For they shall be comforted.
It is a lonely feeling, standing apart as a solitary figure entombed in the dismal shroud of anguish. No one around you can understand how you feel, why the pain is still so bad. At times, they grow impatient with the sorrow that surrounds you. Even though they may be too polite to say what is on their mind, their actions seem to say, “Why can’t you just get over it and move on?” or “What you need to do is put it all behind you.”
Get over it. I wish I knew how. Maybe it is not that we are to get over it, or even put it behind us. Maybe it is how we rise above it that matters; to feel the loss and accept the pain, incorporating it into our lives so completely that it becomes a part of us from which we draw strength. Can our own suffering really strengthen us? Is it possible to rise above the pain to something greater? Though I feel alone, am I really alone in my sorrow?
“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and His ears are open to their cry.”
~ Psalm 34:15
The Lord hears our cry and lifts us out of our afflictions. He did not promise that there would be no troubles, that there would be no broken hearts. In fact, He promised just the opposite. John 16:33 says that in this world we will have tribulation. It is a promise. However we are not to despair, but be encouraged, for Christ reminds us that He has overcome the world. There is nothing too difficult for Him; even death cannot stand against His mighty power. So be emboldened and have peace within the midst of suffering.
In this world, we will have pain and sorrow. We are not called to live a happy, carefree life. We are charged to participate in His sacrifice. Jesus summons us to “take up the cross” and follow Him. (Mark 10:21)
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ,
not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.
~ Philippians 1:29
We are to forget those things which are behind, for who can put their hand to the plow while looking over their shoulder? (Luke 9:62) We cannot spend our lives dwelling on past hurts. If we do, our furrows will be crooked. We are all called to suffer in this world. We cannot constantly look back with regret as we count the cost. To be effective, we must trod ever forward. One could say that to follow Christ is to give everything or nothing. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23) He did not say lay down your burden and follow me unhindered by the trials of life. He said, “take up your cross and follow me.” Our cross we must carry.
I am determined to struggle through to the other side. Many have offered me advice on how to deal with my grief and the trauma of September 11. I am often told that I have to let it go. I realize people just want to help me. It is uncomfortable for them to see me struggle, but I must go through the process. I cannot just skip over the elements of grief and be done. I have to wade through the muck and mire of it until I get to the other side. No one can fix it. No pill can relieve it. But I am not alone. I have a Savior who wades in with me and holds my hand. He does not build a bridge over the pain to free us of our suffering, for what do we gain in that. But He enters the struggle with us, supports us, and guides us to the far shore.
Edwin Hubbell Chapin wrote that “out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars; martyrs have put on their coronation robes glittering with fire, and through their tears have the sorrowful first seen the gates of Heaven.”
I have shed many tears; God has kept a record of them. He did not let my tears fall to the ground to be forgotten. The Lord has collected them and placed them in a bottle, to preserve them as a memorial to my sorrow, a lachrymatory of my grief. He keeps them close, for each tear is precious to Him. He will never forget that they were shed.
It is not wrong to weep, to pour out our sorrow in tears. The psalmist David cried. Jesus wept. (John 11:35) Christ mourned for the loss of His good friend. He wept for the grief Mary and Martha felt for their dead brother. Jesus wept, even though He knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. This is not a God who has no compassion, who passes judgment on creation without mercy. This is a God who weeps for our sorrows.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the story does not end with the furnace. But I think the key is in the word through, for we do go through, we do not stay in the furnace. There is an end to our trouble if we stand firm. The fire had no power. For even as the three young men stood within the flames of the furnace, they were not alone, but a fourth stood beside them. They were delivered from the fire, their clothes were not singed, and there was not even the smell of smoke upon them. We are not alone. The Lord is not a God who hovers on the outside. He steps into the furnace with us. And so I say “even so” I will serve the Lord.
