L o s s .
This world is full of such loss and pain.
The older I get the more that becomes evident to me. So painfully evident. Truly, I hope to never grow numb to the pains of other people just because they happen over and over again through the lives of different people. I don’t want to lose hope, but I also don’t want to never feel the sadness that comes from loss and hurt.
This morning I woke up to the news that an artist I grew up listening to lost his first born son. His son was only 21 years old and it was sudden.
So so s u d d e n.
As I drove in my car this morning I cried and prayed for this dear family. I imagined what it would be like to lose my own child.
My heart aches with a pain that is nowhere near the pain they must feel, yet I allowed the feelings of compassion to stir within me because I know that God’s heart hurts for this family, too. From what I can tell their son had experienced deep pain in his life, specifically the years since he grew up and left home. Life had been hard, disillusioning, even turning him away from his Christian upbringing and this was evident in the ways he artistically expressed himself. I could hear the weight of his life through his lyrics. I could hear how lost he was.
Understanding this brought even deeper pain to my heart knowing that his parents must be processing through feelings of guilt, wondering how they could have helped him process life better so he didn’t have to find escape in a path that ultimately took his life. Can you imagine having all of these questions running through your head when you’ve lost someone close to you?
I can understand this better then some, because I have a sister that was going through some deep hurt for years. I watched her change from the confident Godly girl that I knew into a distant shell of the girl I once knew. It was devastating to my family watching her slip away and feeling helpless to do anything at all. Our words were like empty air, falling quickly to the ground. Well meant advice was like the words of an enemy.
For two years, almost every day I lived with this fear that any day could be the day she’d take her own life. I knew she thought about it. I knew she wrote about it. I knew she talked about it. When confronted about it, she’d deny that she was suicidal. Her words couldn’t be trusted, because they consistently contradicted themselves. I remember feeling so helpless and in the dark. For months she didn’t let us into what was going on in her life. I felt sad and scared, but oddly enough I was also angry. She was believing so many lies about who she was and she was consumed by doubt, fear, anxiety, depression, and an overwhelming amount of irrational idealism. So many times I just wanted to shake her so she’d wake up and see that half of her pain was being caused by the decisions she was making. But I knew that I couldn’t do that.
I had to let her walk through it.
I had to let her make her own choices.
I had to figure out how to show up and be invited into the spaces of her life to be able to speak truthfully, but allow her to choose whether she listens to or disregards my words.
But I didn’t want her to feel pain. I didn’t want her to have to experience it for herself. I have felt so much pain through my own life, and I didn’t want her to feel those things. Is it so bad to want to save her from that?
When I think about it, I think it is good to want to save people from pain and heartbreak. But realistically, we live in a horribly broken world filled with mountains of pain. I can’t save her from the world. I can’t. All I can do is be there to support her when she gets to those places. All I can do is share with her where I found hope in the darkest places of my life, and where I’ve found my hope even more since.
All I can really do is be there.
And that’s all I did for a long time. I was there. Often there was still that itching desire that made me feel like I constantly needed to move to do something practical. Something to fix it. So this made frustration rise. In these places I had to learn to rest with Jesus. I had to ask him to give me peace and strength, especially when it felt at times like the rest of my family was leaning on me for support amidst the confusion of figuring out how we could help her.
I can tell you this, because she already knows now that I did this, but I remember there came a moment where our family felt so in the dark with her. We felt like we were out of options, gripped by the fear that one day we’d wake up and she’d be dead. We felt so helpless. So I went into her room when she wasn’t home to pray over her room. It seemed like that space was just covered in a dark cloud of hopelessness and depression. I wanted to invite God’s presence to shatter the darkness and bring light and hope to this situation.
I did pray. But then I saw her journal sitting on her bookshelf. So of course, you can guess what happened next. I read it. Page after page after page. Brokenness. Hurt. Self hate. Low self esteem. Words like “ugly”, “suicide” and confessions like “if my friends only knew how much I depended on them and needed them, they’d be so scared. so so scared”. I felt my eyes open to how deeply she was hurting inside. It was like she has been sitting in this dark room where the only light was the glow of the words written on the wall, the ones that screamed that she wasn’t enough, that she was less than, unworthy, unwanted, and the ones that reminded her of how sad she was. I wept–there in her room, surrounded by objects I knew reminded her of how she’d been left and betrayed by those closest to her. My heart ached so much I felt my chest tighten, and if my heart got any tighter I think it might have exploded and bled out on to the floor.
