This is the counterpoint companion to the prayer piece (see “Don’t Waste Your Time Praying”), because nothing written hits every mark. My heart tells me that I could have created an open wound for us suffering people in the other one, and I don’t want this thing to cripple somebody. I just wanted to take a second and note something that I think I learned along the way. Praying like I wrote in the other piece might not even be possible at all times. At this point, I would say to my students “Now let’s go make ourselves a real mess of this.”
Early on, and that’s a very loose term when dealing with grief and the effects that come with it at so many different times, it’s hard to even consider this sort of thing. It’s hard now, with a year to let it sink in. I remember so much of this past year was really pleading for comfort and the ability to move on, if I wanted to pray to the God who took my little girl at all. My own need for comfort was just enormous, because losing a baby is a pain unlike anything I’ve ever dreamed of. I have a very active and messed-up imagination, and this has been beyond my ability to make up on my own.
I want to play with an idea here. One of my favorite purposes for trials has been in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, which works through the idea that God comforts us in our trials not just to make it convenient and palatable for us, but so that we can take that comfort and give it to other people. Oftentimes, we talk about it in a way that suggests “If you ask God for comfort, you’ll be good to go, and you can do the important part of helping other people.” That’s loosely true, but it’s not an immediate thing, and it leaves out a crucial element: to be comforted, you have to experience the pain. That’s not an instant process. Grace really is free, but comfort comes with a price.
Early on in this whole grieving thing, it’s way beyond a person to look at really helping other people. I jumped in with this blog idea after a couple of months, and I still had no idea of the depths of pain that were yet to come. I hadn’t even done Christmas yet. I wanted to fulfill that passages idea, and I could to a point, but I really hadn’t seen a lot of what comfort is yet.
Once we’ve been through something, it’s sort of natural to assume that the way we were comforted automatically applies to the next person. That’s why we are conveniently right there when they need us. A lot of us do that with a verse like Jeremiah 29:11 (a lot of us have only read Jeremiah 29:11, or haven’t really even read that, just heard it somewhere instead) to patch things over, and we move right along feeling that the job is accomplished. Of course it will work. It’s obvious to us.
How comfort happens for you might be different from the way it happens for someone else. That’s normal, because you’re different, and others are different, and that’s supposed to be that way. If someone throws out what “worked” for them and it doesn’t do anything to comfort you, that doesn’t mean you messed it up. It just means that something else will work for you. The comfort thing will happen, just differently. Outside of a few things, the ‘how’ really isn’t that important. It’s important that it happens.
Here’s the idea, then, that I want to throw out there. We often talk about doing God’s will, especially if it’s something that we already want. When the pain happens, it’s OK if that prayer is simply for comfort, because God wants to do that (whenever He has it scheduled), and it just might be our greatest need at the time. It’s easy for that to feel shallow. It often did for me. It’s not shallow. It’s just that important. That’s the case whether you want to use your suffering and the comfort you receive to help somebody or not. The comfort part never happens without the pain, so feel free to do that part first. Without it, there really isn’t anything else to talk about later. Please don’t feel you have to be superhuman right away, or ever. That’s a tough place for us to put ourselves. Take your time. Time doesn’t heal everything, but nothing heals without time.
Do the pain. Find the comfort. Share it. None of that is easy, but that kind of boils the whole passage and process down to its essence.