Who among us would choose loss and heartache? How do we make sense of tragedies that defy understanding? And yet, don’t even loss, heartache and tragedy have the potential to draw us closer to God and to each other?
I didn’t post a reflection yesterday because I was spending time with my brother, whose significant other of many years died unexpectedly over the weekend. I have no “explanations” for her death, and I resist many of the well-worn “assurances” that we sometimes use (i.e. “God must have had a reason…”). All I know is that someone very dear to me is hurting badly today; and I pray both that God will make His presence felt in the life of my brother and in the lives of others who’ve been impacted by this loss — and that He will provide – not “reasons” – but “paths forward” – that allow all of them to move forward into a future in which peace and healing come.
For me personally, my hope in this situation is built on the trust that God is present – and perhaps most present – in those places where pain and brokenness and death have marred the lives of His children. That, I think, is why he sent His own Son to enter into our lives: so that we would have a High Priest who could empathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). However, if that is at least one facet of the purpose behind Jesus’ coming – and if being conformed to the image of Jesus is the goal toward which our lives ultimately press – then going through times of pain and brokenness and death must be part of the process almost by necessity. As Paul puts it in one of his letters: “I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of His resurrection – and participation in His sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10).
In today’s Daily Office, Paul offers another description that hints at the tortured path along which character is formed:
We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses…through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)
Again, I offer this not as an explanation for the pain of the last few days. Nor do I think it makes the pain of this day any easier. But I have read somewhere that “God never wastes a tear.” And I do trust that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
I pray that work will continue today: in the life of my brother…in the life of his girlfriend’s family and friends…and in the lives of all those today who struggle with unexpected and painful loss. In their sorrow, may they find the rejoicing of hope. In their poverty of spirit, may they receive the riches of God’s kingdom. In the emptiness of “having nothing,” may they “possess everything” through the Spirit who comforts them.