Navigating pain, even while filled with hope

“Let us allow ourselves to weep, to honor the pain in our hearts even while we long and hope in the One Who will relieve it.”

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35, NAB

This scripture came into my mind on a particularly rough morning earlier this week. I had been struggling with some ruminating thoughts and beating myself up and it was only 10 am and I was weary. As the week’s gone on I have continued to come back to this scripture, because in it I find Jesus in a similar place to where I am right now.

To set the scene, Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. Jesus was informed that Lazarus was ill, but rather than going to him immediately, Jesus stayed behind for two days. When Jesus arrives, He discovers that Lazarus has died, and has been buried. He is met by Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary, who in their grief cry out to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32, NAB). (The distinct ways in which Martha and Mary approach Jesus and the way He responds to them is itself a beautiful meditation that I may write about another day.) When Jesus is confronted with their grief, He becomes deeply distressed and asks to see where they buried him. They take Him to the tomb and there, Jesus weeps.

I thought about how Jesus knew what He was going there to do. He had been very clear and very purposeful in not setting out for Bethany right away, even though He was only two miles away. He had told the apostles on the way that He was coming to awaken Lazarus. Yet as He stood there, gazing at the tomb that in mere moments would be opened to reveal His power and glory and to bring back the one “whom He loved” (John 11:3), Jesus acted like one in mourning. He wept. He felt the full force of the loss of His dear friend and expressed it with those gathered there. Lazarus had been sick. He had been in pain. He had died. And Jesus wasn’t there. Jesus wasn’t there to help His friend when he was sick, and now he was gone. “And Jesus wept.”

Of course, Jesus had been doing what the Father had commanded and had done nothing wrong in not coming right away. He knew that there was a greater plan and that a great many more would come to believe in Him if He acted as He did. And still, Jesus allowed Himself to recollect for that moment the gravity of what had occurred to the man He had loved so much, even though He also knew the glory that was about to come.

I feel like I’m in a similar place at this moment. I hold in my heart the tension of present suffering and the hope of future healing. I have been working through the wounds in my heart that tell me that love is earned, that I have to perform, that I will not be loved and I will not be taken care of without me needing to somehow secure it for myself. I see clearly now that these thoughts are not true and how damaging they are. I want nothing more than to be free of the effects they have on me. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I know that freedom is within reach. And yet I am still bound. I still experience suffering and pain because of them. I am not yet totally free. But I know I will be.

This is a very difficult place to be, holding this tension. It can be hard to know what to do with it. But Jesus shows us how. His Heart carried to Bethany that hope of seeing his beloved Lazarus again. He had great confidence that His Father would hear Him because the Father always hears Him (John 11:42). But before He performed that act of triumph that would bring comfort to those who were mourning, He acknowledged the present moment of sadness and let Himself mourn with them Maybe that’s what we’re being asked to do, too, when we find our self in this crossroads of present suffering and real, tangible hope. Until that moment comes when the miracle we’ve long anticipated finally happens, maybe it’s okay to grieve and feel the weight of the burden we carry.

I suppose, in fact, that this is what we are asked to do when Jesus says to “carry your cross.” We embrace our present hardship, feel the weight of it, acknowledge how hard it is, and walk forward, all the while preparing ourselves for the promise of salvation and letting our hearts burn with hope for that relief.

This is really hard to do. It’s easy to get frustrated or to want to find a faster way out. It’s easy to look for ways to avoid our pain or hide it away until we don’t feel it anymore. But that’s not what Jesus does. He holds that tension, those two realities of hope and loss, and honors both. He does that here, with Lazarus, and He does that on the Cross.

Maybe this can be our example if we find ourselves in a season where we’re suffering but we can see the light beyond it, where we know that relief is coming but it’s not yet here. Maybe we can stand with Jesus and weep with Him until that moment comes. For He promises it will come.

“Those who go forth weeping… will return with cries of joy.” Psalm 126:6, NAB

And, if you find yourself in a season where you don’t see the light, where your suffering feels overwhelming and you feel alone in it, maybe this can still be an example. Because Jesus weeps for our suffering even when we don’t know it. He weeps for Lazarus and the pain he felt when Jesus wasn’t physically present when he died. He weeps for the suffering of Martha and Mary, who feel alone and don’t understand why Jesus didn’t come. And He weeps for you in all those moments when you feel like you’re suffering alone, because He loves you and you’re hurt and you weren’t made to be hurt. Maybe you can find some peace in thinking about Jesus outside Lazarus’ tomb, weeping as He prepares to resurrect him and bring joy to those who at present feel only sorrow and hurt, who say “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” (John 11:37). Jesus weeps with them too, and He is weeping with you.

So, let us allow ourselves to weep, to honor the pain in our hearts even while we long and hope in the One Who will relieve it. Let us feel what He feels, and do as He does.

He will honor our tears. We will rejoice. Let us believe it even now.