In 1992, the band R.E.M. released Everybody Hurts upon a moody, angst-ridden world. The melancholy tune resonated with many people. Its message, while quite simple, was profoundly poetic and overwhelmingly honest. The lyrics to the second verse are something many people (if not everyone) can relate to. They describe the endless, guttural feeling of pain and suffering. While you may not know the song or the words, I have no doubt you know the feeling they describe.
Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it’s time to sing along. When your day is night alone, hold on. If you feel like letting go, hold on. If you think you’ve had too much of this life, hang on.
While that song has faded into yesterday, nothing’s really changed. Everybody still hurts. Death, sickness, and loneliness are still as much a part of this world as they were twenty-nine years ago. None of those tragedies ever really leave us, they merely hibernate for a while.
Life is good when babies are born, when marriages begin, and bank accounts are full. Life is simple, easy, and carefree when hope and potential intertwine on a daily basis. Life makes sense when it’s going our way and God’s blessings are clearly seen.
Unfortunately, this isn’t all life has to offer. When the reality of this life hits us like a ton of bricks, we don’t know what to do. We try to avoid pain and all the entanglements it brings, but in the end, pain is what reminds us life is temporary. It’s what makes each moment inherently precious. It gives each breath value, significance, and purpose. It provides the cruelest and sweetest thoughts time to resonate and develop. It points us to the blessings of our existence and the provider of those blessings. Ironically, it’s pain, not peace, that draws us closer to God.
So why do we struggle with pain, suffering, and grieving? Why are so many Christians unable to answer the question, “why does God let bad things happen?” Why, after all these years, are we still stuck on the same predicament? At the end of the day, it’s because we don’t know how to grieve. We’ve all done it, yet none of us know how to do it. We’ve lost loves ones, heard the terrible news from a doctor, sat in funeral home after funeral home, yet we still haven’t figured out death. We run from it, knowing it’s impossible to escape. We hide from it, like it’s a game hide-and-seek. We judge it, calling it unfair (as if it understands what fairness is in the first place). We believe it won’t happen to us, until it does. Then we blame someone else, anyone else, even God for our lack of preparation.
Everybody hurts. In those moments, we want God to step down out of heaven and perform a miracle right then-and-there. We want answers. We want justice. We want God to treat us special – after all, no one has ever suffered like we are right now! We want the pain to end and we want to never face it again.
But we can’t, because everybody hurts.
The tragic, somber, suffocating sound of a person grieving never sounds the same after you’ve been there.
To those of you who’ve lost a spouse, a parent, or even a child – funeral homes, hospital rooms, even holidays never look the same again. I know, because I’ve been there. As a minister, I preach somewhere between 10-20 funerals a year. Sometimes, it’s someone I know – a faithful Christian going on to their reward. Other times, it’s someone I never met and I have no clue what their relationship with God was like, but as a stranger, preaching their funeral, I don’t suspect it was important.
I can’t step foot into a funeral home anymore without thinking about my parents. My mother died when I was 27 years old after a 13 year battle with cancer. The ups-and-downs were difficult during her sickness, yet I felt a sense of relief knowing her pain was gone. That funeral was sad, but not debilitating, it was more a relief. I even got to say goodbye to her. Just a few days before she passed, she told me she loved me and how proud she was of me. I have no doubt she knew I felt the same.
Three years ago, my father died suddenly one evening. I was angry, hurt, and more-than-anything, in shock as I delivered the eulogy at his funeral a few days later. I remember people telling me I did a good job, that he would have been proud, but I honestly didn’t care what they thought. I just wanted my dad back. I had so much to tell him. So much still to do with him. So many more years of having him here. I still needed him, more than I possibly knew.
The morning after his funeral I stared into a mirror and realized I am an orphan. A sense of dread fell upon me knowing that I was the only one left from the moments that defined my childhood. The parents who raised me, nurtured me, and let me grow were gone. I will admit today that a callous scab grew hard over my heart looking into that mirror.
I didn’t want to let any one in, not even my precious wife and closest friends, not even God. I just wanted my feelings to go away.
I didn’t want to feel anything because everything felt broken. I’m pretty sure I did a good job of hiding it, of telling everyone it would be okay, because I don’t really think anyone knew how broken I was.
I’ve never shared those thoughts before because I was afraid of what people might think. I’m a minister after all, I’m not allowed to struggle. I have to keep my emotions, my faith, and even my life in check for everyone else. I have to have the answers, I can’t ask questions or be afraid. I can’t wonder why? I can’t ask, “why me?” I can’t be the one who says, “I’m angry” at God. Yet, in the days following my Father’s death, all of those statements came from deep within me. I didn’t know what to do. I prayed and prayed and prayed but I didn’t have the words to tell God what I felt.
