“Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” Matthew 26:38 (NIV)
There was a moment in time … ah, in truth, maybe a few million moments … when a series of losses swept me into the undertow of despair, and I lost myself. Within a deep darkness, I couldn’t feel my face or see my toes. I couldn’t find me anywhere.
After the only man I had ever loved walked out the door, I was let go from my job and faced financial devastation leading to bankruptcy. Accompanied by a damaged, not-beating-so-well heart, I lost my best friend to cancer, caring for her in the big hospital bed in the living room of the little house on Wilson Street until my grief reached a groundswell and carried me away in its current.
It was then that I wondered what Jesus, both God and man, whom I had followed since I was a child, would say about all of this.
How did Jesus talk about sadness and grief? Were His words meant for some ancient character in a desert dune in another part of the globe, or could they repair the little girl — now grown up — with skinned knees and a bruised heart? Could His words heal me, the woman who was too sick to reach for His healing cloak on her own?
Two things come to mind when I wonder about those questions.
First, grief and its sticky tendrils of despair remain timeless.
The human emotions that our Lord Jesus exhibited in the first century can be understood by those of us in the 21st century. When I read that Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38), I can trust that when I’m lying on the carpet in my closet, crushed with the weight of unimagined despair, He knows exactly how this feels.
Secondly, Jesus always acknowledges pain — He never dismisses, distracts from or sugarcoats it.
He lamented the disappointments in relationships that contributed to His own pain: “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40b, NIV). He vented about lost opportunities: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together …” (Matthew 23:37, NIV). And He cried over earthly suffering: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV).
Jesus never hid His pain, and He never hides from ours.
So how is pain different as a Christian?
We believe that our sad stories are being redeemed. That’s hope.
From the earliest pages of Scripture through its closing words, God’s story has been about redemption.
In Jeremiah 29, the prophet Jeremiah addressed God’s exiled people in Babylon. This was not their home, yet God announced through Jeremiah that they must remain in this foreign land for 70 years. Then the assurance of redemption came in Jeremiah 29:11-13, in the promise that those who sought God with all their hearts would find Him no matter their past regrets or failures. He would return the waylaid to their home.
God never intends your despair to be the end of the story. Sandwiched between the sorrow and the solution is the in-between, the redemptive waiting room. It’s why, for believers in Jesus, bitterness doesn’t linger on the tongue to cancel the sweetness that’s coming.
Jesus shouted this truth in His beatitudes (“blessed are those who mourn” [Matthew 5:4, NIV]) and rasped it on the cross with His failing breath (“today you will be with me in paradise” [Luke 23:43, NIV]). Then His resurrection gave us the ultimate reason for hope.
He promises that tomorrow will be better. Different. Redeemed.
Heavenly Father, I feel hopeless in my pain. You know what this feels like, so I am trusting You with my broken heart. Bring healing and redemption to my story, all for Your glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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Carole Holiday knows a thing or two about broken hearts, and she believes God leads her to people who need encouragement for theirs. If that’s you, order her book today: I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore: Restoring Your Identity Shattered by Grief and Loss. This book makes a timely gift for a friend going through tough times too.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
Jeremiah 29:11-13, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’” (NIV).
Read the three verses cited in today’s devotion regarding Jesus’ laments: Matthew 26:40, Matthew 23:37 and John 11:35. In what similar ways have you experienced loss? Share with us in the comments, and we’ll pray for you!
© 2023 by Carole Holiday. All rights reserved.
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