I am walking in the woods near my Pennsylvania home, taking my time, frequently stopping to notice the transitioning landscape. The fall, with its unnatural, lingering heat, has not provided its storied blaze of color. It has been more of a muddled mess.
But still, the melancholic beauty of autumn is evident.
Everything has gone to seed, just hoping to ensure another round of growth on the far side of winter. But even the withered remnants of summer’s bounty have a quiet elegance. With its blossoms gone, the filigree of Queen Anne’s lace has shriveled into an intricate basket. (Perhaps this explains its less-used name of bird’s nest.)
It is a somber, slumbering landscape. Retreating back into itself. Hunkering down. Inhaling deeply before holding its breath. For five months.
A line from a hymn comes to mind: Morning by morning, new mercies I see. An odd thought bubbles up behind it. What if we had to wait months between contact with the Lord? What if the process of forgiveness, of spiritual refreshment, happened only bi-annually? How I take for granted the immediacy of his grace!
The hymn, of course, is quoting Lamentations 3:22–23:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
What I had forgotten (until I looked the chapter up) was the context for Jeremiah’s hopeful confession. It’s quite astonishing, actually. He describes, in vivid metaphors, how harsh the Lord has been treating him. God has driven him into utter darkness. He has walled him in. Piled stones to block his path. Weighed him down with chains.
God is a bear that hid so it could leap out to maul him. God is an archer that has pierced his kidneys. Or, in Pennsylvania terms, God is the hunter waiting for the deer to step out of the woods
These are the groanings of a man of God in the winter of his discontent. Jeremiah desperately needs the renewal of God’s presence. But in his time of waiting, he speaks the comforting words above to his soul. They are new every morning.
The Lord brings to my mind friends who are in their own individual winters. John, who is facing rounds of chemo. Steve, a pastor whose church let him go. Others I know who are beset by physical challenges, loneliness, discouragement. I pray for them.
And I hear Paul’s words – echoing the hope of Jeremiah:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Wonderful God, you are “the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” We awoke this morning, washed anew in your grace. Forgive us for when we take that for granted. And Father, bring your renewal today to those of your children who most desperately need it.
Reader – how has God renewed his mercy to you today? I’d love to hear about it.