“By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient,because she had received the spies in peace. And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 11: 29-12:2
These days many people are facing tough situations. This week I learned that a relative has been diagnosed with cancer and is waiting to find out if the treatment will be successful. I caught up with a friend who has been trying for years to have a child but has been unable to conceive and is on the brink of giving up her hopes. I talked with a man about losing his job and facing the uncertainty of the next step. Each of these people is facing unknown futures. Many more are struggling in the midst of major life transitions such as moving, dealing with major financial losses, hoping for a cure for an illness. They want to know that everything will work out alright but they cannot rush ahead and know for certain. They have to have patience, and wait and hope. Time will tell.
Notice in the passage from Hebrews how the author lists many different figures who had faced extremely difficult situations and now are examples to us of those who have lived faithfully in the face of adversity. We have the benefit of reading their stories knowing the endings. When you’re in the middle of your own story, you don’t know for sure that all will be well in the end. That may be why it is so important to be reminded of all of those people who experienced great danger, loss and struggle but made it through by faith. Decade after decade, century after century their stories have been told and new stories added to remind each listener of the power of faith. Time tells us that the despair we think is unstoppable does have an end. The grief of the loss we never thought we would get over does fade and is healed by new surprising joys. Our challenge, living in
the moment, is to have patience in difficult times and to remember that time and again the darkest nights have turned to dawn
In the elementary school I attended when I was young, every year the second graders put on a play. The year that I was in second grade our teacher decided that we would perform Alice In Wonderland. I was thrilled and very nervous when I was given the role of Alice. What made me worried was the fact that as Alice I was going to have to sing a solo, the Very Good Advice song. It went like this: (if you can, imagine me singing) “
I give myself very good advice,
But I very seldom follow it,
That explains the trouble that I’m always in,
Be patient, is very good advice,
But the waiting makes me curious,
And I`d love the change,
Should something strange begin.”
Those words have been stuck in my head all these years and I don’t know if that is because of how many times I had to practice singing the song or the fact that the words seem to apply quite well to me. In particular I often think of the line “Be patient is very good advice but I very seldom follow it.” If someone were to ask me what character trait would change if I could change one, I would say it is my impatience. I can be such an impatient person. Just ask my husband how annoying I was before he proposed. I always remember my dad saying that in our family instant gratification isn’t fast enough. Sometimes I think I am impatient because I am so excited that I don’t want to have to wait. Other times I think I’m impatient because I’m afraid of waiting without knowing the outcome and my fear makes me anxious about the future
Impatience is sometimes a sign to me that I have lost hope. My fear gets the best of me. I don’t want to have to wait and worry that I’m never going to get what I want. When I am clear headed, grounded in faith and hope, I remember that it is not so important that I get what I want. Like that classic song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.” And it is true. Somehow my needs have always eventually been met even when things have turned out differently than I wanted them to.
A friend once told me, there are no bad endings. If it seems like a story has a bad ending, there is more story left to be told. I was angry when I first heard this because I could think of so many things that really felt like bad endings: breakups, lost loved ones, unfulfilled dreams and tragic accidents. I thought my friend was out of his mind to be saying that but later I noticed a small voice inside me that encouraged me to try to believe it. Maybe there are no bad endings. Maybe what time eventually tells us is that everything does work itself out. I can’t say I honestly believe that completely, but I have found that it does feel better to get up every morning and hope that it could be true.
In the midst of uncertainty, I like to remember the saying “Don’t place a period where God has placed a comma.” It is a reminder that God is still at work in the world and speaking through and in our lives, just as God moved in the lives of the Biblical figures of old. We can recall the people referenced in Hebrews, those who crossed over the Red Sea, Rahab who welcomed the scouts, Samson and Daniel who shut the mouths of lions. What do these stories remind us of? They remind us that throughout history people have faced challenges and uncertainties and God has brought them through. Their faith did not make everything trouble free, their faith made it possible to get through life’s obstacles with hope.
When you find yourself in the middle of life’s difficult moments, remember that you are not alone. The Bible imparts the struggles and triumphs of those who have gone before you and been challenged by life’s complexities. Take heart. You may not be able to see it, but the pattern of your life is being woven into a greater tapestry, a work of creativity that we co-create with God. You may come to a point that feels like an ending but a new chapter may just be about to begin. There will be times when we need a lot of patience waiting for that next chapter. There will be times when we cannot even imagine a new beginning. We cannot imagine that God would have a comma where it looks to us like a period. Try to hold on to hope, the hope that is the heart of the Christian message, the story of Jesus who faced the ultimate end and then experienced new life, a new beginning. The tomb looked like the end of the story, but it was only a comma.
Embrace each new day. Scripture is telling us “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Run the race. Maybe it is a marathon and your strength and endurance are being tested but you have more perseverance than you realize. Don’t just run the race of life to get to the end. Make it count. God does not want us simply to survive. God wants us to thrive. God gave each of us gifts and talents to use. There are people who need you to touch their lives and lives that are waiting to touch yours. Be patient, but not inactive. Don’t allow impatience or fear of the unknown to make you give up. Things may not turn out the way you thought they would, but time will tell, when you look back at your life, that there was reason to hope all along. Amen.