“I couldn’t even sing. I would just come to church. I would cry throughout the entire service. But I couldn’t open my mouth to participate.”
Close friends of ours from another church had been through an excruciating experience. Nine months pregnant, they went in for a final checkup in preparation for delivery, and they found no heartbeat.
Nothing could have possibly prepared them for such devastation. Over the coming days, their pastor loved them well, people made them meals, and many prayers were offered. But a profound grief, an aimless ache, and palpable despair set in. In seasons like that, faith can seem like flexing a muscle in a limb that has already been amputated. The muscle memory of believing in the goodness of God is there, but you just can’t seem to feel anything.
Many of us have been through seasons of loss. Perhaps yours isn’t quite as tragic as that of my friends, but we have all experienced things that shake us all the way down to our souls. In those moments, we long to find comfort in our faith and hope in our Savior. But in reality, even breathing becomes difficult. Putting one foot in front of the other is a chore. We want to sit still long enough to perhaps stop existing, just long enough to allow the pain to pass.
In seasons of grief, faith can seem like flexing a muscle in a limb that has already been amputated. The muscle memory of believing in the goodness of God is there, but you just can’t seem to feel anything.
This is one of the many reasons we so desperately need the people of God around us. We were meant for community, but some of us keep others at an arm’s length. The problem is that when the wheels come off of life (and they will come off), the community that you kept at arm’s length is beyond the reach of your fingertips. Community consists of the life-giving relationships that we invest in, make room for, and open ourselves up to. Relationships create space where we can encourage one another, speak gracious truth to one another, and carry each other when life knocks us down. But even more than that, among the community of God’s people we will at times need to know that others are clinging to Jesus on our behalf, long after our own feeble hands have given up. In other words, you will need to believe the realities of the gospel for me, when the darkness hides my Savior from my eyes.
Kelly Kapic says, “When you are hurting, when you are struggling, when you are doubting, the people of God believe for you. When you cannot believe, we believe for you. And that’s represented by us going to God on your behalf. We represent you to God. And when you are in physical pain and weak and doubting, it’s almost impossible to try to hear God on your own. But what Christian hope does, as the body of Christ, is that then the people of God represent him to us, in a concrete, gentle way so that we can actually hear it and experience it. In God’s economy, he expresses his love and extends his love to us through the agency of his people.”
This is why we must refuse the temptation to keep each other at arm’s length. We immerse ourselves in Christian community, not so that we can tell each other, “Everything is going to be okay.” It’s to believe on behalf of one another, when things are profoundly not okay.
This brings us back to the story of my friends, who had lost a child in the ninth month of their pregnancy. “I couldn’t even sing. I would just come to church. I would cry throughout the entire service. But I couldn’t open my mouth to participate. But something happened, as I would come each week. Even though I was too overwhelmed to worship, I would close my eyes, and listen to the voices of the people around me. They were singing, what my voice couldn’t manage. They were holding out hope, when my faith was too weak. They were believing for me, when all I could do was show up.”
We need each other’s voices. It’s the difference between Christian community and all other kinds of community. When we draw near to each other, we offer each other the very presence of Jesus. As it says in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”