Emmanuel: God With Us in Hope – Kristi McClelland

Emmanuel, God With Us in Hope – Kristi McClelland
We are in a crazy time this year, and on some days, it feels hopeless. We are trying to get through the pandemic, move on past the election, and find a new perspective for 2021, but there’s just so much going on. We want to look ahead with hope but what are we hoping in? Is it a political outcome, a vaccine, a change in our circumstances?
When we look to these things for hope, we can set ourselves up for a cycle of disappointment and despondency. Today we are talking about finding hope in Emmanuel, God with Us.
We are so thrilled to have Kristi McClelland with us on our podcast this week. Kristi is an author, professor, speaker, and biblical culturist. Kristi teaches the Bible through its original historical, cultural, linguistic, and geographic context. This approach helps build a bridge to help us understand the world and culture of the bible to know what the authors meant and show us who the living God is, what he’s like and what it’s like to walk with Him.
When Kristi was 21 years old, as a senior in college, she lost her father unexpectedly to cancer just a few weeks after diagnosis. It was devastating and felt like the rug was pulled out from under her. Her whole world changed in a moment. As she was mourning and hurting, she would sleep with her Bible under her pillow so she could read a psalm or just a few words of comfort. 
Now, years later, Kristi has faced other reasons to need comfort and hope, just as we all have. We all need anchors of hope and, as believers, we have a living Hope in Christ – a hope that is alive, breathing, walking around, able to meet us in our troubles. In times like these, Kristi prays, “Lord, I need your hope to find me because I don’t have it in me to find it.” I’m upside down, I feel disoriented, so find me, find me and usher in that hopefulness.” Kristi describes Living Hope as different from hope that is experienced as a feeling which is how it’s talked about in other world religions. “Our hope is not based in a certain theology, rhythm, or practice. Our hope is based on a man, a living resurrected man. It’s not just that Jesus came but that He is still here, living, moving, breathing, having his way, shepherding us through our lives.” So, hope isn’t a thing, it’s not a feeling. “Our hope is living because Jesus is alive and, in our lives, right now, shepherding our lives in ways known and unknown in mystery and uncertainty. We’re all going to fool around and make it - because of Him. We are going to fool around and make it through this season, as we have every season of devastation and loss that comes before, because it’s not just that He came to earth. He came to earth, He is here, and He’s coming again one day. So, we live in the twilight of who He is so it’s Living Hope.”
After the loss of her Dad and again now in 2020, Kristi shares, “We’ve all had longing and aching this year, for things past and for things ahead. The Bible says God longs for things too.” Kristi says this truth is found in Isaiah 30:18 which says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you. He rises to show you compassion.” Kristi learned it when she lost her dad and she’s learning it again this year. “Compassion is the fusion of two words. “Com” means “with” and “passion” comes from “pathos” which means “pain”. So, compassion in the Biblical world is not an emotion. It’s a location. Compassion means positioning yourself with people in their pain. The Bible here in this verse is saying that the Lord longs to position himself with us in our pain. He rises to show us compassion. “You think of all those seasons in life when maybe you’ve thought, “Oh I need to clean myself up before I come to God” or “Why am I having another meltdown?” “Why can’t I get it together? Why is everybody else smarter, quicker, better, faster, stronger than me, and I’m the one behind, struggling?” The Bible tells us that this is where God locates Himself – with us and among us in our pain. “When we are the most undone, He is the closest. When we are fundamentally disoriented, He comes so near, to be with us in our pain.” And when we are hurting, isn’t that what we need? We just want to know we are not alone. Kristi has been thinking about this verse so much this year and asking God to locate Himself with her in the pain. If we know God is with us and among us, that Living Hope will see us through.
But, so often we are in a rush to get through the pain. We want to get past it and not have to sit in it and learn from it. Kimberley Mitchell, cohost on the Solo Parent Society podcast, shares that she and founder, Robert Beeson, talk about this often. We want to avoid the pain, but God meets us on some of our most broken, hard, painful days!  It is in some of our darkest times that some of the greatest moments with God occur. Often, we think instead, “when this breakthrough happens  or when my kids are acting better or when I get married, then we will feel hope”. But this is misplaced hope.
