And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
“I cried myself to sleep every night with the Psalms.”
Mrs. Sarah, who shared these words with our Bible study group, knows what it looks like to spend an unexpected season in the wilderness of suffering. Not long after World War II, when she was a young mother with two young children, Mrs. Sarah needed to return to school to finish her teaching certificate so that she could help support her family. She packed her bag and moved eighty miles away from home and family to complete her final year of college. In this lonely and difficult season, Mrs. Sarah turned to the nourishment she knew she needed, God’s Word.
Anyone who has spent much time in the wilderness of suffering knows the humbling that comes during crisis. Stripped of the familiarities on which we often depend for comfort, we learn that we do not, in fact, live by bread alone. Deuteronomy 8 reminds us that in the wilderness, God did not merely humble his people, he also fed them. He fed them physically with something called manna, a word that in the original Hebrew literally means, “What’s this?” It was a food unlike anything the Israelites had ever heard of, seen, or tasted. It fell from the sky, and it looked something like flaky frosty cereal but was a lot more nutritious!
God fed his people physically with this strange food, and he fed them spiritually with his Word. In our own wilderness of suffering, we are humbled, and our hunger and thirst for good news intensifies. More powerfully than any IV fluid, God’s Word drips into our hearts and minds to energize us with the faith, hope, and love we desperately need.
Faith is strengthened by Scripture’s true redemption stories…
As a little girl, I always dreamed of the perfect man that I would someday marry. I mean, what girl doesn’t do that? It started out as me thinking it would be so fun to play house with someone who was like my daddy. Loving, fun, and always looking for ways to help his children.
During my teenage years and even into college, my innocent yearnings for a husband quickly went from cute to obsessed. Thinking about this mystery man for so many years while simultaneously listening to the world and its views of marriage deafened my ears to what God’s word says about love. You see, I was fooling myself into thinking that the “perfect” man would completely satisfy me in every way. Ultimately, I believed my husband would be not only my all satisfying joy in this life, but he would be my savior. I would never admit that back then though. In my naivety, I truly didn’t believe the deep sin in my heart was even there.
On my wedding day, I couldn’t believe the man I had prayed for so long was finally waiting for me at the end of what seemed like the longest aisle on earth. I just wanted to run down it and jump into his arms. The Lord has been so sweet to me in providing me with a husband who loves Him deeply and leads our marriage in ways that continuously remind me of our end goal on this earth.
Not even a month into our marriage, I experienced many feelings and frustrations that my poor husband so graciously loved me through. So many changes were happening so fast. So many expectations had gone unmet. One morning I was spending time with the Lord and it hit me: I had been expecting my husband to be my savior. I expected him to love me perfectly, keep me full of joy at all times, and satisfy every deep need and desire that was nestled down in my sinful human heart.
Psalm 16:11 tells us “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The living, breathing Word of God makes it so clear that He is the only one who can provide fullness of joy. I am forever grateful that the Lord chose to draw me to him. Is love and joy being married? Being falsely satisfied by material things? Achieving a certain social status? Not even a little bit…
One warm summer day, many years ago, when our youngest son Tim was a teenager, we were holding our annual “Down Syndrome Extravaganza” at our house. Most people would call it a picnic. However, “extravaganza” always seemed like a better descriptor to our family as the gathering of so many families, with so many children with Down syndrome and all of their siblings simply offered the opportunity for unexpected events to arise.
We had some years that we hired neighborhood teenagers to ensure we didn’t lose any “runners” in the chaos. One year, Tim had a good friend with Down’s who was very interested in movies and proceeded to empty all 50-75 DVDs from their respective boxes, scattering them randomly all over the floor while seeking the perfect fit for his viewing interests. On another occasion, we even had a rabid racoon appear on our front porch while friends were arriving with their families and food in tow. As we’ve said many times, “It is never a dull moment here!”
My favorite DSE event, however, was the year that Tim was giving tours of his room to guests as they arrived. He’d redecorated his room with Elvis Presley paraphernalia, and was eager to share his collection. Visitors were only allowed in one at a time. He even asked me to serve as his “bouncer.” I had fun standing at the door watching as Tim talked with each visitor. As one of our friends lingered in the room making conversation, Tim finally looked at him and declared, “I’m sorry Mr. Nolt, but your tour is over. Don’t make me call security.” My “bouncer role” quickly reverted to “Mom mode” and Tim and I had a quick little chat about what it means to show hospitality to our guests. Tim was definitely giving folks mixed messages.
The truth is, we all give (and receive) mixed messages to (and from) others fairly frequently…
I witnessed a beautiful surrender one afternoon while waiting for the bus to come up the road. In the center of our front yard stands a large October Glory maple tree. This tree is the last to change colors every fall, but once the leaves do change color, the tree is the brightest and most beautiful fall tree on our street.
As I waited for the bus, I watched the beautiful surrender of one of those tiny orange leaves. The wind came and that little leaf could not hold on any longer. The wind carried the leaf off the branch and gently swirled the leaf to the ground. The leaf did what it was made to do—and the tree would continue to survive even after the surrendering of this leaf. The October Glory will be dormant for a season, but soon it would bear new blossoms and leaves in the spring.
Sometimes on this side of heaven, faithful people face seasons of beautiful surrenders. In the surrendering, God grows His people into maturity. My family faced a season such as this last year. I am a PCA pastor’s wife and a mother to four elementary-aged children. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of thirty-three and passed away when she was forty. I was thirty-five at the time and I knew I carried a gene mutation which increased my risk for breast cancer. My doctors and genetic counselors strongly advised me to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.
This was an emotionally and physically painful—but beautiful surrender of my physical body. It brought me back to the woundedness of my past and tugged on the heart strings of my story. But in the surrender of my physical self, God was faithful to our family and as we only had Him to cling to—He grew all of us in our faith and trust in Him.
A Beautiful Surrender to an Eternal Perspective
This life is an entire journey of letting go. Just like the October Glory in my front yard, we are always shedding pieces of the old self as we grow into Christlikeness….
“Your grief is your own.” These words, spoken by a dear friend this past fall could not have come at a more perfect time. In less than a month’s time, I was hit with a series of losses that knocked me flat. My younger brother took his own life. My dog died. My doctor’s office called with concerning lab results. What is a Christian supposed to do at times like this? Where is the instruction manual? I wasn’t sure what suffering for the glory of God was supposed to look like, but I knew I didn’t have much choice but to walk the path set before me.
I’m not an expert in grief. I know there are others who have suffered great losses and are even now facing circumstances that would threaten to undo any of us. At the same time, as one who has traveled through a season of loss, may I share a few things I learned? It is my prayer that the Lord can use my tears for the good of his Kingdom.
In today’s hyper-connected online world, we have the capacity to share news quickly. While places like Facebook can be hotbeds of anger and ugly discourse, I encountered something entirely different when my brother Jody died. Every single post—“I’m sorry for your loss” or “Your family is in my prayers”— was a reminder of a friendship, a relationship, a connection with someone who cared what I was going through. If you are ever in a place where you wonder if it makes a difference whether you say anything or not, please hear me. It does. It matters. It comforts. Those words helped to heal my aching heart.
Suffering in Public
Grief has a way of rearing its unexpected head in the most unlikely of places. I so wanted to worship and be with my local body of Christ, yet I couldn’t hold it together through even one hymn without breaking out the Kleenex. In the early days, the tears would come—and I would let them—at the most inconvenient times and places. This phase didn’t last forever, but I learned to yield to God’s good timing and trust that this was all part of the grieving process…