Suffering cuts through the pretense and gets to the heart of the matter.
A few weeks ago, I drove to the cemetery alone. The headstone had not yet been installed and I had purchased flowers from the grocery store to lay at the graveside, just to mark the place. With groceries in my car, I walked up a small hill and placed the flowers on the freshly laid sod. I needed to get back to the car, I had milk and I didn’t want it to spoil. Instead I sat on the ground and wept. Only moments later a car pulled up behind me. I clearly heard it stop and the window roll down. A sweet voice called to me from inside the car, “Did you lose someone recently?” I turned and saw an elderly woman in the driver seat. I stood and walked over to her car and told her that I had recently lost someone.
This sweet woman began to tell me how her husband passed away a few weeks prior. The next Monday would have been their 63rd anniversary. I told her about Jane, how young she was and how we missed her terribly. She then told me how she had an older sister that passed away as a baby. She had never met the sister, but her family spoke of her often and she looked forward to the day when she would meet her sister in eternity. We exchanged names and said we would be praying for each other. I was thankful I had not rushed my groceries home that day.
I live in a small town so it wasn’t difficult tracking down Mrs. Carolyn’s phone number and address. I sent her a card telling her how much I appreciated her stopping that day and speaking with me. Mrs. Carolyn couldn’t have known that one of my heartaches in losing Jane, was that her baby sister will never get to know her. Lucy, who is growing in my womb now, will never have the privilege of meeting Jane on this side of eternity. Lucy and Jane will not share a room and they will never be in a photograph together. Mrs. Carolyn couldn’t have known that, but God knew that I needed to hear her story. What a blessing it was to me to hear of a woman, who has lived far more years than myself, still remember stories about her sister she never met and look forward to the day they can meet.
Suffering is an interesting thing. I hear from strangers that I have never met, and likely will never meet. They pray for us and offer condolences. I meet strangers at cemeteries now. We share stories and we share tears. My mere presence causes people to weep. Whether it be on my front porch or in the middle of the grocery store.
We had people tell us early on, probably too early, that we would be such a comfort to others. People said that God had given us a new ministry, and if I’m being candid that was painful encouragement. Days after the death of my daughter, I didn’t want a new ministry and selfishly I didn’t care about bringing comfort to others, I only wanted my daughter back. In God’s goodness He has softened my heart, and He has shown me the people who have ministered to us and cared for us in profound ways simply because they have also experienced great loss.
Don’t get me wrong, I still grieve the loss of Jane. I still miss her more than words can convey. I don’t enjoy our suffering and it pains me that our entire family is bearing such a lofty burden. But I am also seeing the privilege of pain and the beauty in suffering. Suffering is not superficial. There are very few pleasantries being exchanged these days. After a simple introduction, it isn’t uncommon for someone to share their heart and their hurts. Suffering cuts through the pretense and gets to the heart of the matter.
Suffering is not superficial.
Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 says that “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.”
This is not to say there isn’t a time for joy, laughter and feasting. It’s to say we can all learn something through suffering and sorrow. Recently I read an article by Matthew McCullough called Why Funerals are Better Than Feasts. In the article Matthew says this, “It’s not that death is better than life. It’s that we have more to learn from the sheer fact that our lives will end than from the fact that we’re alive in the first place. We learn these lessons not in the house of feasting, where quick-hitting pleasures keep our minds out of gear, but in the house of mourning, where we look long and hard at the truths that rightly break our hearts.”
I’m learning that suffering is hard, suffering is painful, but suffering isn’t necessarily bad. In not wanting to be selfish with our own suffering, God has opened the door to a world of broken and hurting people. We are a part of a community we never wanted to join, but are now so grateful exists. To bear one another burdens is a charge to Christians and a privilege to steward. Romans 12:15 says “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”
I’m learning that suffering is hard, suffering is painful, but suffering isn’t necessarily bad.
I’m thankful for those who have come into our house of mourning, both literally and figuratively. I’m grateful to have a community, some I know and some I have never met, that are willing to sit with us in grief. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with comfort we ourselves have received.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
What a blessing to know that we are not alone. What a blessing that God comforts us and allows us to comfort others. I’m thankful for the teary introductions at the grocery store. I’m glad to hear other’s stories and know how I can encourage and pray for them. It’s an honor to share our story and know that others are sharing in our sorrow. Over two months ago a sweet woman lost her husband of 63 years and I lost my daughter that was just two and a half. The loss is tremendous and the pain is great. Through the loss of loved ones, I gained a new friend. Mrs. Carolyn and I talk on the phone at least once a week. Sometimes we talk about her husband and sometimes we talk about Jane. Other times we talk about growing and canning tomatoes. We pray for each other and we encourage one another. We also suffer together and look forward to an eternity spent in the presence of Jesus.