Nativity

The Best Gift for a Friend in Crisis

It’s impossible to know unless you’ve been there: the secret wish of every man or woman in crisis.

Until your shoulder has crashed into the earth of Gethsemane’s soil, it’s tempting to tiptoe with awkwardness around a man or woman in pain, wondering what to say and how in the world to help. But those who’ve walked through the fire know: the troubles may be complex, but what is most needed is simple.

Believe it or not, the end of my Gerson Therapy came not with the fanfare of Palm Sunday, but with some of the deepest anguish of obedience I’ve ever known. The tearing has been real as I’ve surrendered again and again in loving trust to the command to go ahead and wean off therapy despite the occasional nips of pain and doubt.

When the time finally came to leap, I leaned on the stone counter, head down and arms spread wide, and ached so desperately to cry out, “Is anyone seeing this?!” “Does anyone remember that this is happening to me right now?” The stretched width of my soul wanted so badly to simply have a witness.

You know what I mean if you’ve experienced a moment of intense grief, trauma, or hard sacrifice. Our hearts feel the depth of Aslan’s words as He ascended Narnia’s sacrificial hill .

“Oh, children, children, why are you following me?”

“We couldn’t sleep,” said Lucy—and then felt sure that she need say no more and that Aslan knew all they had been thinking.

“Please, may we come with you—wherever you’re going?” asked Susan.

“Well—” said Aslan, and seemed to be thinking. Then he said, “I should be glad of company tonight. Yes, you may come, if you will promise to stop when I tell you, and after that leave me to go on alone.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you. And we will,” said the two girls.

Forward they went again and one of the girls walked on each side of the Lion. But how slowly he walked! And his great, royal head drooped so that his nose nearly touched the grass. Presently he stumbled and gave a low moan.

“Aslan! Dear Aslan!” said Lucy, “what is wrong? Can’t you tell us?”

“Are you ill, dear Aslan?” asked Susan.

“No,” said Aslan. “I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that.” And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him—buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and, so doing, walked with him. 

-The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis.

As Gethsemane’s stones pierce our feet, we know by instinct  that no human help will be allowed to come; this cross is ours to bear. Though we wish to our marrow to cry out to some passerby, “Save me from this!”, we know that we are bidden to share His cup in the place of sorrows. And holding it with trembling and cracked fingers, we whisper the next best thing,  “Then don’t leave me. Keep watch with me here tonight. Please. Just place your hand upon me, and don’t look away.”

We so rightly and desperately join Jesus as He reaches for Peter, James, and John, longing for a companion, a witness, the closeness of a brother. Their shoulders cannot carry His load, but oh can they silently weave their fingers into the golden mane, or whisper words of anguish-prayer that mingle with His own like vinegar and gall.

When the weight of the cross crashes down on the shoulder, the arm instinctively reaches for a brother to help steady it.

That man or woman threading their way through the deep straits of sorrow, or twisting in the vice of grief or uncertainty…they just need somebody to remember: to see; to acknowledge that the unthinkable, the unendurable, the unsurvivable has happened…and to reverence the gravity of that fact. 

The woman who’s been in Gethsemane so long the her knees have taken on the shape of the stones, she just needs to know- not only on the day when the last spade of dirt hits the casket she never wanted to see, but in a week, in a month, six weeks, and seven months later, somebody still sees her struggle.

It’s worth setting a reminder on the phone, or plastering the walls with post-its. There are few opportunities more sacred than those that bear the ministry of presence. Sage words are not often asked for, expected, or even needed. It’s the hand on the shoulder, the prayer in the watches of the night, the text, the loaf of banana bread that shows up in the mailbox, or the invitation to Christmas dinner or a movie. 

When we take up the mantle of bearing one another’s burdens, it’s His silhouette we cut in the darkness.

Long ago, He searched out this slave woman, Hagar, who was wetting the desert with her tears as she fled her oppressors, and He gently let her fingers crown His brow with a new name, “The God who sees”.

We with His fire burning in our chests bear witness of Him when we sit at the Garden Gate and refuse to sleep as we keep watch with a sorrowing brother.  

Oh it hurts us to hear that Peter, James, and John slept in Love’s darkest hour of need. But we have the chance to learn from their lesson: to rise to the occasion, and to care for Him in the form of His children.

And lest we be tempted to think that the simple act of remembering doesn’t matter…may we read the stories of the persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq, China, and beyond, who upon finding that their brethren in other lands had known of their suffering and prayed, fell weeping with gratitude to God,  praising His name that their sorrow had been seen…and they were not alone.

And ask that girl whose dear momma died what she’s learned about helping a person through grief, and she’ll tell you of the manna of the text messages. The food of remembrance, dropped faithfully by friends who didn’t forget. The simple, “How are you doing this week?” was the nourishment that saw her through the storm.

Within arm’s reach of each of us, there are those for whom Advent has ushered in together the manger and the cross; joy and grief; loneliness and Light; pain and peace; for whom the Inn of rest has no read “No vacancy”. And all the gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the world cannot mean as much, or heal as deeply, as the act of simply seeing.