Written by Sarah Graefe
Reality check: In October 2015, my dad passed away.
There. I’ve said it: the hard part. The handful of words that, when I allow myself to truly hear them, can take the breath out of my body.
But I don’t want to write to you about the hardship or the emotions of this. I know that you have your own moments of pain and grief that probably jumped to the surface of your mind when I shared mine. We’ve all had them. We all can relate. So let’s skip the gory details.
Instead, let’s talk about a different reality: There is a Father God who steps into our lives in every possible season – if we let Him – even into the ugly parts.
Flashback: John chapter 11, New Testament.
You most likely have heard the story of Lazarus. The name’s hard to forget. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha, and happened to be a good friend of Jesus. Yet when Lazarus became sick and word was sent to Jesus, the One who does miracles, Jesus (shockingly) stayed where He was.
Two days later, when Lazarus has passed away, Jesus walked on the scene to perform one of His top 10 miracles – bringing his friend back to life. Lazarus would go on to be a huge testimony of Jesus’ power and authority on earth. To meet Lazarus was to meet someone who had experienced death and the other side of eternity, only to come back and tell about it.
We know this story. We tell our kids this story. We like this story.
But what I want to camp on is this:
“When Jesus saw [Mary, Lazarus’ sister] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
‘Where have you laid him?’ Jesus asked.
‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.
Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’”
Jesus knew the end of this story. He knew Lazarus would come back to life. He knew this when He decided to stay exactly where He was upon hearing that Lazarus was sick.
So why did He weep? Why was He deeply moved and troubled about something He knew would work out for good?
God is a God who is deeply personal and empathetic.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share in the feelings of another. I believe God vividly shows us a picture of empathy through the story of Lazarus. Jesus spent time with Lazarus’ family by being physically and emotionally present .
Whenever Jesus walks into the “room,” something happens. What I find most compelling is not the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection, but that Jesus chose to walk into this place of grief. That He chose to empathize with this family. He didn’t try to say the right things or rush right to the miracle. He walked with them – wept with them – was simply present with them.
God, who knows our lives from start to finish, also knows we are human. He knows what we feel and experience because He put those emotions inside us in the first place. And God is not a cold, distant bystander to His creation. God knows, better than anyone else, how to empathize with our pain.
In my own season of grief, I have been amazed by this revelation of the Father who walks into my “room.” He does not pull away from my emotions. He does the opposite: He steps into the pain, He gives me permission to cry. He instructs me to remember and to find the good things. He reminds me to laugh at the memories.
I am finding that when I invite God inside what I’m feeling, He always has something to say. Sometimes it’s simply the sensation that He’s present, holding and loving me. Sometimes it’s the powerful truth found in His word saying:
- I am not alone (John 14:18, Hebrews 13:5)
- I am loved (Jeremiah 31:3-4)
- He has everything I truly need (Philippians 4:19)
- He will bring life and joy to parts of me that have seemed dead (John 11:25-26, Psalm 126:5)
But I have to be obedient to His invitation and allow Him to come in. I have to learn to sit with Him and to listen.
This month, the Lord showed me a simple but beautiful picture that I’d like to share with you:
I saw myself as a kid, waking up from sleep, tired and grumpy and not wanting to get up for the day. But ever the perfect Father, He was patient with me and stayed in the next room preparing breakfast. I could hear Him shuffling around, packing bags and clinking dishes.
But I had a bad attitude and just rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
After some more time, He came over and woke me, saying with excitement, “Come my child, there’s something I want to show you!”
Still tired, but intrigued, I got up and put on slippers. I was not about to get dressed that early! He wrapped me in a beautiful thick quilt made of different patches that reminded me of truths He had shared with me (like the verses I just shared above). Each quilt patch was a simple reminder of His customized love and purpose He had just for me.
I felt a little better, even though I was still copping an attitude, and followed him out of the house. We walked for a while, and He was joyful and excited, even though I wasn’t emotionally there yet.
Finally we arrived at a clearing where there was a whole place prepared for us – a tent filled with flowers and coffee and a tremendously appealing breakfast! The sun was filling the clearing and I was overwhelmed with love. How could He have prepared this for me? Why?
I felt the Lord lead remind me of the intimate truth of Psalm 23 and say, “Come and eat with Me, My child. Don’t worry about anything else – just be. Let me refresh you and remind you that you are wildly loved. Sit with Me and catch your breath. I have everything you need. I know what grief does to the body and soul, so let Me be your strength today. Don’t hold yourself in false ‘togetherness,’ for I love you as you are. Sit with Me and let Me remind you that we are in this together!”
I will not soon forget this simple yet powerful illustration of the Father’s love.
I wanted to share this because, friend, whatever you are facing right now, He has exactly what you need for your season too. He knows how to speak to your heart. He created it in the first place. He doesn’t want you to be anyone else but you. And He’s waiting for you to come close and listen.
So here’s my challenge for you this week:
- Find a place where you can be free from distractions
- Turn off all your electronics and media and give yourself permission to be yourself
- Take time to tell God how good He is, thank Him or sing to Him, share what’s in your heart, knowing He loves to hear your voice
- Then just listen.
God speaks to us in such creative ways – He uses all our senses. He often speaks through the Bible or through the still small voice of our conscience inside. But I want you to know that if you make room, He will speak.
Let me leave you with some beautiful truth from the Message translation of Psalm 23:1-4 & 6. Let it be a reminder of how the Lord invites us to walk with Him through every season we experience.
“God, my Shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
You find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to Your Word,
You let me catch my breath
And send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through Death Valley,
I’m not afraid when You walk at my side.
Your trusty Shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure…
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.”
Friends, you are loved more than you know. Now go find a place to be with Jesus for a while!
Sarah Graefe has a blast serving on staff at Allison Park Church as the Assistant Children’s Director at the Hampton Campus. She is a graduate of Northeast Ministry School. She loves traveling for leisure and for missions and enjoys reading, eating and kayaking in her spare time.