I was lost, but in the blink of an eye, my life changed for the better.
When grief take hold of us, there is no right solution, right answer, or easy way to fix it. There’s no pattern, no procedure, and certainly no rules. It effects each of us differently. Some of us run to God, some run away from Him. Some of us busy ourselves with work while others withdraw. Some of us lean on others, while others turn all of our thoughts inward and swallow the pain. What I want to accomplish with this series about is simple.
I want you to realize something profoundly confusing. I want you to realize grief is good.
Grief is something God uses to sharpen us, refine us, and even perfect us. It’s awkward, and sometimes even undefinable, but it’s full of purpose. Grief brings us closer to God, even when we don’t realize it. It makes us vulnerable. It makes us hyperaware. It makes us reevaluate our very thoughts. It makes us act. Grief people into our life we never realized were so important. We’re not expecting those moments or those people to profoundly impact us, yet they do.
At the end of the day I want you to see the good in our suffering because suffering is sacred. It’s connected to God and His Will, it has a divine purpose, and it the most precious thing we feel in this world. Suffering sets us apart from every other created being because it offers us more reasons to appreciate God than anything else.
Grief can help us see the beauty in every moment, every conversation, every relationship, and every single thing God blesses us with today. It can make every moment precious because each can be our last in this world.
The upcoming lessons will examine Job and his story. They won’t pull any punches. They’ll examine his world, his circumstances, his friends, and even his ignorance. They’ll highlight the man who did what God knew He could do, and hopefully inspire us to do the same.
Job suffered, just like we do, and Job overcame it, just like we can.
As we finish, I need to tell you what helped me more than anything. A few days after my father’s funeral, I was sitting in my office, staring at my computer, unable to do much of anything. Then a friend of mine named Jason stopped by just to say hi. He shook my hand and asked me how I was doing. I lied and said I was fine. Then, we just sat together in my office. We talked about the weather and the day ahead. We talked about lunch, our wives, and our kids. It wasn’t special, but it changed my life.
That ordinary moment, that boring conversation snapped me out of my funk.
I don’t know how and I sure don’t know why, I just know it did. Jason saved me from myself that day. He’s my Christian brother, my friend, and I’ll be eternally grateful for him. He doesn’t even know it, but we’re beginning a journey through the book of Job because of him. If you’re struggling, I want you to know, your Jason is out there. He’s probably a part of your life already and you don’t even know it.
We need to travel back almost seven years for you me to adequately describe Jason’s value to you. When I first moved to Tompkinsville, he was my biggest fan. He often told me I was his “hero” and I still haven’t figured out why. He’d stop by regularly just to chat. He’d ask me questions and care about my opinion. I came to love him and his family. He even asked me to perform his wedding. He was the perfect type of church member – a supporter, encourager, and confidant.
Then, one day he came and told me he had the opportunity to become a preacher at a local congregation. I wasn’t surprised, I saw the writing on the wall. And even though I told him to go, I didn’t really want him to take it. I wanted him here at my congregation all the time. I wanted to see him in our crowd, but I knew that was a waste of talent. He needed to go because he was what that congregation needed. Now, Jason’s not just my friend, he’s my co-worker in God’s Kingdom. He’s doing amazing things because that’s just who he is.
On that ordinary September day, he taught me something in my office I’ll never forget. He taught me the value of the everyday, boring, non-nonchalant conversation. He showed me that grief can be conquered in quiet moments with God and not-so-quiet moments with God’s children. He restored my hope and my joy because he reminded me I wasn’t really an orphan. I have millions of brothers and sisters across this world who want to share my burden and my grief.
He was my Barnabas, my encourager, and he didn’t even know it. Now, I want to be that to each of you. I’ve seen loss that devastated me, you probably have as well. I’ve struggled to find the answer to questions we don’t like asking. I’ve hidden my struggle and been unwilling to share it because I was afraid you’d think less of me.
Now, like Job, I’m willing to share my story, my suffering, and examine his to see the sanctity of suffering.
I can’t help but wonder if Job ever felt the same? I wonder if he was ashamed of part of the story? I wonder if he was ashamed at his doubt, his anger, and even his reaction to God’s Will? While I don’t know for certain, I can’t help but think his feelings were my feelings as well.
We all struggle. Can that struggle with suffering be the thing that draws us closer to God in the end? I think so. Job says at the end of his story, “now my eye sees You” (see 42:5). What better thing for each of us to say at the end of our journey “through the valley of the shadow of death.” In that moment, we can know as Job and David did that “God is with us, leading us, loving us, and providing for us.”
Because everybody hurts.