I desperately cried out to God. How, God, do we help her? I laid on my knees and face and begged God to take this pain from her. I begged him to heal her and bring freedom to her from this sadness.
Many hard decisions were made over the next few months. Psychiatrists, counselors, depression medication, and so forth. None of which helped very much. She was mad. She was resistant. She was hateful. We just wanted to help. help h e l p h e l p
t h a t s a l l.
but we weren’t helping really, at least it seemed. We wanted her to be better. But you see, healing is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It can take months or years. Often it happens in layers. I of all people should have known this.
This past summer, after years of praying for my sister, after years of her being my continual prayer request in my circles of friends and church small groups
. . . s o m e t h i n g f i n a l l y h a p p e n e d.
She had a breakthrough. And I got to be there to see it. I was a youth leader for our church when they went to youth camp that summer. Before I went, I remember someone telling me that they felt like God was going to use me to speak to my sister that week.
I was scared honestly. I had been made silent for a while in my relationship with her. Every word I said over the past few years made her feel misunderstood and caused her to resent our family more. I didn’t want to get in God’s way, which isn’t even possible, but that’s besides the point. So that week I tried to give her space, praying and being watchful for when I felt in my spirit that I should approach her.
Finally, it was nearing the last day of camp, and I saw her near the stage worshipping, singing the lyrics to the song. Over the past few days she had been sharing with the group how she felt like this week God was taking away her anxiety and depression. I watched as she mended friendships that should, by the worlds standards, be impossible to mend. She did it, and I was so inexpressibly proud of her. My heart was glowing with excitement and deep hope.
So when I felt like it was time for me to enter what God was already doing, I did so humbly and with as much discernment as I could muster, leaning heavily on God to give me what I needed. I walked up behind her, where she was kneeling on the ground with her hands raised to the sky and I put my hands on her arms. Then I just waited. I let go of the need to fill the void with words, and listened to what God was doing in that moment, silently praying over her in my head.
It’s a difficult experience to put into words, but I knew that the words of the song playing were meant to be an anthem to her soul so I just stood there silently holding her arms up. I felt as though my physical presence was speaking more words ever could.
After a few minutes, I leaned down and told her that the words of this song were her anthem, and that the lies that the healing she’s found this week will be taken away are simply that, lies. Then I walked away.
This moment has reshaped the way I think about my relationships with people. I can’t fix people’s situations. I can’t fix their hearts. But God can. So most times all I can do is grieve with them, and lift them up to my heavenly Father. He knows them better than I ever will. I have seen how simply looking into someone’s eyes and recognizing the words that are unsaid and then wrapping them in a hug can be one of the most healing expressions of love and support. Loving someone is being patient with them. It isn’t shoving yourself into their situation trying to be the hero. Just like you have had to process through deep pain, so must those around you.
People need people. Always.
So how do we step into the pain of others without stealing from the experience?
The only answer I have is that it takes wisdom. There are times to speak and do a little truth shaking, but often I think our role involves a lot of patience, kindness, self control, and seeking understanding of what they are feeling, and most of all it is being present. In the grand scheme of things, pain is only for a moment, but the joy of God is ever present. It is ever lasting. It is always available to us. That is a truth we all forget often.
God has such a wonderful ability to be so patient and kind with us in our wandering ways, and He teaches us these same attributes, strengthening us to show up for other people. God many times throughout the Bible was frustrated with His people for not seeing the truth. Especially because He knew the ways they were living would ultimately bring them death and destruction, and He loved them. How could He not? He made them! Formed each of them in His own image, each one a different reflection of His character! He chose them to be His people! Why? Because He chose them. He chose them because he chose them.
…but He was not going to force people to come to Him. He knew that all they needed was found in relationship with Him. But He was not going to force them to love Him. That wouldn’t be an authentic relationship. He wasn’t going to force them to change. His relationship with them looked differently at times. Sometimes He was close, other times He seemed far. But ultimately, He always loved them. He was always there.
I’ll leave you with these words:
presence, space, love, kindness, understanding, wisdom, graceful truth, strength, community, boundaries, peace and prayer
These are all the things I think you need to be able to step into the pain of others.