I was catching up with a friend this week and she casually and naturally asked, so what’s new? I paused for a moment and thought about my answer. Well… in the past two weeks, my Grandpa was admitted to the hospital with an infection in his leg, my dear friend found out that her precious 4 month old baby has a heart condition and will need immediate surgery and two days ago my friend’s girlfriend died suddenly from complications due to pneumonia resulting from lupus and heart failure. She just sort of stared at me, like, what I am supposed to say to all that? I was expecting, not too much, and you?
As those very near and dear to my heart have been first hand experiencing deep pain, fear of the unknown and intense loss, I’ve noticed some of the same questions that surfaced in my own heart when my dad got was diagnosed with ALS. Why God? Why this? Why him? Why now?
As I sat around tonight with a grieving community, listening to the cries of the hearts trying to make sense of what is completely senseless and trying to attach purpose to pain, I was reminded of a few things.
1. I still don’t know why. I got to listen to my wise and wonderful mother in her role as speaker as she talked about her journey through questioning. She said, it’s okay to ask why, but if we stay there too long it’s like spinning our wheels in the mud. It gets you nowhere and leaves you frustrated. Even if I knew why, it wouldn't erase the pain. Eventually, God needs to move us from why, to what now? In light of all that’s happened, what do you want from me, since I’m still here? I don’t know why my dad had to get sick and suffer and miss out on seeing his baby and grandbabies grow up. I don’t know why an innocent baby who’s already battled so much to be alive has to go through heart surgery. I don’t know why a beautiful young life was taken at the age of 25.
I do know that God is faithful. I do know He is trustworthy. I do know that He has and will continue to make good on His promise to bring good out of all things, the hard, the heart-wrenching and the painful. I do know that it’s still really hard some days. But I also know that He IS enough for what I went through, am going through and will go through.
2. Deep community forms during tragedy. When my dad was sick, I started blogging. It was a bit of an outlet for me and a way to keep the masses informed. What I didn’t realize was that in suffering, people have a stronger desire to connect. They want to cry together, laugh together, know what you’re going through and relate. My dear friend started a CarePages blog to keep friends and family posted on her little guy’s progress. She wrote yesterday, “I feel very lifted up in what could be a very low time.” Community gives people an opportunity to rally around and be the hands and feet of Jesus during an otherwise hopeless feeling time.
There is something about not keeping it all together that subconsciously gives other people permission to grieve out loud. Transparency paves the way for intimacy both in relationship with God and with others. I cried this morning just reading the description of them bracing themselves to even be able to see their little guy on the stretcher ready to be operated on. As hard as it is, there’s something that compels you to walk together through the valley so you can one day celebrate together on the mountain top. Tonight, as I was listening to some of the stories of this beautiful girl and the sadness over the plans that won’t get to be completed, I felt like I was watching an opportunity unfold, the kind of opportunity for deep relationship and genuine fellowship that can only be formed from being in the trenches together.
There have been a few things that I learned on that journey that I feel are engraved on my heart. One of them that continues to ring in my mind is, “don’t waste the suffering.” God has a specific gift of grace readily available to those going through a specific struggle. There are things He will accomplish and intimacy that will develop that can only happen in the valley.
3. The longer I live, the less attached I become to this life. Growing up, I had a fairly “easy” life. I liked it. I was comfortable. I had dreams and plans. When my dad got sick, I was never more excited for heaven. After watching him suffer, and experiencing a great deal of pain, I’ve never had a greater desire to cling to my spiritual green card. I was reminded over and over again, and still am now, that this world is not my home. I’m just visiting. Everything I have and everyone I love is on loan. This is the warm-up. The main event is still to come and it’s going to be grand. That citizenship unfortunately doesn’t exempt us from pain. It’s still hard because we love. Love leaves us vulnerable, and God’s invitations home seem to come at times that we wouldn’t choose.
God did create a place without pain and suffering (Garden of Eden) but gave them one instruction- not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did anyway and hence, pain and suffering entered the world. Thought more than a few years have passed between then and now, this world has been forever tainted with pain, hardship, suffering, disease, natural disaster… you name it. We were all given another invitation to paradise. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) If you know him as your personal Lord and Saviour, then I look forward to the heavenly party with you. If you don’t, I pray that you would you take a moment to ask Him to show Himself to you. There’s nothing He would love to do more than show you the way to eternal life.
I love the song by Jeremy Camp, “There will be a Day.” My sisters and I sang it at church on the last Father’s Day we celebrated with my dad. I cling to the promises that the words hold:
I try to hold on to this world with everything I have
But I feel the weight of what it brings, and the hurt that tries to grab
The many trials that seem to never end, His word declares this truth,
that we will enter in this rest with wonders anew
But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings
That there will be a place with no more suffering
There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face
But until that day, we’ll hold on to you always
I know the journey seems so long
You feel your walking on your own
But there has never been a step
Where you’ve walked out all alone
Troubled soul don’t lose your heart
Cause joy and peace he brings
And the beauty that’s in store
Outweighs the hurt of life’s sting
I can’t wait until that day where the very one I’ve lived for always will wipe away the sorrow that I’ve faced
To touch the scars that rescued me from a life of shame and misery this is why this is why I sing….