A few months after his son’s tragic death, my friend told me that people who had been close were now avoiding him and his family. He said it was as if people no longer wanted to be around them. I asked him why he thought the poor comforters were acting this way. His answer troubled me, for I knew it was the hard truth: “When people don’t feel they can fix a situation, they try to pretend it’s not there. They feel embarrassed.”
From a Distance,” the 1991 Grammy Song of the Year popularized by Bette Midler, describes what the world looks like from a distance: “From a distance the world looks blue and green . . . there is harmony . . . And no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease . . . We are instruments . . . playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.” The song ends with the lingering refrain: “God is watching us from a distance.”
Most people aren’t naturally wired to say they can die in peace. One has to experience something profound to mouth those words! But that’s precisely what Simeon said as he held baby Jesus in his arms. He said to God, “Let your servant die in peace” (Luke 2:29).
Our two young boys wanted a nativity set, so we got a small one to place in their room. One night my wife went to tuck them in bed, only to find that Liam (age 5) had posted little plastic soldiers to guard the nativity. “They’re making sure baby Jesus is safe,” he announced.
In December 2013, Australian worship leader Darlene Zschech went for a routine mammogram and was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the turmoil of raw emotions, specialist appointments, and the scans and surgery that followed, she instinctively reached for hope from God’s Word—the Psalms in particular. In January 2014 she Tweeted, “Psalm 91:1-16 in any version; God is so good to us all, cling to His Word and find hope that will never disappoint.”
When the temperature dipped to -27 degrees Celsius in my city, newscasters cautioned the public against going outside. An authority in a neighboring state declared, “In 10 minutes you could be dead without the proper clothes.” After hearing warnings such as these, my husband said what I was thinking: “I think I want to go outside . . . just to feel what it’s like.”
We often connect Lazarus' story in John 11:1-44 to the story found in Luke 10:38-42 that reveals the difference between how Mary and Martha responded to Jesus . . .
Mary is pictured as the one who sits at Jesus feet listening to what He has to say and Martha is pictured as the one who focuses on serving.
Lord, he was so young . . . married less than a year. My heart broke for the wife and extended family of the young man—grieving his loss as fellow mourners met with them. A familiar question came to mind: God, why him and not me? I had the same disease, and went through the same bone marrow transplant treatment. Why did he die and why is my cancer in remission? In that moment, God reminded me once again that He alone is sovereign.
Life can be difficult. At times, burdens, disappointments, and uncertainties can seem too difficult to bear. Poet Annie Johnson Flint poignantly captured the struggles of life in her poem “One Day at a Time”:
As the story goes, a man was hiking alone when he slipped and fell down a steep cliff. In desperation, he grabbed a tree limb and began shouting for help. Finally, he heard a booming voice answer, “Yes, I’m here.” The hiker was elated. “Who are you?” “It’s the Lord.” “Oh, thank you, Lord!” the hiker gasped. “What do you want me to do?” “Let go.” The terrified hiker couldn’t release the only security he thought he had, so finally he meekly asked, “Is there anyone else up there?” Life is tough. Circumstances often seem unfair, and there are times when we feel close to death. It’s usually in the midst of these moments of desperation that God urges us to “let go” of our feeble solutions and trust Him. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Paul shares an intimate account of the difficult time he had in Asia and of how he felt close to death. He also reminds his readers, however, that God is our source of comfort and that we can use our growth through trials to help others (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).
One of my favorite songs is the 1993 Grammy award-winning Tears in Heaven. It’s an intimate song that Eric Clapton wrote to help him heal from the loss and pain of the accidental death of his 4-year-old son. Rooted in tragedy and grief, Eric expresses the hope of seeing his son again. He wrote of a place beyond this world, a place beyond tears—heaven. This song has touched me deeply. Like Clapton, we face painful, heartbreaking moments in life—times that make us long for the day when we’ll cry no more.