This woman would be 69 years old today. It’s hard to believe that 25 years have slipped by since her death. It’s true – the days are long, but the years are short.
Since her death, I’ve experienced additional challenges and loss, hardships and moments when the possibility of making it thru seemed impossible.
And, I must admit. I have often been disturbed by 2 little words often spoken as a comfort or encouragement, but which often produces the opposite –
I think back a few short months ago when a 7 year-old boy lost his father. He lived through his father’s months-long battle with cancer – the nausea and vomiting, the hair loss, the limited mobility due to increasing pain, the tears. Since his death, he has asked “oh so many” questions, as he tries to wrap his 7 year old mind around a concept that refuses to be wrapped neatly, or easily.
“When is he coming back?”
“Is he in heaven?”
“Is he with his mother and father?”
But, one thing that he did not do – was cry.
Because, somewhere along the way he was told to “be strong”. And, he interpreted that as, “Don’t cry.”
The reality is his interpretation is not that far removed from the truth. We are uncomfortable with sadness. It makes us feel helpless, weak, renders us speechless. Happiness and joy, we love. We even know how to handle anger (the reaction may incense the other, but it’s a response).
But, sadness? We flee, desperate to return to our happy (or at least comfortable) place.
People would tell his father as he sat writhing in pain, grieving the loss of a future that he realized he would not see.”
As his wife poured out her heart, grieving the current state of her husband and her family’s future.
And, it’s not just in sickness and death.
When I was 16, I remember speaking at my childhood church about women in the Bible. The pastor at the time did not agree with my talk, and said so, ripping it to shreds in front of the entire congregation. My proud mother, walked onto the stage (yes I was still sitting on the stage while he did this), grabbed my arm, and as tears welled up in my eyes, she held her head up high, lifted my head, and led me down the steps while he was talking (loved that woman). As we walked, she whispered in my ear “Don’t cry. Be strong.”
A little over a year later, I was grieving her death, from cancer.
Repeatedly, I heard in the midst of grieving “Be strong.”
When your world is crashing around you, and all that you know is coming to violent end, wouldn’t you feel weak, depressed and unable to go on?
When sickness, or financial strain, or disappointment or loss knocks on your door? Do you not weep or get overwhelmed, and want to hide?
Of course you do. Of course I do.
And the reality is – so did Jesus.
When He heard that his cousin, John, was unjustly beheaded after taking a stand against King Herod’s marital infidelity (he divorced his wife to marry his half-brother’s wife). Jesus “…departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself.” (Matthew 14:13)
When His beloved friend Lazarus died, and Jesus saw his sister, Mary’s anguish as she fell down at His feet saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” He did the most humanly thing possible when witnessing the pain of another. He wept. Even though He knew He was going to resurrect Lazarus – Jesus wept.
When faced with His impending crucifixion and separation from His Father, “He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful even to death…” (Matthew 26:38). “…and He knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.’ Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:42-43).
The Son of God wept.
Weeping over pain, difficulty and sorrow, is not weakness as we consider it. It is strength. It requires strength to admit you are struggling. Only then can others help.
When faced with another’s despair, even when Jesus knew He planned to resurrect Lazarus, He wept with Mary and for her. She cried out. He responded. “Did I not say to you that if you believe you would see the glory of God?” He did not say, “Be strong” or “Don’t cry.”
When facing His own death, He cried out. And, an angel appeared to strengthen Him – an angel. We don’t know what the angel did or said, but we can imagine it wasn’t “don’t cry out”, because afterwards “He prayed more earnestly.”
In fact, I looked at a few instances of when people were exhorted to “Be strong”. It was not when mourning or in emotional despair, it was when facing a battle. Even then, the call for strength was not based upon the individual’s ability. It was “Be strong….do not fear…for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you.”
I think of Paul, who pleaded with God three times for some “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. God’s response was not to remove it, but to tell Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
God is the One who strengthens.
So, when grieving or in despair or disappointed -don’t “be strong”. Cry out.
And when faced with the grief, despair or disappointment of another – Help them grieve. Give them room to share. Let them be silent. Visit them. Let them cry. Encourage them to cry. Hug them. Sit with them. Serve them. Clean for them. Cook for them.
Please do not tell them to “Be strong.”
But, you be strong – strong enough to deal with the discomfort of their weakness. And be sure to continually pray on their behalf to the One who gives them grace and strength.