Deep in the mountains of New Hampshire sits the Polar Caves, a hundred-year-old attraction that takes visitors through granite caves formed long ago. As I child, I used to marvel as my family wound its way through these rocks that formed deep crevasses and tight passageways through the White Mountains. Could my slender 10-year-old frame squeeze through “The Lemon Squeeze” to the other side? Would my bones feel the pressure as I pushed through “The Orange Crush,” an almost impassable path between giant boulders?
Navigating rock formations is fun on vacation, but picking our way through the rubble of life’s suffering can feel like a totally different experience. Squeezed by the pressures of family conflict or work insecurity, chronic illness or deep loss, we’re intimidated, exhausted, and heart-sore.
Especially as the holidays approach, many of us long for the spacious places God has promised for those he loves (2 Sam. 22:20; Job 36:16; Ps. 18:19). Thanksgiving can feel nearly impossible when we feel hemmed in by disappointment, wedged between pain and more pain. As the calendar prompts us toward gratitude, how can we express thankfulness when life does more than pinch, when sorrow presses in?
While those around you prepare to rejoice, you may feel like the path before you is littered with one boulder after another. Nonetheless, Scripture assures you that you can rejoice even here. You can rest in your own tight space this Thanksgiving.
Pressed on Every Side
You may feel like the path before you is littered with one boulder after another. Nonetheless, Scripture assures you that you can rejoice even here.
From Macedonia, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “We are hard pressed on every side” (2 Cor. 4:8, NIV). The Corinthian church had long supported Paul’s ministry, and they knew of his difficulties. They knew his vulnerability as a servant of Christ in an empire bent against the gospel. They knew his previous imprisonments and the threats that always lay in wait. Paul told his faithful friends the truth—life was tough, tougher than tough, actually.
Considering all he knew of God’s faithfulness, Paul knew it was still OK to say when life was hard.
As you stand between your rock and hard place, be assured you can speak the truth of your pain too. This Thanksgiving, you need not ignore the suffering, the grief, or the unfulfilled longings and simply shoulder on. Instead, gratitude always begins with candid and sincere acknowledgment of the truth. Like Paul, it’s OK for you to share what’s pressing in on you.
Squeezed, Not Crushed
When our youngest child was born, each of her older siblings wanted to hold her. The most passed-around baby in our family, she surfed from one set of arms to the next. One of my primary jobs in those early days was to teach her older siblings how to hold a baby correctly. “Hold her tight,” I’d instruct, “but don’t crush her!”
Gratitude always begins with candid and sincere acknowledgement of the truth.
One of the biggest differences between being hemmed in by our sorrows and feeling crushed by them is our own understanding of space. Paul clarified what suffering with Jesus beside you looked like—there was still room for hope and worship. Like standing between boulders in a cave, like resting in a sibling’s arms, “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed,” he wrote (2 Cor. 4:8).
Whatever presses you on every side this Thanksgiving, where might you discover the space that Jesus’s presence provides for your survival? As his love cushions your heart, you can navigate hard places, preserved from being crushed altogether. Just as God drew Moses into the cleft of the rock to protect him as his glory passed by, God offers you relief from the squeeze—not by escaping but by nestling in, knowing that in God’s care the trials of life will not destroy you altogether.
Singing Even Here
Charles Spurgeon has been quoted as saying, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” At first glance, it’s a beautiful metaphor, but upon further thought—Ouch! If we’re honest, we don’t want to swim in the tempestuous waves or to be thrown against anything. All rocks must be bad, we reason. All pain devoid of purpose. What looks like a rock can only ever hurt like a rock. But that’s where we’re wrong.
God offers you relief from the squeeze—not by escaping but by nestling in, knowing that in God’s care the trials of life will not destroy you altogether.
As much as we like to avoid discomfort, grief, and sorrow, life’s path is a rocky one, full of obstacles that can scare or overwhelm us. The rock and the hard place we stand between are real, and their pains are great.
But just as real and powerful is the Rock who stands beside us in all our hard places. The One, Paul says, whose death we carry around in our bodies “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed” (2 Cor. 4:10).
Not all rocks are made the same. Among the painful ones, an Almighty Rock surpasses them all.
This side of glory, each of us must navigate life’s boulder field of troubles. Sometimes, the passageways between trials will seem so slim we can’t imagine how we could slip through to the other side. And at the holidays, when others around us are easily celebrating, we may feel our gratitude in short supply.
Even then, and especially then, may we discover among the rocks a Rock that never fails. May the sufferings that hem us in press us more closely against the Rampart and Refuge of our souls. May we learn to sing his goodness even here.