Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Written by: Susanne Trokhymenko
As I sit and stare at the blank screen, my mind is going off in 1000 directions and I am wondering if anything I write will make any sense. The full on invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, which started a week ago has taken over my thoughts, my prayers, my life…
Let me explain why this is so personal to me. My husband is Ukrainian. Thankfully, his immediate family are all in the USA. But his cousins and their families, many with young children, are all in Ukraine. Some in Kyiv, some in Central Ukraine. Some are safe and others watched from their window a helicopter battle near Kyiv. They sleep in the hall and kitchen, away from the windows. They have 6 children: the eldest are in their late teens, the youngest is a 3-year-old bubbly little Down Syndrome girl who just wants to play outside… They didn’t manage to get away at the start of the invasion and have decided to stay put. Much can change in 24 hours but the day we spoke to them, they had been able to find food before curfew at 5pm. The husband is the pastor of a church in the northern part of the city and they hold prayer meetings on Zoom as long as communications stay up and running. It’s scary.
But it’s not just family. We also have friends living in Ukraine. We lived there for 5 1/2 years between 2010-2015. We served in a village church. We did youth & children’s camps. Many of those youths, now in their 20s, are picking up arms to fight for their country’s independence and its protection. Our children’s school friends are doing the same. Some friends are safe and others we haven’t been able to locate; we are hoping they managed to leave the capital on day 1 and flee to Poland or Slovakia. It’s scary.
Before I go any further, I want to pedal back a little to the week preceding. I recently lost my father and it would have been his 94th birthday on February 12th. My thoughts have been full of memories of him and how he used to sing to me when I got fretful, in a very wobbly voice (he wasn’t a singer!) the French equivalent of ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’ (my parents were missionaries in France for 65 years and my Mum still lives there, with my brother and his wife). This song had been floating in my head, day in, day out, in the days leading up to the outbreak of war. I listened to various renditions on YouTube but the lyrics of the chorus and their truth are unchanged:
Fellow missionary friends have been waiting at the border of Poland with their little ones – 7, 5 and 2 year old twins who, the last we heard, were sick. They can’t keep the car running while they wait to get over the border because there isn’t enough fuel. It’s winter, and the temperatures are low. They have limited food. We haven’t heard from them for more than 24 hours now. It’s very scary.
These stories are a few of many, which we will keep hearing about in the news, through charities and if you meet them, refugees themselves fleeing from the beautiful land of Ukraine. In the mass of the tragedy of war, those stories can get lost, forgotten. We get information overload that makes our minds spiral out of control and makes our souls restless… And as we try to comprehend and cope with the pain, we can either become blasé about it (like it’s another war movie, waiting for a love scene that makes everything alright) or we crumple beneath the weight of it all.
‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace’
But how can these words be relevant in this time of war? Simply because of 2 things: Jesus does not change, has not changed and will not change (Heb 13:8) and secondly, because when we look to Him and not at the world around us, our perspective changes.
The wonderful thing about Jesus is that the Word of God tells us that, ‘…We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ (Heb 4:15) (emphasis my own) He knows, He understands, He sympathises with us all in our pain, struggles & fear.
Firstly, Jesus knew what it was to be a refugee, displaced because of the craziness of a mad ruler (Matt 2:13-15)
Jesus knew what it was like to live under the occupation of the enemy, as Rome ruled over Israel and controlled it.
Jesus heard the news of insurrections in his land (Luke 23:19)
Jesus knew what it was like to lose a friend and cried with his sisters, even though he was going to bring him back to life (John 11)
Jesus knew the fear of death, at Gethsemane (Mark 14: 33-35)
Since Jesus is unchangeable and lived through these things, we can be assured that he knows what every single individual child, adult, elderly person is living through in Ukraine today. We are also told that he knows when a sparrow falls (Matt 10:29), so how much more does he know the hearts, fears, and tears of every single one of these people who are fleeing or fighting?
Secondly, when we look up at him and turn our eyes away from the disaster of war, our perspective changes. I’m not saying that we block out or ignore what is happening, or even, God forbid, become indifferent because it’s happening so far from us. No, not at all! But, our fears, our pain, our despair, start to look different when our eyes are fixed on him. They grow dimmer.
Let me give you an example: I am always amused by the shadows that are projected when I take a walk at night under the street lights. There they are, attached to our feet, projected full length across the street or the pavement. Long shadows, which distort the reality of my body – anyone looking short and plump (I’m tall and plump!), can project a giant and very slim figure! (Try it out next time you go for a walk at night). The further the light is away from me and in my back, and I look in the direction of the shadow, the bigger it is, curling up on the walls. BUT, the minute I get closer to the light, the smaller the shadow becomes until it disappears under my feet to the size of a blob, when I am standing right under the street lamp. Do you see where I’m going with this?
That’s the perspective we need. As we turn our eyes upon Jesus, the shadows disappear. The darkness and night are still there, but the shadows shrink. And it’s the shadows that distort our minds and fill us with fear. As we stand close to our Saviour, the one who does not change, our minds can rest in him and we can trust him even in the midst of a war.
When our eyes are on Jesus, we cannot be blasé. We do not crumple beneath the weight. We do not forget the stories. Looking to him, we are able to reach out, comfort, pray for these displaced people who are running for their lives. Our eyes cease to be on the scary distorting shadows and we are able to be filled with his compassion, become his hands and feet to those who are hurting, and reach out to those who are traumatised. Because looking to him changes us inside. Our perspective and outlook on life change. It does not mean that we’re all going to be happy and jolly, that no one will die and no one will get hurt; no, it means that IN the hurt, IN death, IN fearful moments, he is by the side of every person fleeing or fighting…
In the coming days and weeks, remember to turn your eyes on Jesus, look full in his wonderful face and then the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace. And never forget that he never changes. I know I need this reminder on a daily basis at the moment…
Susie is the founder and owner of Stitch with Susie. She has created a cross-stitch pattern of the Ukranian flag. All proceeds from the purchase of this pattern will go to the UK Red Cross in aid of situation. The pattern can be found here:
She also has a video explainin various aspects of beautiful Ukranian art: