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Hope in Bleak Midwinter

Photo of Emily AndrewsEmily Andrews | Bio

Emily Andrews

Emily Andrews is a staff writer and editor at Prison Fellowship, as well as a freelancer with topic knowledge on crime and incarceration in America. Emily is a graduate of the University of Virginia and MFA candidate at George Mason University. She lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

On my lunch break at work, I open up Twitter, where I follow about as many media outlets and strangers as I do real acquaintances.

I scroll and I sigh.

Scandals, tragic accidents, over-incarceration, another shooting. Wars and rumors of wars couched by quippy memes and images of Baby Yoda. These trials and tragedies are trending hashtags on my iPhone screen; they are someone else’s reality. I don’t want to grow indifferent or numb to the chaos. I want to pray for peace.

It’s still winter. The deep hope of Christmas past already feels distant—11 months past and counting, not a mere few weeks ago. These hashtags are “developing stories,” say the newscasters. And I wonder, Lord, how closely are You following?

Recently, my nonfiction class read an essay that one classmate described as “systemic hopelessness.” I don’t align with the author’s nihilism and despair. Still, I feel the tension. It’s exhausting to see the human condition play out in real time, in this broken world.

How important it is to fill my mind with the things of Christ.

My phone is my source of instant information and, admittedly, a dopamine supplier. At the same time, it can be the source of so much angst if I allow it. I’ve begun keeping my Bible right next to my bed, on the floor. My phone stays across the room from where I sleep and wake.

I’m reserving one journal for a growing tally of things I’m thankful for—big things like healed loved ones and restored relationships, and small ones like the first sip of morning coffee or a call from a friend. But are any of these really small to God? Or just to me?

Your ways are not my ways.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble” should be our mind’s dwelling place, the Apostle Paul reminds us. Not as a distraction from what’s really going on, but as a practice of lifting our thoughts and our eyes above the raging water, above the tumult, to breathe in what God made us for. Light. Life. Things we can only get glimpses of here, in the middle of disease and restless nights and stillbirths and unrealized dreams.

There are at least a few Nobody-Can-Prepare-You-For-It moments in life.

Over Christmas, a good friend’s mom passed away after battling cancer for less than a year. There aren’t words. It is a divine comfort that she knew Jesus. But it hurts.

The moment we found out, my boyfriend and I drove to our friend’s home. The funny thing about being present, with, together—it feels like nothing, because it doesn’t tangibly do anything, fix anything. And yet it matters. A hug, an “I love you,” a prayer. Then you sit and breathe and watch cartoon reruns, and you share space. When you don’t have answers, it means something to not feel alone.

Where is God in those moments?

One of the most profound responses to this age-old question is the story of Job, who faced untold suffering despite having lived a righteous life. To human standards, it makes no sense. Job asked the same question we do: God, where are you? Are you following this?

I once heard a pastor put it this way:

“God showed up and did more than answer Job’s question. He took Job’s question away. Where was God in Job’s pain? In the Holocaust, the car accident, the nursery where the baby died? He was in the gas chambers. In that car. In that cradle.”

Emmanuel. “God with us.”

Your ways are not my ways.

In the noise of this world, it is hard to tune in to Jesus. May we become more aware of His presence. May His voice be like a song coming through noise-canceling headphones, even once in a while, drowning out this world’s clamor as we focus and welcome Him in.

It feels too big to understand. It’s all we have to hold on to. This life is a “developing story”; we live in Saturday, but Sunday’s coming. Some questions will leave us stirring. But the One who holds what’s beyond the horizon is the ultimate Answer. And His mercies are new every morning, which I also think means He isn’t wary of me coming to Him every day with questions—even some of the same ones.

He, in His great mercy, is ready to meet us. New every morning.

Put the phone away for a bit. Come and sit awhile. This is the beauty of Advent that we circle back to each December. It’s as true in January or February, in the bleakest midwinter, when first buds of spring are far off.

See, I am doing a new thing! … (Isaiah 43:19)