Across a bridge and around a bend, I came across four children chasing each other. Their shouts and laughter floated toward me like music dancing over the flowing river. A little girl bent down to pick a spring flower. Her brother ran ahead, yelling and rowdy. She put the flower in her hair and smiled at me. She had hair that was so blond it was almost white, and with her rosy cheeks she looked like a cherubim who rode down to earth on one of those rays of sunshine that came out when the clouds parted. Life is beautiful…
Only a few steps later I turned a corner, and the path continued along, leading under another bridge. Hidden partially from view was a bench, and as I approached, I saw three men sitting there. All three of them stared blankly into the water as though hypnotized. The wind carried the potent smell of alcohol to my nose, strong enough to make my eyes water. And I soon saw that all three of them were drinking booze out of brown paper bags. They kept staring, like zombies.
As I passed, the old man on the far side of the bench looked up at me. Our eyes locked. My blood ran cold. His eyes got big, and they were bloodshot and sagging. His skin was yellow. His hair was falling out, and what was left was frazzled, sticking up in all directions. He clutched his brown paper bag closer, hands shaking, and watched me go by before relaxing again. I kept walking. Jesus have mercy…
Maybe your heart does not hurt for the nearly-dead men on the bridge. But my heart tells me that they may have kids somewhere, wives, jobs, lives. My heart tells me that they were once like my little Theo, somewhere they had a mother who had hopes and dreams for them. My heart tells me that they have a story, that they are sick and need the Healer.
So we live in the world where we have to somehow balance the heavenly beauty of creation right alongside the wreckage from the prince of darkness. On this tight rope of life, is it any wonder, really, that many of us have anxiety, depression, and confusion? Is it so shocking that many want to escape reality with drugs and alcohol? Is it so strange that we are exhausted?
This contrast of dark and light is everywhere. It was with me last summer while I held my hand to my stomach, feeling the sweet flutters of my growing baby kick while I stood in the hot sunlight in a cemetery and we buried out 12 year-old nephew. It is with me when my 6-month old’s cries disturb my prayers for the peace of another whose 5 month-old died unexpectedly. It is with me as I sit here, drug and alcohol free for several years, and think of another who is grieving the loss of her brother to the effects of alcoholism today.
Strange as it is, the sun shines down on us and the spring flowers bloom even when we walk through the valleys. I have yet to find peace with the swing of this pendulum. I have no satisfactory answer this question of suffering. Sometimes life is beautiful, and sometimes – wow is it ever ugly. I know it will be this way as long as I am in this life.
I also know that suffering ends here on earth. As a child of light, I get to have hope beyond the darkness. I know that to love God is to love his people – all of them, even the ones who are walking dead, who crush in upon my pretty little world and blanket me in grief for the mess that is mankind. If my hope was not in Jesus Christ, the ground would be pulled out from under me, and I would be swept away by the river of tragedy and torment.
But because of Jesus, there is suffering – but there is Jesus. This is infinitely better than only seeing the SUFFERING. I see it for what it is, but once on the other side, I can also see past it, to a loving God, to the shores of heaven where there is rest and where I won’t have to keep doing these mental and emotional gymnastics. I can also see the moments of light so much clearer in the context of Christ, and it makes them oh-such precious gifts.
Dear Lord, thank you for this life and all of it’s beauty and blessings and moments sublime. Help me in the darker days to view all things in relationship to You, and not in my own understanding.