Life is hard because of the losses we experience. These include people we dearly love and people we’ve spent years grieving over because some relationships are so broken. Life is hard because of long seasons of loneliness in which we reach out and beg for changes that could build intimacy with spouses or friends only to be met by anger that leaves us wounded or by passivity that leaves us feeling invisible and unheard. Life is hard when we lose relationships or friendships due to divorce or because conflicts couldn’t be resolved; no matter how hard we tried. Life is hard even when we chose to end relationships to preserve our integrity or to stop pain we could no longer bear. After all, aren’t we, as believers, supposed to make it all work? In reality, it is not always possible. Whether loss of relationship is by choice or not it sometimes makes life hard.
Life is hard when we lose material things–things stolen, homes repossessed, or homes destroyed by natural disasters. Material losses include things we can easily replace and the sentimental items that can’t–baby pictures that burned, wedding albums floating in flood waters, scrapbooks of family vacations taken by a tornado, or grandmother’s china that shattered in an earthquake. And yes, things are things, but some things have special meanings and, yes, sometimes life is hard when we can’t replace those things.
Sometimes life is hard because we face losses due to abuses we’ve experienced. It doesn’t matter whether they were sexual, physical, and/or emotional in nature–victims experience a loss of innocence. They lose a sense of being safe in their home, their family, their community, their church, and even their own bodies. Losses are felt when we experience violence either first hand or vicariously. They are felt when we experience injustices and judgments in the face of divorce and long drawn out custody battles. Losses can be unfulfilled dreams or decreased abilities due to illness or injury, or even the aging process.
Life is also hard because we are part of a culture that experiences violence such as Nine-Eleven, Columbine, Newtown, Colorado, Taft, churches all over the world, bombings, and now the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Many will grieve because of so many lives lost. Many will struggle as they work hard to physically recover from wounds. And many will struggle the impact of trauma from having been there and survived, having watched it on TV, and having been shocked to realize our sense of safety is being rocked to the core. When there are such big losses some will shut down and not experience their losses for a while as they struggle to come to terms with it. Yes, life is sometimes hard for a season as we face and grieve these losses.
Ironically, the more we love, the more potential we have to experience hard. I’ve lost extended family and three friends who deeply impacted my life. I’ve lost my parents, my parent-in-laws, my spiritual Dad, and precious friends I met through church. My heart has also ached because I have chosen to walk with many through painful things. Yet, observing them courageously facing their hard and choosing to acknowledge it and move through it so it can no longer control them blesses me! Standing shoulder to shoulder with the hurting is standing on the most sacred ground there is. I’ve watched as friends, both near and far have buried loved ones–parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren. To be honest it has made me angry at death and sin and it has created in me a thirst for heaven where I know there will be no more death, no injustice, no sin, no abuse, no grief, and no tears–no hard-but for now sometimes life is hard.
Friends have just buried their eighteen-year-old son, grandson, brother, and friend. I’ve pondered a lot about how we deal with life in the face of the pain of the hard. The pat answer, of course, is in the promise of eternal life. Yet, I think we are missing something in the now if this is the only tool we use to cope. Israel was instructed to build monuments to remember who God is and what God had done for them. My dear friend Joyce, her husband, her son, and her daughter-in-law have shared monuments of Scriptures that have seen them through this painful time. One monument Joyce shared was a verse that a mutual friend had preached on years ago proclaiming God upholds us with His right hand. When he preached on the verse, it impacted her so much she wrote about it in her journal and she was able to go back to that verse and hang on to it in this season of hard. The last few months I’ve experienced loss and been surrounded by pain to a point I’ve been overwhelmed. A friend reminded me it comes with the territory of being in the business of loving others-my grief has become tinged by thankfulness even in the hard.
