I had run into a lovely lady several times in the hallways of our church whose radiant smile and sweet countenance exudes the love of Jesus. I remember thinking, “I’d love to get to know her better!’ During one of our very brief ‘hall visits’ we’d discovered that we had children who’d attended the same Christian university, so I knew we had that as well as attending the same church in common. We’d exchanged phone numbers and I reached out to her in early June to see about getting together outside of church. After a few days she responded that she’d love to grab lunch, but since she was going out of town she’d have to get back to me to schedule a date. I didn’t hear back from her after that, but over the summer we ran into each other a couple more times at church where we both assured one another we were determined to make a lunch date happen.
I reached out to her again at the end of September, and we finally put a date on the calendar, which happened to be the Friday after my daughter left to go back overseas. As I sat across from her beaming face at lunch, I was delighted to finally be with her and felt so comfortable in her presence. So comfortable that even though I barely knew her, I felt that I could—and even should— ask her questions about a subject that I knew was always on her mind: the suicide of her teenage son that had occurred within the past two years. Tears welled up in my eyes when she shared with me that it was his birthday— something she hadn’t even thought about when we’d booked our lunch date. How perfect is God’s timing! After talking about getting together for almost 4 months, we just ‘happened’ to arrange our meeting on her son’s birthday. I love getting to know people, and I believe my friend needed someone who would ask her questions about her life, her faith journey, and especially about her son. God gave me the privilege of being able to hear her pour out her heart about her son and to be a ‘safe place’ for her to share special memories of him and her love for him—the person whom I knew she was always thinking about—and of course especially so on his ‘special day’! I was so blessed to get to know this woman who had suffered something so unimaginably painful, yet was clinging to the Lord Whom she knew was her constant companion— her Helper, Strength, and Hope, Who alone was able to get her through even the darkest of days.
I praise God that I’d learned many years ago from a close friend of mine whose husband had been brutally murdered and who’d shared with me that the most painful thing for her— other than the actual loss of her husband’s presence— was that people would be afraid to mention his name to her, as if he hadn’t existed and hadn’t been central to her life…or as if by not mentioning his name, somehow she wouldn’t think about him. That friend had taught me how important it is to provide a safe environment for someone who’s lost a loved one to talk about their loss; that they want and need to talk about the person, who naturally is always going to be a part of their life and always in their thoughts. And if true for the loss of any loved one, how much greater even is the need for a person who has suffered the loss of a child—especially to suicide—to receive comfort and to know that they are loved and not alone in their grief. As another friend of mine who also had lost her teenage son to suicide wrote, “The loss of a child is one of the most excruciating pains the heart will ever bear….And suicide is not normal grief, it is a catastrophic loss.”
How often our fear of not wanting to potentially make someone else feel uncomfortable—and if we’re really honest with one another it’s more likely our fear of us being uncomfortable— leads us to remain silent rather than providing the gift of a hug, a listening ear, and even shedding tears alongside someone who is experiencing deep grief. You may never experience discomfort if you don’t ask the deep, most relevant questions that are on a person’s mind who is going through a tough time, but if you don’t ask, you likely won’t gain a meaningful connection that can be life changing for you, and for the other person. As a former teacher of mine always said, ‘no risk, no reward’. My reward for asking my friend to share her story and her pain was an indescribable gift— the friendship of a beautiful, faith-filled sister in Christ!
I can’t begin to comprehend the kind of loss she, her husband and their sons have gone through over the past couple of years. However, God in His infinite wisdom had given me a glimpse—and I emphasize, only a glimpse— of the pain that my new friend felt at the loss of her son, when earlier that same week I’d been reeling from the absence of my daughter who’d gone back overseas for the next two years. In the midst of battling my emotions over her absence, God had led me to consider what it would be like to lose her to death, so I had even greater empathy and a keener sense of my new friend’s loss than I otherwise might have had. Since in my sorrow over missing my daughter, God had given me a new revelation regarding what He had willingly endured for our sake in sending His beloved Son to earth to die in our place, I was able to share that revelation with my friend over lunch and it served as a blessing to her as well. God orchestrated our lunch date on the heels of my daughter’s departure when I could even better appreciate her loss—He’s the God of perfect timing!
That day God knit our hearts together over lunch as we shared how we had come to our faith in Jesus, how His life had transformed ours, and how we couldn’t imagine life without Him. Her heart most definitely still hurts as she continues to mourn the loss of her son, but her comfort and hope come from knowing the God Who heals broken hearts, no matter how shattered the pieces!
As we hugged and said our good-byes after a long lunch that brought us both needed nourishment to our souls, I thought: this is what the Body of Christ is for—to comfort one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to encourage one another, to love one another, and to spur one another on to run with endurance the race set before us, keeping our eyes on the prize that awaits us, even—and especially— when the obstacles seem overwhelming and unbearable. My new friend’s life that radiates the love of Jesus and reflects His heart of love is such a blessing and encouragement to me and all who know her. Her deep faith has come at a great cost to her—it has most definitely been ‘refined in the fire’—but what she possesses is indeed far more precious than gold! She knows the comforting, sustaining, matchless love of Jesus like few others do. How grateful I am that the Lord drew our lives together in His perfect timing; that I overcame any fear of asking her questions regarding her son, the foremost thing on her mind; and for her faith ‘as pure as gold’ that encourages me to keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Author and the Perfecter of my faith as well!
Have you ever quit pursuing someone out of fear of rejection? Have you considered what blessings you may be missing out on due to that fear? Have you ever been with someone who’ s suffered a great loss and you were afraid to ask them about it for fear of you or they being ‘uncomfortable’? I encourage you to consider the gift you can be to someone else by asking them to share their hurt and their heart, and by just providing a safe place for them to ‘pour out their heart’ while you attentively listen to them. I am certain if you do, you will both be blessed!
Written by Julie Van Gorp