In my blog I shared this -
I think somewhere along the way, we Christians began to think that comforting someone equals encouraging them. But friends... sometimes you can't fix it. Sometimes, you can't make someone feel better. Sometimes, comfort just looks like "weeping with those who weep." (Romans 12:15) It's a hard lesson to learn (and one I struggle with too) but I think it's an important one.
Can we talk about that a little more?
It seems like the go to response for Christians these days sounds like this…
“Count it all joy!”
“We should be joyful in times of suffering!"
“God allowed this to happen for a reason… someday you’ll understand!”
“Maybe God was protecting you from something!”
“God is totally going to use this someday.”
“God will redeem this!”
“He works all things for His good!”
… and so on, and so forth. It’s as if we can’t allow people to feel anything bad. We’ve got to try to fix it - or at least explain it - immediately! (And yes, I’m guilty too.)
I think we, as Christians, have gotten uncomfortable with grief. I think we’ve forgotten that it’s our job to comfort people with the comfort Jesus Christ has given us (2 Cor 1:4), and to mourn with those who mourn, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). I think we’ve gotten into a terrible habit of putting pretty words on top of a hurting heart - like sticking a bandaid over a gaping wound.
A gaping wound that’s still bleeding… and seriously - the bandaid’s just not going to cut it.
I think we’ve forgotten how to step into someone else’s hurt and acknowledge it, instead of just trying to fix it.
I think about all the horrific places I’ve been, and the heartbreaking things I’ve seen and done and can’t explain…
...holding the hand of a woman dying of AIDS in Africa that I could not help at all…. holding the hand of a dying leper in India whose pain I couldn’t stop… holding the hand of a trafficked woman who has spent the last 17 years of her life in a brothel…. holding babies in slums that will likely die of a preventable illness, or be trafficked or abused or both… visiting a 15 year old friend in the hospital just months before she died of leukemia… grieving with a widow who lost her husband less than 2 years into marriage…. holding a newborn baby girl who will never meet her daddy….
I have been in enough slums and brothels and hospitals and funeral homes to know that this is a sick, sad, and broken world. Can we stop pretending like we’re okay with it? Can we acknowledge all the terrible injustice all around us, and let ourselves feel the grief and frustration and anger - righteous anger - that Jesus felt a time or two?
Maybe one of the things that keeps hurting people out of our churches, is the facade we put on. Maybe they can’t identify with us because we’re pretending that everything is okay because we have “the hope of Christ."
Can I tell you something? Everything is not okay!
Yes - I know that the hope I have in Christ is a real thing. Yes, I have experienced the kind of peace that passes understanding. I have felt those awe-inspiring moments where God ministered to me in the most tangible ways - and I was able to stand on a dark day when I should’ve crumbled. I have felt unexplainable joy and strength on a day when there should have only been tears and utter hopelessness.
But I have also felt crippling darkness, and grief that seems to swallow you whole. I have felt bitterness and rage and frustration and confusion. I have felt an ache in my heart that I feared would never go away.
And in all of those cases… on the days when grief was crippling and the days when peace was tangible - I believe God was present. I believe He was holding me. And I don’t believe there was anything wrong with me on those especially dark days either.
I just believe we live in a broken, hurting world. Can we recognize that please? And can we stop pretending that God is some sadistic giant playing games with us like we’re little pawns? I don’t actually think God is responsible for all these horrific things that happen. I don’t see His hand on them. That’s not my God. (So, let’s not give him all the credit for the bad stuff…ok?)
Can we remember that there are more than just powers of “good” at work here? Can we remember all the scripture that talks about suffering and all of creation groaning and remember that we aren’t supposed to be completely at peace here? Can we remember that this is a battle and that we are in the midst of a war between good and EVIL? Can we remember that the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion?
We don’t have to be defeated or live as those who have no hope - but can we just be REAL? I know those truths are messy and scary and uncomfortable - but they are REAL. And the scripture that references them is just as important as the ones that tell us to choose JOY. There is a season for everything… and not every season has to be joyful. There is a time to weep, remember?
A very wise friend of mine (Laura Jacobs) shared this with me after reading my last post:
Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time [a season] for every single feeling… Weeping, dancing, mourning, laughing… all of it is in there. We as Westerners really suck at knowing what Season it is. When it’s summer we complain about the heat and when it’s winter we complain about the cold. God’s been teaching myself and a LOT of people I know about just being in the season that you’re in… accepting it, feeling all of it, before moving on to the next season. So feel all of it when you need to feel it… you have BIBLE permission to be in all of your emotions as they come.
I was so encouraged hearing that TRUTH - that we have Bible permission to embrace the season we are in. Sometimes - it’s Spring, and our hearts are blooming with new HOPE. Sometimes it’s Summer - when everything is lush and green. But sometimes… it’s winter. And everything feels cold and dark. And that’s okay!!! You don’t have to pretend it’s Summer if your heart feels frozen. You have permission to be exactly where you are - and you can trust that God WILL use that season. Sometimes, things have to “winter”… they have to go dormant before new life appears. Some of the most beautiful flowers come from bulbs that have to spend the winter buried beneath frozen ground before they’ll bloom. "There is a season for everything under the heavens." (Ecc 3:1) It’s not supposed to be summer all the time!
Someday - we will see His glory. Someday, every tear will be wiped away. Someday, we will experience REAL peace and joy and freedom in a way we never have before. But until that happens - can we recognize that the world we’re in now is broken, and sometimes that is the only explanation for our pain? And can we grieve it - really grieve it - together, so we don’t feel so alone?
I am reminded of the scripture "Jesus wept." (John 11:35) I've always wondered why He wept when He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. (As a matter of fact - he'd already told his disciples (John 11:11) and Martha (John 11:23) he was going to do it!) So the more I think about this story the more I wonder... what if his reason for weeping was simply to show empathy to Mary & Martha?
John 11: 33 says that Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping, and "he was deeply moved [..] and troubled." And then in verse 35 we read, "Jesus wept." So is that why he wept? Because they were weeping? Because they were grieving? Because it troubled him to see people he loved in pain? Maybe they weren't tears of sadness, but tears of empathy! What an example for us! Sometimes weeping with someone is the most loving thing we can do.
*Here’s a little bonus material for you, also sent by my wise friend Laura. It’s Brene Brown’s teaching on empathy, and this little video says SO much. If you’re trying to figure out how to “get in the boat” (or in this case, in the pit) and love someone through a rough time, or if you're trying to figure out what not to do when someone you love is struggling, this will give you some great perspective.