I was standing beside my father and my sister at my mother’s funeral. I’m 12 years old; I’m constantly trying to process what has gone on the past few days. All around me is this very odd mixture of true sorrow and some sort of unexplainable joy that I am unable to fully comprehend because, though I believed in Jesus and in heaven, I did not have a developed eternal perspective on things. It’s one thing to believe there is a real heaven and a real eternity, and it’s a completely different thing to know that everything is very eternal.
During the course of that week I distinctly remember having lots of painful emotions and having no idea where they were supposed to go or how I was supposed to act upon them. I had heard that I was supposed to share what I was feeling with others, to let others “bear my burdens”(whatever that was supposed to mean to a 12 year old), but I figured if the emotions hurt me in such deep ways then why would I want to put that load on someone else?
So I decided to bury them.
As I said, I was standing beside my father and sister in front of my mother’s casket before closing it and driving over to the cemetery. And I don’t know why I thought that this would heal me in a sense, but as I was crying, I took a handkerchief out of my pocket, wiped my face with a sort of force, and shoved it down the side of the casket next to my mother. It wasn’t to make a kind of statement to my father or sister, but I think I was telling myself that I was not going to let this pain take over my life. Nor was this in any sort of anger, but rather it was the only way I could figure out how to cope with my life being turned upside down.
I was resolved, as a 12 year old, to fight back.
Fast-forward 10 years later. I’m 22 years old, and recently I’ve just begun to deal with some of the emotions that I buried so long ago. The chain of events that led to this healing is fascinating. My friend Matthew observed over the course of time that I was constantly apologizing for things that I thought were inconveniences to him and his wife, such as eating at their house or wondering if I was intruding on their personal time. Matthew, in all of his wisdom and grandeur, told me that every time I apologized for something unnecessary, which was quite often mind you, he’d make me mow his yard that happened to be covered with a bit of dog poo from his golden retriever. His wife Jeanne told me that for each time I over apologized I’d have to stay at their house in their kitchen for 30 minutes after they went to bed, which, as you could imagine, would be terribly awkward. And although we joked about it, the three of us knew there was something deeper going on that wasn’t visible on the surface.
This got me thinking as to why I felt the need to apologize for everything. As far as I can tell, it goes back to the line of thinking that if my own emotions and pains are hard for me to deal with personally, then why would I want to put those on someone else?
From that point on in my life I have been so cautious as to not be an inconvenience to anyone, from every day things to deep-seeded emotions. I simply don’t want to be in the way.
Then came along a short film I was watching that told stories from one man’s life in dealing with death and how he related it to Jesus dealing with his friend Lazarus’ death. The speaker pointed out that Jesus, of all people, wept.
Jesus dealt with his emotions.
He wrestled feelings and joined in to the pain of the situation. He didn’t bottle it in, and amazingly, he didn’t ignore it because of the knowledge that Lazarus would soon be alive. And even more astounding, you’d think that in light of the eternal perspective he possessed, Jesus wouldn’t really get that upset about much at all. But, in a moment of genius, he let the full intensity of the moment take over and mourned with his friends, and that small instant would change the rest of history in profound ways.
I was relating the story about Matthew and Jeanne and the story about the short film to my father. My dad, who has walked through this with me every step of the way, asked me if I felt as though I fully dealt with the death of my mother, and before I could answer …
I had not cried, I mean really cried, over the death of my mother for 10 years. I kept fighting it and fighting it as if I was showing some sort of weakness. I suppressed it because when you weep you are incredibly vulnerable, which is always a difficult thing. I fought it to appear strong, when in fact I was awfully weak.
And this isn’t the way we were designed to be, is it? We were not intended to deal with these sorts of things on our own. I’ve got this friend Phil who lost his father a few years ago when we were seniors in high school, and because God took me through my mother’s death I can now sit with Phil and listen. Phil can sit with me and listen. There is an understanding between us that is supernatural, because our design is supernatural. And Phil is the exact same way I am in regards to not wanting to inconvenience others.
So now, a few years later for him and 10 years for me, we start to walk down the road together of not bottling in our emotions. I really think that God made us to feel these things and to, in a way, release them.
It’s so interesting to me that even though it’s been 10 years, I’m just now beginning to understand this journey. As I’ve stated before, there is beauty in suffering, even if that suffering is years later.
Part one of "The Beauty of Suffering" can be found here.