These are some words I hastily scribbled down the other day after sitting with a grieving friend...
Here I am at the blank page again. This seems to be the place I come to try and make sense of this heavy, horrific world.
My dear friend lost her brother today to a bomb in Syria. He was 32 years old. He left behind a wife and three young children, who just happened to be visiting her mother when the bomb decimated their home, and my friend’s brother.
This is wrong.
It bubbles up from within me and surges out of my mouth:
This is wrong this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong this is wrong.
And I hear the voice of God echo back:
"This is wrong. You’re right, darling child, this is wrong."
That’s all I know right now.
Everything within me wants to fix this. I want to bring him back. I want to put an end to the fighting, to the bombing, to the oppression. I want to DO SOMETHING.
But all I can do is to sit. So I sat with my friend and we cried to together. And then we were joined by more friends and we cried together. Again and again. You can only say “I’m so, so sorry” so many times before you feel crushed by the helplessness of it. It’s just that I don’t know what else to say. My friend is living a nightmare and I can’t wake her up.
She barely sleeps because of crushing anxiety and worry for her mom. Lives are being thrown away, family homes are being demolished, and sudden tragedy is a daily reality where her family lives. That bomb was a tragic reminder: her fears are valid.
We just can’t fathom it in the midst of our carefully curated lives here. As I walked into my house this afternoon, the one that has never been bombed, and probably will never be bombed, the cruelty struck me again. I stared at the pile of mail, a mess of papers trying to sell me something, coupons for ice cream and novelty checks. And I burst into tears all over again. It’s so disturbing that this silly pile exists while all that’s left of her brother are ashes and rubble.
God, have mercy.
What do we do with such suffering? The weight is crushing, and it makes me want to hide under my bedcovers. The sheer enormity of it is overwhelming, and sometimes it just seems easier to bury our head in the sand. And in the opposite extreme, of course we want to act—decisively and powerfully—to fix it all. But we can’t, so what do we do?
Well, for starters I think we do what my friends and I did today: I think we sit.
Instead of running from the pain, we stay, and we sit. We allow ourselves to feel it, all the way to our core, because God has this pain coursing through his heart right now, too.
I have a generally low pain tolerance, so once the heat is turned up, I want to run. I got an epidural with both my babies, I despise needles, and I take ibuprofen at the first sign of a headache. Pain and I are not friends. But sometimes sitting and staying in the pain is exactly the right thing to do. Because if we run, who will be with those who can’t escape it?
The power of presence is a real thing. When someone has died, we sit with the grieving, and we grieve together. When someone is suffering, they shouldn’t be alone.
In times like these, the only thing that brings me any comfort, the only thing that makes any sense somehow, is the cross. As I sat in church on Sunday, listening to my pastor and friend talk about the cross, I was reminded again of its great significance.
In first century Rome, the cross was well-known to be both a symbol and a literal instrument of torture, of execution, of human misery, of oppression. To be crucified was the most shameful way a person could die, and the most physically painful. It was the way the Roman empire held onto it’s power—by ruthlessly torturing and executing anyone they deemed a threat. It was reminder to the watching world that you were under Rome’s thumb, and you could never rise above it.
To say that this symbol brings me comfort is an odd and maybe even startling thing. But here’s why:
@@God is not like Rome. God is like Jesus. God would rather die an excruciating death at the hands of his very enemies than to kill them.@@
The cross—the symbol of utterly selfless, completely sacrificial love—reveals to us who God is.
God, who had the option not to, chose to experience the epitome of human suffering. Jesus was called by the prophet Isaiah, the “suffering servant.” He is no stranger to misery, and in fact, he experienced the weight of all the world's brokenness until it crushed him. The word “compassion” means “to suffer with.” Jesus was the very embodiment of compassion. He stepped right into the mess, right into the chaos and the violence, even to the point of suffering a violent death.
Jesus is our example, and he runs to the pain.
We who say we follow Jesus have to follow him even to the places of pain—in fact, especially there. We carry the love and presence of God within us to the places where suffering abounds.
Is there someone around you who is walking through grief? Is there someone experiencing loneliness? Is someone you know suffering? Then you know where to go.
Are you suffering today? You are not alone. Though it is gruesome, I believe the cross holds comfort. God is not the oppressor causing your suffering, he is the comforter who chooses to suffer with you.
I don’t have easy answers. All I have is love—a love that hurts with those who are hurting, that suffers with those who are suffering. But I have to believe that it’s enough.