Mixing tears into my drink...
Last night at our parish's Community Supper Soup Kitchen, a woman approached me and asked for some of my time as the pastor of the church. She was struggling, with God and with grief. Her son had died two years ago of an aneurysm while in his thirties. She had her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren living with her. For the most part, she had pulled her life together in the wake of her loss...at least from a material perspective. Her soul continues to be troubled and her heart remains broken. By her own words, she was "stuck."
It is one thing to accept suffering and loss. We all have to do that in this life. It is also a part of life that we walk with the death of loved ones, even when it is untimely by our estimation. I believe that she was at the least able to understand and embrace that reality. What had her stuck? All the unresolved tensions in her relationships with her son and with God; both of which remained torn and in tatters, even after two years of prayer and tears.
Reading today's psalm, my heart and my own prayers go out to her again. Being with her as she wrestled with God and with her grief and anger at the loss of her son was a grace--a difficult one, but a grace all the same. This grieving mother reminds us all that when it comes to loss, and struggling to accept loss, in a life that has a beginning, a middle and an end, we are forced to confront the eternity of God with a howling, weeping "WHY!?!"
That is the heart of the psalm today. There is no retreating from suffering. As the mother last night demonstrated, grief and tears flow easily even with the passage of time when the loss is great. She wasn't rejecting God, nor was she trying to contain her grief. She was just struggling, as the psalmist was, with how to live in the face of loss while seeking reconciliation with a God whom she feels has rejected her.
In her head she knows that her son's condition meant that at any point he could have died. She knows in her heart that he is with Jesus. She knows that at the last day we will all be raised; but until then, she feels stuck. She misses her son. She worries that when she gets to heaven she won't, or he won't recognize her. She worries that the one thing she desires, to hold him, will be impossible if we don't have bodies to touch each other with, in the resurrection. She has sorrow that her son's children have to grow up without a father, that his wife is too young to be a widow. She has some anger, because no mother should have to bury her son.
The gift of the psalmist, and of this blessed woman I was able to pray with last night, is that there is a witness before us and before God that some suffering will always fail to resolve itself. It is simple with us, and continues to abide with us. We may heal in part, but from this sort of loss there is no moving on. Rather, there is a surviving with it as we live.
God needs to hear what it is like for us to walk with these bits of grief attached to the garment of life we wear from day to day. God hears, and is with us, in that suffering; and we need to be able to let it out without fear that somehow we are letting God, our families or ourselves down. It is simply a part of us; and in that, our humanity can be observed. In that revelation, God can be active--bringing hope in the face of loss, and granting life-sometimes even just the shadow of it-to us as we stumble forward in the face of suffering.
"God with us," one of Jesus' names (Emmanuel), is not just a platitude. It is a reality. In the face of joy and in the face of sorrow...even when we suffer as the psalmist does in today's reading...God is with us.