When our son Josh was just a tyke, one day he announced to us with great conviction: “Oh, I can’t stand change!” My wife and I both laughed and told him he was going to have to get over that.
Turns out, sometimes that’s easier said than done.
Over the last decade our family has gone through some significant changes. These changes began with the birth of our first grandchild just over eight years ago. (Grandkids are more fun; I recommend having them first.) Our grandson’s birth was followed less than three months later by my mother’s death. Then Rae Anne’s mother died two years ago. And much more recently, my father-in-law got remarried. There are some other things, but these are the most powerfully personal ones.
These events have flooded our hearts with waves of emotion: happiness, sadness, sorrow and joy, often one right after the other, and sometimes, a dose of fear thrown in for good measure.
And after each event, we came to realize that our lives were never going to be the same, either in wonderful ways, or in profoundly sad ways, or in new ways we’d never anticipated.
It’s an odd sensation at this point in life to feel as if the ground is shifting under your feet and that you are unsure of your balance or your next step. When everything have been settled for quite a while, then you find things slowly going topsy-turvy, it leaves you feeling…well, a little unsettled. Sometimes a lot unsettled.
Now bear with me here. I’m going to make a sharp left turn, but I have a point to make.
I’ve never been a big David Bowie fan, but he has always fascinated me. In January of 1972, David Bowie released his first single in the United States. It was called Changes, and in the chorus Bowie sang, “Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”
Twenty-one years later, on January 8th, 2013, Bowie, who was long thought to be retired, unexpectedly released a new single and an accompanying short film, titled Where Are We Now? It happened to be his 66th birthday. This film, like so much of Bowie’s work, is off-beat and a little disturbing, and the song’s lyrics are so sad. Bowie seems to be looking back on his life, “an older person reminiscing about time spent and time wasted,” as one reviewer put it.
Then almost three years later, on January 7th, 2016, Bowie released the song Lazarus with its accompanying video. It was even more bleak and despairing than Where Are We Now? According to Tony Visconti, Bowie’s producer, the lyrics were “intended to be a self-epitaph, a commentary on Bowie’s own impending death.” Bowie died three days after the video’s release.
What strikes me about both of those songs and videos is the deep sadness and urgent despair that Bowie communicated. He wrote and performed eloquently and powerfully, and seemingly devoid of hope.
I see this same thing whenever I have to do the funeral of an unbeliever. There are so many wonderful truths that you can remind a family of when a Christian dies…things you just can’t honestly say when an unbeliever dies. You preach the Gospel to those who are still living, and try to help them with what the Bible says about grief. But you stand there helpless as they grieve, because there is this yawning pit of despair that you can’t begin to cover up. Edith Schaeffer said, “Apart from God, despair makes sense.” She was right.
But we are not unbelievers, we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). And we need not despair. We do not grieve as others do (1 Thessalonians 4:13)…even when we grieve the changes and losses that life inevitably throws our way. We have Jesus, and He has us (John 1:12), and that makes all the difference. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it does mean we won’t face these things alone. As someone put it, Jesus is Lord of our rocking boat.
So what do we do when we find ourselves in the midst of the winds and waves of life’s changes? How should a believer in Christ respond to these things?
First, don’t panic. There isn’t anything unusual or unexpected about what you’re going through. Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) You haven’t fallen off God’s radar, and God isn’t mad at you. When you are broken down deep inside, and you live on a broken planet along with seven billion-plus other broken people, then you can expect that sometimes life is going to be difficult and uncertain.
Second, wait. The Lord told Isaiah, “…but they that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) In the Bible, wait is often synonymous with hope. You express your hope in God (i.e., your confident expectation in Him) by simply waiting on Him. He will act in His good time, for His glory and your good. (Romans 8:28)
Third, pray. Pray about your situation. Specifically. And may I add, out loud. Yes, I know that God knows your heart, and that He already knows your situation. Sometimes when my grandson is upset and sad, I already know what’s bothering him, but I still want to hear him tell me about it. Why? Because I love him. And Christian, God loves you. Want proof? He gave His Son to die for you. (John 3:16) So cry out to Him. Tell Him all about it.
And finally, find something to give thanks to God about. You may not be able to thank Him for your situation (sometimes our hearts are breaking too much, or we’re too mad), but you can still find something to be thankful about in your situation. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) It is the act of calling upon God, acknowledging Him and giving thanks to Him, that sets us apart from the pagans (Romans 1:21)We do this, not because we’re better than they are, but because God has made us His children and we can’t help but cry out to Him, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) Just remember to give Him thanks when you do.
If you do these four things, your situation will immediately get better and everyone will like you a lot.
No, it won’t. At least, not immediately. And maybe not this side of Heaven.
But it’ll be all right. Jesus said so.
He wanted me to remind you. (And to remind myself, too.)
Soli Deo Gloria!