I've been thinking about specific monuments God has given to me, many of which came through seeking God in the process of healing from past emotional pain. One of those monuments occurred after a counselor friend asked me to choose a word to describe how I viewed myself. Without hesitation I told her, “Invisible!” Several months later I was praying with a prayer director who told me she sensed God wanted me to renounce something she had never come across before. I asked her what it was and she said, “God wants you to renounce the spirit of invisibility.” I had not told her about feeling invisible and became overwhelmed at God’s goodness in revealing this to her so I could be set free from a stronghold. Shortly after the prayer time, I came across Hagar’s story. After becoming pregnant by her mistress’ husband, Hagar developed an attitude and was sent away by the slighted, bitter Sarah. Alone in the desert where life was hard, she sat down and wept. She was all alone or so she thought. God met her there in the hard of her being used, her loneliness, her invisibility, and her rejection. In an act of worship, she ascribed to God, the name El Roi, which means “The God who Sees!” This means He is also the God who sees me…even in the hard!
This name for God has so many implications for us. He sees little ones abandoned by their parents physically and/or emotionally. He sees little ones whose spirits are crushed by abusive words spoken by caretakers or bullies. He sees little ones being pounded by those who are supposed to nurture them. He sees girls and boys trying to scrub away the shame of perverted people who violated them. He sees girls trafficked by their parents and girls taken off the street by pimps and shipped to who knows where-to be used to death. He sees those displaced by natural disasters--tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and landslides. He sees families struggling to understand why loved ones were killed violently by angry people they don’t even know. He sees those struggling with flashbacks and anxiety in the aftermath of violence and abuse. He sees the parents watching children struggling with horrific illnesses and painful syndromes no one can explain or heal. He sees families wracked by addictions, infertile women sitting through sermons for moms on Mother’s Day, and women fighting down a mountain of shame for babies they chose to abort and moms who did everything they could to carry their children but couldn’t. He sees tiny babies that fit in the palm of a hand fighting to live the life God created them to live and the parents pleading for Him to grow little ones out of the womb too soon. He sees parents weeping as they bury babies in tiny coffins and parents who’ve buried, not just one child, but two, three, or more. He sees people struggling with depression so deep and dark they grasp desperately for hope and the families left in the chaos created by an unpredictable world of mental illness. He sees parents and grandparents standing before flag-draped coffins as well as soldiers coming back physically and emotionally scarred for life. He sees families burying loved ones taken by accidents too soon, families facing the ugly truth that suicide has forever marked their family with deep pain. He sees families standing over hospital beds to say goodbye and those who are too late to say or hear a last, “I love you!” He sees little ones orphaned as well as those of us who are learning to live as adult orphans. EL Roi! The God who SEES! He Sees! He Sees! He Sees! Oh, how I love that name!
God isn’t just in the mountain tops, He is in the hard. We know that because God is the El Roi--the God who sees. He is also the God who creatively acts. Many of His names reveal to us His actions in response to what He sees! In response to the pain He saw His people in He came to love by taking on flesh and rubbing shoulders with people just like us--people who were in bondage to sin, in bondage to deep pain, and those with overwhelming needs no person on earth could fill. He died a cruel, unjust death-suspended between Heaven and Earth-so our shame, guilt, and ugly sin could be placed on Him. He died so His unending grace, peace, goodness, and love could be poured out upon us. He bore unspeakable abuse so we could know He, too, has experienced the hard and know He understands our pain in the hard!
In the moments, I'm overwhelmed by what I see others going through, by what they've survived, by what I know they will face in the future, or by what I am experiencing, I can look to the truth that God is the God who sees, who loves, and who acts in ways I am only beginning to understand. I remind myself that the cross preceded the empty grave and the hope that the resurrection brings. I remind myself that the cross preceded the gift of the Comforter who leads us to repentance, gives us supernatural strength to overcome sin, helps us endure the hard, and gives moments of connection to the wounded Savior that heals hearts and instills hope and peace.
Maybe we live in this life with the hard so we can learn to thirst for the completion promised when we are face to face with Jesus where pain, suffering, and the constant tug of sin on our hearts is once and for all removed. Maybe we live in this life where the hard is not removed so those of us who know the Savior can be used by Him to be His eyes and His ears to a world of people who have lost their way in the hard. We live in the hard so the message that His Resurrections speaks of hope and power and joy is more readily received by the hurting. We can rest in the promise of His return and the promise of life eternal, which tells us the hard in this life is all the hard there is. I will remember the monuments He has given me personally and I will cling to the truth of who He is and know He sees me all the time--even in the hard!