One rainy autumn day, my son’s vehicle left the road, went airborne at 70 mph (112 km), and found a lone tree beyond a drainage ditch. For the next hour, rescue workers toiled to pry him from his shredded car. By God’s grace, he survived.
“Pastor, the results came out positive. My wife has breast cancer.” When a congregation member broke this news to me one Sunday morning, I was speechless. What could I possibly say to comfort my friend in light of this bitter news? After a moment of silence, I quickly remembered the words that most comforted me when my own wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. And so with a level voice, I replied, “I want you to know that I’m here for both of you, no matter what.” He wore the same expression of gratitude that I had worn years before when a friend encouraged me with those identical words.
Tricia Mingerink’s young adult Christian fantasy series The Blades of Acktar contains a scene where the protagonist is forced to watch friends and family martyred for their faith. A fearful person, she was struck by the peace with which each martyr faced death. In a moment of clarity, she realized that these believers were not bound by their immediate circumstances. The fear borne out of her exclusive focus on the present melted away as she embraced a perspective of eternity in God’s presence.
In 2013 Dr. Ad Vingerhoets, a social and behavioral scientist from the Netherlands, wrote a book called Why Only Humans Weep. He’s one of only a few scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying why people cry. Vingerhoets states that “tears are of extreme relevance for human nature. We cry because we need other people.”
At the outset of World War II, a man—who would eventually rescue 669 children from Nazi slaughter—helped two Jewish boys secure passage on a train escaping Czechoslovakia. After the war, the boys received a final letter from their parents who had died in a concentration camp.
People often blame God for their suffering. In 2016, one plaintiff even filed a legal request for a restraining order against his Creator. The man, who actually appeared in court for the case, told the judge that over the past three years, God “had been very negative towards him” (no specifics were recorded).
Most people and animals escaped the flames of a fire that destroyed the Canadian town of Fort McMurray. A black cat named Tux, however, was left behind. Firefighters eventually found the feline, unharmed, inside an overturned stove. The firefighters suggested that an explosion must have blown an opening in the appliance, allowing Tux to jump inside. This safe place allowed him to survive the blaze.
A chrysalis was hanging from a branch. Inside, a butterfly seemed to be struggling. Curious to witness its emergence, an observer waited. Time passed, however, and the insect was still trapped in its self-made prison. So the person made a small tear in the chrysalis—hoping to relieve the butterfly’s struggle and suffering. It soon died, for the struggle to be free is essential to making a butterfly strong enough to survive. Without adversity, it won’t achieve maturity.
I do not enjoy being at a loss for words. I feel helpless when I can’t offer comfort to someone who’s hurting. Facing unexpected circumstances with a loved one is difficult enough, but sometimes we feel powerless in not being able to answer their question, “Why?” In our desperation, we rifle through our thoughts in an attempt to at least ease their pain. But those who’ve been through deep waters of trial can attest that the silence of a friend is more golden than misspoken words, especially when the attempt to form answers only produces more pain.
The woman and her daughter approached me after I had spoken on the way God can transform pain into something good. The daughter, Kate, was too distraught to talk, so her mother spoke for her.
A wise man once said, “Conflict is never about what’s happening on the surface—there’s always much more at stake.” Chances are that Job would have agreed with that statement. He found himself thrust suddenly and forcefully into heartbreak of catastrophic proportions. His livestock, fields, servants, and children were all destroyed in one day.
Since the early days of human existence it’s been a constant foe. Recently it came calling in a friend’s life as she lamented her children not walking with Jesus. Another friend bemoaned the death of what had been a loving marriage. A family member looked at me with teary eyes, trying to form words that couldn’t come due to dementia. Another family member, deep in the throes of grief because of her father’s death, said softly, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
I recently watched a viral video in which men were voluntarily subjected to pain similar to what women experience in childbirth. The men began the experiment in good spirits, joking around as electrodes were attached to their abdomens. But as the pain began and eventually increased, they started to grimace and wince in pain—eventually screaming and clutching each other’s hands for emotional support. As I watched the video, I thought about my own wife—the mother of our five kids—and couldn’t help but wonder: How do women endure that kind of suffering?
Their faces are wrung with anguish. Bloodied survivors of a terrorist attack stumble out of their Kenyan campus. German families grimly gather at a crash site in the French Alps. Nepalese parents dig through rubble, desperately calling the name of their lost child. As long as we live in a fallen world, humans will have moments when it seems we can’t go on.
Amy Bleuel tried to end her life after years of mistreatment and heartbreak. She was 6 when her parents divorced and her stepmother began abusing her. At 13, she was sexually assaulted and blamed for the crime. At 18, her father committed suicide. Addiction and more personal trauma followed. Yet Amy’s faith in Jesus enabled her to survive. In time, she founded a support group for people with similar struggles—The Semicolon Project. Its message is simple, but powerful: “A semicolon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the semicolon is your life.”