Last night I made pizza and the crust refused to get crisp. I happily put together all the delicious ingredients and spread them on top of a Trader Joe’s pizza crust. I plopped it onto a pizza stone, put it on the bottom oven rack and put the timer on. The time came up, yet no crispy pizza. A tad exasperated, I tried bumping up the oven temperature, over baked the rest of it, and yet it stubbornly stayed chewy. We ate it anyway, to my parents kind words.
Honestly I wasn’t that surprised, more confused and disappointed.
It fit right into my week. Unexpected terrible that I had no control over making better.
I spent most of last weekend crying, weeping for our friends’ deep loss of their son at a funeral. It did not ease Sunday morning as I wrapped myself up in a shawl and felt the sadness wrap around me, and yet the closeness of God’s love envelope me in that sadness. All the hymns seemed closer and sharper in the midst of grief.
I cried most of Monday morning. Overwhelmed, I pulled out of church activities and a Bible study.
Tears still slip down my face most of these days, and I can’t pinpoint all the reasons why I’m crying, I just know that grief sometimes stays heavy and won’t let go.
The Very Muddy Middle
As Christians, we talk about the now and the not yet. It’s the theology simply stated that we live between when Christ has come and will come again. Between Christ’s saving work on the cross and the day when He will come again to make all things new. We live in the unseen of what will be, yet with the “seen” revelation through the Bible. We live in the middle of that; we live in the Now.
The very confused middle most days. The Now is a muddy middle, and a lot of days it doesn’t look like brilliant sun rays of glory and peace. It looks like a mess. It looks like we screwed everything up. It looks like a toddler got ahold of all the wrapping paper and glue and tissue paper and (while covered in sticky pudding fingers), put together a picture that resembles nothing what you thought life would be. You can’t tell if it’s up or down, whether that’s you or not, and whether you’re in a peaceful ocean or an angry sea of lava.
We hate the muddy middle because we love the brilliant glory of clarity and comfort,
but we lose ground hard won when we rush ahead to the future glories without remembering the fruitful seasons of the past.
Resting on either side will exhaust us for different reasons, which is why they need to be connected. They both matter.
On each side, the Now and the Not Yet, there is hope, but it hasn’t ever and won’t ever lie in us.
This is because the Now, the Muddy Middle, and the Not Yet is not about us.
We Forget What Came Before Us
We have a brief span of years here on this earth, but when we stay self focused, we lose sight of those who have gone before us. From the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, to the period of 400 years when the Israelites thought they’d never hear the voice of God again, to the pilgrims at Plymouth who thought they were finally free and lost half of their family and friends that first year.
Whenever I think of those periods, I think of how much they must have felt plunged deep into the aching, dark, muddy middle. Confused. Lost. Devastated. Weary. Broken.
The Now stings so much when it’s painted with grief and loss.
Yet no days have ever been so dark than the days before Resurrection Sunday. The shock that must have ripped through the Christians homes. That thousand yard stare in their eyes as they tried to put together some comfort amid the realization that their Redeemer and King lay in a tomb. Everything they thought would come true was dead and gone.
They couldn’t see ahead any better than we can 2,017 years later.
We Can’t Lose Sight of What Is Coming
It’s so easy to get lost in the dark of the middle. Some days it feels like I’m wading through waist deep mud, and can’t breathe from the weight of all that has happened. The despair will tie me to the bed and the ache in the middle of the night will crush my heart.
It’s so hard to look forward when you feel so utterly overwhelmed by the past.
It’s so hard to keep walking forward when you don’t want to lose the people in the seasons behind you.
But we do not bear up under grief by pulling ourselves out by our bootstraps or good will.
We bear the dark and unseen Now by keeping our eyes on Christ and what is coming.
We bear it by knowing the One Who came before us has paved the way ahead with glory,
because Jesus trod it for us and has walked every path we will walk, with holiness.
We bear it by knowing that what comes ahead will be not only the fulfillment and redemption
of the muddy middle of the Now, but ALL of History, when Jesus makes ALL THINGS NEW.
But most of all, we bear it by knowing that Jesus already reigns, has always reigned.
God has put “all things under His feet” (Eph 1:22), which means ALL things in His control,
and all things under His sovereignty. ALL things, friends. All things for our good and His glory.
Walking in Hope Through the Now
The Now is filled with joy and sorrow, but has always been, friend. Our days are not new to the span of history, although filled with different stories. Our days are not a surprise to our God. Our trials are not meaningless, our suffering is not wasted, our tears not unseen.
When we keep our eyes on Christ, we can’t stay in the grief of the Now
without looking ahead to the Joy and Hope of the Not Yet.
It is a tension, yes, a necessary tension in a tug of war between the two:
balancing grief and joy, feeling the weight of the grave while looking toward Heaven.
Neither to be abandoned or discarded, but both to be measured and counted, balanced, and lived well.
The grief of the Now gives meaning to the Hope of the Not Yet.
The Joy of the Not Yet gives strength to the hard days of the Now.
So while we live in this tension, let us cling to the Hope that
will not change on the worst days: the Hope in Jesus.
“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the
unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by
two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for
refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the HOPE set before us.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into
the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.”
– Hebrews 6:17-20
This Hope, is unchangeable. It is unchangeable because it is in Christ.
Jesus, the Hope that will never change. His love has been set upon us
throughout all our days and will never be removed. His Hope is our Hope.
He is making all things new, and one day….we will see it for what it really is.
One day it won’t look like a glued painting done by a toddler where you’re drowning in an angry sea.
One day….it will be the most beautiful painting and story you’ve ever seen,
and never ever could have dreamed it would be while you were standing broken in the Now.
“Behold, I am making all things new….” – Revelation 21:5