Back in 2001, when I finally got around to sharing that my husband had left, I received a variety of well-intended but horrid comments. Everything from I never liked him to Thank goodness he left before you got really old to You’ll find someone new in no time. And, yes, someone really did say, At least you’re healthy and have a good job.
This week more than one of my friends is experiencing pain and hurt and moments when everything has changed – and not in a good way! As a friend, as a believer, I want to give encouragement. When someone I care about suddenly, violently, has hopes and plans yanked away, I want to help. This is appropriate and good. But, how often do I add to the pain with my petty, misguided – and sadly, painful! – comments? How do we lovingly minister to each other in honest yet caring ways?
I look at how Jesus handled suffering. It grieved and angered Him to see the poor, despised and rejected being treated unfairly. Part of His ministry of healing was to remove the pain and disease which sin and death caused. He reached out in love and tenderness. He knew all things worked together for the good of those who loved His Father, but He didn’t clap them on the back and say, Buck up, friend, this is good for you. He met those suffering right where they were.
Then I think of how Jesus coped with His own anguish. We are in the middle of Lent, and as we read those last days and hours of Jesus’ time on earth, we see someone who is going through literal hell. In Gethsemane Jesus was troubled in spirit and asked His disciples to stay and keep watch while He prayed. They didn’t really understand what was going on, but Jesus didn’t need them to. What He needed was for them to be there. As we know, the disciples fell asleep, leaving Jesus alone in His anguish.
And, His anguish was profound, overwhelming Him to the point of death. Jesus, very God of very God, sweat pouring like blood, cried out to His Father, even asking if the cup of suffering could be taken away. How did His Father respond? He didn’t tell Him to just deal with it, He didn’t pretend it wasn’t going to be bad. He also didn’t remove Jesus from His suffering. What God did do was send an angel to comfort and strengthen His Son.
On the cross Jesus cried out, using words from Psalm 22, written by David. Ah, David. Now there was a man who was not shy about sharing His true feelings with God! Read a few psalms and you will see someone who was open and honest with God. How did God respond to David’s cries and pleas and, dare I say, whining? Did God get ticked off that David was sharing his fears? Did He tell him to stop all the noise? No. God called David a man after His own heart.
As we spend time walking with others in their pain, as we sit down in the muck of their despair, how best do we minister? Telling them it is God’s will and they just need to deal with it is hardly helpful. Perhaps we try to say too much. Maybe our part is to just be with them, to stay and keep watch, while they pour it all out. Allowing them to be in pain, acknowledging that it’s not fair and it doesn’t feel good. Giving them space to ask their questions, to shake their fists, to scream and yell and cry.
As we stay and keep watch with another going through hell, we are entering into sacred space because God is with us. Not just in His love, but, in His anger and pain at watching His loved ones go through agony. I believe God, the Just, is angered by sin and brokenness. He is so angered that He sent His only Son to die to end it. In our misery there is One who is even more anguished by our pain than we are. His Son suffered as we do and He is with us in our pain.
So, as we sit with another, may we sense God with us. May our staying be a reminder, in some small way, of God’s eternal presence. May our prayers be a safeguard, allowing the other to open up and pour it all out at the feet of Jesus. May we stay and keep watch, trusting that the Holy One who came down to dwell with us, will not leave us nor forsake us as we cry out to Him.