Monday, September 16, 2013

in sorrows and sufferings


When my grandma passed away many years ago I grieved, as anyone would. Her passing hit me in places I didn’t even know were there, and my emotions ran the gamut as I processed what her loss meant to me.

What has surprised me though, is that in the nearly 14 years since she’s been gone I have found grief sneak up on me unannounced more times than I can count. 

At the moment of great loss we face sadness and sorrows unmatched. But time does not really heal all wounds, it just lessons their intensity for a season. I have often found myself overcome with sadness over missing her and what would have been had she lived or had the situation of her passing been different. But now, I can encourage those whose loss is fresh. I can share the gift of her memory with my children. I can see that God does not waste our suffering.

Here’s the thing with sorrow, it does often come unannounced. But it also contains blessings, if we let God do his work in the midst of them.

The early Israelites, God’s holy people, understood this. They had lived through sorrow and trials unique to any other people group in their history. Yet still they praised. They made regular trips to God’s temple, his holy home on earth: Jerusalem. These pilgrimages took place often for the people. However, the road to God’s home was through dry and arid places. Traveling through these lands, the people had to provide water for themselves along the way. So they dug wells and pools, natural springs to sustain them on their way. And even after the pilgrims traveled on, the wells remained. Their blessing and provision in they dry valleys became a blessing to the pilgrims who traveled behind them. 

Psalm 84: 4-7 provides us with a picture of this: 

“Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you, who have their hearts set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” 

Though we don’t always travel through literal deserts, we sometimes find ourselves in spiritual deserts. The journey of these pilgrims of old can teach us a few things about traveling through sorrows.

They were ever praising. 

They realized that it was a blessing to dwell with the Lord, with his presence, and they looked for their arrival at God’s holy city with anticipation and joy. They praised him on the journey, though it was marked with pain.

We no longer make literal pilgrimages to God’s temple; but as we follow Christ, the span of our lives is a pilgrim journey towards our heavenly home. We are just traveling through this life on toward eternity. We have the privilege of praising God along the way, and of setting our hearts on him through the duration of journey. 

They encountered sorrows.

The Valley of Baca was a literal place. The word Baca actually means weeping, it was associated with the balsam trees that the pilgrims would journey past. For us it is a reminder that our journey will be marked with sorrow. Though we don’t always understand why, we will experience weeping along the way. Jesus reminded his followers of that, and his words are no less true today: “In this world you will have many sorrows, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In the times of weeping, in the dry desert times and when our lives by marked by sorrow, we can take courage that we do not walk this road alone. Jesus was a man acquainted with many sorrows, (Isaiah 53:3) as were his people of old.

The pilgrims took their places of weeping and made them a place of springs or pools. In the original language that word pool actually means blessings. They took their sorrows and made them blessings. And those blessings were not just for themselves; as they traveled on, the pools remained to refresh the travelers who come later.

Those who are ever praising will be able to turn their sorrows to blessings. This doesn’t minimize the extent of loss and pain, but it allows us to shift our perspective when we encounter these things, because we know that God is always painting a bigger picture. He writes a grander story than we can ever imagine with every part of our lives, and the hearts that are tender before him in the midst of adversity are the hands that God will later use to bring refreshing to other pilgrims along the way.

These pilgrims of old knew something that sometimes I forget. They understood the source of their strength. As they set their hearts on their journey, and walked with endless praises, they were able to walk from strength to strength. This doesn’t imply that they were always strong and never encountered pain. Again, the original Hebrew shows us that they actually walked in valor, might, ability, and efficiency. They were fully able to walk through seasons of weeping, because they had their hearts set on God. Valor is simply a strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness. These pilgrims, they were resolute, if they were anything else. And that is what God asks of us during times of sorrow. Though the road is hard and the journey long, though the way is marked with trials and tears, will we set our hearts on him? Will we choose valor over fear? Will we indeed walk in his strength while his work is being done in us? If we do, if we choose the way of the pilgrim, we will find blessings, not only for ourselves but we will find treasure to leave for those who will travel after us.

This does not always ease the pain of current struggles. Loss is loss and sorrow is hard, not matter how you look at it. I know that. But I also know that God is good, despite what my circumstances say. And I can resolutely set my heart on that in the middle of pain and weeping. We may never fully understand the blessings he is working out in us during our seasons of weeping, but once we are on the other side I believe we will be amazed at all the God has worked on our behalf through them. 

In the meantime, may we have the grace and courage to travel on.

1 comment:

  1. "Blessed are those who dwell in your house, they are ever praising you, who have their hearts set on pilgrimage." This heart that is set on pilgrimage loves that today... resonating with the regardless of my circumstance to be "ever praising," knowing that in all things He is moving me from one place to another.

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