So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid (Nehemiah 2:2)
If we live long enough, we will experience loss. Sometimes it will seem beyond our ability to cope and even though we continue to function and, as the English say, “keep a stiff upper lip,” the grief sneaks up on us and we cannot hide it. Nehemiah was in grief over the state of Jerusalem. According to the first chapter we wept for days. Others might have simply said, “Get over it.” It is sometimes difficult to be around someone who is suffering grief because it isn’t tangible and cannot be “fixed” like a broken window or flat tire. It is something that happens inside.
As most of you know, my mother passed away about 3 weeks ago. Joy and I have been married for over 40 years and dated for 3 years before that. My mother had very much become her mother as well. We have had a marvelous outpouring of support from many over these past few weeks. The funeral went well and Joy and I went back to work as well as handling the ministry. From time to time emotions would flood over one or the other and often result in both weeping. Sadness of heart can be contagious. We were also working with the rest of Joy’s family in getting her mother moved to this area from Phoenix which happened this past Sunday.
Another thing happened this past Sunday. Joy’s brother passed away. He, like my mother, had been fighting cancer. We thought he would have longer and the treatments seemed to be helping but then he took a turn for the worst and within days he went to be with the Lord. It was a hard phone call to wake up to early on a Sunday morning. Like Joy and my mother, David had very much become my brother over the last 43 plus years. He had a ready wit, a quick smile and a kind heart. The last time we spoke when he asked how I was doing I told him “fat but good looking.” With no hesitation he responded, “I think you are wrong on both counts.” For the most part we seem to function but from time to time seemingly out of nowhere, the emotions reach up and grab us by the throat. There are some who that would contend such feelings are unspiritual and lack trusting in God. They can only take that position because they have simply overlooked Scripture.
God does comfort us and Revelation 7:17 and 21:4 describes God wiping away every tear but that is yet in the future. It isn’t unspiritual to grieve. It is a response to loss. He gives us grace and sometimes uses these difficult times to reveal Himself and His provision to us in new and different ways. For Nehemiah, God used his grief before the king to open a discussion and used the unbelieving king to finance the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem under the guidance of Nehemiah. Even the Apostle Paul struggled. One of the most profound passages I read years ago was:
For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more. (2 Corinthians 7:5-7)
God uses His people to comfort those who are fearful, grief stricken and/or depressed. This is as much a part of the life of faith as is guarding against false doctrine. Hence, Paul’s instruction to “comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)