God of Sorrows
Change of plans: Fridays are usually a non-work day for me. Typically, a friend and I meet for an exhilarating walk at Stimson Ridge, bolstering conversation; and the day ends with a quiet evening at home with Mr. Better-Smarter-Half. But plans have changed…Lord-willing, the day will end at the symphony, preceded by a hospice visit. And it will start by meeting my friend to put together a Christmas basket for a single parent and her toddler. (After confessing yesterday that I am self-absorbed, I need to tell you this.)
Clearly, mine aren’t the only plans that have changed. However close the bond with her child, the single mom likely didn’t purpose to do this monumental task alone; nor did my hospice patient elect for her family to cope with terminal illness. Twice in one year. Change of plans. Wherein lies hope when one’s life course is altered by the sometimes-tragic unexpected? I had this post partially written when news of the incalculable loss to families in Connecticut reached me today. I can no more make sense of these tragic events than anyone else. When I am in that place of wondering how people can possibly survive such devastation, there are some thoughts that help me. I wonder if I dare pour oil on such open wounds by sharing; and then I wonder if I dare not, share even a flicker of what might be hope.
1) When I am caused to wonder, “Where is God?” often by the heinous acts of men, Paul’s word to the Philippians, “The Lord is near,” gives me something to do, even if it is only to pray for those who, in that moment, cannot. It reminds me that he is on-site, working, although we may not see it. I am not inclined to shout it, for it would surely fall on stunned ears; but I can pray. Do I question? Yes. Perhaps God does, too, as in Genesis 6:5-8 NIV.
“ The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth-men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air-for I am grieved that I have made them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. At the end of that situation, God promised that He would never destroy the world by a flood again. Perhaps we are not the only ones to ever wonder, “What is my world coming to?” God is heartbreakingly near.
2) Sometimes when one has experienced devastating loss, the enemy of our souls uses the loss to speak a lie that the individual experiencing that loss is not worthy of any greater purpose. The searing pain of grief is blinding, and the lie lives on…
Jesus told the people of his home town, “Today…’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Luke 4:18,19 NIV
The Old Testament prophet persisted, “And the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61
Whatever has been wrested away from you: your personhood, your job, your pride, your family – this is not the end of the story. “You will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God…”
This is a horrible and needy day to have to stand on such promises. Please read on…
My first patient in PT school was a young mother undergoing excruciating wound care, having lost one child in the tragedy, and unable to reach another who was recuperating in a nearby hospital. My ‘other’ patients were two Joe-jock football players who were rehabilitating knee injuries. They whined and complained their way through every exercise. It was all I could do not to scream at them, “Can’t you see what is going on around you?” It took me a few days processing to realize, that while their loss did not involve life, their dreams for professional football careers may have vanished, their loss was no less real. We can never fully quantify another’s pain. There are millions of people suffering the effects of personal loss, some of whom no one even knows have reason to be in pain.
Wherein lies our hope?
3) In the midst of so much change, there is one thing that does not. Before the creation of the world, God planned for man to be holy, a reflection of his own distinguishing character, and welcomed by adoption into God’s own family, into relationship and purpose. That holiness is bought by the blood of Jesus. And in every moment since creation, God continues to work on that adoption. No circumstance anywhere can alter that love-driven purpose. See Ephesians 1; Romans 8.
Day 4: God of Sorrows, sometimes we cannot begin to fathom ‘Why?’ Today, tomorrow, and into eternity…be near to those who mourn, those imprisoned in grief and loss, in the perpetual losing of themselves, to the persistent evils of sinful man. Bestow on them a crown of beauty for what was once left on the ash heap. They are here, Lord. We are here…and may those who this day find favor, be faithful like Noah, to quietly, persistently, whisper in their behalf, ‘God is near.’ May the ages long echo of your welcome reach even the feeblest of ears.