Fleeing for Refuge

Christmas Eve we attended our church’s Christmas Eve worship service.  We arrived early and had a bird’s eye view to the entire evening as we sat perched on the back row of the risers.  We watched as family after family filed in together, complete families delightfully celebrating their time together.  Those we spoke to greeted us with beaming smiles and heartily shared greetings of “Merry Christmas!” It was a beautiful service full of festive celebration of the birth of Christ.

As the gleeful celebrating progressed I knew I was in trouble.  I was filled with longing for someone to acknowledge the gaping hole in our family, to not pretend that Sarah had never existed and that we were not painfully missing her. Tears began to well.  Recognizing it was unavoidable, I allowed them to flow while taking the Lord’s Supper. But as the end of the service drew near I urgently employed my best efforts to stifle them.  I successfully regained control just as the service concluded.

Immediately after the conclusion of the service everyone began joyfully mingling again. I barely had control of my tears and immediately realized I was in a terrible predicament. To exit I was going to have to walk through all of them with countless gay happy greetings of “Merry Christmas!” to which a like response is expected.  My heart raced as I felt my grip on the sorrow slipping.  A warm stream of tears quickly turned to sobbing.  In desperate need of an escape, the no exit stairwell behind me caught my eye and I quickly fled there.

…he guaranteed it with an oath, so that… we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” Hebrews 6:17-18 [ESV]

As I have been meditating on Hebrews 6 over the past week, the phrase “we who have fled for refuge” resonated deeply within my heart.  Prior to Sarah’s departure I had experienced loss and heartache, but nothing that would have enabled me to truly identify with the raw desperation of one who has literally “fled for refuge.”  

Since Sarah’s departure I find myself in a somewhat continual state of fleeing for refuge. The crushing weight of sorrow has not lifted.  The void of Sarah’s absence and the resulting painful aching of missing and longing for her presence remain constant.

“…Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” Psalm 57:1 [ESV]

Over the past two and a half years I have learned valuable skills for navigating daily life in the midst of the sorrow. I have learned to recognize and avoid certain triggers, to quickly take thoughts captive, to fix my focus on eternity and the Hope set before me, and to allow myself times for the sorrow to overflow.

I was optimistic that  this Christmas those acquired skills would render me better able to navigate the many traditions and events that are like spotlights to the void of her absence.  For the most part I think that was true, I was better able to navigate it.   But in hindsight I realize I had a false expectation of that skillful navigating preventing the moments of crushing sorrow, when in reality it only puts them off to another time and place.

“My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.  On God my salvation and my glory [rest;] The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.  Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.” Psalm 62:5-8 [NASB]

So once again I find myself reminded that the weight of sorrow and the pain of aching and longing will remain indefinitely, and I am powerless beneath them.  God alone can bear them for me, shouldering them and upholding me beneath them with His righteous right hand.  There is no satisfaction, reprieve or relief apart from Him.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'” Isaiah 41:10 [NASB]

In the midst of this I find myself thankful for the realization that my sorrow works in me like the thorn in Paul’s flesh. The sorrow does not create my weakness, it simply exposes it.  I have always been powerless to save myself and in desperate need of a Savior, but the ease of life prior to Sarah’s death buffered my perception of the desperation of my need.  Through sorrow’s revealing of my weakness I am actually made strong.   As I flee to Him for refuge, His power and strength is manifested in me as He strengthens me “with all power according to His glorious might” (Col. 1:11).

“Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”2 Corinthians 12:8-9 [NASB]

The omnipotent God of the universe knows and reminds us of our weakness and frailty, “He is mindful that we are but dust” {Psalm103:14).  He has clearly revealed through His word that we are incapable of bearing up under the unbearable weight of sin, sorrow, suffering and death.  He is actively beckoning us to flee to Him for refuge.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Revelation 3:20 [NASB]

He who is incapable of lying has guaranteed with an oath the certainty of the Hope of eternity for those who flee to Him for refuge.  He graciously and lovingly reminds us of His unchangeable character and the certainty of His promises in order to provide us “strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”

Praise God that through Him and Him alone victory is found in fleeing, strength is found in weakness, and Hope is found in the midst of hopelessness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,  so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,  where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:17-20 [ESV]


Artwork: Sarah Harmening

6 thoughts on “Fleeing for Refuge

  1. Karen,
    Your words always touch me deeply. It is like you can see thru to my heart.
    I am sorry that these range of emotions came on at Church, our safe place, but you cannot control those moments I’m afraid.
    I love you, friend!

  2. Thank you for sharing your heart as it truly explains my heart as well….. i just cannot put them in words like you do. Big hugs to you as we remember your Sarah and my Justin as well as all the other hurting families just like us 💔 i had very similar triggers this Christmas as i felt like everyone avoided acknowledging my son. Love you my dear friend.

  3. Bless you, Karen. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Also, thank you for sharing Sarah’s beautiful artwork. It always blesses my soul. Love you friend.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I remember 10 years ago how I could not stop crying during the Christmas season after we lost our son. I soaked so many pillows at night for a solid six months. So I am sending you a big hug right now through this reply!

  5. Sweet Karen,
    I am thankful that you have the ability to puts all of this into words so eloquently! Sending you LOVE & a HUG 🤗.
    Loving you

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