If ever a time does truly exist when suffering finds glorious home in our lives, it is now, here on this Good Friday. The emotion found by a heart slowed to contemplate the time finds darkness before the light. This is distance one travels during Holy Week. The believer quiets her heart to recall the suffering, the sacrifice, the sure death, and yes, death defeated and sin overcome in Jesus' resurrection. If we will see and hear beyond the pageantry, the symbols and rites, we will learn how to suffer and the joy in our joining.
I'm in the midst of slowly writing a devotional with the full intent of capturing my thoughts and experience with suffering and loss. In editing one entry in particular, I thought it fitting to share during this time leading to Easter. So I'd like to share it with you in hopes that in some way these words find good place in your heart. Maybe they bloom among your scars. Yes, that would make the writing a beautiful ministry.
Deeper and more rattling than losing what we love or what shapes us to who we are lies the issue of security. When we suffer loss, past and future time collides with present day to pile into a mercilessly mess of life jumbled. Like ghosts searching for rest, all of the unsettled parts of who we are come to collect answers and demand attention when our lives break open. Loneliness abounds in the heart reeling in loss. As supportive friends and loved ones return to their lives and normality, the isolation in the wake of loss can grow dangerously disproportionate to the amount of strength and faith present.
Take the middle-aged man shocked by the news of the job he lost. Yesterday, all was well. He was well. Or so he thought. Now, there in the quiet of his heart - a place untuned to his hearing - he can hear voices from the past speak and ask him questions to which he has no answer for. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “No one will love you.” “Who are you?” In the busyness of life undisturbed, before his loss, other than normal minor setbacks and Mondays, he was okay and happy in the day-to-day activity. Then a break, a disturbance in the calm regularity and rhythm of life and the man is undone in suffering. Or what of the married woman who, some years ago, stood at the altar beside all that had grown into the source of her love, devotion and joy. With him, she would make escape into the love she so desperately hoped to find and make a home, have a family and live a good life. And then a break in her marriage, undoing her family, her happiness, her dreams of love and forever acceptance. Then sadness and the thereafter where her heart, too, hears the rattling voices of yesterday and the uncertainty of tomorrow.
Life breaks for us all. That is never in question. How life breaks differs from one person to the next - some tragedies storm in and look like death and disease while others rise like the tide and claim marriages, finances, careers, dreams and so much more - but each heart partakes in suffering when life comes apart. There at the core, isolated by pain and suffering, we find beneath our pain and discomfort an abyss of loneliness and questioning about our situation for which we find no easy solutions or way out. Who can offer respite? More abounding, who can quiet storming waves of suffering and mend broken lives? Where will you go and to what will you turn to? For you indeed must go and you must turn. Sinking there, in life broken undone, you will only find death and shadows.
We have One who knows the way through the worst of suffering. He is strong and capable in all storms of suffering and in all of life come undone quite simply, yet forever profoundly, because He overcame all that life broken could ever force upon humanity. Crushed on account of our iniquities and suffering, we find healing for each of our wounds in Christ. He placed himself there to be broken, not for our escape - there is no need for escape in light of ultimate victory achieved - but so that we would have a way through this life. Through Christ, we find strength for the day now and healing for all behind us and all before us.
The best news is that He is patient and willing.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Think eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds speak;
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
- Jesus of the Scars, Edward Shillito
(image: crucifiX by Lara, license CC 2.0)