If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—let Israel now say—if it had not been the Lord who was on our side when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive… (Psalm 124:1-3)
Have you ever received just the right words from an unexpected place or unexpected person? I recently received such a message from a person—named Ellane—who has been reading my reflections for about two years. We have never met in person, never talked, and how she found my words I will never know, and yet she spoke right to where I needed some balm.
She wrote: “It is really always so amazing how God carries us through very tough times. We don’t even realize it then, but looking back, one can only know that God was and is always with us.”
Doesn’t Ellane describe what’s so often the case? We are going through some tragic, sad, and awful events or circumstances, and we have a hard time seeing God or understanding His ways and we wonder if God is there, if God cares, and why God doesn’t do something?
I imagine many of us can remember times when we questioned God’s care for us or doubted His power to save, heal, or rescue us. But then later, sometimes a short time later and sometimes a long time later, we look back at what we had been going through and see God’s presence, guidance, compassion, and strength. We then see that even though we might have felt all alone, we weren’t. We then know that when we felt most down, most broken, and most bereft, we were being carried and mended.
As I think about our looking back at our life and seeing God’s presence in ways that we didn’t before—what I call “Rear View Mirror Grace”—I am reminded of today’s scripture. When the author of the psalm looks back at the history of the Jewish people, it’s clear that they wouldn’t have been brought together, wouldn’t have survived, and wouldn’t even exist if the Lord had not been on their side.
What the psalmist knows about the life of the Jews, I know about my own life. If the Lord had not been on my side while growing up through all the moves, transitions, marriages, divorces, mental health challenges, addictions, betrayals, abandonment, and neglect, I wouldn’t have survived. I wouldn’t have been able to make much difference for anyone or anything. I got through all that I experienced not because of my own abilities or smarts but because of God’s strength.
When many of us look back at our lives, we focus more on the negative than the positive. We look back and see our mistakes, falls, losses, messes, missed opportunities, and failures. We look back and see how we let others down or how others let us down. We look back and see when we stumbled or lost our way or when we allowed fear or shame or resentment to rob our joy and vanquish our hopes.
As we look back at our lives, it’s imperative that we recognize that we have a choice. We can look back and see all that we have done wrong, or we can look back trying to see all the ways God was always with us regardless of what we had done or not done.
How would our perspective on life change if we spent more time seeing and claiming that God has been and is, and will be forever on our side? And because God is on our side, why would any of us ever stand against ourselves—which is, let’s be honest, something many of us major in? When we stand against ourselves, condemn and berate and diminish ourselves, we are standing against God. Doesn’t that sound rather foolish and life-sucking?
Claiming that God is on our side doesn’t mean that God isn’t on other peoples’ side. Our life with God isn’t a sporting event, where some are winners and some are losers. We must not ever try to limit God’s love, compassion, and grace. Because we have an abundant God and not a stingy one, it behooves us to be more abundant and less stingy with kindness and grace towards others and towards ourselves.
My new electronic friend from South Africa, Ellane, sent me just the right words because I needed to be reminded that even when God seems far away, even when life makes no sense, even when our heart feels like it will never mend, God is there. Losing my daughter Anna this summer plunged me into a dark and excruciating time. I never felt like I lost my faith, but I also had a hard time finding it. I didn’t feel abandoned by God, but I couldn’t feel His presence. Whether or not I could identify how God was there for me, Ellane’s words reminded me that God was on my side, whether I could feel His strength or not. Even though I might not be able to see God at work right in the middle of my grief, I will trust that someday—either in this life or the next one—I will see how God carried me through this very painful time.
- If you more often trust and remember that God is on your side, how would your life change?
- When you look back at your life, when were the times you can discern “Rear View Mirror Grace?”
- “Because we have an abundant God and not a stingy one, it behooves us to be more abundant and less stingy with kindness and grace towards others and towards ourselves?” How might this statement be speaking to you? How might it change how you treat others and yourself?