20 minutes passed, and there was no sign of them. Then 40 minutes passed, and then an hour. After the second hour, instead of wasting our entire day by the tower’s leg, we decided to give up on our friends. Clearly, they had stood us up. They had abandoned us. We waited and longed for them, but they never showed.

I have felt this way about God sometimes – haven’t you? We go through a time of deep enjoyment of Him, and then there comes a time of struggle, a time apart. We search for God, we wait on Him and long for Him, but no one comes. We ask for His presence, and beg for His nearness. We need Him! But we are met with silence. We feel deserted, stood up, disillusioned, and alone. Wherever God is, He is not near to us.

We know that especially in times of actual depression, this abandonment seems to be a very real thing – depression keeps us in a state where we are unable to feel happiness, love, joy, or even God, though all those things may in fact truly be there. All we can feel is despair, and every other hope seems lost. Even in times of trial or tragedy, we can find ourselves in this state of affairs – waiting on God to show up, earnestly desiring a God that seems missing in action.

God has, seemingly, stood us up.

But the waiting was not – is never – the end of the story.

I have always wondered what happened to the friends we met in Europe. Many times over the years, Greg and I would try to imagine what caused their absence that day. But then last week I got a strange Facebook request from a girl I didn’t know – someone named Andrea who lived in Oregon, and attached to the friend request was this note: “I don’t know if you’ll remember me, it’s been so long – but we met you on a train leaving Rome….”

It was them! Our long lost friends. Instantly, I sent a reply stating how excited I was to have finally found them, how much fun we had with them all those years ago, etc. But I also included a simple question: “Where were you on the day we were supposed to meet in Paris? We have always wondered.”

I couldn’t have been more surprised at her reply. I expected a story about missed trains, extra days spent in Malta, sickness from a hostel or a map in French that they couldn’t read, but the answer was none of those. Her answer, simply, was “We were there. We have always wondered what happened to YOU.”

They were there all along?! They were there. All along. In the crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people, with a clear confusion between north east and south east, we had missed them. We spent years and years feeling abandoned and hurt and forgotten. But they were there! It was we who were in the wrong place.

God is also there, all along, of course – though we feel abandoned and forgotten, though we can’t feel Him or don’t see Him working, He is there. Maybe we are just in the wrong place.

And though the time may seem to stretch on forever, we know that this waiting is not the end of the story.

“And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.”
John 14:3

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1 comment:

Heidi Leanne said...

What a great story Melissa, and what a beautiful depiction of God, and how when we feel abandoned by Him, its really us looking for Him in all the wrong places - or misunderstanding our guidebook (aka Bible). What a great reminder that when we start to feel disillusioned in our relationships with Him - we can honestly say - "Its not You God, its me," how lucky we are that He is so patient and loving that no matter how many times we say that - He is always there with open arms, welcoming us back like we had never abandoned Him.