Last week I traveled to Houston to visit my mom. She had some appointments at MD Anderson and I decided to make the short trek over to see her and see how the appointments had gone. Now, if you have never heard of MD Anderson, it is a cancer hospital, and in my opinion, one of the best. But to be clear, my mom was not necessarily there because of a cancer diagnosis.
Back in 2015, she had double knee replacement, and since then she has had trouble with one of her knees. It swells up, it gives her lots of pain and at times immobilizes her. My mom is one of the strongest women I know, so when she says that she is pain, I believe her.
The reason we went to MD Anderson was because we were hoping they could run tests and figure out where the pain was coming from. Doctor after doctor back home kept saying they couldn’t find anything, and we hoped that if we went to the best hospital out there, maybe they could find answers.
Thursday, when I got to Houston and met up with my family and they told me how, once again, the doctors were not able to find anything. And as long as they can’t come up with a diagnosis, no one is willing to come up with a treatment. I could sense the feeling of defeat as my mom shared her disappointment with me.
It broke my heart as I heard her share this with me. It also broke my heart because I was reminded in that moment that so many of us live in that place. Things haven’t gone the way we want them to. Things seem to be falling apart all around us. Things feel too overwhelming. We see no end in sight to our struggles and we begin to lose hope.
So what do we do when we begin to lose hope? How do we hang on to hope in the midst of fear and despair? How do we keep from carrying this heavy burden on our own?
Perhaps this would be helpful.
In the book of 1 Samuel, the Israelites are at war with the Philistines. Even though they had been a very powerful people, this battle was not going their way. They were losing people left and right and as the Israelites began to lose, they also began to lose hope that they could turn this fight around. They decided to take matters into their own hands. They took the Ark of the Covenant and marched it into camp and as they mustered up enough energy to keep fighting.
This was a big deal. The Ark of the Covenant is not a big boat like Noah’s, rather, it was a box that the Israelites built to house the ten commandments. For the Israelites, this is where the presence of God lived and this would surely be their lucky charm just as it had been many times before.
The Ark helped clear impediments and poisonous animals as the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness. When they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, the river gave way when the Ark bearers stepped into the river. The Israelites carried the Ark around Jericho before the walls fell down and they defeated their enemies. The Ark had always been their lucky charm that helped them hold on to hope when things didn’t go as planned.
But this time, their lucky charm didn’t work.
By the end of the battle, about 30,000 Israelites died and the ark had been captured.
They had lost and were on the verge of losing all hope. Where else could they turn for help? Their own strength could not get them through this, and even the ark was not strong enough to help them through this time. Many were in disbelief, many scattered and they felt as if “the glory had departed from Israel, for the ark of God had been captured” (1 Sam. 4:22)
I think that is how my mom felt. I think that is how I felt. I think that is how many of us have felt throughout our lives. The ark was supposed to give them victory and it didn’t. The doctors were supposed to give my mom answers and they didn’t. Maybe you were hopeful that counseling would help you work through some struggles but it hasn’t. Maybe you were hopeful that the new job or new house or new endeavor would bring healing but it hasn’t. Maybe you were hopeful that your financial struggles would be done by now but they are still there. Maybe you were hoping your relationship could make it through some difficult things, but you are still in the middle of the struggles. Maybe you too are on the verge of losing hope and don’t know where else to turn or what else to do.
You see, the problem is that we put our hope on things rather than God. And the reality is that things will always disappoint us; they will never be enough. But when we put our trust in God, we can hold on to faith even when we feel like we are being defeated by our enemy. For in doing so, we know that God always gets the final word that that nothing here on earth, not even death, can separate us from the love, care, and direction of God. So in seasons of struggle and despair and hopelessness, we must hold on to God rather than things.
Have you ever heard the hymn Come Thou Fount? The second verse in it says this:
Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come. And I hope by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
This hymn became so much more powerful to me when I understood what an Ebenezer was. You see, a little after the Israelites were defeated, a guy named Samuel rose to lead the Israelites. And after encouraging them to give their hearts fully to God, to cry out to God and pray to him without ceasing, they were able to muster up enough courage to fight back and this time rout the Philistines.
Samuel knew without a doubt that God had helped them thus far and he knew that God would do it again. They just had to have faith and trust that no matter what happened, God was with them. Even if they had remained captured, he knew that God was faithful and would not leave their side. Even if they had never regained their power again, he knew God was faithful and all would be okay. He knew without a doubt that God would always be with them, because up to this point, God had always been there with them.
So in order to never forget this truth again, Samuel did something really powerful. Samuel took a stone, lifted it up and named it Ebenezer for he knew that God had helped them thus far and he would do it again as long as they trusted God all the days of their life.
You see, when we sing, here I raise my Ebenezer, what we are saying is that we are choosing in that moment to believe that God is our helper and that as long as we hold on to God, we will make it through whatever it is that we are going through.
So when we walk out of the hospital and we don’t have the diagnoses we had hoped for, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God. When our relationships continue to struggle, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God. When our struggles become overwhelming, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God. When our doubt grows so big that we can’t see beyond it, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God.
Whatever it is that you are going through today, raise your Ebenezer, let the world know that there is nothing this world can do to pull you away from your trust in God. And while I cannot promise you that your struggles will simply fade away, I can tell you that there is something comforting about knowing that the God of all creation is right there with you. I could not face life any other way, and my prayer for you is that you may choose to do the same.
Together on the journey,