By Tim Shaw
One of Jesus’ names, Emmanuel, tells us “God is with us.” I believe this is true, but it’s so easy for me to live as if it were not. On good days, on bad days, and especially on those countless ordinary days, the reality of his presence often seems like a vague abstraction in the midst of my self-absorption. Emmanuel becomes just a word in a hymn we sing at church every December. But when I take time to reflect on my life from a spiritual perspective, I can see that he has, in fact, always been with me. God is with me today. And he will be with me tomorrow. But how?
My father died in May, and I had to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to settle his affairs. Due to his chronic alcoholism, he and I never enjoyed a close relationship. In recent years we spoke on the phone occasionally (maybe twice a year), but the last time we saw each other was in 1997. At the end of his life, he lived alone in a tiny one-room apartment in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. I didn’t want to go there, to clean up the mess he’d left behind, but I did. After I opened the door to his apartment, which was barely fit for human habitation, I was both disgusted and deeply saddened: “This horrible place is where my father spent the last decade, where he died alone to be found days later by a cleaning service?” I felt overwhelmed, unsure of what to do, and utterly alone.
But the Lord was with me, and he made his presence known in simple ways. As I stood in that lonely room, overcome with emotion, it was as if I heard him say: “I am your Father, and I love you more than you’ll ever know.” As I washed my father’s dirty dishes, I experienced some of the most intimate prayer time I can remember. While I sorted through my father’s belongings, I found myself quietly singing some of my favorite worship songs and was keenly aware of the Comforter’s presence. That afternoon, as I looked at cremation brochures in a strange funeral home, the printed excerpts from Psalm 23 helped to calm my waves of grief. During the drive to my step-sister and step-brother-in-law’s house (who live near Phoenix and graciously opened their home to me), my mind was flooded with Scripture I had memorized as a child. That night, they hosted their home-group for a potluck dinner. Fellowship with believers—whom I didn’t know, but that didn’t matter—provided sweet refreshment at the end of one of the longest, most difficult days of my life.
God is with us, sustaining and guiding us through seasons of profound loss, abundant blessing, and everything in between. One of Scripture’s great promises, which we recall during this season of expectant waiting, is that the Lord whom we love and serve is coming again, in person. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3, ESV) What a day it will be when we see him face to face, to live in his presence forever. Come quickly, Emmanuel!