THERE IS NOT A SINGLE atomic attribute we possess within our humanity able to ensure security. Simply, our ultimate welfare is out of our hands. Our lives sway in the breeze of circumstance. One day we are well, the next bedridden. We tire. Our bodies succumb to sickness. Beyond that, we tangle ourselves in worry until our hearts sag heavy under the weight of life out of our reach. The phone rings and we receive disappointing news. Maybe the news concerns your position at work suddenly gone, your spouse confessing he no longer loves you, a diagnosis set to violate your child’s life. There is an unending myriad of tragedies and difficulties you could attest to. And as quickly as that we find the fragility of life, like that of a dandelion blown by the wind.Read More
Does He know fully well? In days too undone and nights darker still, where is God? Busy with the cosmos, waiting for Forever, un-winged by our unbelief or tending to bigger brokenness than we know, perhaps? There have been times when the cool of swollen waves have swallowed most of me and lost, in the most dislodged sort of way, pushes into my thoughts - my heart apart from my head. In those times, the question grows emphatically, demanding attention and all of life, from beginning to now, looks diseased. Good couldn’t have possibly existed here. Somehow, the goodness in life appears to have always been bad just waiting for the opportune time to strike, and it is as it always really has been.
Suffering has a way of sickening all of life. Many different faces draw upon suffering - death, illness, divorce, brokenness, abuse - tragedy of all sorts. There in the moment every fleshed person, whether faith is confessed or disavowed, sneers upward, “How could you?” Every fairy tale and happy ending is perverted, and we feel tricked by a feeling of good.
Here’s a truth I’ve learned: not every ending is a good one. At least, not in the way we consider goodness to be good.
In the writing of my book, Earth and Sky, I wrestled with the question. I wondered if God truly knew how deeply affected my heart really was or if He truly cared. Fear lurked in life upended. In grief, something that looked just like security fractured deep within me. Frailty rushed over faith, and strength was matched by circumstances too big for me. Here's an excerpt of a chapter entitled, '9 Degrees':
This is the ageless question asked by everyone drowning in painful, uncontrollable circumstance. Where is He? He’s present in dark times, when powerful waves grind against the sides of our faith, when we’re disoriented by suddenly changing conditions. No matter the severity or the suffering, Christ remains aware. When our distress flags wave and we can withstand no more, when we float lost in the frailty of all that we are and have become, we can still be assured that God is good. His power isn’t diminished by changing conditions. His goodness lies in His unmatchable ability to redeem and make uncontrollable wrongs right.
Jesus asked His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Their feet were soaked. Their hearts still pounded. They still drew breaths deep and out of rhythm. . . . but everything was eerily calm. The threatening wind suddenly was no more. The water was as still and flat as glass. Jesus was wet, too, yet His eyes were calm, as if nothing had happened. He understood why His friends had been terrified. He had seen the waves; He had heard the howling wind. But He wanted them to see something else. Now. Afterward certainly, but even now. “Why are you afraid?” invites us out of the wind and waves, beyond our panic and dread, and into His moment of security.
Afterward. Even then.
We’re just like them—transfixed by the storm, wondering when it will stop (or kill us), waiting for people and love to make sense again. We expected a life so bright, right there at our doorstep. In our sorrow, we try to make it right, but we only make it worse. Finally, we find the One who can still the storm in our souls. That’s grief. Embracing yesterday and wishing it well. Embracing now and holding it tight. Wanting so badly to be whole now.
So what, then? Faith. Have you none?
I realized my life would be ruined if I didn’t let go of fear. I had to endure the storm of what-ifs and hope-nots. Fear consumes us when we can’t let go. We run around in panic and assume the painful present will last forever. Life ebbs and flows, circumstances threaten to swamp our lives, but hope exists even in quiet thoughts. After the darkest of nights, the morning will bring a new dawn. Fear had consumed me and changed me, altering words and perspective. The problem, I realized, was the fear of losing, not the losing itself. Loss is the lasting reality left in the wake of fear.
Grief isn’t just sorrow. It includes faith in the future. It’s releasing what can no longer be and becoming open to new possibilities. I have to trust that Jesus is standing there right in front of me. He is wet, too. He never left me during the stormy moments. His eyes are calm, loving, and patient. He sees my panic, calms the storm, and whispers, “Why are you afraid?”
Your cause for breaking might very well be different from mine, but make no common mistake - we are all broken. We all reach a point where we wonder just how much the sky separates us from God’s knowing care. Out of timelessness, He fleshed himself and entered our world to own all pain and abandonment. And then, He returned to timelessness with it all in His hand. Yes friend, He knows well the day in which you walk right now. He knows your pain and your fears and right in the midst of it all, an invitation extends to you, too. Go his way.
Morning would always arrive too early, and in each minute a thousand days were lived. My feet would shuffle along while the world spun by, a regular blur of normality and happiness alien then. Everyone seemed so okay and days just kept going on. People spoke and I smiled and that was all. Suffering isn't something we're akin to talking about. We hide. Often, we suffer silently due to the shock of loss, of something missing, misaligned and broken. The face of suffering looks like divorce, abuse, abandonment, loss of a career, injury and even death. We feel alone. Many drown in the confusion of just why or how this - whatever 'this' is for them - happened to them.
We who watch life pull apart in those moments have all opportunity to outlast suffering in the lives of those we love - not with our words or enlightened ideas, but with our hope. Hope always blooms in the harshest winds and darkest nights. Just as morning too early arrives overcoming night, hope in a new day owned by our faithful Creator usurps suffering.
Here are three things not to say to someone suffering: Time heals all wounds. (Not true; healing belongs who mourn. Matt 5:4) I know how you feel. (This only serves to diminish the reality of the person's suffering.) Be strong. (Lasting strength begins with our need and dependence on our Savior.)
Rather than offering quick words to those suffering, let us offer lasting Hope and suffer well with them.
"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." 1 Peter 4:19