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For Your Weekend: Managing the Highs and Lows of Life

Lisa Brenninkmeyer
February 24, 2024

Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Mark 9:2–10

Do you ever find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop? You’re in a good place, soaking up a moment of genuine joy, and then some intrusive thoughts barge into your head. “This won’t last,” says the voice. “Don’t let your guard down.” “Careful with hope—you’ll be disappointed.” 

It took encountering unexpected sorrow and distressing heartache in my personal life to realize just how fragile hope can be and how vulnerable it makes me feel. Hope is risky, so there are times I find myself hedging my bets. I self-protect and think, “If I don’t count on anything getting better, I won’t be as surprised when things don’t go my way.” “If I have no expectations of happiness, another grey day won’t feel devastating.” “If I don’t hope for healing, I’ll be able to shrug my shoulders when everything stays the same.”  

There have been times when this guarded way of living has felt like the only prudent choice. But it has also robbed me of the experience of being fully alive. This has left me with the question—how do I navigate the highs and lows of life while still holding on to hope?

I found an answer to this question nestled in the middle of this weekend’s gospel passage. It’s a well-known but mysterious story—the Transfiguration. In it, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. When they are there, a cloud descends and envelopes them. Two men (long dead) appear out of nowhere—Moses and Elijah. They are not ghosts; they are somehow physically present. Then, as Jesus’ clothes begin to glow, God the Father confirms His identity with the words, “This is my beloved Son.” Peter doesn’t know what to say, so suggests that they make little shelters and settle down. But before any action can be taken, the dead men disappear, the cloud goes away, and Jesus leads them back down the mountain. There’s no explanation given (at least not one recorded here), and they are told not to talk about it until the Son of Man is raised from the dead. They find these words utterly confusing and don’t know how to make sense of any of it.

They’ve just seen something truly incredible, unrepeatable, and miraculous. But why? What was going on with this strange combination of events?

It’s helpful to put this story into the context of what else was happening. Jesus had just begun his journey to Jerusalem, knowing that it would culminate with His passion and death. Encountering Moses and Elijah at that moment was an opportunity for Jesus to be reminded of His mission. Moses was the law-giver, and Elijah was the first and greatest prophet. Jesus was going on a mission to bring to completion what the law and the prophets had begun. No doubt Moses and Elijah encouraged Jesus to keep going, to do for man what had long been promised but never fully experienced. Hearing His Father’s audible voice telling Him He was beloved was also confirming of His mission. But the Transfiguration was not just for Jesus. It was also meant for the eyes of the three disciples. 

What did it do for them? Peter, James, and John were given the unique privilege of beholding Jesus’ glory in a way no one had seen before. This was going to give them something to hold on to when they later encountered circumstances they could not understand. Everything we read in the gospels indicates that although Jesus had predicted his death many times to his disciples, they did not expect a resurrection. They did not expect Jesus to be raised from the dead. No doubt, they wondered if any of it had been real in the aftermath of the crucifixion.

But then their minds would have traveled back to this incredible experience. It had happened. It was not the result of an overactive imagination. Three of them had been there and witnessed it together. There was something supernatural going on. There was a power at play—something otherworldly—something inexplicable but nevertheless real. Could it be that God is just as much at work now as He had been then and that, in both cases, it just wasn’t clear what He was doing?

It has been said that we can endure all sorts of things if they make sense. But when we don’t understand why something is occurring and our questions remain unanswered, we can quickly lose hope. This is the problem of pain. We wrestle with how God can be good and all-powerful if horrible things happen in our world and our lives. We want to solve this. We want an explanation. But what if Flannery O’Connor was right when she wrote that it’s not “a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured”?[1]

I believe God gives us the mountaintop experiences to help us hold on to hope in the valley. When we are desperate for relief and explanations, we have a choice. Will we lean into the confusion and just marinate in it, or will we do the work of remembering? When have we seen Him in action in the past? 

He is real. We know this. He does rescue. We have seen this. He can heal. We have witnessed this. But our hope cannot be rooted in our current circumstances changing. It must be grounded in the vision of Jesus in His all-powerful glory, ALWAYS showing up. NEVER leaving our side. UNFAILINGLY fighting for us. 

Moments of joy will return. Hold on to hope, and never forget the darkest hour is the hour before dawn.

With you on the journey,

Food for thought or journaling…

Revisit your own mountaintop experiences, and describe a time in your life when God showed up for you. Can you remember a moment when you sensed that God was real and active? 

Dear Jesus, Help me to stop looking to my circumstances for proof of Your goodness and presence. May I shift my focus to the cross. That is where You proved Your love for me. Help me to remember that there is nothing You won’t do for me and that not only have You fought for me, but You continue to do so, day by day. Amen.

[1] Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1969), 209.

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