By Scott Armstrong
September 1993. I was 15 years old. My dad and mom call a family meeting after supper. My brother and I came down from our rooms, wondering what’s going on. We usually had the famous “family meetings” once a year when some new rule was being enforced or when a vacation needed to be planned or discussed.
This time was different. There was an eerie vibe to the room. My dad exhaled audibly while my mom fidgeted with her hands. Then—BOOM!—my world changed forever. They were getting a divorce. They just couldn’t work things out. They had too many differences. Blah, blah, blah. Although it doesn’t make sense, part of me was hearing every word perfectly even while another part instantly tuned out the drone of their voices.
Then it was my turn. “What do you mean, you can’t work out your differences? Are you some sort of teenage fling that is on today, off tomorrow? Did those vows you made years ago mean anything?” I was furious. I was sad. I was numb.
That is reality #1. That actually happened. And I will never be the same again because of it.
So here is reality #2. God with us. “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you…the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5,9). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). We hear a lot about this second reality around Christmas time, don’t we? The “Incarnation.” God with us. It kind of makes us feel warm inside, especially when things are going particularly well in life.
But what happens when Reality #1 and Reality #2 collide? As a teenager, I knew Reality #2 was true—I had heard about it every Christmas since I had been born. And I certainly knew Reality #1 was true—I was experiencing it like tumbleweed experiences a tornado. And let me be honest: it was pretty tough to see how the reality of “God with us” could be right when the reality of the divorce was in my face every day. The shouting. Mom moving out. First time I had two Thanksgiving dinners, two Christmas trees, two houses where I did not feel at home in either. Where was God in all this?
I have no easy answer. I knew in my head that God was with me, but my heart and my life told me different. People at church with good intentions but little tact would come up to me and assure me, “You know, God is always with us, no matter what. You will get through this.” That’s what I really needed—a mini-sermon to make me feel better! I already knew from Scripture that God was somewhere to be found in this whole muddle of loneliness and anger, but where?
I can look back now and see some indicators of God’s presence in that whole mess. First, I learned that God “incarnates himself” in and through other people. He is with us because other Christians give of their time and their tears to be with us too. We always say that we are “the body of Christ” and that we need to be Christ’s “hands and feet” in the world, so why are we surprised when it actually happens? Through the love and compassion of my youth pastor and other teens and adults, I sensed God’s presence.
That does not mean people knew what to say; a lot of times they said some pretty stupid things. It also does not mean I was not upset, frustrated, or even depressed at various points. Yet, while some in my situation choose to hibernate and never talk to fellow churchgoers again, I had to get to church services every week. That was where I sensed God’s presence—through music and preaching, of course, but also through God’s people that surrounded me with love on Sundays and throughout the week.
Second, I knew God was with me through my personal times with him. Before my parents’ divorce, I have to be truthful: I was a good Christian boy who did all of the right things. Still, I did not have a deep relationship with Christ. Well, all that changed when I found myself hopeless and with no one to talk to. Normally in tough circumstances I would confide in my parents. That wasn’t going to happen now; they did not exactly possess an objective perspective of the divorce! I was able to talk to my youth pastor, but he did not really know what I was going through because his parents were still happily married. So who could I turn to?
My only answer was God. I started approaching my devotional times not as something to check off my list, but as the one time I could truly be myself. I wept before God. I yelled at him. I began to wrestle with the words that I was reading in his Scripture. Sometimes what I read made me mad; other times it comforted me. I did not always hear a response. I never heard voices from heaven nor did I receive some other tangible proof of his existence. But in my quiet times, I began to trust him more. In the toughest moments of my life, he became my closest friend, and he remains so to this day.
God with us. It seems preposterous, doesn’t it? Especially when you are experiencing the reality of a life filled with brokenness and emptiness. But that is what makes the second reality even stronger—God specializes in being with us not only in the good times when we “feel” him, but in the dark times filled with fear and loneliness. Let God speak his reality into your reality today. God. With. Us.