I had to walk into a room and tell a young wife she was now a widow. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, to bring news changing someone’s life forever. She sobbed and sobbed. I wanted there to be words that would stop her pain, but there were none.
I stood beside a son who just got word his Dad didn’t make through surgery. The son couldn’t even cry; he just shook. I put my arm around him, trying to absorb some of his grief. I knew his dad had been his rock, his hero, and his guide. Now the son was on his own, alone, for the first time in his life.
I thought it would be another counseling appointment. Instead, the husband confessed to an affair. His wife buried her face in her hands. He hung his head and studied the tips of his shoes. How long do you let someone cry when they’ve just found out their best friend has betrayed them?
I sat with parents, trying to plan the funeral of their teen-age child. All that came out of their mouths were jumbled memories and anger at God. They were in a nightmare zone, where nothing seemed real and everything seemed too real.
Here’s what I’ve learned from thirty-five years as a pastor: No one gets a pass from the deep pain of life. No one. A moment when there are no words, a moment when everything you counted on disappears, a moment when your reality is forever changed comes to every person.
In that deep moment of pain, your soul is hard-wired to cry out. Your cry may be literal, or you may shift to a kind of soul autopilot. In my own moments of loss, I find myself living on two planes: a surface plane of saying and doing the “right” things; and a deeper plane, where a slow-motion earthquake is underway. It usually takes me years to understand everything shaken out of place by the earthquake.
Somewhere in the upheaval, our souls cry out to God, usually with the question, “Why? Why did you let this happen? Why didn’t you stop it, God? Why are you letting endure such pain?” I’ve heard people who declare there is no God ask the God they don’t believe in “Why?”
There is a strange and hard teaching in the Bible, played out again and again, especially in Psalms and in the book of Job. God welcomes your questions. He welcomes your anger. God wants you to pour the deep pain of your heart to him. What God does not, however, provide the answers you want. This is the strange and hard part. Job asks God “why” and God shows up, talks to him over four chapters, and never answers his question. David and other writers of the Psalms ask “why,” then declare they will put their hope in God, even though he doesn’t answer their question.
Jesus on the cross cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knew God’s plan. He told his disciples the answer to the “why” three times: “The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to be crucified and then raised on the third day.” Still his soul in the depths cried out “why.”
After all these years, and plenty of “whys” myself, I still see through the glass darkly. I don’t understand all the tragedy that happens or why it happens. I can tell you on a small scale I’ve experienced what Job did, what the writers of the Psalms did – moments from the deep. I cried out to God from my depths and poured out all my emotions to him. In that moment of vulnerability, of standing before God, telling him about my pain, I was real. Something about pain makes us drop pretense. We get real with ourselves and with God.
In the realness of those moments, something holy happens. God comforts me. The pain eases. I remember that my God loves me and holds me. I can’t diagram it. I can’t find the words for it. I can just tell you it happens. In the moments when there are no words, there is God. Being in his presence is enough.
There’s no way to avoid the deep pain. You either have faced it or you will. There is, however, a way to prepare. You can be on intimate terms with your Heavenly Father. He will hear your cry. He will hold your soul. He will bring the peace you need.