When hard times seem to never end, how can we find hope?
Last winter my kids and I fell in love with the poem In The Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rosetti. We read it into memory as part of our advent study and while it ultimately unfurls a rhythmic picture of the nativity, the line most remembered in our home comes earlier – snow on snow on snow. Because one snow reference, even two, wouldn’t have been enough. It was that kind of snow. And it has stuck with us.
I’ve seen laundry on laundry on laundry. Have you? Perhaps dishes on dishes on dishes, but if Rosetti were writing in real-time, taking into account politics and current events, pandemic polarity, and a rapidly changing culture, I think she might write about hard on hard on hard. When two calendar years butt up like two Bible chapters, where the division is really often no division at all, we can realize the ease (or at least easier) we were hoping for is really more of the same.
Perhaps this year has felt like more side-stepping differences and disagreeing with people we love. More navigating hard conversations and walking down unfamiliar roads. The return to normal that we thought would be the helium of a new year doesn’t seem to be inflating properly.
Hard on hard on hard.
When Hard Times Keep Coming
As new as this seems, we aren’t the first to land here – in the repeatedly challenging and hard. My dad pointed me back to the book of Nehemiah recently and I was surprised by what I found. The cupbearer? Yes. We know that story, yes. But something about this living and active Word changes when you meet it in new seasons. Words ring clearer, hope feels nearer when the sponge is dry.
So I quickly read into chapter 4, where Nehemiah has rallied the troops to rebuild Jerusalem. They have a mind to work (4:6), but their neighbors are taunting them. It’s wearing them down. They start to stare at the expanse of the rubble, their strength fails, and doubt seeps in. Hard on hard on hard.
We know what that feels like, right? When the weight of it all starts to add up, compound, and it is just too much.
Nehemiah’s call to the people here gripped me. There are all kinds of things he could have said. There are all kinds of unhelpful things we have heard when life gets hard, right?
He could have taken a tough stance with the people – Buck up! It’s not that bad! You got this!
Or he could have went with a softer approach, validating their feelings and encouraging them to rest. But Nehemiah did neither. Nehemiah 4:14 recounts his words,
“Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brother, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Remember the Lord
Nehemiah squashes the focus on the enemy and the focus on self in one fell swoop – Remember the Lord. He doesn’t minimize the hard or ease the labor, he calls the people to remember who their God is in the thick of it all.
These people knew their God. There was no need for Nehemiah to preach that sermon. They simply forgot who He was and is and is to come.
I don’t know about you, but that feels uncomfortably familiar to me. I know on Sundays. I know in the early morning hours, when the world is quiet and the Word is open in my lap. But when the hard seems to compound, when the future still feels very fragile, when questions of schooling and uncomfortable differences with family and friends persist, I forget.
It becomes ruin and rubble everywhere, distracting me, captivating my gaze, constricting my heart. I need Nehemiah’s reminder. Begin here – remember the Lord. He is great and awesome and you know him.
And then get to work. There are friends and family watching you who desperately need to see you do the good work of trusting God here. There are future generations sitting at your dinner table, listening to your conversations with friends, seeing your sighs, watching your real weariness and they need to see your faithfulness.
Our response is our testimony, friend. Remember the Lord. He is faithful. May our very lives proclaim this truth.