The Fellowship of His Suffering
“I’m sorry to jump into your conversation,” she said, as she knelt awkwardly over the stiff, high-backed airline seat in front of me, “but I’ve had two miscarriages and all of my friends are having kids and it’s so hard.” Her eyes glistened, holding back tears, as her introduction spilled over with weighty words.
“So I can relate to your daughter,” she said to the woman beside me, also a stranger to me.
The conversation between them continued and I hoped the blood pumping to and from my heart didn’t discolor my skin and expose me. This broken woman in front of me was responding to my seatmate’s story. Her daughter, two years trying, was still infertile.
She was 26 and heartbroken.
And that was all I heard.
No room today to empathize, to sympathize, on this particular day.
At 26, age 34 — nearly 35 — felt distant. Not looming or foreboding, but a someday, far-off potential. If I sat across the table from this 26 year-old whose life may have felt like it passed her by or the woman in the row ahead of me, 28, would they dread my story?
I got lost in my book and fought the twinges of pain that I hadn’t felt in months, and another memory surfaced. That friend who didn’t want to “get stuck waiting 7 years to conceive” as she talked about their family’s plan.
She didn’t know that this would be the plan my family would be bequeathed — the waiting part, and all those years – when she shared her concern.
My life had become what she sought to avoid, with hers.
Days after this airplane interaction, my throat still felt tight. I didn’t want to waste this low-grade fever I couldn’t shake. I knew He’d allowed it, but I couldn’t see beyond the mountain of all those years. This is the dialogue I entertain in my weakness: if history reveals patterns, this 26 year-old will likely be with child before she sees thirty. And her 28 year-old commiserator will carry that next child to term. Very few of them will know barrenness at thirty-four.
I’ve outrun them.
But my God is like smelling salts, too kind to let me wallow for long.
He awakens me with a phrase.
I’m sharing my pain with you, breaks my toxic line of thinking.
And I remember: suffering is not an end, it’s a fellowship. With Him.
Pain, if it does its job, doesn’t leave me pounding on the doors to the home of a distant ruler, begging his ear. It leaves me longing to scoot up next to the One whose body also broke, whose tears bled red.
He searched high and low, throughout the earth, for a heart like His, in David’s time. And David waited, long with suffering.
His heart formed itself into flesh that lived the world’s disgrace. Our Savior heaved His last breath on a mountain people spend their lives avoiding.
And that death-giving-way-to-life held a beauty for which our language falls short.
When my pain leaves me doubled-over, confounded, and without words to describe it, something tells me He has a whole language for this. There is a holy, other encounter which is birthed out of my barren places. I not only get a glimpse, from my own vantage point, of the hours when His body broke open and gave way to a Spirit, stunning in its victory, but I share bread with Him.
The fellowship of His suffering.
Who is this God who doesn’t lord or dictate, but expands Himself inside of me when my body breaks? He comes near. And when He already resides within, this kind of nearness — offered to the brokenhearted — is almost impalpable. Yet it’s more real than the airline seat in front me. He makes my world His world. He implodes beauty.
And the track I thought I always wanted for my life suddenly doesn’t matter.
The barren spaces in all of us, both life-altering and merely hour-altering, are intended to provoke. They are all around us. Everyday.
There is a holy companionship, a union, for which we hunger but which we just might live our whole lives without if we live with our eyes, bent, on avoiding pain. (Both present pain and old affliction, the kind we want to brush under the rug, serve a purpose.)
How easy is it for us to rest heads at night on plans and position and circumstance? We counsel others to seek Him in their weakness but see our own life-hiccups, resolved, as essential for peace. It’s over the breaking of bread, the breaking of bodies and hearts and even God-inspired dreams, that fellowship with Him arises.*
We were made for this communion. And until we taste it, we wait on life’s handouts.
I was made for this one-thing, this first-thing. I want fellowship with this God-Man. And my present barren space invites me to rest my head on His shoulder and watch as tears, aged and matured, drop one by one on His scarred hands.
I know your road, He says. And, my friend, I now share Mine with you.
Fire causes water to boil. It burns brushwood. And His eyes like those flames of fire don’t just see me — the one whose called Him to attention by my pain because He is near to ones like me (and you) — they change me.
*”Embrace Him, not the pain,” a friend told me, years ago, when I confessed I was struggling to embrace my pain. Suffering is not an end. When it becomes that and we fix our eyes on suffering, we lose sight of the One whose fellowship we share in our suffering. He is our end. I live in the terribly radiant nexus of knowing that experts’ opinions cannot trump the power of our God who raised His Son from the grave, and yet embracing Him, every day that I wait. I still pray, daily, with great hope that my womb would be opened. I stay here, at this nexus, not succumbing to what statistics might say nor being frantic (most days) that my prayer was not heard, because it’s here that I am stretched. And if I live until 80, my body carrying only that expectant-prayer and not it’s answer, I believe my faith will have pleased Him.
Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.
And a note: as you may have gathered, summer days in the Hagerty home are for slowing down. Schooling takes on a different rhythm, as do our lives. I’m resuming writing here, but with no set schedule. And since our summer-Mondays don’t feel like Fall, Winter, or Spring Mondays, I’ll be pressing pause on Monday Morning Chais. Adoration is still very much my bedrock. I’ll resume adoring over here, just not on schedule . You can sign-up by using this RSS feed link: http://www.EveryBitterThingisSweet.com/posts/chai/feed or by entering your email address in the second box on the right-hand side.