How do we find hope in God in a wilderness or desert season? In the Western world, Kristi says we often ask, “How did I get here? What did I do to get here? And how do I get out of it?” whereas the ancients in the Middle East ask very different questions. They understand that God does some of His best work in the wilderness and in the dessert. The Jewish people equate the wilderness as a place we go to hear God’s voice, to hear His Word. Moses was in the dessert when he heard God speak from the burning bush. Elijah fled to the dessert to hear God’s still small voice. Jesus was in the dessert 40 days and 40 nights when angels came to tend to Him. “When you find yourself in a wilderness, don’t try to get out of it. Hunker down and start listening.” It’s in the wilderness where we get our word from the Lord. Kristi says rather than trying to get out of it, position yourself to hear the word of the Lord in this. In Hosea 2, the Lord says, “I will allure her to the dessert and there I will speak tenderly to her.” This verse is one we can hold on to as single parents. This passage goes on to say that we will no longer call God our Master, but we will instead call him our Husband. In our dessert season, God wants to meet with us and deepen His relationship with us. In the wilderness, we become fused to the Lord in a new, more intimate way that the mountaintop could never teach us.
We can’t change the pandemic; we can’t change our circumstances, but we can attune our ears to God’s voice. We can listen for His voice in the dessert. He is with us in our pain. Sometimes we struggle and strain so much trying to get out of the wilderness, that we miss His word to us. This is where our transformation happens.
In our weekly Solo groups, this is what we want to do. We don’t want to struggle to get out and to avoid the pain but rather we want to take time to listen for God’s voice in the pain. Rather than numbing out through eating, Netflix, alcohol, sex, or whatever it is we turn to, we need to instead allow God to sit with us and meet with us in it. There is so much happening out of our control right now, but we need to stay present and not run from this season.
One of the ways we can do that this year is by allowing ourselves to lament. This is a practice that was used often by Jewish people in the Bible. There are all kinds of liturgies and songs of lament. “In Judaism and the biblical world, both joy and sorrow are considered to be communal emotions.” Rather than individual private expressions, in Jewish culture, they celebrate and mourn together. Lament is a communal, spiritual practice. When we don’t numb out, when we stay alive and present in our lament, lament transforms and matures us. It purposes and accomplishes things in us that are different than celebrations and joy. Just like sore muscle after we work out are something we accept as part of the process in getting stronger, the soreness of lament is evidence of the work being done in us too. When we numb out, we become overwhelmed by anxiety. We must ask God for the grace to embrace lament and not resist it. Kristi shares, “If we numb out, we come out of a dessert season, no different than when we entered it. If we try to escape it, we will not be transformed by it. We must learn to lament with our community, to feel the sadness, to journal it, to not avert our eyes but to investigate it, and past it with Living hope. When we do that, we come out of it stronger and a little bit more mature.” Don’t miss the work God wants to do in you with lament. When we do that, we have more of ourselves to give to others when they’re in their dessert season.
How do we lean into community during lament?
When we feel overwhelming feelings and when we are tempted to isolate, Kristi says this is a red flag. Practice reaching for community when nothing in you wants to. Have safe people you can be honest with and tell them you are getting stuck in isolation and need help getting out. Loneliness is a big issue for single parents and reaching out is hard but it’s so important. It takes courage to reach out and acknowledge you’re not doing okay. Be honest and seek out what you need. Yes, it feels vulnerable and humbling, but isolation can rob us of our hope. Expressing a need awakens compassion from others. Be brave and embrace lament – with God and with others. He longs to meet you there. He is Emmanuel, God With Us. He is our Living Hope.
We are facing so much globally and in our daily lives but, single parents, as you face the challenges, you are not alone. As you walk the journey of single parenting, we want to offer encouragement and hope any way we can. Join our Solo Parent Society community by participating in one of our online groups meeting Monday through Saturday every week. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@soloparentsociety). Subscribe to our weekly podcast via AccessMore or wherever you get your podcasts and download our Solo Parent app FREE in the app store. We love to connect single parents to resources that offer hope and help. If you want to donate so we can reach more single-parent families, go to www.soloparentsociety.com. Questions? Email us at info@spsociety.com.

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