Stewarding the Struggle

KAREN GRANT|GUEST

The rough concrete scratched my toes as I focused on keeping my nose above water at the Fun in the Sun Club pool in Arlington, Texas. My goal that day was to touch the bottom. Water pooled in my ears and my hair swayed like seaweed in my eyes as I learned to hold and release my breath while flipping upside down to touch the bottom. Then I could swim toward the light. My parents applauded as I ventured into deeper and deeper water, opening my eyes to churning legs and feet, and watching my breath in measured bubbles. Discovering that less and less effort was required to break the surface, I began to trust air and water to do what they do.

Where were you in the murky pool called the pandemic—that time of uncertainty, fear, and crisis? Were you upside down, attempting to avoid the churning chaos, swimming for the light before you ran out of breath, looking for cheer from someone, anyone out there?

To gain perspective, we must somehow step outside of our own view. I believe the only healthy way to do that is to open God’s word to a relevant passage, engage with it, wring it out, cry into it, and ask questions until we get to the bottom. We submerge ourselves and trust Christ to do what He does when we engage with the living and active breath of God. We burst through the surface into His world, His thoughts, His reality, and it does what He does: it reveals areas where we must repent, restrains us from wrong, and sheds enough light for at least the next step.

Stewarding Our Sorrows

I remember the image of my pastor many years ago as he related the death of over ten friends or family within the span of a year. He and his wife were left empty; they could only be still and listen. They realized that stewardship is not only for money, gifts, and time, but also includes stewarding our sorrows. He held his hands out in the shape of a bowl before the congregation and told us that all he had to offer the Lord was ashes. This image continues to guide me as I’ve come to Jesus with my own offerings of ashes due to losses, severed relationships, and broken dreams, laying them at His feet and trusting Him to make them beautiful in His time.

My question to Jesus in 2020-21 then became, “How can I steward this unto Your glory? Would you use me, and re-form me to bring comfort and encouragement to others?” He took me to Isaiah 12, and I was stunned. The truths in this chapter are clear for both its original and prophetic audiences, the covenant people of God.

Gratitude, Opportunity, and Joy

This is what I found: Our stewardship comes through gratitude, opportunity, and joy. Look at verses 1 and 2:

“You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation” (Isa. 12:1-2).

Give thanks for what? For my salvation, my inclusion in the family of God. Why? Christ took away God’s anger against me so that He might comfort me. God sees this sputtering swimmer and resuscitates me with the pure oxygen of love. I want to know Him. I want to listen to Him. I want to follow Him!

Amid a pandemic, what hidden jewels could be found for His covenant people? There were so many things to be thankful for. I began each morning pondering and praying over them. Susan Hunt says in Aging with Grace that while we are not necessarily grateful for all things, we are to be thankful in all things.[1] Perspective. When we bring up gratitude beneath the surface of experience alone, sounds are distorted. Some hear us saying we are overlooking realities: fear, loneliness, or pain. But through Scripture we can hear the distinction between “for” and “in” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). The fall of man is real. But Jesus is also real and redeemed us as well as our circumstances. With this truth, we see light and hope and opportunity.

The companionship of sorrows presents opportunities. The pandemic provided more opportunities for encouragement and sharing the gospel in one slice of time than I have ever experienced. Each time I considered something I could no longer do, I popped my head above the water into the light and asked, “Well then, what can I do?” I prayed. I tried to call at least four people most days simply to encourage them. We were mutually encouraged in a pandemic pilgrimage. I took meals to lonely widowers. When I ventured out for supplies, I listened to grocery clerks or other vendors as they shared their troubles and was able to gently share that we don’t have to fear when we know the God in whom we trust. No one turned away from my offer to pray for them.

Now dive into verse 3 (my favorite!), “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Joy? Wells? Oh, like the oases or wells in the desert the remnant found as they returned from the Babylonian exile to Jerusalem? Yes! When I am in distress, my joy comes from these wells of salvation, not from my circumstances. These wells never run dry. You can’t touch the bottom. These are God’s wells of living water, the ones Jesus told the Samaritan woman about, until overcome with joy, she seized the opportunity to tell everyone she met about the man at the well.

This passage in Isaiah 12 ends in worship: “Shout and sing for joy … for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (v.6). That is the secret of our joy. We steward everything—from gold to ashes— as He leads, thanking Him for everything, looking for opportunities to pour out comfort and joy from the bottomless wells and find joy.

Questions for reflection:

  • How do I encourage others? Am I first a listener? Do I come armed with the gospel? Do I mourn with those who mourn?
  • How can I prepare to face the day? What armor do I intentionally put on?
  • What brings me joy? To which idols do I turn for joy and calm? What do you think Isaiah meant by “the wells of salvation?”

[1] Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt, Aging with Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 34.

About the Author:

Karen Grant

Karen Grant loves being a pastor’s wife. She and her husband have three grown children, 6 amazing grandsons, and a grandbaby on the way. A graduate of Covenant Seminary, she also served on the PCA’s multicultural church planting and mercy committee. She and her husband co-founded Franklin Classical School in Franklin, Tennessee. She enjoys studying & teaching the Bible, reading, traveling, cooking, working out with her exercise buddies, and all God’s creation.

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