My son and I were stopped at a stop sign and there beside us was a woman and man bent inward towards each other, embracing, and totally sobbing. Not crying. Not wiping tears away form an argument or a bit of bad news. No this couple was sobbing together. Sobbing so hard the woman was having trouble standing as her knees were buckling from the obvious strain of the bad news she was bearing. It took my breath away a bit because I have seen that look before. I’ve seen it on my own face. Felt it in my own family. And when you have grieved before, not merely had some hard times, but really grieved from something terrible, your soul is able to recognize the suffering in others. It’s like suffering and grief allow you to enter a fraternity or association with others that are also grieving.
Not too long ago I sat at the kitchen table with a friend who had suffered a tremendous loss. We sat together looking at pictures of his now deceased son. I couldn’t help him at all, but perhaps being there with him lessoned his load by even a fraction. And I realized I wouldn’t be at this table had I not also suffered my own lost. As we endure hard times, our capacity to engage others at their points of need increases. In this way, suffering somehow allows for growth and increased capacity to be a blessing in the world.
Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This is one of the promises of the Christian faith that I find so comforting. When we struggle, we become a little more able to receive the blessing of Christ and share this blessing with the world. Our faith is not meant to make us invincible, but rather to remind us that there is a hope beyond what we can see with our physical eyes. Somewhere up there, there is a God who loves us, who can hold us together when our lives start falling apart.
Back at the stop sign, I watch this couple embraced by sobs and try not to stare. We turn the corner and drive down the road. My son tries to make sense of the situation, “Papa, those people looked really sad.” ‘Yes I say, hoping to minimize the situation. Maybe they are going on a trip and they are sad to be leaving each other’ I offer. He has me beat, this 5 year old with sometimes piercing wisdom: “Or maybe they lost someone really important in their life.”
Yes, my son, it is probably true loss that has visited these unsuspecting people. My son can recognize this look on their face as he also suffered when we lost our unborn baby boy Fisher a few years back. It is clear that my son’s suffering has increased his own capacity to recognize pain and suffering in others. Though I wish he hadn’t had to endure what we endured, I can see that there will be strength from his scars later in life. Those things that which don’t break us can make us stronger. There is hope in that. Real, life changing hope. This is the story we need to continue to tell as Christ followers.