I’ve heard it said that this is both the shortest and the saddest verse in the Bible, but I would add that it’s one of the most comforting verses as well.
My warrior-friend-who-is-like-a-sister Emma is full of metastasized breast cancer. By all accounts, her prognosis looks glorious. She, like every other Christ follower, will end her days in the arms of the Answer to all her questions and concerns – she will be welcomed Home by her Savior. She will be overwhelmed by peace and wholeness and health and love … and I could go on forever. Her Homecoming will be sooner than anyone left behind would like, but it will be (gulp – swallow sob) in His perfect timing. I believe it – even though today it’s hard to swallow.
I am grieving deeply. There are no adequate words to appropriately convey these feelings. I won’t even try.
Definition of GRIEF /grēf/ noun deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.
synonyms: sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony,
torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair
I’m not the only one grieving. Indeed, the depth of my heart’s sadness cannot compare to that of Emma’s, her husband’s or her three school-age children’s. My loss cannot compare to that of her parents’ or her sisters’. Emma is loved by oh-so-many. Yet, in our grief, we can feel alone.
The fact that Jesus wept comforts my heart, because I know that truth trumps feelings and I am not alone. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Christ’s tears are a beautiful testimony of His humanity.
Jesus wept in the context of His friend Lazarus’ death. (He knows exactly how this feels.) Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters, were heartbroken, and in his humanity, Jesus joined them in their pain even though He knew what He was about to do. If you recall, Jesus assured the sisters that Lazarus would rise again. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-26)? When Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come out!” He did.
Here’s the deal … though we are grieving our loss of time with Emma, we are not without hope. We know that God still is. He is able. He is good. He is with us. He is at work. He is not caught off guard. He is in control. He is the Answer to our questions and concerns. He is righteous. He is sovereign. He is waiting with open arms for each of us.
If you look at the definition of grief (above) you’ll see that suffering is synonymous with grief. I think it’s appropriate to share an excerpt from my book* because it’s possible to read “grief” where you see the word “suffering” and I find it comforting to bathe in the truth of these words.
In Margaret Clarkson’s book Destined for Glory, she wrote, “Perhaps the greatest good that suffering can work for a believer is to increase the capacity of his soul for God. The greater our need, the greater will be our capacity; the greater our capacity, the greater will be our experience of God. Can any price be too much for such eternal good?”
I would call that “good suffering.” Bad suffering results in no change. It’s pain for the sake of pain alone. Good suffering, on the other hand, reduces you to a point of being completely ineffective in your own efforts and old patterns of coping and requires dependence on God. Until you experience good suffering, you often do little more than admire God from a distance. Good suffering doesn’t mean you curl up in the fetal position and rock away your days. It’s anything but passive. Instead, it permits God to do whatever he needs to do with your life in order to achieve his desired and perfect outcome.
There is nothing comfortable about grief and suffering. Forgive me, but cancer sucks. Life does not suck, even if it means living it for a while without someone we love beyond words. We know the separation is temporary.Hello! THIS. IS. ALL. TEMPORARY! But when we accept Jesus’s gift of salvation our eternity is sealed and our future is glorious and THAT is forever.
Death also does not suck for believers. Just as Jesus wept despite knowing that he was about to embrace His living friend, we weep though we know that our friend lives in eternity with Jesus. There’s purpose in our TEARs. They help us …
To accept the reality of this loss,
Experience the anguish of this loss,
Adjust to a new “daily” life without this one whom we love, and
Reinvest in this new “normal”
Jesus wept. He knows our pain. We are never alone.
Grief that changes us is good grief. It taxis us to the feet of Jesus to whom we cling. It causes us to think far less of ourselves and infinitely more of how desperately we love God and love others.
I do not know tomorrow’s way,
If dark or bright its hours may be;
But I know Christ, and come what may,
I know that He abides with me.
I do not know what may befall
Of grief or gladness, peace or pain;
But I know Christ, and through it all
I know His presence will sustain.
There’s no more appropriate way to end this than with Emma singing, “All I Have is Christ.” This is the truth we all must proclaim.
[Note to my regular readers: This fall will look different than I planned. God has sweetly and steadily been telling my heart what it would look like, though I fought Him much of the way. I will not be traveling to Greece (Footprints of Paul tour) or to Nepal (postponed until 2015). I will not be speaking this fall. I will not be blogging about what’s in my crockpot for a while. I have tremendous peace about all of this- especially the crockpot piece. 😉 Instead, I will be helping our daughter move into her first apartment, homeschooling my two boys, homeschooling Emma and her husband’s three children, writing “Intercepted”, and loving the people God has put into my life for this season. I am grateful for the gift of each day. #eucharisteo]
* When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart
Beautifully expressed, Vicki. I love the concept you laid out– that grieving/suffering increases our capacity to understand God. We experience what he experienced. And we get it, on a deeper level than we did before. Suffering also has another benefit… a purifying element. 1 Peter 4:1 tells us he who has suffered in the flesh is done with sin. In our grief we learn what is important and what is not. It is a refiner’s fire. And in the end we are better for having gone through it.
Small comfort, I know, when you are in the midst of pain. But these truths give us hope, that God intends to use every moment of pain for His glory. He holds our tears in a bottle, not one goes unnoticed. We have a very personal God.
I am completely undone. But thank you, dear Vicki, for expressing your deep insights and our shared grief and pain so beautifully.