Though he brings grief,
he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
– Lamentations 3:32-33 (NIV)
A few weeks after our son Kyle’s death we were back in that same hospital waiting for our daughter Kelly to be born. Labor and delivery were difficult and, understandably, very emotional for Judy. To have buried one child and now be giving birth to another in a matter of weeks would weigh on any mother’s heart. I felt so helpless. I knew there were little things I could do, but she had to work so many things out in her own head and heart.
It was uncanny how God used so many people, even some we had never met, to comfort us in our time of need. Cards, letters, phone calls and visits all came our way. We needed them. God used these blessed people to bring us compassion and comfort. But very soon God was putting us in their shoes.
After Kelly’s birth, Judy was in recovery for a few days. She was in a semiprivate room with a young woman who had delivered premature twins. The twins were very small and life was difficult, but they were struggling with everything they had to survive. The doctors were very cautions. There was the very real possibility that one or both would die in minutes, days or weeks.
This new mother of two was agonizing for her children, hoping they would not die, but knowing they surely could. Then she found out Judy had lost a son just weeks before.
Judy did not feel like helping someone else, but there she was. And there was a strange tugging within Judy to do what was best, even though it was painful. God had used Dr. Knarr, our physician friend, to bring Judy and me comfort in our time of need. As he shared his heartache and pain with us, God used him to minister to us, and in the process we had ministered to him. Now God was using Judy to help her roommate, and He used the process to help Judy.
Just four months later one of the twin boys died in the night. The mom asked Judy to come and be with her at the funeral. Judy wept at the thought of burying another young boy. But she went. That was God’s design to bring comfort and ministry into our lives, and into the lives of others through us.
There were soon people in my life as well who were strengthened by what we were going through. Gerald was in his early sixties and newly retired when he lost his wonderful wife after a 28-year bout with cancer. They had lovingly cared for their marriage, and their beautifully intertwined lives accentuated his sense of loss when she was finally torn away from him. Gerald and I met for many months, and he gained comfort not only from my concern as a pastor, but from my experience as a companion who had also lost someone near.
Within a year or so Judy and I were being asked to speak in Death and Dying classes at the university. Each time we felt God’s arms of compassion and tender comfort all over again. That helped us, but so did the help we could give others.
The apostle Paul wrote about the Father’s promised comfort and ministry out of his own need. In fact, he wrote these words to the Corinthians:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NIV)
Paul says he felt the sentence of death. Yet even in his despair he says that all this happened so we may “not rely on ourselves but on God.” Total reliance on the Father is what must happen for us if we are to embrace God’s compassion and comfort, and willingly embrace the difficult task of helping others.
In light of all this, we understand better the words of Paul:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NASB)
Someone just like you needs to feel the arms of God through your arms and to hear God’s tender, understanding voice through your voice. Let God enfold you and you will be able to enfold others. Look. Listen. And then let Him use you to help someone else. The comfort and joy you experience will surprise you.