By Seth Barnes, Founder of Adventures in Missions
In 1995 I preached at a small church in the town of Bauta, Cuba. The Lord gave me Romans 12 as my last-second theme. I read a verse and then I told the congregation that they were going to illustrate it with their own testimonies.
It was a gamble since no one ever did this sort of thing.
“Bless those who persecute you,” I read. Everyone looked around awkwardly. At last a man named Pedro was stood to his feet.
It was very hard for him to share. “I know what it means to hate what is evil and to cling to what is good. I lived and worked in an evil system, the Cuban army. For years I was not allowed to show any emotion. I was hollow inside. I needed Jesus in my life. Only he could give back to me the part of me that I’d lost. After becoming a Christian, I was able to feel again.”
I stopped the service and we prayed for Pedro. Then I returned to Romans and read, “Mourn with those who mourn” and again we waited in silence for the illustration. Finally Pedro’s wife Esmari stood and spoke in a voice dripping with emotion.
“We wanted to have a baby. We were so excited when I was first pregnant. But then I lost the baby. It was horrible. I got pregnant again and the same thing happened. Why me? What had I done? Did God just hate me? But the pain just continued. I had three more miscarriages. It made no sense to me.”
She was speaking in hushed tones, weeping as she spoke now, “Recently, a friend of mine lost her baby. She felt deeply wounded as I had felt. She came to me and together we wept the tears that only a mother who has lost a child can weep.”
I looked at Pedro as she shared. I could see as he buried his head in his hands that God had indeed allowed him to feel a compassion and a hurt for his wife’s pain – perhaps more intensely because it had been hidden. And the church responded beautifully to the broken hearts in their midst, sharing tears and prayers with one another.
When you obey the biblical injunction to “mourn with those who mourn,” you bring dignity to their grief; you move the grief-stricken mourner out of their isolation.
As we turn mourning into dancing, we invite the mourner to move in step with someone outside their dark and claustrophobic world. Their grief is put in the broader context of human experience, and in so doing, it is placed within the broad narrative of human beings on planet earth who since the dawn of time have suffered loss.
And what’s truly mind-blowing is, it is placed in the context of a Creator who identified with our suffering by allowing his son to suffer. Doing so in part to give us an example and a calling, as 1 Peter 2:21 says, “that you should follow in his steps.”
The point is, we will suffer and we will struggle to make peace with pain. Whether we can do so redemptively as he did will be one of the great pivot points of our life.
Seth Barnes is the founder of Adventures In Missions. He blogs at www.sethbarnes.com.