I don't cry a lot. I mean, I'm 35 and I'm a guy, and I'm really, really, really tough.
Maybe that last part was just mostly true. At least a little bit true. Kind of.
The thing is, 2016 has made me cry a lot more than normal. Just today I was stuttering and slubbering my way through a family prayer; saying goodbye to my brother in law Mitch and his family as they head down the road to a new home in Wisconsin. We had dreamt for years of what it would be like to live in close proximity with family. I haven't lived near family since I left home at 17. With Mitch and Melissa here, the dream was that Rachel would have her sister, our kids could play together, I would have another friend and partner in ministry...life would be awesome!
So, in 2015 they took a leap of faith and moved from Missouri to Colorado - just down the street from us. They arrived at the Rockies with big smiles and high hopes.
The problem is, life wasn't awesome for them. At all. Within the first few months of their life here, my dog bit my niece badly and could have taken her life. The new friendships and exciting adventures that my brother and sister in law were hoping for failed to materialize. A kind of loneliness set in quickly for them. They struggled to find their footing in a really expensive town. My sister in law developed a serious health issue. Their financial situation tanked. I could go on.
Rachel and I have also had our share of difficulties this year. The challenges we've faced in ministry and in life have felt, more than once, like a sucker punch to the gut.
Here's the deal: Sometimes life is bitter. It just is. Bitterness is born when our prayers for a breakthrough after a painful season are answered with more pain. We pray for beauty from ashes, but we end up with more ashes and less beauty than before. I'm talking about layers of loss. Confusion compounded by deeper confusion.
Last week I found our old blog from our season of life in Malawi, Africa. In one particular post, I took a moment to share about the buckets and buckets of suffering and grief we encountered there, and the lessons I learned from it. It would do us all good to read it again:
I can’t count how many times Rachel and I have stood breathless; dumbfounded by different experiences we’ve had here. Mountain vistas, incredible wildlife, hilarious laughter, good times with friends and strangers, watching God be God.
This blog has been an endeavor to tell our story, and it would not be complete without sharing a few of the moments when we’ve held our breath not in awe but in horror, or out of a fear that if we were to relax enough to breathe, a flood of tears would overcome us as well.
We have prayed for the sick and elderly, only to attend their funerals a few days later. In fact the woman you see Rachel chatting with in front of her home a few blog posts ago has died. A month or so ago we attended the funeral of a 2 year old girl who was diagnosed and treated for Malaria when she was actually sick with Pneumonia. I pray that we could learn from Malawians and the freedom they have in expressing their grief. The tiny casket was laid on a grass mat in the middle of the dirt road. All neighbors were present; men on one side of the road and women on the other. Mother, grandmother, and aunts were wailing loudly in grief around the body and could be heard blocks away. I was one of the few men crying (and trying to hide it) while across the street Rachel joined a chorus of women weeping openly. The entire community made the half mile walk in procession to the graveyard where the baby was buried along with her clothes, toys, and sippy cup. With no money for a headstone, a plastic tub was placed, then split open with a shovel to prevent theft.
Recently we met Elifa, a little girl who sang songs to us that she learned in school. She is dying of AIDS, the same disease that already claimed her parents’ lives. Dyson is a 2 year old boy with HIV living under the care of his grandmother. When his mother saw the test results, she disappeared.
This past Sunday I was in the government hospital visiting a few church members who were there for various reasons. The walk to the children’s ward is like something out of a horror film. A group of women weeping over the unmoving body of an infant. Always two but sometimes three sickly children squeezed into each tiny bed. Hundreds of suffering children and worried parents sharing space and air meant for far fewer. No doctors, two nurses. The adult ward is an open space packed with beds and more pain, blood, and hopelessness than should be mentioned here.
We have been learning a lot. We’ve learned that suffering is so real and so raw and so common. We’ve learned a lot about God. God is not blind to our pain, our heartache, and our suffering under the whip of slavery to sin and death. In fact his constant activity from Eden until today has been an effort to destroy suffering and bring his family back together under one roof. Back to the beauty and serenity of Eden.
Imagine the patient presence of a family member at the bedside. The caring and curative touch of a good doctor. The prayer and concern of the church. An arm around your shoulder. These are all shadows, tiny spoonfuls of the power of God that will someday soon comfort those who have suffered - and they'll be comforted for eternity! On one of the last pages of Earth’s history book, it will be written that a great trumpet blast shook the sky while the earth and the sea violently gave up their dead. Under a light and presence more blinding than the sun, the bodies of those who died in Christ were transformed in a moment to become something far greater than flesh and bone. These new temples are made of material not found on the periodic table of elements and are immune to suffering from disease, deterioration, and death. Christ’s mission is to redeem us from all of the effects of sin; spiritual and physical. Someday souls which have been born again will rejoice in bodies which have also been born again. And for all those who would choose to join in, suffering will be no more. Our blessed hope!"
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Sometimes our pain defies explanation or understanding, and rejects consolation. In these kinds of seasons there are no words, no matter how tenderly spoken, which could ease the pain or change the situation. I've heard it described as a dark night of the soul.
If you're suffering today, questioning God today, or hopeless today...don't be ashamed. God doesn't do shame. Life is bitter sometimes. Whether you made a dumb mistake or are just experiencing the brokenness of humanity, I just want to offer some advice: Don't tie your emotions and twist your faith into a pretzel by trying to figure out the meaning of it all just yet. Don't rush things. He will explain later.
12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
When I was a kid, the best part of falling off my bike was the tender embrace from my mom or dad which invariably followed. In that precious moment, I wouldn't over-analyze my fall. I wouldn't be worried about my future in bike riding. I would just enjoy the indescribable comfort that came from laying limp in my parent's arms. There are seasons in all of our lives where the best thing we can do is nothing at all. There are seasons where weakness should be embraced - moments designed by God for us to just be still and be held. If you're suffering today, the best place to suffer is in the healing, comforting arms of Jesus. Stop trying to be strong. Stop trying to figure it all out. Just stop and rest for a long while in the arms of the One who has held you since before your first breath.
He is good. He is here. He's got you.
If you like, I'd be happy to pray for you, too. Shoot me a message on Facebook or comment below, and count on my team and I to lift you up in prayer.