It was last Sunday. Nathan had returned from National Staff Conference late the night before and I was working at the restaurant by myself so that I could catch up on the hours that I took off to watch the boys while he was traveling.
Nathan had been met by the Lord so sweetly at the conference. One speaker in particular was able to share a balanced, thoughtful, scriptural perspective on suffering. A perspective that is hard to come by and one that we were desperate to hear. The speaker was John Ortberg, an author and pastor of books and a church that I have never heard of, but his name was familiar. This past week I watched two of his three talks on vimeo and I am planning to watch the third one sometime this coming week.
His first talk was called, "Who is this Man?" and he explored the impact of Jesus on history and culture. His second talk was about Easter Saturday. Wow, that sounds awkward. We have Good Friday and Easter Sunday but we don't have a word for Saturday. The moment Nathan started to tell me about this talk I could feel the lump in my throat and the tears threatening. Easter might do that to me for awhile.
In this talk, Ortberg described Good Friday as the darkest day in the world, and Sunday was the greatest day in the world. Friday is the day of trouble, Sunday is the day of deliverance. But sometimes we don't understand the point of Saturday when we talk about Easter. We sort of want to skip ahead to the good stuff. There's something so true about the darkness of Saturday, something we often miss. It's the day after your best dreams have died but you still have to go on. Jesus ended Friday on the cross by saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Saturday is the day of God's silence.
Ortberg quotes CS Lewis in his talk, a passage from A Grief Observed. I don't remember how much of this passage he used, but the book has been very important for me in processing my own grief. At the risk of including more than Ortberg did...
"Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be -- or so it feels -- welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become... Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?"In the midst of suffering, we don't always feel the presence of the Lord.
Ortberg goes on to explain that there are repeated themes of "Third Day" stories throughout the Bible. On many occasions bad things happened and deliverance came on the third day. The trouble is, you don't know it's a third day story until the third day. He then shares an idea, that we, as humanity, are still waiting on the resurrection. In many ways it is a Saturday world and God is still at work. There are 3 ways that we can respond to Saturday: Despair (decide it will always be Friday), Deny (give simplistic explanations, false triumphalism, and cliched answers), and Wait (Rest, complain, talk, abide in Him.). On Saturday we have the chance to be with Him in a way that we cannot be with Him on any other day because on Saturday you know that He is YOUR ONLY HOPE.
Ok, back to last Sunday. I was mulling over all that Nathan had told me about this talk and how it resonated so strongly with my experience. There is suffering and hardship but there is still hope. Not necessarily hope of blessing on earth or restoration of what was lost, but eternal hope to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." (quoted from CS Lewis again) My heart was heavy still, heavy with our loss, finally starting to face it. I was realizing that "there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it." (again CS Lewis).
I used to be in the habit of casually praying throughout the day, "Lord please help..." all the time. When I decided to take a break from church I resolved to stop praying that way, recognizing what an empty, manipulative gesture it was. How could I ask for the Lord to help or be with someone when I didn't trust Him or really want much to do with Him? But when I was at work that day, my heart quieted for a moment and I talked to Him, briefly and with honesty, "Lord, Saturday hurts." In the small prayer was so much more. "I'm tired, I'm hurting, I don't understand. This life is difficult. I don't know how to wait for Sunday." His response was similarly brief and honest, carrying far more than the two words I heard, "I know," He said (not audibly of course, but I felt his response deep in my heart). In that response I felt the comfort of a Father to his daughter and I knew that he hurts, too, for the broken world. He is also waiting for His creation to be restored. The response was so much like my heart toward my son, when he's injured and crying, "Mommy, it hurts!" and all I can do is hold him through his pain, my own heart hurting for him, and say, "I know Sweetie. I know." And there, while making bread at work, the silence was broken.
"There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time." (CS Lewis, once again) Maybe his presence has been here, warming the room and lighting the dark for some time. But I'm just now starting to notice it. My hope is that as Spring comes, and warmth and lightness spread over the earth, the presence of the Lord will become more real to me.