I remember the day I witnessed the deepest suffering I can imagine.
I was in high school. I was in the home of some family friends who we had become particularly close with over recent months. The parents in this family were close with my grandmother and they are some of the most genuinely kind people you can imagine. They are so selfless and loving.
A few days before, we had heard that their adult daughter had gone missing. On this night, they heard the worst news – those words that no parent should ever have to bear to hear. They had lost their daughter. It had happened in some heartbreaking and terribly unjust circumstances. I still remember the mother’s wailing and I’ll likely never forget the feeling I had sitting there that night.
There was extreme struggle that night that continues to today, but do you want to know something beautiful? I saw them again at my grandmother’s funeral not long ago for the first time in years. Do you know what I noticed? Joy in their eyes at the memory of my grandmother and the memories they shared. Love as they shared their condolences with us in our pain. Healing from their loss many years ago that allows them to show up for others and encourage them when they have experienced their own loss.
I love them for that. They have demonstrated a principle that I find in Paul’s writings and not the least of which displayed in Philippians 4:12-13 where he tells the church, “I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This letter was written in prison in Rome. Paul would have been struggling from being isolated from his community and at the loss of mission that kept him forging forward for his entire ministry of bringing the Gospel to the nations.
One day, he would have looked up to find Epaphroditus, a friend from the church in Philippi, not only bringing the beautiful gift of his presence, but also bringing a financial gift to help in Paul’s difficult circumstances. They had not forgotten him. In his ‘thank you’ to his friends for their faithfulness, he mentions that he was content without the money, as he has been throughout his life, no matter how little or how much he had. But he was thrilled that their faithfulness would bring blessing to them from God (Philippians 4:17).
Yes, financial strain is hard, but what about my family friends who had experienced such loss? Surely that is a completely different set of circumstances, right? Faithfulness to God’s mission wouldn’t bring blessing through that kind of hardship…
In that case, we should always remember Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica when he called them to comfort one another with the hope that all who had received Christ’s sacrifice to purchase their souls and lost their lives would be with Him, as well as their family members who continued on the earth, in heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The Thessalonians would see their family members again as they joined Jesus for an eternity together. Our family friends would see their murdered daughter again – one of the secondary benefits of following a God whose Son would be murdered to purchase their salvation and reconcile them to their Creator (the primary benefit). This is the hope that heals even the most broken-hearted. I’ve seen it.
So, we remember that when we’re in abundance of all sorts, God meets us there in the blessings. We also remember that when we’re experiencing all variety of suffering, we can do all things through the power of Jesus Christ who will never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), even in the depths of the pain and despair that we might encounter. We walk with Paul and have learned how to worship through gritted teeth, despite the pain, because we find relief in Him.
If you’re one of the many who are dealing with struggles these days, you’re not alone. There isn’t a tremendous amount of hope in the world that will get us anywhere long-lasting. But I can tell you one thing I know for certain and have experienced myself – Paul found the only inexhaustible hope. Though he had been through far more difficult things than I can ever imagine, he found that God was fueling him with what he needed to go on. If you need hope, Jesus is where we find it. As your pain is confronted by His presence, allow even your heaviest burdens in these moments in time to be washed away into the assurance of eternity. He’s with you and one day, He will wipe away every tear as we celebrate that death is put to death forever.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff