The other night, I spent a few hours on a video call with some good friends from seminary. We realized during our call that we had known each other for ten years. As we took turns sharing updates about where our lives have been going since the last time we all connected, there were up and downs, celebrations and victories, difficulties and challenges.
I have been so grateful for these four brothers over the years. During our time in seminary, I wasn’t always crazy about traveling to Minnesota twice a year, especially in the thick of the February Minnesota winter. I wasn’t crazy about all the classes that we had to sit through either. The one thing that I always looked forward to, though, was what happened when class was done for the day. Even though our days were full, we would spend evenings talking about ministry and how we were being shaped and formed to see things different than what we had experienced or been taught.
While it was great catching up with everyone, when we disconnected, I felt heavy inside. It wasn’t because of the company, it was because of the subject matter. Over the course of our conversation, we talked about life challenges, particularly the loss of parents, something that was near and dear to my heart. Out of the five of us, only me and another friend had lost a parent, but everyone was well aware that it was inevitable to face and something that they were all interested in hearing about, learning from what we had experienced for ourselves.
It’s not every day that you can have meaningful and deep conversations with people. While my heart was heavy with what we had talked about, my heart also felt full having experienced brotherhood, love, and friendship through our conversation. But it sure did remind me of the gravity of life.
A number of other things had happened leading up to this conversation with my friends. My dad’s birthday was last week, always a reminder to me that he is no longer here. While the deepest part of my grieving for him has passed, I don’t think grieving is ever fully over or complete, nor do I think that it should be. Our grief reminds us of how temporary we are and it also reminds me where my hope should be found.
The day after my dad’s birthday, a dear family in our church who has endured significant hardships over the years lost their house in a fire. They also lost their dogs in the fire. This same family had lost their son last fall after a long nine and a half years since surviving a tragic car accident. The fire in the house spread quickly and within a few hours, everything was lost, including their dogs.
As I drove to the house to be with the family as they watched firefighters try to fight this fire, I found myself at a loss for words. I muttered a few obligatory words to God in prayer, and then I honestly told him what I was feeling. I didn’t really know what else to pray than those honest words, crying out on behalf of a family who had already seen and experienced such loss. It was one of those moments when I really wondered why God allows certain things to happen.
On the heels of all of these things, I drove into work the other day with the pall of all of these serious conversations and events hanging over me. I was grateful for the Bible app in my phone that could read passages to me as I drove. I scrolled to 2 Corinthians 4 and pressed “Play,” allowing my phone to read the chapter to me.
When I came to verses 16 through 18, I paused and felt the weight of all of these things coming down. Pulling into the parking lot at my office, my eyes stopped on these verses and I processed just what they meant in light of all that I was feeling.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Light. Momentary. Affliction.
The only word that I really like there, that really feels honest to me, is affliction. To call these things light and momentary almost seems disrespectful at best, heartless at worst.
Then I had to remember just who had written these words. The Apostle Paul knew difficulty. He knew affliction. He had been beaten. He had been shipwrecked. He had spent time in prison. He dealt with a thorn in his flesh which continued to afflict him even after praying three times to God for it to be taken away. This same Paul could call all of these things light momentary afflictions.
My heart is still heavy, but there’s hope. That seems to be what it comes down to for me, is there hope? Can I see past the present circumstances to what will be? Not easy. Not comfortable.
Hope doesn’t extinguish the pain of the present, it just puts it into perspective a little. Hope doesn’t remove scars or grief, but it can often help us see beyond them to the purpose for which they were experienced, or more to the point, what they accomplished in us and how we changed through them.
As I said to my friends on our call, I can’t imagine what life would be like without community. I am grateful for the communities in which I found myself. It’s in those communities that I have been formed, encouraged, and sustained. And so, it’s in those communities that I will remain as I press on.