I was never a cheerleader in high school. But today, I love to encourage people. My highest calling is to comfort and minister to the people God places in my path. But this week, that road was a crowded one. The numbered tragedy to which I stood witness included sudden death, divorce, chronic illness, job loss and abuse. I admit; I was overwhelmed ... turns out I needed some encouragement!
It is often a risk to share with others the promise of God's radical and unfailing love. Especially when they've endured horror, injustice, consecutive losses or chronic pain. Sometimes those answers can seem pat to those for whom the good news has not yet resonated. Finding the right words - even in the context of my rock-solid faith in God's sovereignty - sometimes proves a daunting task.
A wise friend once told me it's impossible to fill anyone else's pitcher unless you stop to fill your own. So I connected with my home church's Intern Pastor, Ladd Sonnenberg. He reminded me that what precedes healing, growth and spiritual maturity is very often suffering. The most transformative moments in life follow the most harrowing ones, if we allow our character to be molded instead of deflated.
"The story of Lazarus is interesting, because it tells us something about how God works, and how we work. Mary and Martha were angry with Jesus for staying away as Lazarus lay dying (John 11: 4). But Jesus had other plans they couldn't even comprehend," Sonnenberg said.
"Often we believe death/job loss/divorce/etc., are signs of God's inability to care about and provide for His people. We believe it is a sign of His limitedness - when in reality, our limited perspective keeps us from seeking how God is at work even in hard times," he added.
While Lazarus, and subsequently Jesus, were each physically restored from the grave, we can interpret the message of their resurrection to apply to more than the death of our bodies. Embracing God's covenant to sustain us during the storms (Psalm 23) creates fertile ground for revival, because "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25 & 26). It is through the lens of faith that we reside in hope: "But we will never see this if we stop looking for God to act when something doesn't go our way. Maybe instead of asking God, ‘Why have you allowed this to happen?' We might instead consider, ‘What are you up to?'" Sonnenberg said.
Admittedly, I'm saddened by the strife so prevalent at this moment in history ... in my family, my neighborhood and across the globe. Life has always been painful and cruel; but then, isn't that part of our brokenness? God's plans for us are good ones (Jeremiah 29:11). But like our own children, we can provide direction, yet their choices might not reflect our will. Still, there is a purpose to pain, if we can stay steeped in His restorative grace and surround ourselves in the community of people of faith. After all, God did not spare even His own Son from misery and death. Jesus endured the agony of persecution so He could reside among us, modeling God's power, mercy and healing. And in His resurrection, we are inspired to forge our own.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Diane Meehl worships, serves and enjoys fellowship at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.