During the past 16 months hundreds of tears, if not thousands, have spilled from my eyes, but of course that’s true of other people, too. Nate’s death was my reason, but unnumbered different heartbreaks have caused the tears of others. Our earthly lives will always include suffering, and tears will always flow.
Most of my crying has been done in private. I don’t like to “lose it” in front of others, and somehow my brain accepts that, holding back tears until I can sequester myself. Once in a while, though, it’s heartwarming to have a pal on hand when the dam breaks.
In an email recently, a friend used the expression, “a shoulder to cry on.” That beautiful word-picture describes one person sharing the heartache of another. It’s an image of a firm hug, two strong arms encircling someone whose arms hang limp, and a face buried in a shoulder. It’s warm, tender, compassionate.
God knows human suffering will always be part of this life, and we know it, too. When Jesus was a man, he experienced it daily, all the way through the supernatural torture of the cross. At a time when he was in desperate need, help didn’t come. No one offered a shoulder to cry on, because his choice was to suffer alone. But in doing so, he became our shoulder to cry on for the whole of our lives. It’s a spiritual oxymoron we can’t fully understand, and yet we know enough to realize we’ve benefitted significantly by what he did there.
Should we expect personal suffering? The only good answer is, “Of course!” If Jesus suffered so severely for us, why should we be exempt? And when struggles and challenges come, even severe tragedies, we shouldn’t ask, “Why me?” That question assumes we’re somehow above suffering, which is preposterous. If Jesus had to experience it, why not us, too?
The real question hidden inside our “why me” is, “Why can’t it be the guy down the street? Or the girl at the next desk? Why me?” That question isn’t good either, because it assumes we’re above those people.
The only valid question to ask God when we’re weeping is, “How do you want me to go through this distress/pain/anguish?” That question is excruciating, though, because it accepts the suffering, and none of us want to do that.
But here’s some good news. When God allows awful things to come to us, he becomes our shoulder to cry on, any time we need it. And he offers even more than that. Because he loves us passionately, he’s given us another shoulder-picture. He says we can actually rest between his shoulders. This portrays a strong person carrying a weak one on his back. I think of a young, energetic daddy picking up his tired boy, swinging him onto his muscular back and saddling his hands as a resting place for his weary child. God includes us in that scriptural picture.
Inevitably we’re going to suffer pain, shed tears and feel hopeless, but he’s our Father and invites us to get through it by pressing into him.
“The one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12b)