Healing at the Lake, Part 1 of 2, by Karen Johnson, Hershey, PA

But God … Where are you?

Psalm 42:1-2 As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for my food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”

I invite you to join me at the end of a dock on a bright, sunny day. The sun is dancing off the lake, and the air is just hot enough to make the cool water inviting. I turn around and, with total abandon, fling out my arms and fall backward into the lake. The water welcomes and envelopes me, filling me with a thrill of excitement. I dive deep, then swim back up to break the surface. The sun is bright in my eyes and warm on my face, even as my body in the water shivers with delight.

Shutterstock: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek

I look back and see Jesus running down the dock. With a whoop of joy, he dives into the lake. He comes up next to me with a big grin as He flicks the hair out of his eyes. We laugh and swim and frolic in the water. I am aware of a smoggy, oppressive tinge to the air, even on this sunny day. While it weighs on me, I ignore it for now and focus on the warm sun and the joy and freedom I feel as I glide through the water, a cheerful companion at my side. My gangly pre-teen body feels strong and graceful.

But as I break through the surface and flip over to float on my back, I sense a chill in the air. The smog has thickened into a black fog that snakes over the dock from the land. Suddenly, I am standing on the dock, wrapped in a towel but shivering and cold. My hair hangs in wet hanks and drips down my back. I am enveloped by the dank, dark fog.

I slowly trudge up the dock towards the house. As I start up the grassy slope, my attention is caught by a stream I never knew was there at the far edge of the lawn. Curious, I investigate. A brook tumbles down the hillside towards the lake. I love water in its many forms, but I am strangely devoid of emotion as I see this cheerful little stream bubbling over the rocks. I turn back and plod towards the house.

As I near the door, the fog thickens and is like a swarm of bees coming at me, piercing and smothering me. I know I’m in trouble. I suddenly find myself inside, sitting at the table, being berated for staying outside too long. The harangue goes on and on and on and on as I am told how selfish and inconsiderate and rebellious I am. How dare I enjoy the sun and the water when we need to pack up and get ready to leave? Who do I think I am to leave the work to everyone else?

I sit there, shivering and cold and alone, absorbing into myself every word that is said. My dad is there, but he doesn’t defend me and seems powerless to make the onslaught stop.

When the tirade winds down, I am instructed to go to the kitchen to make sandwiches for the trip.  I love to help, but instead of delight at contributing to a team effort, I stand at the counter, bread slices spread out in front of me, mixing a batch of tuna salad, hating myself. Sobs quietly rack my body and I want to hurt myself to get rid of this horrible guilt and shame and anger. 

At the same time, I am aware that this entire scenario was totally unnecessary. I was given permission to go out and play.  I was a child, out on the water, with no way of telling the time. All that was required was for the adult to pay attention to the time and what needed to be done and cheerfully call me in when it was time to get ready to go.  I would have reluctantly left the water but happily come inside to help. I love to help!

Another thread weaves through my thoughts and weighs down my heart: sadness for the pain that consumes those I love. Pain that would cause a mother to so berate her sweet daughter and cause a father to look on so helplessly. Is God powerless to do anything for any of us?

Under this cloud, we drive away from the weekend at the lake. God, where are you? Why is there no connection between the delight on the water and life in the house and in the car as we drive away? Where is the peace and joy your Spirit is supposed to give us? Why can’t I find you? Why is the girl who frolicked in the water such a miserable failure yet again?

A story in two parts

But God’s greatness is not always evident

Psalm 145:4-6 Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts, [Lord]; let them proclaim your power. I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness.

Psalm 89: 33-35, 38-40, 46 [God said] But I will never stop loving David nor fail to keep my promise to him. No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said. I have sworn an oath to David, and in my holiness I cannot lie. [Ethan replied] But now you have rejected David and cast him off. You are angry with your anointed king. You have renounced your covenant with him; you have thrown his crown in the dust. … O Lord, how long will this go on? Will you hide yourself forever?

In the first 37 verses of Psalm 89, the psalm appointed for today, the poet Ethan fits right into Psalm 145, praising God for his power, his unfailing love, his faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.

But in verse 38 there’s a jarring shift. Ethan suddenly reveals his broken heart, his doubt, his agonizing questions about what has befallen his beloved king, David. Ethan a musician appointed by David to sing in his choir, was known for his wisdom (see 1 Kings 4:31), but at this moment all he can see is God’s apparent betrayal evident through the disloyalty of some of David’s beloved sons and most trusted friends. You can read the stories in 2 Samuel 7 and on.

Psalm 89 doesn’t resolve the situation. It ends in lament. And this is the only psalm identified in our canon as written by Ethan. What happened next? Did Ethan sound the bronze symbols (1 Chronicles 15:19) during David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel 22? Was he present to hear David’s last words in 1 Chronicles 29, able to praise God along with his beloved sovereign?

We don’t know. Sometimes situations can’t be neatly tied up with a bow. You’ve seen that in your own life, right? I have. These tough things challenge us to dig deeper and sit longer before the Lord, saying with Ethan, “How long, O Lord? Where is your unfailing love?” (verse 49).

Perhaps we won’t receive answers until we reach Heaven. With Ethan then we have two choices: to turn away from God, reject him because we don’t understand, and allow bitterness to grow in our hearts. Or to continue believing there are answers, even though we don’t understand them, and trust God enough to share our deep grief with him, allowing him to comfort us even when we’re not capable of seeing things from his point of view. Like a two-year-old who can’t possibly understand the painful medical interventions he must undergo in order to treat the cancer the adults have detected in his body, yet clings to his mother for comfort.

The ability to lament, to bare our souls before the Lord, is a gift. Imagine yourself as that two-year-old, climbing into his mother’s lap, weeping his distress within the secure circle of her embrace.

Shutterstock: DimaBerlin

The Lord is merciful and compassionate … The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads … The Lord is close to all who call on him (Psalm 145:8, 14, 18).

But God said “Go”

Acts 9:1-5, 10-17 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers … As he approached Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting … The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision … “Go over to Straight Street … ask for a man named Saul. He is praying to me right now. “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers! … But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument … So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus … has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

I bet if I were to ask Saul (later called Paul) to tell me his God story, he would first tell me this one—in fact, Scripture records him doing so many times, to various audiences. So, what’s your God story?We delight God when we tell what he does for us. Your stories, like mine, might not be as dramatic as Saul’s, but that doesn’t matter. All stories are good ones when t tohey honor God.

So here’s my story: I grew up in a missionary family, but it wasn’t until I was six that I understood Jesus had died for me and prayed the prayer, inviting Jesus into my life. My sister Marsha told me to write the date in the front of my Bible, so I would always remember this important event.

That’s it! Not dramatic at all. But of course, that was only the beginning. Remember when I mentioned that I started talking to God all the time? That began on February 26, 1961. Young as I was, from then on, I knew God was with me. I believe the Holy Spirit communicated that to me. I believe he preserved my life the first time I seriously considered ending it at age eight and several times after. Life wasn’t easy for me or for my siblings. Our mother was mentally ill, and our father didn’t know how to deal with that and protect us kids. I despaired many times, wounded as all of us were. But God, the Source of life, defended us—not from the wounding, but from ultimate despair. I am so grateful for his care for all eight of us.

The Lord says “Go!” to each of us in different ways. Right now, he’s saying to me, “Go love your precious grandkids.” So I’m off!

At Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park last weekend