TUESDAY OF THE FIRST WEEK OF LENT
This is the promise that I held onto when everything fell apart.
Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
It was black velvet and white lace that started everything. There was this one dress in our play-clothes closet that I simply loved. It came right to my four-year-old knees in a satisfying fluffiness. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who loved it. When our baby sitter started bringing her little sister, PJ Self, along to play, I discovered I had a rival for the lovely dress with the Peter-Pan collar. We always fought over who got to wear it. It was one of the only things we ever fought about.
PJ didn’t look like other kids. She wasn’t filled out right. It was like someone had forgotten to add the stuffing to the doll they were sewing. PJ had muscular dystrophy, which meant her muscles didn’t form correctly. They almost didn’t form at all. Seven years after we fought over the velvet dress, she’d probably only gained 20 lbs. As a sixth-grader, PJ broke her femur for the second time. After that, she chose to use a scooter for her mobility. Lenny, he was called.
PJ and Lenny and I spent a lot of time together.
Most deep friendships are built with the understanding of emotional, mental, and maybe even spiritual support. Between PJ and I, there was never a question as to who was physically stronger, but PJ had the upper hand on me in spiritual maturity and strength. As though tested by fire at a young age, her faith had formed pure and strong through the handicaps and limitations she experienced.
On October 25th, 2011, PJ’s heart stopped in her sleep. She was 17. I was devastated.
In the first reading from Isaiah, God comforts us that his word will not return to him void. The way I understand this is that God promises he wont leave us hanging, alone in our despair or striving to build his Kingdom without any progress. For me, Isaiah’s promise of God’s presence and faithfulness in my life became real in my grief. Without this promise, I could have easily slipped into doubt that anything beautiful could come from my sorrow. But God spoke into my heart, and his word did not return to him void. My faith grew as I wrestled with God and with feelings of loss, abandonment, and the terrible pain of death.
I do not adhere to a theology of a God who makes bad things happen to us simply to teach us some life lesson. However, I do believe in the God of today’s Psalm, a God who is “close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18) and will speak his word into their spirit to bring meaning and healing to the confusion and pain.
The concept of God’s word not returning to him void is a promise of hope for the future, but it also carries strength for the present moment. Just like a seed is busy for its months in the ground, so God is working in us during this Lenten time of waiting, and any time of pain. I read once that “Every experience of pain is an experience of letting go and letting God- every moment of our life is a parade of experiences of being stripped down to our deepest selves, our deepest worth, our deepest meaning, and that meaning is that I am loved, and I am God's. This identity is what we return to in Lent.” It is only through allowing God to reveal to us our own identity in him that we are able to experience resurrection. The promise carries us each step of the way.
Theresa Schafer is a Micah sophomore studying physical therapy.