How beautiful it is to behold the torn veil, for we have direct access to the Father. Nothing or no one can deny us admittance before God. As we walk through the Holy of Holies, the Shekinah, the glorious presence of God, shines out upon us. The warmth of His proximity radiates upon my face. As His rays of power and light reach out to me in dark places, I hear Him say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So what then can man do to me? For the keeper of my soul watches me. Though God’s protection is not always for our bodies, it is a constant for our souls. And in the end, it is our final home that is most important. This mortal coil which we cling to so ardently is not what it is all about. This world is not my home. I am just passing through on my journey home. In 1 Peter 2:11, the apostle calls us sojourners and pilgrims, strangers in the world, passing on to our eternal home, seeking a heavenly country. “You sojourn in the body; you are pilgrims in this world.” This land we seek is a better country, where the Father’s house is located, “for our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) While we journey, we face many hardships upon the road. Thieves wait to ambush us, the weather of this world becomes harsh, and so as we travel we grow weary. But looking to the goal, we must endure if we desire to reach our homeland, a land where we will never have to labor again, and we will have rest from our journey.
For all that is in the world, all the evil that men do, all the selfish pride inflicted upon the innocent, is not of the Lord, but is of this world. Yet, do not be discouraged, the world is passing away, and the evil it holds will cease to be. But those who love the Lord and do the will of the Father will abide with Him forever. (1 John 2:16–17)
We look to meaning in the world of flesh, but God looks to the spirit. Our healing is spiritual. At times, it is our body that God heals, but His big concern is for our soul. For what profit is there if we save our earthly body and lose our very soul? For what then can be exchanged for our soul? (Matthew 16:26) Our concern is now and our present discomfort. God’s concern is for eternity. We want happiness and peace now. God wants us to share in His glory for evermore. The fires of life purify us. We are tempered in the flames of adversity.
Yet, who can know the mind of God? Man has no understanding of the purposes of God, striving always with His Power, being at variance with His Will instead of loving Him and allowing Him to guide them. God created man with free will, but this gift comes with a price. Man often uses his free will to choose evil. As long as we live upon this earth, the free will of man will touch our lives for good or for ill.
The Spirit moves, God does not leave us alone. Our heart stirs, but we do not understand. As Jacob did, so we too wrestle with God and our hip is put out of joint. (Genesis 32:22–32) If everything that happened to us were good, what example would we be to a suffering world? How could we relate to the common man? We all share in the sorrow of this world, of the products of Free Will. We should stand out as a beacon of hope, for we do have a Hope. Though all our plans fail and all our hopes fade, we can place our trust in Christ, for the Hope He brings us is a different kind of hope. It is a Hope based on the goodness and truth of God that does not disappoint. The flame of power we receive through the love of God is quickened in the heart by the infusing of the Holy Spirit that enlightens the soul with the peace that comes from our Hope in the Lord. (Romans 5:5) What seems to us to make no sense may one day appear as clear as glass, as we look past the trial toward the goal. There is still so much I cannot see, yet still I hold on and trust to Hope.
Sometimes the path is difficult, and we grow weary and we wish we did not have to face what lies ahead. No one can know our hurts and our sorrows. Yet the Lord knows, for He has walked this path before us. All we must do is follow Him. Though that path may be slick and we may stumble, the Lord has gone before us and marked the way.
There is a comfort even in tragedy if one walks according to God’s will. “For the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23), therefore each step taken must pass before the sanction of God. With the Lord’s ultimate control, the fabric of His plan is woven, each of His children being a single thread. It is a strange comfort to know that nothing can befall you without God’s approval. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) This is not to say that all things are good, but that they work to the good of our future, to fulfill the ultimate good of God’s plan, a plan of redemption for humanity.
It is easy to accept the good that God gives us, but can we accept the bad? When we become a Christian, we are to surrender our will to the Will of God. We are to be “living sacrifices.” (Romans 12:1) So then, are we willing to allow God to do with us what He will, knowing that this may mean being led down a difficult path? Can we say as Jesus did, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) But we do have an assurance that all things will work together for good, we just may not always see that good for a time. Ultimately though, to be in God’s will is the best place to be. Remember, wherever we go, whatever we do, God is with us.
Life is for the living, so we move on. For joy comes in the morning. When the night of sorrow ends, we find joy. It is okay to have joy again. That does not mean the grief is gone. A part of me will always be back there grieving. A part of me died that day. But healing does take place. Years have passed, and though I look with hope to the future, I occasionally lapse back into the pit of despair. Then I seek my Savior. He is always there waiting to pull me out again. He is my Tower of Strength.
To learn more about my experience with September 11, 2001, read my book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or your area retailers.
Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down (a 9/11 story) – signed copies on SALE for only $5.00 for the month of September in honor of the victims of September 11, 2001. This special is only available through the Van Martins’ webpage: www.vanmartins.com