I apologize in advance for the misleading title. This isn’t a cute post about caps and gowns.
I had a conversation this morning with a friend and, after a heart-wrenching talk, he said, “We’re not in Jesus pre-school anymore.” No, we certainly are not. Often, there are difficult things going on in the lives of believers, but this past week has been unusual. My life has the normal difficulties. My friends, however… not so much. This past week, I have heard my friends weep over a struggling marriage, physical assault and victimization, and false accusations of harassment. I have cried with them and for them.
In my mind, this is where the rubber meets the road as far as faith is concerned. We profess to believe a lot of things about God, ourselves and community. But here, when the road visible is only darkness, is where those beliefs are put to the test.
God’s Word constantly challenges my beliefs. It’s a very good and right thing, and I’m grateful for it. Lately, I’ve been wrestling with how to reconcile boundaries with my involvement in God’s community. Boundaries are a popular topic in our culture, particularly in our Christian culture, and for good reason. Good boundaries are beneficial and honor the Lord. However, I’m beginning to think that some people (myself included) use “boundaries” as an excuse for un-involvement and callousness.
When I think of the Israelite community and then of the early church, it is clear that isolation was never a part of God’s plan. Grief in particular, is something that we have made exceedingly private, when it wasn’t intended to be. It is no small wonder, though, that hurting people do not want to be honest about their grief when often they are chided for their feelings, or encouraged to “trust God” and move on. When my father died, I heard statements like, “At least…you got to do this, or he go to do that, blah blah blah blah blah.” Really?!? The reality is that we have no idea how to deal with hurting people, and we’re scared to admit that.
The Bible, though, tells us how to deal with it. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15, NASB) In light of that verse, many of our reactions to grief are totally inappropriate. (There may indeed be a time to kick a friend in the pants – with love – who has continued sorrow that is ungodly such as, self-pity. This is not what I’m addressing here.) What is most appropriate is to cry with the other person and be available to listen without immediately jumping to Romans 8:28.
I love this passage in Job:
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
We all know the rest of the story, and how these three jokers totally screwed it up after this, but for 7 days they were amazing friends. They were a real community.
I have to admit that after the first conversation, before I found out about everything else going on in my other friends’ lives, I was already crushed. I described it as “soul-crushing.” In hindsight, I can see ways in which I internalized too much of that person’s difficulties, which can sometimes be a struggle for me. However, realizing that prepared me for all the conversations to come. In those, I was able to honestly and authentically mourn with the person, without internalizing it too much.
This is how I’m currently thinking about these things: in Galatians 6, I’m instructed to carry the burdens of others. But in 1 Peter and other places, I’m instructed to let the Lord carry my burdens. So, the visual image that helps me know what to do is to take the burden off of my friend’s shoulders, but not to keep it – instead, I pass it along to Yeshua.
He can protect my heart when it needs to be protected, and He can enforce my boundaries when they need to be enforced. But there is nothing going on in my life that is more important than being there for a friend who has endured what my friend has endured. Nothing. I am still in the process of mourning what was lost in that friend’s life, and in the lives of others I hold dear to me.
No, this is definitely not Jesus pre-school.