Secondhand Sighs

http://stoneshout.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/bear-burden.html
http://stoneshout.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/bear-burden.html
I’ve been doing a lot of heavy sighing lately. I don’t mean to. Pathetic sounds just sort of escape my lips before I realize it. But I think they are a sound indicator of the state of my heart: burdened.

For me, life is good right now. I have much to rejoice and give thanks over. But for several of the people I love, life is a waking nightmare. The bottom has dropped out of their world and their dreams are dying a slow, painful death. As I walk with them through their dark valleys and listen to their anguished cries, I can’t help but absorb their pain. The question is, what am I supposed to do with it?

Of course these burdens have driven me to perpetual prayer, crying out to God day and night to put right what has been made so wrong. My emotional involvement makes my prayers for others fervent and passionate. But it is also weighing me down to the point where I feel I have little left to offer, and that just doesn’t seem right.

How do I love wholeheartedly without being consumed? How do I immerse myself in other people’s pain without being submerged by it?

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. … Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…
Isaiah 53:3-4

As always, God reminds me that He has walked this path ahead of me, not just as the transcendent God who reigns from heaven, but also as the fleshy mortal who wept here on earth. He knows what it is like to carry other’s burdens and be weighed down by their sorrow. He didn’t dodge the pain or distance Himself from the suffering. And yet somehow He managed not to be completely overcome by it.

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
John 11:3-5

When I read John’s account of how Jesus reacted to his friend Lazarus’ death, I am amazed that He got emotionally involved in it at all. Right from the point that He first heard that news of His friend’s illness, He told His disciples that it wouldn’t end in death. What’s more, He could already see the big picture of what was going on, that this was a cosmic play in which God was setting things up to put His glory on display. Jesus understood all this. He could explain all this. And yet when He came face to face with Mary’s grief over the loss of her brother, He burst into tears.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept.
John 11:33-35

Her pain was His pain, because He loved her. He didn’t stand at a slightly detached distance, maintaining professional control over His feelings and offering wise words of truth. Even though He already new the future outcome, He entered into her current reality. He allowed it to affect Him right down to the core of His Spirit, disturbing His serenity and breaking down His composure. He didn’t preach at her. He wept with her.

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:40-42

But Jesus didn’t get stuck there. Nor did He try to go it alone. He entered fully into the seeming hopelessness of His friend’s immediate situation, but then He lifted it up into the context of God’s ongoing story. This was not the end. He believed it not only for his own sake, but He clung to it for her sake. He carried her burden to God in prayer, exerting His faith in God’s good purposes for her when her faith was too weak for the task.

And, as He does, God showed up to finish what He had started: in Lazarus, in Mary, and in Jesus. The Father comforted His Son. And in turn, Jesus comforted Mary and healed Lazarus.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

This ripple effect of comfort flows down through history to me. Like Jesus, Paul, and the many others who have gone before, I get to stand in the crossroads between earth and heaven, stretched between the colossal chaos of what is happening in this realm and the cosmic order of what God is orchestrating in the heavenly one.

I am realizing that I cannot bear this burden in isolation, from God or from others. If I try to carry it alone it will crush me. But thanks be to God, He has built His Church out of a community of suffering comforters and of comforted sufferers. As we each go to the Father in desperate, dependent faith on behalf of the other, He will supply the comfort we need to sustain ourselves and support each other.

Second-hand sighs. Second-hand comfort.

These are what hold me together. These are what bind us together.

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3 thoughts on “Secondhand Sighs”

  1. Wow Tiffany – what you have so eloquently written is so relevant to our situation at present. We are closely involved with a very dysfunctional family here (in the village) & at 7am yesterday we had a message from K, the wife to say that she was desperate & could she come & see us. She came, talked and cried and we prayed with her, but didn’t have an answer ourselves. Her daughter (aged 15) had tried to commit suicide (not the first time) & now could not be left. Her husband is an alcoholic & hardly earns any money so she is the main wage earner. Her son (17) is depressed and in the middle of his Class 10 Board exams. We had some very moving prayer in their home 2 days ago. She rang again later sounding very desperate & distraught, so we went over. She had been attacked by her daughter as well. We had no idea how to handle this. I was able to get the psychiatrist from the hospital to come and see her & S, the daughter finally agreed to go into hospital for a couple of days. (She has learning difficulties and a severe personality disorder – infatuated with a young man of 24 who no longer reciprocates her feelings). So, your blog absolutely echoes our feelings at this time. Thank you Tiffany. Love, Paul and Su.

  2. Dear Su,
    So good to hear from you. My heart resonates with the load you are carrying. I think these impossibly overwhelming situations are just the ones that drive us to desperate prayer. We can’t see a way forward, and yet the last thing we want to do is bail out.

    May our Lord hold you steady as you walk through the fire with your neighbors. May He carry your burdens as you carry theirs.

    With much love,
    Tiffany

  3. But for several of the people I love, life is a waking nightmare. The bottom has dropped out of their world and their dreams are dying a slow, painful death.

    Me too. One of my friends had was defamed by members of a powerful institution which is getting away with violating Due Process of Law. The sad thing is that a key decision maker claims to be a Christian, but apparently has no comprehension of what Proverbs 18:17 means, and how it is a core aspect of the US Justice System. Sigh!

    How do I love wholeheartedly without being consumed? How do I immerse myself in other people’s pain without being submerged by it?

    2 Cor 4:7–12. You’ve probably been learning what that passage means, huh?

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