So I've been following the dialogue from the last post pretty closely and praying through this whole topic of coming alongside a hurting, suffering, grieiving, etc... brother or sister. Thank you all for your contributions.
There was some imagery I stumbled upon in the aforementioned post that I've kind of taken a liking to. It was conjured up in my mind with more than a touch of irony and humor, but the more I thought about it, the more it rings true and profoundly applies to the topic at hand, at least in my twisted mind. The image is that of two people "sharing a glass" of wine at dinner. I originally mentioned it as an image of avoiding the betrayal of trust... (The quote follows, here-- and I apologize for having the audacity to quote my own blog, but it sets up the rest of this post...)
If I'm on a date, and my date offers me a taste of her wine (certainly a bold and intimate gesture), what would she do if I'd take the sip, and then get up from the table and go around the restaurant with her cup, offering sips of her wine to all the other patrons? Just because a friend shares with you a sip from his or her cup, it doesn't mean that it is in fact your cup to share with others.
I think we all get where I was going, there. But the thing that I keep coming back to, in reflection of this topic, is indeed that "glass of wine". Or the concept of "this cup", as a metaphor for various paths of struggle, grief, or intense suffering. There is something strikingly intimate and descriptive about the idea of sharing that glass of wine with someone-- the sweetness, the bitterness, the unique character and aroma, the personal exchange and sharing therein... Indeed, (not to equate any of our suffering with that of Jesus-- as if I need to clarify!), Jesus pled with The Father, on the eve of his crucifixion, that He "take this cup". And prior, He had challenged His disciples (who were quarrelling, ironically about which one was the greatest among them) and asked them, "Can you drink the cup I drink...?" That is... "can you really come along with me and taste of the suffering I'm about to endure? Can you bear this cross?"
This again brings me to a powerfully spiritual truth of the more eternal variety that keeps sprouting up into my life, through these past several months. THIS is the stuff that faith is made of. To drink from Christ's cup. To bear Christ's cross. The whole plan of the "salvation of man to God" centers around suffering, and then redemption. (So often we tend to want to fast-forward through the suffering part and just dwell on the redemption part.) That God should sacrifice Himself in His perfection-- humbling Himself from the highest place to the lowest (Merry Christmas, by the way)-- and pay the price for our sin/fallenness/unGodliness, by enduring-- and then succumbing to, and then overcoming-- some of the most disgusting and treacherous kind of suffering (and even death) anyone could possibly imagine. Remember-- in order to be able to "conquer the grave", He first had to be "sent to the grave"-- and that, not without intensely horrible suffering. So tell me, my Christian brothers and sisters... "Are you willing to drink this cup and bear this cross?" Is the Gospel you preach and hold to and live by a Gospel of happiness and comfort and the path of least resistance? Or is it the Gospel of the Cross? Of faith enduring-- even blossoming and coming to fruition-- in suffering?
This is extremely important to refresh in our minds as we dive further into the topic of "coming alongside a friend or loved one in their suffering", because this, my friends, is the very essence of the Gospel, as best I can tell... Living faith in suffering... "sharing the cup"... This is what I mean when I talk about "abiding" with someone-- or not trying to just "fix it". Until you have actually shared that cup-- tasted the bittersweetness of that wine-- you truly have no idea what you're even trying to fix. And just because you've tasted a different cup doesn't mean you know the fullness of what the cup of another contains.
Now, all you who are suffering, or have suffered-- a minute with you, if I may... Many of you have resonated with my "do-and-don't" lists from the previous post. But it needs to be understood that these guidelines for your family and friends are only going to yield positive "results", (or rather, "processes"), if we, in our suffering, are willing to truly drink our cup ourselves... and then share it. First of all, do you allow your suffering, grief, "healing", or whatever to point you to the Cross? Or is all your energy and focus pointed inward, at how badly this all sucks? Certainly it can be a good thing to call out to God in agony and dissatisfaction with your cup... but it is only good if, indeed, you are calling out to Him. Do you view your suffering as an honor and a privelege, as Paul did-- that you might be able to live the fullness of your faith through intense suffering as Jesus did? Do you who mourn understand why you're called "blessed"? Do you who are poor in spirit understand? What about you who are persecuted? Not that it makes you happy-- there's a different between "blessed" and "happy" (a fact that the American church doesn't always seem to grasp). But before any sort of "healthy grieving" or "faithful suffering" or "cross bearing" or "sharing of the cup" can take place... the person who has been given the cup needs to have both of his/her eyes fixed on that Cross. Otherwise, you are a slave to yourself-- to your own feelings and thoughts and humanness. And once you're there, you'd might as well just go buy a bunch of new-agey, secularly-humanistic self-help books. Because all of the abiding in the world isn't going to help you. Sitting on your duff and feeling sorry for yourself is not abiding. No, accepting your cup, drinking from it, and sharing it in faith with others, with eyes fixed on the Cross... now THAT's the abiding I'm talking about. It's the abiding the Lord was talking about when He said, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me."
There's that fruit of the vine again... which brings us right back to the wine and the cup...
So this post is a bit all over the map, and perhaps more abstract. But this should have actually been the precursor to the "To Mourn With Those Who Mourn" post. This is the imagery that is on my mind when I think of suffering, and coming alongside those who are suffering. This is the concept that is flooding my mind as I write a more concrete, direct list of "Dos" and "Don'ts". It's not about comforting a friend in need. It's about sharing a cup.