Yesterday, my dearest friend lost her son. Her eight-year-old son. My eight-year-old daughter's friend. My son's buddy and playmate. And it's been three years since I felt this kind of grief. Three years since I've wept this hard for this long to the point where I'm this numb once again.
And this time it's different because I weep for my friend, my closest friend, the friend who's family I prayed so specifically for and who has taken us under their wing as our closest family here in California. I love her children like my own. I even had the thought yesterday that I would have gladly given my own life to spare her this pain. This pain.
This pain that today, for me, is fueled by a dangerous underbelly of anger. This anger is new. I've not weathered this emotion like this before. Anger on behalf of my friend who is one of the best mothers I know. Who's heart is so big and who teachers her sons to have big hearts as well. Anger because the loss of a child is senseless and cruel. Anger at God because we will never know why this side of heaven. It's a seething, torturous anger that doesn't let me sleep.
It's an anger that is taking up an offense for my friend bound to a hospital bed, recovering from the accident that took her son's life. She can't be on two feet stomping right now, screaming and throwing a tantrum, holding defiant fists up at God, so I want to do it for her. When she's well, I'm sure she'll be doing it herself, but now....now, I just want to stand in the gap for her, and I can't.
Because her shoes are not mine, and no matter how close I am to the situation, her pain is not mine, no matter how much I wish it was.
And all the right, spiritual things to say are falling flat and hard and clanking like a lead pipe hitting the garage floor. Because truth doesn't feel loving or gracious or helpful when you're in the middle of the storm.
God sees. God is good. Her son is in a better place. Her son is happier where he is now. God will get you through. God is enough. God is sufficient. God works all things for good. God has a plan. I don't care how true these statements may be, right now, today, the day after her son has been snatched from this earth, those words are alcohol on an open wound. Disagree with me all you like. One day you too might know the truth of this.
These words are an anchor for our souls, an anchor, not a life-preserver.
There will be a day in the future when these words and truths about God Himself will reveal themselves as the bed rock, the foundation still standing after the storm. They are the anchor that will hold my heart and my friend's heart steadfast in the months and years to come, but to try and hold them now, to try and grasp them in this storm of grief? It's like trying to climb up a rock sea ledge in the middle of a raging storm. Those words of strength and fortitude are the exact same words that scrape you raw, leaving you bruised and bleeding and still looking for help.
The help comes from the soft, tender hands that hold. That reach into the storm and grab onto you. The hands and prayers of people that say, "I'm right here. I love you. Hold onto me." Those hands, those prayers, those are the people who are the life-preservers. Every person lifting a Spirit-led prayer, every long-held hug given, every tear shed among friends, every awkward, long, silent space filled with just each others' presence and no words--those are the life preservers. They are the balm, the salve, the things that keep you afloat in the middle of the wreckage.
We broke the news to our children last night, and while my son wept hard curled into the smallest ball in my lap, my daughter, tear-filled eyes brimming was a life preserver. She led our family of four in prayer, whispering such strong, sweet words for our friends, such deep, caring love for her friend lost. And then we all crawled into bed together, and I sang every song I knew of Jesus and His love, and it wasn't the words, but the act of the music being sung as we all huddled together to just be inside the grief together--that was the life preserver. Being together. Reaching for one another. Holding on to each other.
At church this morning, it was the shared tears, the short conversations and long hugs, the atmosphere of prayer that so many were entreating before the throne room of Almighty God to wrap my friend's family in His presence--those are the life preservers.
The body of Christ, WE ARE THE LIFE PRESERVERS. So my lesson and my caution, be careful with your words that you are not handing a drowning person an anchor of truth, but that you are handing them yourself, your presence, your tender, loving hand. That's what the body of Christ does for each other because that's what the Holy Spirit does for us before God. We stand in the gap when our friends' have fallen and cannot stand. We breath life over them when they can barely take a breath for themselves. We become the physical hands and feet of Christ, not by doing things for them necessarily, but by visiting them in the deepest, hell-hole of a prison they've found themselves in.
It's time to sacrifice your ears and eyes to the pain of weeping with them. It's time to sacrifice your hands to the hurt and uncomfortableness of holding their tired hands and hugging their wracked bodies. It's time to get your knees dirty in prayer and petition for however the Spirit leads. If you want to be a life preserver and not an anchor, you have to be willing to get your life dirty and dive into the rough, hard, deep waters of pain along with them.
God's Word is the anchor. When the storm calms, there will be time and place and space for rebuilding on that foundation. Today, the day after the tragedy, the storm rages.
Be the life preserver. You hold onto God, so someone else can hold onto you.