Sunday after Sunday I stand reveling in the beauty of God’s grace inside the little white picket fence around our churchyard. I lean back and smile a wide shepherd’s smile as little ones make mud cakes, medium sized ones bang wooden swords together and biggers pass footballs and Frisbees. Standing there, more often than not, the sound fades to the background and a kind of serious silence, like the faint smell of smoke, curls its way to the forefront of my mind.
Stroking my grey whiskers and nearly pulling a few out at the end of my chin, I groan and sigh a somber reality. These playful memories I am making with the saints this Lord’s Day will not be the only kind we will share. My increased knowledge has greatly increased my sorrows, and now they are constantly intermingled with my joy. I’m not sure when this began to happen, but I’m sure a lot of it happened after I met a young girl named Renee.
She was still a teenager, full of life and beauty. Her blue eyes shone bright when she sang her own version of “Trust and Obey,” on the front pew of our little inner-city mission.
Over and over she sang, strumming her guitar and smiling. Her vibrant joy and enthusiasm for her new-found faith was a gift to all of us. Her cards of encouragement and homemade birthday gifts, made us want to be like her. We knew she had come from a difficult background, like most of us, but she seemed to shake it off so quickly and with so little effort. Her lightness made us wonder if we had what she had.
But in time there were inconsistencies, things that couldn’t be explained, things that seemed so foreign to one so filled with her newness. But, before long, it was clear. Renee had been hiding her sins from us. She had only been pretending she was what she wanted to be. We began to see her less and less and when we did see her we could hardly see her without crying. She denied what we could all see so clearly. Watching her was like helplessly watching someone sink beneath the waves. We prayed with her and for her and we all cried a lot.
In a final move of desperation we moved her into our home and tried to cover her in our love. It was even harder to see close up and my wife and I were in agony every day.
We talked and schemed, but it seemed nothing we did would reverse the tide washing her out to sea. Then, she disappeared. We didn’t hear from her for more than a year. When we did, it was from the hospital. She was pregnant and close to delivery but filled with drugs.
In the hospital she withdrew from the drugs and again we hoped God would restore her to us. We worked to help her and the baby, she named Job, but our work seemed in vain. As soon as she could, she went back to the drugs and disappeared again. This time she had another baby and another try at rehab. We talked and cried with her another round and hoped again. Not long after she entered a treatment facility, her heart stopped and she was gone.
As fast as she had come to us on the winds of joy she now became our symbol of sorrow. At first she was all those we could save and in the end she was all those we could not.
Jesus wept, and in that respect I found myself very much like our Lord. This intersection of extreme joy and sorrow like we experienced in Renee reminds me of the story of Lazarus who was raised from the dead.
Standing not far from the tomb of His good friend Lazarus, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha. Knowing in minutes He would call out his name and command him to come forth, he wept nonetheless.
More intimately acquainted with grief than we can know, he faced death itself. This shadowy reality was real and present to Him as the joyful miracle of resurrection about to dawn the horizon before Him.
It remains true for us. Jesus continues to weep for a dying world through our eyes. As we look with compassion upon a groaning creation, it should bring tears to our eyes even as we boldly wipe them dry so we can work.