“The family has requested for you say a few words as they bury their father. You’ll need to be there in an hour. Can you do you it?”
That’s pretty late notice for this type of thing, but of course, I could.
Although I wasn’t their pastor at the time, I had known the deceased patriarch and his family for over twenty years. He was one of those steady types. The kind emotional yo-yo’s like me secretly envy. No matter what life threw at him, his upbeat demeanor and faith never wavered.
He had gone on to his eternal reward a few days earlier, and, understandably, the family was still all torn up about it.
An hour later, as I walked across the lush cemetery lawn, I couldn’t help but notice what a strikingly gorgeous day it was. All the clouds slept in that day leaving the sun to beam its warmth unimpeded. The already perfect temperature was made even pleasanter by the fresh breeze that nipped at my ears and collar.
As I approached the family, dressed in the very best black that their closet offered, I couldn’t help but think that this kind of day wasn’t made for sadness. God scheduled these relaxing on the porch swing and sipping tea with the ones we love, watching the kids run around and invent games with sticks and rocks and conversations.
But here this family was, throwing a red clay veil on the most important person in their lives.
After exchanging pleasantries, the family grew silent and looked at me as if to say, “Okay, Jathan, what have you got for us? Please say something to help us get through this….at least for today.”
Don’t we often find ourselves needing the same type of thing?
Perhaps we’re not saying our final goodbyes to loved ones, but we’re hurting, exasperated, and desperately trying to wriggle out of the vice that keeps squeezing and tightening and threatening to utterly crush us.
We’re oblivious to the beauty so near to us. We’re too distracted by our pain.
And try as we might, we just can’t seem to find any immediate way out.
- The emotional hurt inflicted upon us is so deep it seems like it will hurt forever.
- Our financial debt has piled so high it seems that it will be the only things our kids inherit from us.
- The problems within the lives of our children seem just as perplexing today as they did a year ago.
We cry out to God, we fast, we recruit others to help us pray. But strain and push and sweat as we might, those boulders that have tumbled down the mountain and blocked the only road leading to better days just won’t budge. Not even a millimeter.
After a while, such adversity tends to leave us thinking that we must be under a family curse of some sort. Or maybe God is giving us what we deserve. After all, given the number of times we’ve failed God, His judgment shouldn’t come as a surprise. And surely, we conclude, we’re the only ones buried in such troubles. Everyone else is living the blessed life in some spiritual utopia while we’re doing thirty years in a spiritual labor camp.
In reality, however, most of the time tribulation is not as complicated and dramatic as all that.
In fact, often the explanation for many of our problems is as elementary as Jesus’ words in John 16:33.
He said, “…In the world, you shall have tribulation…”
This is not one of Jesus’ promises we like to boldly claim, nor should we. But, it is a promise nonetheless. And it does play out that way.
If you breathe long enough tribulation comes knocking. It visits not only your house, but mine, the unbeliever’s, and those super-spiritual people you’ve concocted in your imagination.
And while there is certainly precedent for God being willing and able to deliver us from our tribulation in quick order, sometimes He does something else that might be just as liberating.
He comforts us in the midst our tribulation.
Knowing this, Paul opened his second letter to the Corinthians with these words, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who comforteth us in all our tribulation…”
Yes, during the middle of our biggest, hottest messes, Jesus is right there beside us, wrapping a warm, heavenly blanket of comfort all around us.
And this was just the message I relayed to the family that day. As they stared down at that freshly dug hole in the ground, clutching that small, black urn as if it was the Hope Diamond, I relayed to them a personal story.
It went like this:
”This morning my three-year-old daughter lost her balance as she was running to give me a hug. She face-planted on the tile floor and it wasn’t pretty. It hurt her badly.
Bawling her eyes out, she picked herself up and staggered to meet my open arms. As a father, how I wished I could have taken her pain away. Try as I might, though, it was beyond my power to stop the throbbing of her head and the stinging of her lip.
But what I could do, and what I did do, might have been just as good. I put her in my lap, hugged her tight, and didn’t let go until she stopped crying. I comforted her in her pain. And that’s what I pray Jesus does for you today.”
And that’s what Jesus did at that humble graveside service.
Sure, the family kept hurting that day, and the next, and the next. I’m sure they still are. But I’m also sure that no matter how painful things have been, they’ve not been left comfortless for a moment during their pain.
And Neither are you.
In fact, two chapters before Jesus promised that we would have tribulation, He promised us something else.
In John 14:18, Jesus said, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
I’m so glad He did.
And because He came, when we faceplant in life, we can run to Him, crawl in his lap, and stay there until we stop crying.
Get unstuck by believing the TRUTH about yourself.