My son must have been two when it happened: We were in a store, me pregnant, him plopped on the cart while I quickly scanned the racks for what I needed. Since the store wasn’t busy, I decided to lift him out before he got any ideas about throwing things out of the cart. Just for a moment.
But in just that span of time, he was just. . . gone. And in a few seconds, I went from annoyed to worried to angered and panicked as I called his name, ducked under each rack, and peered around the corners. There had been rumours of a recent kidnapping ring, where they’d take a child to the restroom and change his entire appearance before leaving the store.
After searching madly for a few more minutes, I asked the store attendant, who called a “Code Adam” over the loudspeaker. The doors of the store locked, and all the attendants left their posts to look for my son.
When we found him, he’d had a potty accident and had hidden himself beneath a rack of dresses. I gathered him in my arms, boggy pants and all, and breathed him in, so grateful to be holding him close.
I think of this story with the coming of the new year. I suppose I’m writing to those of us who face this new year with some trepidation, who feel a little lost.
Thinking of the team of people mobilised to locate my little boy, swiftly and intentionally, it reminded me of the story of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) and the shepherd fervent in his search. I love how author Juli Slattery has characterized our Shepherd as a “search and rescue God”.
As I grapple with this sense of feeling lost, directionless, adrift, I recall these words in Isaiah:
the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! (Isaiah 30:18).
In these words—in a God who longs, who rises up, who advocates—I hear God saying, If you’re lost, I move heaven and earth to bring you close.
When looking ahead doesn’t look good
After a hard year, I tend to have a sense of foreboding, of a “glass-is-half-empty” kind of mood. And in my haste to shuck off the pains and loss of the past year, I space out, completely overlooking the 1,095 or so meals God set before me. The 36.5 million times or so my heart beat, even as I slept. The fact that all my children are running around and creating healthy, laughter-filled havoc. All the delightful benefits I partake of while living in the developed world, like flushing toilets, running water, seamless electricity.
I get so caught up in shoving some events into the category of “I need to forget”, instead of training the eyes of my heart to see God in all that happened. To see the ways He bends toward and leans in.
But the more God cast light on all the little ways He was keeping me afloat, all those ways He had my name written on his hands—the more I realised that morning by morning new mercies I’ve seen. I can trust that He was there; that His faithfulness was indeed great.
During our holiday travels, my daughter remarked how many trees around us were dead. “Not dead,” I said, “Dormant.” I thought of the new life curling within the trees, waiting for the perfect season to unfurl in that lemony green of a new spring.
Psalm 1 says a righteous man “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (Psalm 1:3). I like to imagine that as much as it has a season that’s fruitful, presumably there’s a proper season where it isn’t showing fruit—in winter, where it’s storing up its resources, all while looking skeletal, naked. Perhaps Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV) says it best: “For everything there is a season”.
At the risk of mixing all these metaphors—lost sheep, dead-looking trees in winter—I’m telling your soul, and mine: God knows where to find us. He longs to be gracious to us. Maybe not when and how we saw it in our heads, but just as it needs to happen.
As John Newton famously wrote, “All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds…”
God’s character of resurrection means spring is, in fact, coming. He knows how to find you, and is fervent in bringing you near.
When your feelings are still playing catch up
You may feel like God’s grace in your life has slowed, reduced to a trickle.
Perhaps you’re in a place where someone’s committed evil against you, or simply has not loved you well. I find you in remarkable company with Joseph: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20, ESV). I’ve witnessed this with my friend Sarah*, whose years of harrowing childhood abuse have been slowly restored by God, in part to help uncountable others navigate their own trauma.
Or maybe you’ve been sucked into an undertow of regret, overwhelmed with choices you wish you would have made. Even then, as my mom is fond of saying, you cannot deal God a card He can’t play. Or as Proverbs declares it, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21, ESV).
There have been times this felt impossible to digest. Take those two years in my life, when I finally signed with a literary agent who wanted me, finally received a book contract from a publisher I recognised, finally turned in a manuscript and slogged through the editing process. . . only to have the book, already on preorder on Amazon, axed by the publisher due to COVID. After so many cycles of rejection and recovery, the wind felt knocked out of me. I didn’t know if my career, or my morale, would ever recover.
After all that, how could You lead me here, of all places? I asked God.
But as author Jen Wilkin has said, “Our limits point us to worship our limitless God.” Perhaps your limits are holding you precisely, tenderly where God can maximise His honour and your flourishing.
Which is why our off-kilter, stumbling, gasping seasons are all the more reason to be strong and courageous. To actively seek change and more appropriate alignment with our gifts, passions, and longings—or far more, where God longs to send us.
My encouragement, to you and to myself, is to search out that fulfilment not in flailing fear, but in the peace that blooms from faith in God’s impeccable purposes for us.