Daily Devotion for November 20, 2020

Hitting Bottom

Be gracious to me, O God, for people [events, circumstances] trample on me;
   all day long foes oppress me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
   for many fight against me.
O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
​(Psalm 56:11-2)

A man who had lost almost everything to alcoholism (job(s), wife, children, friends, health, self-respect), sat in my church office, devastated by his situation. We had met once before when his former wife had asked me to visit him in the hospital. I had stopped in to offer a prayer and a possible spiritual connection. Now in desperation, he had finally decided to seek help. He remembered me and showed up at my church office hoping I could “do” something to fix it. (This is a long, challenging, and eventually redemptive story. Here I will only share this small portion of the full story.)

He told me all that had happened to him, how much he had been drinking (a fifth of whiskey every day!) – and that now he wanted his life to change. Yet he wasn’t sure he had the capacity and strength to do what it would take. He ended his story saying, “I’ve hit bottom. I have nothing left. I’m sick, tired and scared. Why did God let this happen to me? Where is God???”

Not sure how to respond, we sat in agonizing silence as I prayed for guidance and wisdom. Again, he moaned, “I’ve hit bottom. Why has this happened? Where is God?” An answer came to my prayer. I replied, “You say you’ve hit bottom. What do you think you hit?” And after some more thoughtful silence, I continued, “Could that bottom be God?”
Now, to be clear, I believe that God was present all along, in all his experiences. It’s just that for him, and for some of us, that rock-hard bottom-hitting place is where we finally pay attention. We each have our own experiences and our own responses to these painful situations. I’ve never hit bottom, but I’ve scudded along in the depths here and there in my life. I have heard the despair of people in many variations of these journeys, through the many ways we experience the bottom, in the depths of despair or depression or difficulty, and in discovering a way through (or not). I don’t know why some people are able to turn their lives around and others don’t find their way back. Still, my firm belief is that God is present through it all. I believe my role in walking with people during these difficult times has been to help them (us) search for and discover how and where they (we) can experience God’s grace-filled, hopeful, and loving presence, no matter where we are on the journey.
Recently, I’ve been hearing many stories of how people are struggling with the accumulating burdens of living through the relentless viruses, with the consequential fear, anger and despair running rampant through their lives and our society. The future is completely unknown. It feels like everything we do, all that we have taken for granted, is now upended and changed. Many are hitting bottom. Others are scudding along in the depths, unsure how to find our ways ahead into hope. Where is God? Where do we (you) find evidence that God is present? Might God be there even at the bottom? Might God be catching and holding and carrying us through this time, these experiences, with grace and hope and love? Yes. My hope and faith say, always, yes.
Ever-present God, we pray for all who are struggling in these difficult and challenging times. Hold them. Hold us in your care. Heal us with your grace. Guide us in your blessing and hope. We know you are here. Help us to notice the many ways you are present with us. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.