A very dear friend recently wrote a blog post about their journey through a desert place. As I read and reread their post, my heart hurt for them. The feelings they share are similar to feelings I’ve had recently. They cause me to pause and think about where God is when we suffer.
Right now I am preparing to preach next Sunday. In the church year, this day is called “Christ the King Sunday” or “Reign of Christ Sunday.”
My friend’s post has caused me to ask, “How do we allow Christ to reign in our suffering? How does Christ’s kingly reign grow in us when we are thoroughly beaten down?”
One theme that keeps coming back to me the more I ponder this is Hope. Christ reigns in our hearts and in our lives when we have hope in a better time to come. Theologians call this Eschatological Hope. To me, this is claiming the promise that one day God will make all things new, put all things right and betting your life on it.
But where does hope come from in the bitter watches of the night? Where do we find hope when the world is so dark in our eyes that we cannot even see the hand in front of our face? How can we hope when the pain of our soul is blinding and despair’s talons close around us in a strangle hold?
The psalmist once wrote, “I will remember the Lord and his marvelous deeds of old.” (Psalm 77). The memory of God’s past good works on our behalf is where thankfulness begins, and thankfulness is where hope is born. When we actively remember God’s faithfulness in the past, we can look forward into the future, trusting God to make good on his promises because our hope for that is supported my our memories of God making good on promises in the past. Often this is an active conscious choice we have to make. Sometimes we need to choose on purpose to remember and give thanks.
But what if we can’t summon the thankfulness to bring forth hope?
I think it’s for times like these that God gives us friends and community. There are times when we try as hard as we can and just can’t find or choose hope on our own. The weight of our pain is too great. We long to hope again. We want more than anything to praise God; but we just can’t. In these times we must depend on our community to bear us up. Just like an injured hiker must be carried off the mountain by Search & Rescue, so the wounded Christian must be carried by their friends and lowered through the ceiling on ropes into the presence of Jesus. When our faith is weak and we cannot pray or sing, our friends must lift us up on their praises, songs and prayers. In these times, we must let our friends drag us to church and “fireman’s carry” us to the Lord’s Table.
We don’t need our friends to try and defend God to us when we argue with him or yell at him. That’s not helpful. God doesn’t need anyone’s defending and really all we want is for someone to sit with us in our darkness, put their arm around us and agree that it hurts.
This can be very difficult to do. Especially for “Fixers” like me. I want to suggest scriptures and doctrines. “Here, read this book! Pray this prayer! Listen to this song! Try this spiritual exercise!” As nice as those things are, what is far more effective and loving in a time of profound grief takes much more patience. What is most helpful is to just be present and caring. Unfortunately, grieving takes a long time. A person’s grieving process will not end quickly. Grief also comes in waves. A person will be in the dumps for a time and will seem to be feeling better, and then at some point days, weeks or months later, they’ll crash back into depression again. The best thing a friend can do is to pray for the griever and tell them regularly that they are praying. They can be physically present and willing to listen. And if the grief is profound and deep, they can encourage their friend to see a grief counselor. Deep grief is not the same as clinical depression and seeing a counselor is not saying there’s something “Wrong” with the person. They’re not crazy.
Our emotions are so complex and so integral to our general health and our ability to think and process data, that when we are emotionally or spiritually wounded, it is often very helpful to have someone guide us through the unraveling of our feelings. Sometimes we know that something is broken, but we need another to help us find where the wound is and how to help it to heal.
In the words of my favorite hymn for seasons of grief: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide; when other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the Helpless, oh, Abide with me.”
Hope is contagious. It takes time, but one person’s hope can leak into another. There are times when it’s impossible to see or feel God with us, but God is still there working. A day does come when the wounds we carry are healed enough that the small candle flame of hope can see seen again and it’s tiny warmth can be felt once more. Then little-by-little, day-by-day, our vision clears and we can once again say on our own, “Lord reign in me.” and the best part is often our Lord’s response will be, “I already am, beloved one. Come to the table, I’ve prepared a meal for you.”