"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12 (NIV)
It was a cold evening in February almost four years ago. My sister-in-law, Angie, and I were responding to an open invitation to attend a video taping for Lisa Whelchel's Creative Correction series, which was being taped downtown. Rob and I had just moved to Nashville and, other than Angie, I did not know anyone. I had just left some of the best friends I had ever had in my life. Although we had wanted to move to Nashville, the wrenching, lonely feeling of being new was constantly with me.
Angie and I somehow managed to sit right in the front row pew of the church being used for the taping. During a break, a pretty, dark-haired brunette introduced herself to us. I am shy by nature. I have always admired others who could walk into a room and start a conversation with strangers. I am not one of those. I knew that there was something honest and sincere about this woman.
"Hi, I'm Holly. How are you tonight?" she asked with a smile on her face.
I don't remember a whole lot about our conversation. But I completely remember her friendliness. I could sense she was not just merely trying to fill dead space before the taping started again. She seemed genuinely interested and at ease. She laughed easily and often in the few minutes that we talked. I told her that we had just moved and that we were looking for a church. She immediately invited me to hers.
"Come and visit next Sunday. I would love to introduce you to some people," she said.
We parted ways after the next session. But I left the taping thinking with hope that maybe finding friends would not be that hard in Nashville, especially if everyone was as friendly as Holly.
My husband and I did decide to attend Holly's church the next Sunday. In April of that year, we joined the membership. Holly's sincere friendliness was a major part of the reason.
Always, in the back of my mind, I knew that I would become friends with Holly on a deeper level. But, as so often happens, Holly and I were in different life stages. She had just had her first son when we met. Mine were already in elementary school. We moved in different circles. The light in her eyes as she smiled always lifted my spirits as we passed in the hallways of church. One day, I thought, we will have the opportunity to really connect.
And then the Ruth Bible study began in September. I was thrilled that Holly was the leader. I could sense that something profound was going to happen in that group. The Lord Himself was clearly leading me there. Every week has been a joy. Every week, I have had confirmation that the genuineness I sensed in Holly during our initial introduction was the real deal. Her honesty and her desperation to know Jesus more has made Wednesdays a highlight of my week. I have looked forward to hearing her insights and have been able to feel safe sharing my thoughts in a way I haven't for a long time.
Yesterday, Holly asked us for three adjectives to describe our mood as we sat there. I came into study feeling as though I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. My adjectives were sad, desperate, and seeking. We discussed what we do when we are anxious. Some of us said we tuned out and some of us said we obsess with our worry. Then Holly dropped a bomb.
"November 30th will be our last Sunday here at the church. Rob [her husband and the current youth minister of our church] has accepted a senior pastor position in South Carolina," Holly said with tears.
I sat there stunned. Several women started crying. I couldn't, not yet.
We had just been discussing the fact that trusting God does not always mean not being sad in the process of trusting. My sweet sisters, this life is full of goodbyes and disappointments. There are some relationships that are beautiful and then God takes that person out of our lives, sometimes before we have fully understood all the reasons why we are crushed when he or she is gone.
Are you in the painful process of trusting through your sadness? Are you wrestling with God who seems to be unfair at this moment as you have to say goodbye to someone you are not ready to say goodbye to? I can get this crazy notion that I need to hide my emotions--especially from God Himself. I stuff them because I don't think His grace will be sufficient to get me through this painful time. And then I become angry, bitter, and ugly to others.
I forget that my Jesus had to say the most painful goodbye that I simply do not have the mind to grasp the depth of. Does He understand me in my loneliness? I can often think that the fact that He is God makes Him somehow above my human emotions. Yes, He was fully God, but He was also fully a human being. One of my favorite passages of all time is found in the
book of Hebrews 5:7-10:
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek."
Do we get what that is saying? Yes, Jesus was God's Son, equal to God the Father Himself in His diety. But the reason why Jesus is the source of my eternal salvation is because He suffered with loud cries and tears that He expressed to His Father while He was away from heaven. He was perfect in His Godness. But the suffering He endured on earth perfected His ability to become the One who truly understands my tears when I feel crushed with a loss I don't understand. Jesus cried...loudly! His example gives me the freedom to do the same. But Christ was always reverent and submissive to the Father while He cried. And there, my sweet sisters, is the key! We only find hopelessness and despair in tears that are cried without trusting in God's sovereignty. We find hope and joy, not necessarily happiness, through tears that are cried while still bowing our knee. We must trust through our tears.
I will be shedding tears over the next several weeks as I say goodbye to my dear friend, Holly. This move is good, a great opportunity for Rob and for them as a family. But it doesn't mean no crying or mourning over what is changing forever. One day, my sweet friend, there will be no more goodbyes for us who have bowed the knee in this lifetime to Christ. There will only be joyful reunions and all of eternity to enjoy them in. I am going to go have myself a good cry and be hopeful in the wait. Sweet Holly, I will miss you!
Jesus, thank You that Your suffering on earth allows You to truly understand my pain and tears! Help me to continue bowing my knee in submission through my grief.