Jacob had stolen the blessing that rightfully belonged to his older brother Esau. And Esau was out for blood. Esau’s anger was real and justified. Jacob had been taking things that were Esau’s since the two of them were young. Their father’s blessing was the final straw. Esau had had enough, and Jacob knew it. Fleeing from his homeland to preserve his life, Jacob “came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep” (Genesis 28:11).
I wonder, as he lay his head upon that rock, if he knew he deserved the hardship. Yes, he was in the wrong, but I also wonder if he grieved the family he had once known. Or if he grieved the family he had never known. The one with whom he’d shared a womb had become his enemy. I wonder if, even as he knew he was the wounder, he felt the ache of being the wounded as well. I wonder if sleep tarried. I wonder if exhaustion overcame him quickly. I wonder a lot of things about this wandering man. But I do know he slept. Because he dreamed. And when he did, the Lord came to him and promised to be with him:
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. (Genesis 28:15-18)
A stone becomes a memorial. A mountain becomes a monument to the faithfulness of God.
I flipped through the worn pages of an old Bible this morning, and I noticed a date – July 2012. It was scrawled in red next to chapter 42 of the Book of Isaiah. I can hardly believe it’s been two years. I can tell you just where I was sitting with that red pen and that open Bible. I can perfectly recall the acute sadness of a community lost. The sting of words slung in haste still smacked on my tearstained cheeks. The bitterness of fighting words slung back still filled my mouth. And I lay my head to sleep upon the harshness of a stone. In the midst of the guilt and the hurt and the grief, He still came. He still met. He still welcomed.
A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench. (Isaiah 42:3)
When my faith was faintly burning. When my hope was badly bruised. He still knelt. He still spoke. Oh, yes, the Body of Christ, the Church of God, it is a terrifying thing when it goes awry. Real faith gets trampled. Real tears get spilled. Real love gets twisted. We mourn the family we once knew. We grieve the fact that those with whom we’ve shared so much might turn on us just as quickly as we might turn on them. We are both the wounded and the wounders. And we are sent reeling. But into the chaos of a hardly civil war, our Lord still spoke:
I am the Lord; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them. (Isaiah 42:8-9)
It was the faintest whisper, but my heart awoke again to hope. Hope for community restored. Hope for forgiveness extended and received. Hope for something new even as I mourned the old. And, oh, I mourned. I had dearly loved the former things. Could I really move into the new? Into the unfamiliar? Into the hard-to-imagine?
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)
And I do not forsake them. How I hoped that would prove true.
So I sit here today staring at that red date in the margin, wondering how two years could pass so quickly. Remembering the painful flutter of hope like it was yesterday and also feeling like I’ve lived a lifetime since. No, He has not forsaken me. Yes, He has done a new thing.
And I wouldn’t trade it for a lifetime of the old, even though the old is still a part of me, even though I will always love it, even though the memories are precious treasures. Even though those people will always be my family in God, will always be the ones who raised me up in Him, will always be part of the same Body of Christ. It was time for the new. And the breaking away from the old was painful and confusing and turbulent. But God has met me in the new with such healing and rest and purpose and peace that I can, with Jacob, lift up the hard rock on which I placed my head and declare: “Surely the Lord [was] in [that] place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).
Surely the Lord was faithful. Surely the Lord was active. Surely the Lord redeems.
I wonder what you’re facing. I wonder what rock you’ve laid your head upon, thankful for rest even if it is painful. I wonder if you feel that you deserve the hardship or if you feel a victim in the face of the suffering. I wonder if you feel hunted by the one with whom you once shared a womb. I wonder if you’re reeling with the realization that you can, with hardly a hesitation, turn on the ones you are supposed to love the most. I wonder a lot of things. But I know this. I know our God is faithful. I know our God is good. I know that God can meet us while our heads lay bruised against a rock. He can whisper hope back into the void that used to brim with faith. He can comfort. He can mend. He can promise, and He will be faithful to that promise.
These stones that we lay our pounding heads upon can become our memorials. Our mountains can become our monuments to the faithfulness of our God.
Surely the Lord is in this place though we may not know it yet.