In an effort to train my children to love libraries as much as this would-be-librarian does, we take fairly regular trips via bike to our local library. As far as I can tell, we are on the right track. Or should I say were.
Recently, Phin had a scary experience at our local library. I told him while he was on the computer that I was walking around the corner to get a book we had put on reserve. He nodded as if he had heard. However, he must have been in the educational, free library computer game zone, as he clearly did not hear me.
Not three minutes later, I heard a whimpering in the center of our small library. Sweet boy was standing there panicked, unsure of where I had gone. I quickly ran to him and hugged him and we processed what had just happened. I reassured him a thousand times over that I would never, ever leave him.
I repeatedly explained how I had been around the corner behind a bookshelf, out of sight, but so incredibly near. I held his little face to look into my eyes. “I will not leave you. I was right here and you were safe, even if it did not feel like it.”
Though it was only a couple of minutes, I was able to see those fleeting moments through his little perspective. They must have felt like an eternity to his scared and shocked heart.
As we walked home from the library, I could not help but re-interpret scary seasons of my own life through the lens of a parent.
There have been moments, even lingering seasons of life, when I felt like Phin in the middle of the library, whimpering and wondering where my heavenly Father seemed to have gone. In those scary seasons or situations, He seemed to have suddenly vanished. Even though one proverbial minute or set of circumstances before I had felt Him as near as a touch or a glance, suddenly, He seemed to disappear. I couldn’t see him or any traces of his whereabouts. My soul inevitably began to panic, fearing the worst.
After our library encounter, I now have a different image of the Heavenly Father in those seasons. He had not disappeared; he was hovering just behind a bookshelf, out of sight, but so very near, so very ready to scoop me up and reassure me that He would never leave me.
John Donne wrote a poem called a Hymn to Christ as he departed on his last trip into Germany. The first stanza of his poem has given my heart much comfort when I feel like Phin, looking around scared, unable to find the face of Christ through emotional fogs or stormy circumstances.
In what torn ship so ever I embark,
That ship shall be my emblem of Thy ark ;
What sea soever swallow me, that flood
Shall be to me an emblem of Thy blood ;
Though Thou with clouds of anger do disguise
Thy face, yet through that mask I know those eyes,
Which, though they turn away sometimes,
They never will despise.
Circumstances made Donne feel that God was angry with him or far away, but He fought through to find Christ’s eyes, eyes of love, grace and presence. It may seem, at times, that God has turned away from us, as the prophet Isaiah mentioned, but His everlasting gaze of love and grace is upon us.
In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:8.
Though our sins caused the face of our whole and holy Father to turn away from us, at great cost, He would secure us again to face-to-face, eye-to-eye encounter without fear.
This is not a cheap platitude, but a purchased gift. The steady gaze of the Father on us and the indwelling Holy Spirit to cheer, to convict, to guide and to enlighten the Word of God, these were purchased and secured when the Father turned His gaze away from His perfect Son on the Cross.
Before He ascended back to His Father, Christ grabbed the faces of his fearful, panicked disciples and reassured them, as I did my son, “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
He may seem to have vanished, and you may feel alone and scared; but He is near, nearer than the nearest bookshelf.