For the days your heart is tender

This week I have teared up in a restaurant and in the basement of our church and in the minivan.

It’s been a bit of a cry-fest frankly.  And it doesn’t stop there.  I’ve been ready to cry over documentaries and books about wars fought between 70 and 150 years ago.

Seriously.  A war documentary made me cry.

I don’t normally consider myself a “cryer,” but this week has been a  week of sad news for those around me.  I mourn with the brokenhearted wife, with the brokenhearted mother, with the brokenhearted family.

And I find my heart a little battered and bruised just by feeling the weight of sorrow:  the divorce, the goodbyes, the mourning, and the prodigals.  It’s been tenderized by a hammer of hurt, so now I’m in need of tissues everywhere I go.

Maybe that’s the way it should be, though.

Not that people should be hurting or going through hard times and not that I need to carry a box of Kleenex with me, but that we should be gentle enough to notice, compassionate enough to care, and tenderhearted enough to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.

Jesus did that, as He stood just outside his friend Lazarus’s tomb and the Savior and Messiah heard the wails of those in grief.  That’s when we read those two powerful  words:

Jesus wept (John 11:35).

He didn’t wail and scream like those around them.  He wasn’t in despair and He knew He’d see Lazarus walk out of that tomb within a few minutes.

But He felt compassion for the crowd and so His tears fell because these people were hurting and because they felt overwhelmed by deep  sorrow.

Do we weep also?

Do our hearts break at the brokenheartedness around us?

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32 NASB)

May that be us.  Oh, may we be the ones covering others with kindness, forgiveness, and caring.

But if that is us, what then?

Jesus walked right up  to Lazarus’s tomb and demanded resurrection.  He brought life to the dead simply by the power of His words.

As much as I wish I could say the word  and heal the hurts of those around me, mend the marriages, raise the dead, carry the prodigal home, I cannot.   I cannot fix the broken or mend the mess.

But our compassion does still matter.

It propels us into kindness, practical acts that make a difference.

It stirs us to intercession and passionate prayer on the behalf of others.

It compels us to share the heart of Jesus, who wept when others wept.

It emboldens us to share with others the reminder that this is our God:  the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.

That’s what Paul said:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV). 

God’s very character is that of compassion and comfort.  He never wastes the stories of our own pain, those times we ourselves trudged through valleys of hurt or sorrow.   He redeems those hard seasons by carrying us through them and then allowing us to be that comfort and that compassion for others in the future.

And as much as suffering abounds, God’s comfort abounds, too.  He is close in our times of need.

He draws us in.  He hides us away in places of refuge.  He holds our tears in a bottle, never missing even one of them.  He sends others to care for us.

And then He sends us out to care for others.

How can we minister to the hurting this week?

God, Are You Crying?

“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old”

(Isaiah 63:9).

It was my third pregnancy and I sat across from my midwife at my 37-week check-up.  “I don’t think the baby has turned,” I told her.  “I think she’s still breach.”

I saw her face change from “easy-breezy check-up” to “let’s investigate this issue”.  She expertly prodded my massive pregnant belly with her hands and then popped the baby up on the ultrasound machine to be sure.  Breach baby.  Thirty-seven weeks.

Maybe the doctor will turn her, I thought?  Maybe she’ll turn herself (I hoped)?  Anything sounded good if I could avoid a C-section.

She said, “I’ll call you.  I need to tell the doctor what’s going on, but I’d start preparing for surgery.”

I trusted her.  During both of my other pregnancies, she had cared for me frequently.  She was a strikingly lovely woman, an inside-out kind of beauty, so open and full of joy.  Her hair was just beginning to grow back into small bouncy curls after a fight with breast cancer years before and it was so like her to pour herself out for others even during chemo treatments and cancer recovery.

Just as she promised, she called me later that day.  She treated me like I was the only patient in the world, taking more than 20 minutes to tell me how serious the baby’s position was because she was sitting on her umbilical cord.  How turning the baby could kill her and if I went into labor on my own, she’d probably suffocate.

C-section it was.

But she gave me great reassurance, how good the doctor was, how she had seen him work and knew he would take good care of me and I would heal well.  “Don’t be afraid,” she said.

That was the last time I talked to her.

The doctor delivered my baby via C-section and he was expert and wonderful and my daughter was healthy and beautiful and safe.  When I returned for my check-up weeks later, they told me that my midwife’s breast cancer had returned and she was starting treatments again.

Any time I had an appointment at the office over the last 3 years, I asked about her.  She popped into my head periodically, and I prayed for her and we prayed in my small group, as well.

She passed away this weekend.

It’s a part of the human condition on this broken planet to grieve.  I am sad for her struggle, for years and years of fighting, for losing the battle to breast cancer, for her pain, for those who worked with her, for her dear friends, and most of all for her family and her two children who watched their mother fight and then die.

This world of sorrow isn’t a place of God’s design.  It’s the mess mankind made through disobedience and sin, ushering in death.  One day, we have the opportunity to see what God’s perfect design is really like.  Heaven is the ideal place, where death, crying, pain, and disease have no place because sin has no place.

But here we are, facing sorrows in the here and now because good people die, people of faith hurt, babies don’t make it, children are abused.

When Jesus stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb, he was surrounded by mourners in the midst of their own loss.  Martha was weeping.  Mary was weeping.  The entire crowd was weeping.

My commentary tells me they weren’t just sniffling quietly into their tissues in the good old Western style.  They were “wailing” (klaiontas).

Seeing their distress, Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled . . . Jesus wept” (John 11:33, 35).

The crowd took it as a sign of Jesus’s own grief over losing a great friend and said, “See how he loved him!”

But is that why Jesus cried on the edge of Lazarus’s tomb?  He wasn’t wailing in the same way they were; he was quietly shedding tears (edakrysen).john11

Anyway, what was there for him to mourn?  He knew he could raise Lazarus from the dead.  In fact, Jesus was just seconds away from doing just that and watching Lazarus stumble out of the tomb still wrapped up in his grave clothes.

It couldn’t have been his own grief.

It had to be the sadness at the sorrow of others.  That’s why he was “deeply moved” and “greatly troubled,” not when he knew Lazarus was dead or when Mary and Martha confronted him over it, but when he heard “her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping” (John 11:33).

He felt sorrow over their sorrow, sadness over their sadness, and compassion because they experienced death, loss, the grave, pain, and sickness.

In the same way, when Jesus saw a widow following behind the coffin of her only son, “He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep'”  (Luke 7:13) before touching her son’s body and raising him from the dead.

This is the Savior we serve, who saw the sorrow of death, who faced it Himself, and who comforts us when life is hard, when loved ones die, when we grieve the loss of people, the loss of hope, and the loss of dreams.

Even though I know He doesn’t always intervene with miracles, resurrecting in the places we grieve, it’s somehow helpful to know He isn’t ignoring us either.  Jesus isn’t cold-hearted, looking down stone-faced and unmoved by our sorrow.

Instead, when we’re hurting, He’s moved by compassion for us and ministering to us with His Spirit.  He’s comforting those who mourn (Matthew 5:4).

I use the Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, edited by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King