Finding Comfort In the Shadow Of Death

There is a simple truth about our culture that can only be found in the midst of suffering.  When great things happen, we rejoice, when good things happen we celebrate, from our normal mundane living, well, we escape, and when bad things happen, we generally do our best to avoid the pain

And this rampant avoidance applies not only to ourselves, but those around us as well. It’s only when you are smack dab in the middle of pain do you see, really see, as if you had special goggles,  how uncomfortable everyone else is with it. 

Ever notice how people are afraid of catching pain? It’s as if divorce, depression or death were viral.   So instead of leaning in and being present in the messy, we stuff it, hide it, and put on the Christian happy face.  We all too quickly forget that joy in Christ doesn’t mandate a perpetual façade of gooey sweetness.

We avoid the old folks' home, complain about the smell, hide from the abandoned wife at church, and quarantine ourselves away from illness, regardless if it is contagious.  We sanitize empathy down to a Get Well card or some flowers and remain aloof from intimate relationship in the darkest moments. Genuine and heartfelt mourning seems to be so passé, as if they were thrown away with the old traditions of widows wearing black and communal lamenting

My husband has a dear friend who is extremely ill, and the other day, they had a long visit in the hospital.  By my husband’s own admission, it was a visit that was long overdue.  My husband didn’t want to admit or acknowledge that his friend wasn’t doing well, because it was easier to live in the land of hope, where everything remained the status quo. Fortunately, another friend intervened, and he was forced to confront both his own avoidance and the reality of the situation.

Somehow my husband missed out on the blog that his friend started. It’s an online journal, that keeps his friends and family updated on his condition, and though it chronicles his physical journey with cancer, it also gives voice to his spiritual battle with this unseen and vicious enemy attacking his blood.

After recalling his emotional day, my husband mentioned that his friend noticed an unusual occurrence with his blog. When he updates positive news on his status, the comments and prayers come in abundance, but when the news is dire, which has been more the case recently, very few if any comments show up in the guest book. 

Why is it that our praises seem to dry up when circumstances go down the drain?  And when there are no words left, we conveniently disappear, because suffering interferes with our busy agendas. Mourning, compassion, empathy… the sheer ability to be present in the Valley of the Shadow of Death with anyone, even sometimes those closest to us, seems desperately lacking in our society. 

When I look at Middle Eastern culture, I envy their ability to emote, to wail like banshees and cry and grieve with passion.  It seems so much more acceptable to feel emotions.  The tough guy American demeanor never drops a tear.  It’s probably why I always apologize when I cry, as if tears were an affront to good manners.

Is it our fear of the dark, of death and the unknown that causes us to push away and to hide?   Could any temporary relief of an awkward moment or an uncomfortable confrontation ever be worth the loneliness and abandonment of those dear to us?

Yesterday my husband wept, prayed and laughed with his dear friend.  The cancer was only a reason for their relationship to grow deeper.  They mourned and looked to Christ, unsure of His plan, with unanswered questions and heavy hearts, but resolute in their double fisted faith of a Holy and mysterious God. 

They were precious moments, stolen and sweet, because time has become like gold as the shadow deepens.  These were moments of friendship, based on eternal brotherhood and bonds forged on Christ’s sacrifice.

And so my husband’s friend has hit on a profound truth: we are a culture of avoiders when it comes to pain.  And as the lines between heaven and earth blur for him, clarity comes like waves as he assesses his life.

The Psalmist proclaims that “though weeping may last for a night, joy comes with the dawn.” (Psalm 30:5)

True joy, it seems, can only be discerned on the other side of the deepest pain. For how would we recognize the light if we had avoided the dark?

Rom. 12:5 (NIV) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn

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