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Heartbreak and Hope – Life in a Fallen World August 31, 2018

We want to escape suffering. Somehow our theology of "we must be good enough to be accepted by the God who made us" sneaks up and whispers if we are good enough, we can escape tragedy.

But it’s just not true.

  • Horatio G. Spafford, author of the cherished hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul," lost four daughters tragically when the ship they were traveling on collided with another and sank. In the course of his lifetime, he also lost two children to pneumonia and much of his business to Chicago's great fire.
  • Ecuador missionaries Jim Elliott, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian lost their lives, leaving behind young wives and children, when they reached out to the Wuaorani Indians in hopes of sharing the Gospel with them. 
  • In 1991, Professor Jerry Sittser and his family were heading home from an ordinary day at an Indian reservation in Idaho. His mother, wife, and daughter didn't survive when another driver crashed head-on into their vehicle. 
  • Stephen Curtis Chapman’s family suffered immeasurable sorrow in 2008 when the youngest of their children got hit by a vehicle and succumbed to her injuries. 

The list goes on and on. 

Some of you are in the middle of your own tragedies. I have a friend suffering through the nightmare of a child paralyzed from a fall; another’s 12-year-old niece is undergoing chemotherapy for bone cancer. Others have lost family members and friends far too soon.

My heart rages against the pain. It screams that we were not made for this. And in the dark of night, it can’t help but wonder why…

The temptation is to scramble for logical answers, and a look back to the Garden of Eden—and the Fall—can give us that. It was in that place our world started the journey to becoming far removed from the perfect one we were made for.

But knowing this world is broken and living with the pain of its brokenness are completely different. Knowledge alone doesn't soothe the ache of a mom who holds her daughter’s hand while chemo drips into her veins.

Pat answers can’t touch the sorrow a dad feels as he sits next to his daughter who used to run wild and free. The wheelchair she’s confined to has not broken her spirit, but how her dad wishes he could heal her aching heart.

Tragedy.

We feel desperate to escape it, and we’re tempted to explain it. Instead, let’s take our breaking hearts and run to our Savior. He is “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…” (Isaiah 53:3). And not just acquainted with it. His shoulders were weighted down by it.

Isaiah said, "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (53:4). In the end, His sacrifice and the promise of Resurrection mean we do not have to "grieve as others do who have no hope" (I Thess. 4:13).

This planet we call home breaks our hearts day after day after day, but the brokenness is not the end of the story. So even while our hearts ache, we can look to Christ with hope. He sees our hurt. He knows our pain. We can trust Him with it, and we can trust Him to be with us until long after the crisis has passed.

When others—the people we love and the communities we live in—are experiencing tragedy, it's sometimes hard to know what to do or say. But we can extend the same kindness that Christ extends to us, intentionally walking alongside others who are in the midst of loss or pain. Here are some ideas for how we can do that:

1) Come as a guest to the suffering person’s “house of pain”—without assumptions, without judgment. Come with a heart open to understanding the person's uniqueness in a unique set of circumstances.
2) Avoid trying to “fix” the situation in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.
3) Be cautious about sharing our own personal experiences, especially horror stories; focus on the other person.
4) Resist the urge to explain what's happening. Explanations can't mend a broken heart, and sometimes attempts to explain are more frustrating than helpful.
5) Listen more than we speak….and maybe don't say anything at all. Simply be present, and be comfortable sitting in silence.
6) If we do speak…
  • Don't be afraid to ask how someone is doing. Use questions like:

    • How are you holding up? (This question implicitly acknowledges loss or pain.)

    • How are things going today? (Asking about today implies understanding that someone may or may not be doing well right now and offers permission for honesty.)

    • How are you feeling today?

 Some of these suggestions and more can be found in the book, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart,” by Kenneth C. Haugk, PhD.  It’s available at Stephen Ministries.  

 -By Julie Johnson

Julie Johnson is a local freelance writer and a member of Westover's Creative Arts Team.

Special thanks to Lynn Stowe, Westover's Care and Support Director, for contributing her expertise to the list of ideas.