It wasn’t that long ago that I felt everything in my life was pretty stable. Then I reached out in a single amazing moment to move to China for my dream job: photographing for an orphanage and advocating for orphans. The Holy Spirit led me to just the right place for little old me. And then life got crazy crazy crazy busy in an instant. As I did last time I traveled to China, I asked God to prepare me for serving Him in another land, to break my heart for what broke His, and to prepare my heart for new China children.
Instead of a slow awakening like I expected, everything broke. Instantly.
The Breaking of a Heart
Physically, I was stressed out of my mind on all I had to get done in just 4 months. I struggled with eating enough and getting away from work to regain some peace. Spiritually, I just kept praying that God would show me Himself as I literally ran towards China. Mentally? I’m laughing just thinking about it. And Emotionally? I’ve only continued to break, in more ways than even I thought could happen. God has softened my heart to the point of it bleeding for children I have yet to meet, and He has broken down walls I didn’t even know existed. It’s been humbling, and very obvious to those around me. I finally realized this is what I asked Him to do in breaking my heart and that has meant embracing that appearance of “weakness” instead of pretending I’m that strong wanderlust woman that hops on a plane and never stresses or cries or breaks.
At the beginning of December, I felt like my friends and I were limping into this Christmas. Along with my heart softening for China, I was mourning the extreme darkness that befalls so much of our world, a world aching without knowing Jesus. I was grieving the heavy injustices we have seen this year in America and across the globe. Weeping for the least of these and the lost and forgotten. Desperate for every orphan to be home. Desiring justice for so many torn apart families and broken hearted marriages. Dear friends suffering the loss of their children through miscarriages or sudden death, family members to suicides, car accidents, cancer, and the loss of building more memories together. Hard anniversaries. Parents declining. Depression kicking in. Dreams crushed. Need I go on? Our entire world aches with longing for relief.
And then on December 14th, R.C. Sproul, our beloved teacher, esteemed pastor, loving friend to so many and grandfather to my friends, died. It seemed impossible that we would outlast him, but in just 11 days after becoming sick, he went to live with the Savior He preached about his whole life and longed to see with his whole soul.
Any possible shred of emotional stability has been torn to pieces. Like the violent ripping of a rug from underneath our feet, my dear St. Andrews Chapel family has been deeply grieving, and I’ve been grieving along with them. Now not only limping into Christmas, we’re stumbling into this weekend with hearts so broken we don’t know how to live in the “holly jolly white wonderland we wish you a Merry Christmas spirit”. It’s foreign to us. Instead our texts are filled with tears and how much we just want to curl up and cry.
The Better Honor of Mourning
Here’s the honest truth. People who have all their crap together and all their Christmas gifts bought are not the people I’ve spent the last week crying with. Mourning with and supporting my friends was the better honor but I felt like a terrible family member for still not having my gifts together. Just thinking about it makes me cry. I am so so so tired.
I spent most of last week driving back and forth from being with “my people” while we mourned together, worked together, walked together, laughed together, prayed together, stood in silence together, and cried together. It’s been exhausting, and it’s been worth it.
I am of the fierce conviction that when Christ calls us to live like a Christian in Romans 12, it is not a mistake that “weep with those who weep” comes just a few short sentences after “cling to what is good”, “loving one another”, “rejoicing in hope”, “continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:9, 12, 13, 15).
Mourning, is a gift. Weeping in sorrow is a gift. Joining as a church to grieve is a gift.
We are not broken for nothing. We have been broken in love, and we are beautiful in it.
Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus knowing He would raise him to life again and yet He wept deeply. He groaned with deep agony. Those standing nearby said “See how He loved him!” (John 11). His tears were not shed in unbelief and they were not hopeless but neither were they not sad. Jesus was weeping in sadness, and so we can also weep without shame. Mourning is a testament to loving deeply, and oh, have we loved deeply.
So on that note, I want to offer three things I’ve been thinking upon this advent season:
1. Don’t Try to Fix Your Grief
I was washing sand off my feet today after a beach walk with my dear family, when all this hit me and how important it was. My friends who are grieving so deeply, we’re all just trying to make it to Christmas and the New Year, and I’m not even kidding. I get in my car and I cry all the way to my destination, wipe my mascara, get out and see my people, cry, get back in the car and cry all the way home. Everything hurts, everything is broken. Every day is a struggle. We can’t stop crying. We laugh about how much we’re crying. Last night I spilled cooked potato on my lap and burst into tears. I hear a line in a Christmas hymn and burst into tears. I looked at a Diet Coke and tears welled up. We’ve sobbed for weeks. Last night I thought I’d almost made it….but no, the tears came afresh.
We tag each other in “barely making it” memes and laugh together and it’s a really GOOD thing. We’re in this together and rarely have I more felt the “worldwide church” band together to grieve than this past week. Grieving is so lonely, but we aren’t alone. We’re praying for the Sprouls and all the hidden needs among us that a few know but many don’t. And not once have we told each other that something small that is hurting us “doesn’t matter”. We’ve sat in the hurt and in the grief and we haven’t tried to fix it.
And honestly I’m wondering why we do grief so wrong so often when it looks so God-honoring when we do it right.
Why do we expect each other to stop weeping after a few weeks instead of continually seeking an intimate presence of a Jesus-like heart for the pain in this world? Jesus wept KNOWING what we could never imagine would happen. For who would expect the dead to rise? Jesus, Who would One Day make all things new and knew He would reign over all injustice was standing outside the grave of His friend, feeling the agony of death and His response was to burst into tears. He sobbed. He felt great pain. He wept openly.
