God Drew Near in the NICU

On December 14, 2016, my wife gave birth to our first child, Mirra Grace.

For almost five years, we had been praying for this moment. After a long journey of infertility and two miscarriages, God graciously gave us this long-awaited gift. Tears of joy flooded our eyes on that early morning, and we celebrated God’s faithfulness.

Hours later, we noticed our daughter’s face beginning to turn blue. Not knowing if this was normal, we asked the nurses about it and they brought her to the nursery for monitoring. After monitoring and having an MRI done of her brain, our doctor came and shared with us the results.

“Your daughter had a severe stroke. She will need to be airlifted to Orlando for treatment. I am sorry.” In one crushing moment, our tears of joy immediately became tears of sorrow.

For two weeks, we lived in the back-and-forth of hope and despair in the NICU. By God’s grace, our daughter is home now and developing as a normal three-month-old. But in the most difficult two weeks of our lives, we experienced a sweet nearness of the Lord’s presence that made the truths of Scripture a deeper reality than we had ever experienced.

Good to Be Near God

The descent into the valley of despair comes in many ways. It could come by an unexpected phone call with the devastating news of a lost loved one. Or perhaps by the police coming to your door in the middle of the night with bad news. For me and my wife, we careened toward that valley from the peaks of excitement and joy.

“In one crushing moment, our tears of joy immediately became tears of sorrow.”

Regardless of how it comes, when despair comes, Christians need a God big enough to bring comfort to our pain. We need to know God’s sovereign, intimate, merciful, immanent, all-wise power over our pain — we must know the God of the Bible. Even in the valley of despair, we will fear no evil as long as we know the comforting staff of our Good Shepherd (Psalm 23:4; John 10:11).

1. God knows our every tear.

God is particularly near to the broken-hearted in Scripture. He knows our tears of sorrow intimately. When David asked the Lord to “put my tears in your bottle,” he recognized both God’s sovereignty in suffering, as well as his faithful presence in the midst of suffering. Knowing these big truths, David no longer feared man, and he praised God according to his word (Psalm 56:8–11).

In the new covenant, we meet Jesus, the one most intimately familiar with our tears. We see these tears at the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus weeps with a hurting sister (John 11:35). We see these tears at Gethsemane when he prayed to the Father “with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). We see these tears at the cross as he again cries out to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Gethsemane and Calvary remind us that he has tasted bitter tears we will never taste. And because of those tears, we never experience abandonment from our God in our tears here on earth. He is the man of sorrows, acquainted with all our grief, able to sympathize with our weakness (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 4:15). And at the end of this sin-ridden age, we will see him take our tears in his hands, wiping them from our eyes in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:4).

2. God loves to draw near.

As a pastor, I often make hospital visits to congregants during a hospital stay. Being on the other side of receiving care during our hospital stay, it was a rich blessing to have visits from many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Through the prayers and encouragement of God’s people, our family received perspectives of God’s glory in a difficult time that we may not have seen had they not come to see us.

“However despair comes, Christians need a God big enough to comfort them in the valley.”

We all too often, as children of God, forget how our union with Christ can impact anyone’s life at any given moment. As Christ dwells in us, he makes known the hope of our glory to the world around us (Colossians 1:27). When someone is in a valley of despair, God powerfully reveals himself through his people to reveal “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Like Peter and John, God promises to reveal himself through our union with him (Acts 4:13).

3. God holds us fast to the end.

The first line in one of my favorite hymns sings, “When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.”

In the first moments of our stay in the NICU, we were overwhelmed with fear. Hundreds of questions began to enter our minds, but one truth remained constant. We knew arms of love would hold us firmly every step of the way. As we experienced his nearness, his perfect love began to cast out the fear of our faith failing (1 John 4:18).

In all of our fears during our deepest valleys, Christ promises to hold onto his people with an unshakeable, everlasting love. In the doubts and despair, when we are prone to forget God’s nearness in the valley, God reminds us in his word that he is powerfully close to us — not in our holding fast of him, but in his holding fast of us (John 10:28–29).

Whenever we receive devastating news that brings us into the valley of despair, God promises us the sweetness of his nearness (Psalm 73:28). When the enemy tempts us to doubt his nearness, God promises us that he will never forsake his children (Psalm 68:5; Romans 8:15–17).