My friend was hurting. And what could I say? “I love you, and I am so sorry.”
Of course she was broken-hearted, defeated. Of course she was mad at God. Certainly we know in our minds that he’s good, that often his goodness is beyond our understanding, but a crushed heart can choke that knowledge right out of a person. Because we also know that he’s unspeakably powerful, that nothing escapes his attention, that nothing happens without his permission. And that knowledge has some implications that we wrestle with, implications that start to overshadow what we know about his goodness: He could have shielded us, and he didn’t; he could have stopped the pain, but he didn’t.
Who could blame her for being mad? So I told her, “We will ask, we will scream—why? Why?! And we will beg God to give your pain purpose, to make it count for something.”
Somewhere along the line, we bought into the idea that faith was an adorable thing, a precious thing, something to write in swoopy letters and frame above the mantle. But there’s nothing adorable about it. Faith isn't pink and floral, it’s a fight, and it’s a gory one at that.
Seeing her wounded heart broke mine. Seeing how she was hurting hurt me, too. The stench of blood surrounded us, and she said words that smelled like surrender: “If God loved me, he wouldn’t allow this.”
And so I decided to do what people do for battle-weary friends.
A story of battle and weariness: In Exodus, Joshua led the Israelites in battle as Moses looked on from the top of a hill with God’s staff in his grasp. As long as Moses raised his arms, the Israelites would gain ground, but if his arms began to drop, they would lose.
What a weight to carry. Of course Moses was weary. Because who can carry the weight of battle alone?
“When Moses’ hands grew tired…Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.” Exodus 17:12-13
They came alongside Moses and they held up his arms when he was too weak. Together they carried the weight of battle until at last they were victorious.
And so I told her, “We will hold up your arms.
Though the day is long, we will hold up your arms.
Though the ache runs deep, we will hold up your arms.
Though weariness threatens to win, though you may breathe words of retreat, until the sun sets and you can finally rest victorious, we will hold up your arms.”
This is what we do for our friends, when they are weary and their arms start to shake. We hold up their arms and steady them to victory, all the while knowing someday it’ll be our arms that shake, that faith crises do not discriminate, that none of us can be strong all the time.
As the inevitable battles wage, we will borrow one another’s strength. We will whisper to one another reminders of truth:
We will remind one another of David: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle” Psalm 56:8. Remind me of pain that was great but of a God who was greater! A God who does not turn away from our tears but redeems them.
We will remind one another of Job: “Though you slay me, yet I will praise you” Job 13:15. I will remind you of his story of overwhelming tragedy, of darkest fear become reality, but a story that at its core is a love story, a declaration of faithfulness: “I will love you no matter what.” A God who is truly worthy of love and worship and awe, no matter what. No matter what.
But most of all we must remind one another of Jesus: A man acquainted with sorrow, who knows what its like to hurt. A man who could have spared himself from pain, but instead willingly endured it for our sake, for our redemption. Pain allowed by God not because he is evil but because he is good. Mysteriously good. Profoundly good, and yet he has promised more: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” Revelation 21:3-4.
One day it won’t hurt anymore. But today, while the battle still wages, the Lord will be our banner, and we will hold you, my dear friend. We will hold up your arms.
For Sarah and Caroline