Brokenhearted? The Lord is Near
By Jennifer Jolly
Most days I thought I was doing ok with it. In fact, before it happened, I actually kind of marveled at how well I was handling his high school senior year. And then it happened, although at first, we didn’t even know it had happened. All the school kids in my county went on with a normal school day on March 11 and finished it with absolutely no fanfare, no sentimental consideration, no well-wishes, no good-byes, no closure. They didn’t even get their jackets out of their lockers or their instruments from the band room. They just left, ready to be done for the day, but not ready to be done for the year, or for their school career.
Like many states, schools were eventually shut down for the rest of the school year. And just like that, Senior Year for the Class of 2020 on high school and college campuses was over. Instead of the build-up of events designed to celebrate accomplishments, mark milestones, and slowly and respectfully provide closure to communities built through time, the Class of 2020 was left with cancellations, postponements, silence, and the abrupt and immediate unraveling of community. They were left with layers of loss (job prospects? internships? college and trade school plans?) after expecting to move forward with fullness, relief and joy.
And then most days I found myself not doing ok with it. Suddenly I found myself crying often and unexpectedly at his loss, their loss, my loss. I am (still) grieving (more than my son) over the loss of nothing tangible really, but of expectations and experiences. I find myself thinking, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
That pattern of deep, layered loss and “it wasn’t supposed to be like this” has been exponentially multiplied all across our country and world. People who lost their loved ones who were forced to die alone or holding the gloved hand of a strange healthcare worker dressed like she just arrived from Mars. Healthcare workers who haven’t been home and hugged their children in weeks. College students, once foster teens, who lost their secure shelter and food source when dorms were evacuated and have no home to return to. People who live in shared spaces being told by their roommates that they “can’t stay here anymore” because they must still work “out there.” People with cancer who lost both their job of 15 years and their health insurance. People who lost the businesses they built with blood, sweat, tears and their life savings who also have to lay off their valued employees. People who lost their savings invested in canceled “once in a lifetime” dream trips abroad. People who lost those “once in a lifetime” moments of attending their parent’s funeral, watching their daughter get married in the front row instead of via livestream, and holding their newly born grandchild instead of viewing the babe through a phone screen.
The losses are real. They are layered. They are piling up and will continue to for months to come.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
The layers of loss remind me of Job. In one day, Job lost his voluminous herds to violent raids of theft and fire from heaven. With the lost herds, he lost his wealth and his means of employment. He lost his herdsmen, his employees, who were violently killed by raiders. He lost all of his sons and daughters when the house they were in literally fell in on top of them. On another day, Job lost his physical health when he came down with head to toe replicating sores.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Job’s losses were deep, as was his grappling with his grief. While he and his friends took some wrong turns in their grappling with their theology of suffering, his grief journey is book-ended by two statements of his faith. Both are followed by a statement that in saying such, Job did not sin with his lips, and spoke rightly of the Lord.
In Job 2:10, Job remarks to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Shall we, too, not receive loss, sickness, death? There isn’t anything in our collective existence that isn’t touched by the fall. Sickness, death, famine, destructive weather, destructive governments, destructive relationships surround us all and touch us personally at some point.
And yet, sometimes as Christians, we slip into thinking that because we follow Jesus, we will be spared having to experience it. Matthew 5:45 tells us that “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Look for the Lord
And while Scripture does not promise us a life free from sickness, death and destruction, it does promise us that, as believers, we can have hope in Him, we can have a steady joy in His steadfast presence in our lives rather than fleeting happiness built on just the right arrangement of circumstances. He does promise that He will never leave or forsake us. He does promise that He is with us in the suffering and loss. We can also cling to the promise of Romans 8:28 “for those who love God all things work together for good.” He will bring beauty from ashes. He will bring restoration and healing.
In the midst of dealing with the losses, we can cling to the promise of His steadfastness in the midst of chaos, of His restorative process and powers in the midst of destruction, of His provision and care in the midst of loss.
That isn’t to say we can’t and shouldn’t grieve. We can and should. But as we cry, we should guard against pouting and figuratively throwing things like an angry pre-teen. Instead, we can cry and cling; like a toddler who is angry and hurt that her father is withholding some wanted thing, but all while crying nestled in his arms burying our head on his shoulder.
Job also says, in Job 42:5, the statement that one could see as the thesis of the book, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”
Wow. Before his grief journey, Job had heard of the Lord and believed. In fact, three times, in chapters 1 and 2, the writer tells us that Job was a “blameless and upright man, who feared God and turned away from evil.” And yet, still, at the end of walking through his loss and grief, Job concludes that now he sees the Lord. Do we know if he means literally sees? We don’t. He is saying, he knows the Lord more intimately through his suffering. Through it, he saw the Lord. He knows the Lord more deeply as a result of his loss and grief.
During this time of cultural and personal loss, grief and suffering, are we seeing the Lord?
Better asked, are we looking for Him?
In the good times, we, even as Christians, fail to look for Him and instead focus and highlight the work of our hands. Our booming economy! Our preferred political party is in power! Our vacation is planned! We get distracted by all the shiny things and fail to see the Lord at work in the midst of them. We see our labors, our successes, our full calendars. We trust in our plans, our policies, and our projected outcomes.
In the bad times, when tragedy strikes, when our towers of Babel fall, we focus on the loss of our outcomes and expectations; our material goods and our opportunities.
But if we shift our eyes, now, not afterward, but during, we too, like Job, can see the Lord, if we focus on Him.
As our carefully crafted pillars of the kingdoms of this world are being shaken, we can see that the pillars of His Kingdom remain steady and unshaken. If we focus on Him, we will see Him present and at work in the midst of this. We may even see what He wants to teach us, refine in us, and cultivate through us.
We see His Kingdom come as we see His Holy Spirit prompting people to:
- Comfort those who mourn
- Care for the widows and elderly with grocery errands and visits through windows
- Feed those who hunger and thirst with massive meal distributions
- Create innovative means of connection in separation
- Hold and care for the sick
Like Job, let us see God in this. Not just afterward, with hindsight, but actively during. Look for Him. He will be seen because He is here, present in the midst of suffering. He is Emmanuel, “God with us.”
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:18-19)
Jennifer Jolly is the Director of Outreach Programs at YMCA Rome (Ga). She is a Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner and holds two degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: M. A. Marriage & Family Counseling, and M. A. Christian Education. Jennifer is an adoptive mother and pastor’s wife. She and her husband, Mitch, serve at Three Rivers Church and have three teenage sons; Gabe (18), John Mark (16), Daniel (15).
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