This is not your ordinary skyline picture. For our family, it represents one of the most painful moments in our lives.
This picture was taken during the fourth of five major pain milestones in the loss of our teenage son, Elijah. Some of you reading this will identify with those milestones. Some will be better prepared to handle them should they eventually happen in your own life.
The first pain milestone was when we initially learned of Elijah’s death. Words cannot describe the horror of the experience.The second was at the wake, the third at the funeral, the fourth graveside, and the fifth was returning to an emptier home.
After two weeks of wondering, we were told by police in mid-December that Elijah had not survived his journey through the frigid woods. I don’t recall seeing the sun during the following gloomy week, and the graveside ceremony was as gloomy as ever. That is, with one momentary exception. We pulled our cameras out to take this picture as the sun poked through the gray sky for only a few seconds.
By that point we were all longing for a message of comfort. The sun provided a brief reminder that our days would not always feel cold and gloomy. Just when we think the pain will crush us, God intervenes. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18).
Well, we seem to be surviving beyond the five milestones of pain. But I was totally caught off guard by a sixth milestone. I wasn’t prepared for the need to identify with Elijah’s suffering. I already dislike cold weather. Those who know me would say that’s an understatement! Lately, however, I cry just thinking about the cold. So how can I explain my need to occasionally be alone in the cold until I hurt so badly I have to retreat indoors to the warmth. I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t the only one doing this. My daughter Tina and Elijah’s girlfriend Madison have each been doing the same thing.
I suppose it boils down to the difference between sympathy and empathy. In sympathy we say that we are sorry for your pain. In empathy we say that we feel your pain. For those we love, sympathy is just not enough. For those we truly love, we would do almost anything to relieve their pain. For those we love the most, we would even trade places in order to take their pain away.
I’m reminded of this popular verse from the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). It wasn’t enough for God to see my pain. It wasn’t even enough for God to experience my pain. He actually traded places so that he would take away my pain forever.
When we hurt, we are drawn to others who know just how badly we feel. We are comforted in part by knowing that they can feel our pain. But there is one who goes beyond empathy. He actually takes away our pain.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10).
Our family was thankful for that little glimpse of sunlight on a cold and gloomy day at the grave of our dear Elijah. It was a perfect reminder that God Himself will rescue us from our sorrows. He alone can fully restore our broken hearts. And yes, He can feel our pain.
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