“Long before I was born, I was proclaimed to be the God who is with you. This is rock-solid truth that nobody and no circumstance
can take away from you.”
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:1
One prayer changed my life forever. Since then, more prayers have come, but that prayer was the one that set my life on a completely different trajectory.
How did I get here?
After spending several years in my teens and twenties running away from God, one day I found myself lying on the floor of my parents’ bathroom. It had been a couple of months since I received the first of what would be five cancer diagnoses. There I was, on the floor, a few hours into a 3-day quarantine for intense radiation treatment. I was 26.
The treatment dose made me literally radioactive. I was unable to have any human contact for 72 hours. As soon as my time in isolation began, a gradual and alarming physical uneasiness began to overtake my body. As the minutes ticked by, the uneasiness turned to panic. Each moment that passed felt both slow and scary.
The height of the terror hit me a few hours in. Everything around me went fuzzy and dark, and I thought I might faint. By some miracle, I managed to kneel down carefully. I put my flushed face against the cool tile of the shower floor, a blubbering mess of fear and hysteria.
This can’t be happening to me, I thought. How did I get here?
I felt something change.
And then, out of nowhere, I talked to God. Sure, I had talked to Him before, but I didn’t really believe He was listening, or even there.
I asked if He was real.
I asked if He could help me.
I asked if He would save me.
What happened next was everything.
I felt the presence of God. I couldn’t see Him, but I felt something change about my environment, my circumstances, and my perspective. It was like all of the memory work I had done in Sunday school came flooding back. It whispered what felt like a lie, but actually had been true all along: God was with me.
Immanuel means “God is with us,” but that didn’t mean much to me until I found myself in a season of intense pain and suffering. We know that God’s presence is something to seek and savor, but coming into His presence is so much more than a strategy to employ when we find ourselves at the end of whatever rope we’re holding.
The blessing of a life spent in God’s Presence
My role as a parent is never far away from me, and I’m sure it’s the same for you. As caring adults, it’s in our nature to want to protect our children from negative experiences like this one. We work hard to help them avoid harm, heartbreak, and disappointment. If we take a second to really think about it, though, we can embrace the reality that this next generation will inevitably experience the full gamut of human emotions: great highs, low lows, ups, downs, and plateaus.
And we will deprive them of the blessing of a life spent in God’s presence if we try to enclose them in a cozy bubble or aim to keep them always under our watchful eyes.
They deserve better from us. They need the adults who care about them to show them how to pursue a life of eternal significance over worldly success. They need access to a life spent knowing that no matter their circumstances, God is with them and they can leverage their gifts, talents, time, and resources to live, love, and lead in light of the gospel.
Immanuel is a frame of mind.
We can teach them that Immanuel is more than a word; it is a frame of mind. It is a declaration of confidence and the battle cry of a people commissioned to do the will of God without fear or fail.
Once I gave my life to Jesus, it took me two full years to understand what coming into the presence of God actually meant. Trying church again and going to an in-home Bible study gave me a new lease on a life spent with Jesus, as opposed to running away from Him.
It took twice as long for me to figure out that God’s presence isn’t a place to come and go. Rather, it is a state of being that gives us a minute-by-minute framework for thinking and responding to whatever challenges life brings our way.
Isn’t that the life we want for our children: one where they walk daily in the presence of God? One where they abandon insecurity and self-doubt, and instead take ownership of the gospel and the part they have to play in sharing it? I know it is the life my husband and I want for our two daughters. I hope it is for you, too.
“I am with you, watching over you constantly . . . Nothing, including the brightest blessings and the darkest trials, can separate you from Me.”