Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some Lessons Learned From Death

Paul begins his second (or fourth) letter to the Corinthians with a very incisive observation:

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

With our superficial perspective, we can sometimes reason that suffering is "bad." It certainly doesn't feel "good" -- we know that much! But as it is with many concepts in the Kingdom of God, the spiritual reality is often counter-intuitive from our limited perceptions of what is "good" or "bad." Paul says that that is not true that suffering is "bad." He says that suffering is didactic. Among the host of things we can learn during such an experience, suffering teaches about the comfort of God & how to comfort those around us.

In Job 42:5, Job remarks that "My ears had heard [...] but now my eyes have seen." Before this season of my life, there were some things that I had known about suffering in an intellectual sense, or had learned by vicarious observation. And since my parents got divorced during my Senior year of high school, I had even grieved then & knew some things about suffering. But this experience has been entirely more educational than anything I could have read, heard, or experienced before.

In many ways, my mother's death will make me a better minister. If you missed it last month, I shared some insights about how to comfort the suffering. Those weren't my original thoughts, but they ring so true about what to do (and ESPECIALLY what NOT to do) when you are with someone who is grieving and/or suffering.

One other part of this grieving experience that stands out to me is how much more in tune I am with suffering in my community & throughout the rest of the world. There was a story that hit the news today that just makes my heart ache -- Army suicides are at their highest all-time levels. I just think about what men my age & younger are dealing with, not only physically & logistically but also mentally & emotionally. As this report teaches us, not all the young men who face this giant called "War" survive like David did in his encounter with Goliath. (This was also the message of an Academy Award nominated film that I reviewed here a couple months ago, "In the Valley of Elah")

I just don't know how to fathom that much loss of human life. I don't have the capacity to understand the depth of all that grief. It certainly gives me a deeper appreciation for God, knowing that He does understand & perceive ALL of that hurt. How magnificent He must be to handle all of that.

And, of course, there are all the emotions that I deal with on a regular basis. Especially in the weeks following Mom's funeral, after all the family & friends began to settle back into their lives, loneliness really grabs hold. I did some reading about this, and I found that this is not uncommon for folks who have lost someone so close. There are some very lonely nights. Its very difficult to try to maintain a sense of dignity or self-respect (namely, not being too needy around other people) while also maintaining my sanity.

All of this really serves to highlight my own weakness & vulnerability -- two things that most men, including myself, don't like to reflect on a whole lot. I haven't completely finished conceptualizing & processing my feelings of weakness, so I don't have a lot to share yet. I just know now that I'm aware of it & will probably learn more about it as I walk around with it and meditate on it some more.

But I know that the God that sometimes can't be found will wrap himself around me with His considerable capacity to comfort. Day by day, verses like this one in 1st Peter 4:19 mean that much more to me:

So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

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