Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53 4:5)
Welcome March! If you are like me, you are looking forward to warmer temperatures and the hopeful signs of spring. I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and we were able to look forward to water skiing and sailing after school as soon as the water warmed up. As a result, I tend to count my years from summer to summer rather than from January to January. Spring and summer feel like new beginnings and fresh starts to me, signaled by the new greenery and blooming flowers, and marked by gathering with my extended family each July.
Each summer I am filled with the excitement and expectation that when our whole family gathers it will be magical and that we will all sync perfectly, laugh and joke as we prepare meals that we enjoy accompanied by deep, caring, and attentive conversation. You probably see where this is going. Yes, usually it is smooth and joyful, but sometimes it is not. Often, old childhood patterns creep in, or just having many people crammed into a small space leads to friction. Summer 2021 presented a new twist: the norovirus paid us a visit — just like on cruise ships, the norovirus worked its way through the whole crew of 17 people. We can (mostly) laugh now and focus on my dad’s adage of “making memories.” However, at the time there was great disappointment and real physical suffering (especially for the one person who ended up hospitalized with appendicitis resulting from the virus).
Our summer vacation was certainly a brief period of illness and suffering, and thankfully everyone recovered. But our family has experienced times of lasting loss, deep grief, and suffering. We have experienced the physical and emotional pain of yearning for someone who has died too young or the loss felt when hopes and dreams are cut short or changed by illness. Our faith provides comfort in times of suffering but suffering is also difficult to accept and understand when we believe in a loving, caring, and trustworthy God. At times I find it hard to absorb and make sense of heartbreak, loss, or grief. Even faithful Christians who are comforted knowing they are not alone and that God has plans for them, still experience deep mourning when confronted with death, divorce, financial hardship, health issues, hurt, or hopes that never come to fruition.
I give thanks that God created us to be complex beings, with a whole range of emotions so that we might really live. Without hardship, how would we really have the same awareness of provision? Without loss or loneliness how would we have the full recognition of joy and love?
I recently re-read John Stiller’s A Grace Disguised, a book he wrote over 25 years ago following a car accident which resulted in the death of three family members. I have found his book a great comfort in answering questions about suffering and acknowledging the questions we cannot answer. One of his most poignant points is that we pray for miracles and for healing, and sometimes miracles come, but ultimately even a miracle is just a temporary fix. Stiller explains: “We really need more than a miracle; we need a resurrection to make life eternally new. We long for a life in which death is finally and ultimately defeated. To my knowledge, however, only one religion claims that an actual historical figure died and rose again, not as a resuscitated corpse destined to die again, but as a resurrected person destined to live eternally.”
I give thanks for this Lenten season where we can focus on the love and forgiveness that God poured out on each of us through the crucifixion and resurrection of his son our savior, Jesus Christ. What a wonderful reminder we can grab hold of each year. We are constantly offered new beginnings through the grace and forgiveness of our God. I give thanks for new beginnings of spring and summer, but I gain true and lasting comfort from the promise of Easter!
As I reflect on the passage from Isaiah 53, I note that he says Jesus has “borne our griefs” and “carried our sorrows.” As the prophet foretells, God will not take our suffering away but will carry our sorrow, and will bring us peace.
During this time of reflection as we wait for the good news of Easter, I pray this will be a time where you feel the hope and the promise that God offers us through Jesus’ resurrection. If you are in a season of hurt or suffering, I pray for your comfort and peace, and that you might feel the presence of God in your life in a real and tangible way.