There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.
14 I’ve also concluded that whatever God does, that’s the way it’s going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God’s done it and that’s it. That’s so we’ll quit asking questions and simply worship in holy fear.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 14 (MSG)
I am not a great fan of war movies (Warhorse being the exception, but that’s a story for another time), in fact, I have been known to leave the boys in the movie theater, buy a magazine, order a very tall latte and wait it out in the nearest café. I have seen enough though, to know that the hero is usually the guy who pulls the wounded comrade out of the line of fire and covers him with gunfire until help arrives.
To me it makes perfect sense that a wounded soldier has no business being on the battlefield, hence the medics, or in their absence, the emergency medical supplies and survival training that accompanies every soldier sent into battle. Yet the Christian army seems somewhat under-prepared for this eventuality. If we take in consideration Jesus’ promise that “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties” (John 16:33 MSG) or as some translations say “you will have troubles/sorrows”, we should probably apply ourselves and learn how to sit with someone in their pain. Our walk with Jesus will include seasons where we are at rest, dancing on the mountain top, but also those unavoidable times where we are actively engaged on the battlefield and those horrible valleys when we need to be nurtured in hospital, sometimes even being in need of intensive care.
The apostle Paul encourages us in Romans 12:15 to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” …easy when there’s a celebration going on, but extremely hard when we have to enter into someone else’s grief. Paul also says in his letter to the Hebrews “remember those in prison as if you were bound with them, and those who are mistreated as if you were suffering with them. (Hebr. 13:3) Job says this: “have I not wept for the ones whose life is hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy? ((Job 30:25)
Grief and suffering is a prison and the people bound there are often times being mistreated…by the enemy with lies and shame, by well-meaning, but misguided Christian brothers and sisters or simply by their own pain and isolation. They are the needy, in short supply of love, compassion and companionship. I cringe as I recall all the dumb things I have said to those going through trauma and grief. I know my heart was in the right place and that I was speaking truth into their lives, but my timing was seriously off and I desperately needed to be educated. I suspect I am not the only one, so I prayerfully meditated on what someone going through a trial, suffering trauma and going through a season of mourning and grieving would say to us, could they write us a letter. I want to share some thoughts…
Dear friend, thank you for your willingness to be a part of my journey. You are welcome here, but I want to warn you it won’t be pleasant, so get comfortable with being uncomfortable and with feeling inadequate. You are, and that is perfectly okay right now. I release you from having to fix the problem, or me. I release you from the need to offer me wisdom or the perfect solution. I want to use a line from those cop movies you like to watch…”cover me, I’m going in!”. That’s your cue to start praying!
I am now ready to do the hard work of grieving my losses and I know it’s going to be hard for you to watch, but until further notice, just watch. I don’t sleep much and I look terrible. My eyes are swollen from weeping, my hair is a mess, my legs need shaving and the paint on my toenails are chipped. I know, but the truth is, I am using every ounce of energy to breathe right now. If you want to do something awesome, come over, bring a large coffee and the biggest slice of cake. While you are here, feel free to paint my toes, or blow-dry my hair, just don’t ask me to go out. I feel vulnerable and naked and I need the safety of my walls right now. Maybe you can just take my kids away…let them have some fun, get some sunshine and breathe some lighter air. They need it and I don’t have the strength to be there. Did I mention for you to bring cake?
I know you love Jesus and so do I, but honestly, I don’t have the words to pray and the energy to worship. You reminding me to do those things, suggesting that it will ease my pain and be a quick-fix, is like rubbing salt in my wounds. I know I need to do those things, I want to do those things, I am beating myself up for neglecting my spiritual disciplines, but right now I need to be reminded of the Father that runs to me, scoops me up and holds me tight. You will really help me if you could find a way to lead me into His presence and just sit with me there. While I am on the topic of faith, may I respectfully ask you not to be pontifical about the topic of forgiveness when I have suffered trauma and my grief is as a result of sin committed against me. I know the Word, I want to forgive, but truth be told, unless I grieve and allow the process to run its full course, my forgiveness will be superficial, insufficient and will allow a bitter root to grow in my heart.
The best thing you can do for me is to encourage and enable me to grieve well. It’s hard work and I will want to give up, go into denial or medicate myself. Don’t let me do that. Make room for my tears, encourage them even and feel free to cry with me. Know that if I do it well and if I am thorough it will be so much easier for me to come to a place of peace and forgiveness. Trust the Lord to do the work in me and pray for me to come to a place of complete healing, surrender and forgiveness…where I cannot hear you. Please don’t judge my pain, it’s unique to me. You might have suffered more, longer and worse, but my pain is mine and you minimizing it won’t help me heal any faster.
As I mentioned the temptation of medicating myself, something else comes to mind. Please don’t suggest that I take sleeping tablets, this or that brand of anti-depressants etc. Allow me to make that decision with my counselor or doctor and if I should decide that I need medication for a season and you don’t agree with that course of action, don’t judge me for it. I am still an adult, messy and broken, and acting crazy sometimes, but still in need of common courtesy.
Please be gracious with me when I am messy, when I rant, when I cry, when I vent or sulk. It’s all a part of the process I have committed myself to and it’s hard work. I know I might let my social airs and graces slip, so don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s me. I will make it up to you, promise. Nehemiah has a great line that I would like to borrow. He was on the wall, building, when his enemies wanted him to come down and have a “meeting”. He says to them “I am not coming down from here, for I am doing a great work”. I want to remind you (so that you can remind me and encourage me to keep going) that I am doing a great work, a hard but altogether necessary thing. I want to be whole, healthy and restored and this is the only way. Remind me often that Jesus is doing a deep work in me and that He won’t stop until it is complete because I will get tired, discouraged and tempted to give up. I will doubt myself and my faith will wane. Love me in that place and remind me that I am loved by Him.
So, my friend, welcome to my world. I love you enough to allow you to see me in my most vulnerable state. Feel free to come as often as you want, stay as long as you can, and bring Kleenex.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:26