In the series “Grace is for Everyone”
I was five years old, walking with my Mom and toddler sister across the store parking lot, when I heard Mom utter these crucial words: “While we’re in the store, stay close to me.” I said, “Yes,” and we entered the store and began our shopping. I stayed right beside or behind my Mom as we worked our way through the department store. We arrived at the clothing section, and when you’re a small kid, it seems like a maze of immense caverns of clothing racks with lots of interesting things to see.
That’s when it happened. I’m still sure I turned my head and looked away for only a moment, but when I looked back, my Mom and sister were gone! Where was Mommy? I began to search frantically through the clothing racks, trying desperately to find them, but couldn’t. The panic began to rise in my little heart. I was separated from my Mom – she had warned me about this. Would she just leave me at the store because I disobeyed? What if I never saw my Mommy again?
I don’t know how long I searched, but when you’re lost, even a short time seems like an eternity. Finally, a store clerk approached me and asked, “Are you lost?” She took me to the service desk at the front of the store, and they asked me a few questions. Then, after setting me on the edge of the service desk, they announced over the loudspeaker, “We have a lost little boy at the service desk. Will his Mommy please come and get him?” We waited and waited, until I spotted her coming down the main aisle. There was my Mommy! She claimed me and hugged me. She wasn’t mad; she just loved me. And off we went together to continue our shopping.
As children, one of our greatest fears is being separated from our parents. As we grow, we lose that fear of being separated from our parents; however, we find other things in life that concern and worry us. Even dealing with events in the normal course of life can raise challenges and questions for us.
Sullen and sad, I sat at the back of the funeral home chapel during my Grandma Motter’s visitation. I had just turned 14 the day before she died. Grandma Motter was an important influence in my life. We got on and off the school bus at her house. She took us to Sunday school and church, even when our parents didn’t go. She inspired me to take organ lessons, and she and I often had “church” in her living room, with her at the organ and me leading worship using the console stereo as my pulpit.
At her death, I was angry and hurting. I didn’t want to see her in the casket. I was mad at God for taking her away from me; at people for trying to tell me everything would be alright, that I should stop grieving and just trust God; at myself for not having enough faith to hold on to Jesus. I wanted to forget God and abandon the faith Grandma had taught me. And I was afraid that God was upset with me and couldn’t understand.
For months after her death, I held onto that anger and hurt. At times, I wanted to pray, but didn’t know what to pray. When I did pray, I shouted angrily at God. I had some significant doubts about God and whether God cared or was even real. And then I would feel guilty that I felt the way I did, that I thought what I thought. I didn’t believe God could accept me, so I felt I should quit the church.
I never said any of this to any human, and yet it was about that time that the people of my small country church started reaching out to me with listening ears, comforting arms and encouraging smiles. Despite my troubled spirit, God did not abandon me. God continued to love me through my church family.
Years later I read today’s scripture from Romans 8. Romans 8 is the height of Paul’s discussion, and these verses are the climax of the whole letter. Reading it helped me realize God’s presence and activity through that experience. I could grasp the truth of Paul’s rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who is against us?” God is for us, and God was for me at that time of my life
When I didn’t know how to pray, God was for me. God’s Spirit interceded for me when I didn’t know how to express what was in the depths of my soul. The Spirit prayed for me with groans beyond words.
God was for me. When I condemned myself for feeling anger and doubting God, Jesus understood. He was the only one with the power to condemn me, but he didn’t; he loved me so much that he gave himself for me.
God was for me. In the midst of death, grief, anger and confusion, God was working for the good, loving me, reaching out to me, and seeking to heal my heart and life.
God was for me. When I thought that the hardship of death, along with my grief, doubt and bitterness, had destroyed my relationship with God, God would not let me go. God loved me inseparably, through my sisters and brothers in Christ.
Have you ever been afraid that God has given up on you? That God sees your life and thinks, “O my goodness! There she goes again. Haven’t I told her not to do those things? He’s not listening again – what am I going to do with him?” You wonder if you’re going to make it with God all the way to the end.
Or have you ever felt that God has forgotten you? You’ve been through or you’re going through so many struggles and troubles. You don’t have enough money. Your health is one challenge after another. Your marriage is falling apart. Your kids are not living up to what you taught them. Your friends have all deserted you. Nothing seems to be going right. And you wonder, “Have you left me, too, God?”
You question where God is in all this and why God isn’t doing something about it. Then you begin to wonder, “What kind of Christian am I that I have all these problems and think like that?” You feel distant and separated from God.
To Christians who are worried and wondering Paul’s message is simple: God is for us; God loves us, because that is who God is; and God’s love for us is inseparable.
God is for us. God proved that by giving us his own Son, Jesus Christ, who loved us enough to take on own sin, our doubts, our fears, our shame and our struggles and to die on the cross for us.
Therefore, with confidence, we can affirm our faith with these words of scripture:
L: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
P: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.