Don’t try to fix your grief this Christmas. You are like your Savior in your mourning. Believe in the hope of the resurrection promised, believe that Jesus will crush death, and weep in your sadness, for in it, you are like your Savior. He calls you to come to Him with your tears. He does not chastise us for weeping them; He reminds us He sees us and knows our pain. Jesus came to taste our sadness, and to bear our every pain and grief.
“Jesus wept not because He lacked faith, but because He was full of love. In love, He weeps with those who weep…Jesus wept. And in these tears we see that God does not stand aloof to the pains of our existence. He has drawn near. He has taken our flesh and blood. He has not called us to a humanity that He himself was unwilling to take. We have not been abandoned to a world into which He was unwilling to enter. We suffer no pain He was unwilling to bear. We have no grief He was unwilling to carry.
The very heart of the Christian message is that the happy God so loved our weeping world that He gave His own Son to weep with us, all the way to the place of utter forsakenness, that whosoever believes in Him will not weep forever, but have everlasting joy.
And one day, when He wipes away our every tear, it is not because He is suppressing our sadness. The One Who wipes away our tears has shed His own. And He has triumphed.
This is our gospel in two words: Jesus wept.” – David Mathis
“A Jesus who never wept could never wipe away my tears.” – C.H. Spurgeon
But Jesus did weep. And in his humanity, He came to bear what we could not. Indeed, Jesus has been carrying our sadness all our lives. He can bear every sadness we’ve ever known or will ever know. He was born to taste our sadness, and He was born to defeat and triumph over all that breaks us in our world. He came so that when Isaiah says “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”, we would know that it was true because Jesus felt our deepest human pain more than we could imagine.
2. Don’t Lose Sight of Jesus
Lately I’ve been praying that we would see the beauty of Jesus in the darkness. It’s 3 days until Christmas and in all the pain and exhaustion I keep thinking that this is the same world Jesus was born into. A war zone. Injustice. Slavery. Broken families. Children dying. Tyrants for kings. It comforts me that this doesn’t shock God, and it makes me cry to remember that the Jesus we sing about in Christmas hymns didn’t come to make this dark world beautiful. He came to defeat Satan’s temporary hold and bring us an eternal holy life that could not be broken by sin ever again. He came to be our light and peace.
“O Come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave.”
The baby cry that rang out that one dark night broke generations of silence. He would grow up to tell us that our sadness will not last and He would triumph over it by His death and resurrection. That one dark night when angels filled the skies because the King had a heavenly choir exulting over His arrival and wonder in what He would do. That one dark night that changed our darkness forever with the long-expected and awaited Light of the World.
“the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)
That one dark night would bring another dark day with a cross, long agonizing nights of weeping, then would be broken by a brilliant earth-splitting morning. We are led in our valleys of darkness by the One Who promises to never leave us or forsake us. The darkness is not darkness to Him, and His sovereign hand will not let us go.
“Even there (in the depths of the sea), Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” – Psalm 139:10-12
I know He will never allow His light within me to go out, for darkness cannot stay where Jesus is. “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46) We may be in darkness now, but He is our Light in it.
Don’t lose sight of Jesus. Look to the promised morning. He is coming back for us.
3. Don’t lose sight of Who You were called to proclaim
Christmas can be lonely. In a world where everyone seems to have their lives together, it feels alienating that ours feel so broken and like they are constantly falling apart. Embrace it. BE in it. And preach the Gospel. Our world doesn’t need one more “Everything is Awesome” Insta-grammer who looks like a model 24/7. Our world needs more people weeping in church pews for the littlest lovely thing that reminds us of Jesus. Our world needs more grieving people walking to the graveside and proclaiming the coming morning of resurrection. Our world needs more aching souls seeing the injustice of the world and calling out what would have enraged our Lord of Compassion and Justice. Our world needs to see that we can sit in the sadness of hurt, the darkness of depression, the longing for healing from chronic illnesses, the grief over sin, and not be okay with it.
We were not born to save ourselves. It’s a good thing because we aren’t any good at it.
We need a Savior, and we need one badly. To portray ourselves as all-sufficient is a sin and an injustice to a world who can and never will “make it”. We are barely making it.
So let go of it. Instead preach the saving work and all-sufficiency of Jesus to a dying world.
We are broken vessels that God uses to shine His light through, and I believe that when God uses that metaphor it isn’t meant for us to try to glue ourselves together with the “self-help hope that tomorrow will be better”, but to look to a healing that will not come from within ourselves. We need Jesus. Must we believe it is bad to be so very broken?
How else would we preach the need of Jesus to a broken world? How else would we ever see our great need? We are not “less” in our suffering, indeed the Bible reminds us that we are “blessed” in it, and that God intends to use our “weakness” to proclaim His glory.
I have been broken by God’s hand and it is a beautiful thing in His sight. I will rest in it.
I am coming weeping into the last days of Advent. I am proclaiming the joy of the Christ child coming one dark night and anticipating the most glorious Heavenly morning because of it. The weight of sadness is heavy and so every joyful proclamation of all that Jesus will do causes me to yearn in my brokenness and to weep with wonder and expectation. Emmanuel, God with us. Born that man no more may die. Our Joy secure.
“Because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven,
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)