October 9th, 2005, I can recall that Sunday morning like it occurred this past week. I was sleeping in my bed when my dad came in and woke me. “What town does Elizabeth live in?”, he asked. I responded to the question in a confused tone of voice and went back to sleep. Some time passed. Later, he came back to my room, woke me, and asked me to come into the family room. I got out of bed, my blanket wrapped around me. Then dad asked me to sit down. I knew something wasn’t right. He said, “We saw on the news there was a car accident last night where a girl died. We saw the name Elizabeth and thought it was your friend. We called the pastor and he said it was.” I sat quietly in shock. “Dad, can you take me to church early?” I asked.
After getting ready we climbed in the car and drove to church. I arrived during Sunday school. We met in the art room that morning. When I came in a friend greeted me with a hug. My classmates gathered around tables. The room felt heavy. Devastated looks covered faces. A youth leader handed me a piece of paper with song lyrics on it. They read, “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering though there’s pain in the offering blessed be your name. You give and take away my heart will choose to say blessed be your name.”
Will it? Will my heart choose to say that? Thoughts flooded my mind. My good friend just died and you are giving me song lyrics about praising God? God is the one who let this happen. He could have stopped the car accident and he didn’t. He doesn’t care.
How about you?
Does this sound familiar? “He could have stopped ______ and he didn’t. He doesn’t care.” I know this sounds familiar because I know we live in a broken world where broken things happen. I know you have felt overcome by some circumstance. I know your reality has shattered at one time or another. Brokenness exists and impacts us all. In the moment everything began to unravel did your heart choose to bless the name of God? I doubt it.
No one will argue with you if you say bad things happen. The age old question goes, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”. Although I have contemplated this question for years, we can’t really know, is the best answer I have. Not much comfort in that, I know. I’m not here to give you answers. I’m here to engage in real talk. The world is full of enough simple answers and platitudes.
Fall has come again. I love fall and the crisp, cool air it brings. I love bonfires and other outdoor fall activities. More than anything else I love the trees. The colors take my breath away. I love seeing the leaves in the trees and I love when they blanket the ground. Trees, especially in the fall, communicate with me on a spiritual level.
In the fall leaves slowly drift down to the ground. Though it appears the leaves are dying and falling off this isn’t necessarily true. Trees actually push off their leaves. The tree releases hormones signaling to the tree that the leaves need to go. Next, the tree creates a line of cells right where the leaves meet the branch. Finally, the tree releases them. The leaves have to go because they would cause the tree to lose too much water in the winter months and the tree would not be able to survive. The tree sheds its leaves to preserve life.
We need to learn from the trees. Often times when confronted with brokenness we experience pain, fear, and shame. Our tendency is to hold on to these things in tightly closed fists. If someone sees my pain, fear or shame what will they think of me? We hide these things from others because they seem unpresentable. When we hide them though we become disconnected from others because we are hiding away parts of our soul. We are not living whole heartedly. We put on a fake happy face when on the inside we are riddled with fear.
Like the trees we need to find life through surrender. We need to surrender our pain, fear, and shame by opening up our hands. We need to shed these things to preserve our lives. Here is the thing guys, when our hands are empty they are open and ready to receive. In the next season, spring, we will burst forth with life. When we open up our hands we will receive peace, joy, and freedom. We need to find freedom in surrender.
I believe we can find beauty in any situation. Isaiah 61 talks about some exchanges Jesus wants to make. I believe these exchanges come when we open our hands in surrender. The verses say when we let of ashes he will give us beauty and when we let go of mourning he will give us joy. Beauty is found in the surrendering of ashes, joy in the surrendering of mourning. Jesus takes them. He doesn’t make them disappear- they still exist- but he holds them for us. He supports us in our pain. Jesus remains with us to help us in our times of suffering.
Jesus says, “in this world there will be trouble”. He acknowledges our pain and suffering. He lived as a human and experienced the things we experience. Jesus knows from personal experience that brokenness profoundly impacts life. He also says, “But take heart I have overcome the world”. In his resurrection he overcame brokenness so we would not be overcome. He took our fear, pain and shame. He took them with him to his grave and exchanged them for beauty and joy.
A New Song
Years passed before I was able to sing the lyrics “You give and take away blessed be your name”. It was a long, slow, painful process. I wasn’t able to sing it because I suddenly believed in the goodness of God. Platitudes did not sway me from my doubt. I was able to sing the song again because he exchanged my mourning for joy and my ashes for beauty. He did this just by being present with me and holding my pain.
God gave me a new song to proclaim my belief in his goodness. The lyrics of “King of My Heart” have a lot of life on them. “Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails, the anchor in the waves of he is my song. Let the King of my heart be the fire inside my veins the echo of my days oh he is my song. You are good. You’re never gonna let me down.” He holds us and does not let go.
I have some words for those of you who are currently swallowed up in pain. I know the words I have typed may feel unbelievable. They don’t take the edge off the pain. Taking the edge off the pain is not my intention anyway. What I have shared are my experiences. Everyone’s journey is different. My intention in writing these things is to acknowledge your pain so you know that feeling pain is normal, but there is hope. You are not alone.