I recently received an email from a good friend at 3:40am. It makes me anxious when I receive any kind of personal message at 3:40 in the morning… I guess I always assume the worst. He was writing to let me know one of the most meaningful relationships in his life had come to an end. I don’t know if you have experienced this kind of loss in your life, but because of the way life goes, I’m guessing you have experienced some kind of loss relationally. This is what my friend wrote…maybe you’ll relate:
“It hurts like hell… it just sucks. I’m terrified of being alone, of having no one to turn to when I’m hurting, or to talk to when I have something great to share. It scares me pretty much shitless to be honest.”
I think it is hard for us to be honest about what losing someone we love feels like. I don’t know what kind of loss you’ve experienced. Maybe your girlfriend broke up with you, maybe you broke up with your boyfriend or maybe it actually was “mutual”? Maybe your best friend moved to the other side of the state or maybe they moved to the other side of the world? Maybe your grandpa died, maybe your mom died, or maybe it was your best friend?
I have lost relationships and I have lost friends, and maybe that’s why my friend’s words resonate with me. “It hurts like hell… it just sucks.” But what resonated even more in my own spirit were the words that followed… “I’m terrified of being alone, of having no one to turn to when I’m hurting, or to talk to when I have something great to share.” When you lose someone close to you, the hurt and the joy that you used to share are not shared anymore…and I believe the stillness, the quiet, and the lonely of that place “hurts like hell.”
To be alone is terrifying. And I think far too often we are terrified of admitting that. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “I do just fine being alone… I don’t need anyone.” Maybe that’s true, but I would guess that deep down inside of you… if you are really honest with yourself, maybe just maybe that isn’t the case. I’m an introvert… I like to be alone. But I’m not talking about the introverted kind of alone… because to be away from people is totally different than being without your people. When you’re away from people, you still have the choice to be with people. When you are without people, you have no choice and you have no control. To not have a choice, to lose control and to have no one to turn to is terrifying. And may I be honest with you? “It scares me pretty much shitless” too.
I called my friend a day later to talk to him in person. He was doing fine. And that is how we are all doing, right? Okay, maybe you’re good and maybe I’m okay (I used to hate it when people said okay…now I’m realizing maybe that’s actually the more honest response). Maybe this is just my pessimism, but I think far too often we’re all dishonest about how we are really doing… anyways I digress… As we were talking together I realized that when you meet someone in the middle of their loss there are so many cliché things you can say. Some of them are true and helpful but far to many of them are just plain stupid. But then it dawned on me that in the midst of someone’s loss… Jesus is never cliché.
I know some people for whom it’s really easy to turn to Jesus in the midst of loss. I’m not wired that way. I’m more likely to tell Jesus to go to hell in those moments. And in the past I think I would have disagreed with the statement I just made: “In the midst of someone’s loss, Jesus is never cliché.” But consider Jesus’ story as told by Frederick Buechner, the pastor, theologian and storyteller:
“Later in the garden where it was his own death he had to sweat out, we are told he sweated blood. He said, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me”, and the cup was not removed from him presumably because the Father was not willing to remove it, and one suspects that the unwillingness of the Father may have been harder for Jesus to choke down than the cup itself was. Later it was harder still. By the time he had been hanging there for awhile, he had no tears left to weep with and no more sweat, his tongue so dry he could hardly wrap it around the words which are among the few he ever spoke that people remembered in the language he spoke them in probably because having once heard them, they could never forget them no matter how hard they tried, and probably they tried hard and often: “My God, my God, why have you—“ and then the Aramaic verb from the Arabic root meaning to run out on, leave in the lurch, to be the Hell and Gone. “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me.” My God, where the Hell are you, meaning if thou are our Father who art in Heaven, be thou also our Father who art in Hell because Hell is where the action is, where I am and the cross is. It is where the pitiless storm is. It is where men labor and are heavy laden under the burden of their own lives without you. Where they cut themselves shaving and smoke three packs a day though they know the surgeon general’s warning by heart.”
I don’t know what kind of loss you’ve experienced. I know that my friend lost his best friend. I know I have lost and I know that you have lost. I don’t know exactly where you heart goes when you lose the person closest to you, but I know that I’m scared shitless of being alone and if I had to guess I would guess you have felt that way too.
And that is exactly why Jesus matters and that is why there is nothing cliché about Him. Anything cliché about Jesus is our own fault.
When Jesus was born the Angel called him Emmanuel – God is with us. When Jesus was hung up on that cross he was all-alone and even The Father himself turned his back on him. And that’s when Jesus cried out, “My God my God, why hast though forsaken me.” My God, where the hell are you, meaning if thou are our Father who are in Heaven, be thou also our Father who are in Hell because Hell is where the action is, where I am and the cross is…” Jesus cried out… but there was no response… he was left to die – all alone. And it did more than scare the hell out of him. Jesus found himself right in the middle of it.
And so when you and I experience loss, and while we know what it feels like to be alone and while it scares the hell out of us, and while you and I might cry our eyes out at 3:40am in the morning remember this:
Emmanuel – God is with us. Cry your eyes out, kick, scream, groan deep and mourn the loss… because that is what Jesus did. But hear these words… hear the words that Jesus didn’t hear from his Father… so that you and I could:
Emmanuel – “I am with you…always.”
Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy And Fairy Tail (New York: Harper-Collins Publishers) 38-39.