Burying my precious two-month-old baby was devastating. I had no idea how to cope with his sudden unexpected death. True, Paul had been born with a heart problem, but he had survived the critical surgery at birth and was thriving. He’d come home from the hospital at three weeks old, and after a slow start, began gaining weight.
With his winsome smile, easy disposition, and mop of curly dark hair, he delighted us all. He was healthy and beautiful. Even the physician filling in for Paul’s regular cardiologist was so impressed with his progress that he impulsively eliminated most of his heart medications. Paul didn’t need them anymore. He was fine. At first, I was encouraged by the good news. But two days later, Paul was dead.
A doctor’s foolish mistake took my baby’s life. I struggled to accept what had happened. As I watched them lower Paul’s tiny casket, I thought this was the end of my dreams for his life. Nothing good could come from his pointless death.
But God in His wisdom knew differently. He uses everything in our lives as we submit to Him. He can turn the broken and marred and ugly into something beautiful. And He did that with Paul’s death.
My dear friend Christa penned the song “Held” and it begins with the story of Paul. The opening lyrics are raw:
“Two months is too little, they let him go. They had no sudden healing. To think that Providence would take a child from his mother while she prays is appalling.”
The chorus provides the response,
“This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life, and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was, when everything fell, we’d be held.”
The words of the chorus echo my experience. God holds us in our pain. That is how I survived.
“Held” is a compelling song. Natalie Grant recorded it. Numerous awards followed. But its power hit home on a rainy afternoon when I wondered if any good comes out of suffering. Or at least my suffering.
It had been an impossible day and I was feeling sorry for myself, running behind on errands because of the stormy weather. Nothing ever went my way, I reasoned, and this was another entry in a long list of grievances about my circumstances.
Partially drenched, I ducked into a bagel shop to grab a quick lunch. It wasn’t busy, but the guy making my sandwich seemed interminably slow. Couldn’t he go a little faster, I wondered, as I sighed impatiently. He was almost finished, just tearing the final leaf of lettuce, when “Held” came on the radio. As I heard the familiar chords, I felt my tension and irritation roll away. Thankful for the delay, I smiled and leaned against the counter to enjoy the moment, unhurried. Something healing had come out of my brokenness, and it was still healing me.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t notice that the young man making my sandwich had stopped. When I looked up, I saw he was crying. Our eyes met and he apologetically mumbled, “I’m sorry. Are you in a hurry? Do you mind if I stop for a minute and listen to this song? You see, my mom died a few months ago, and this song is the only thing that got me through. It has meant so much to my whole family.”
I cringed at my prior impatience. Pulling myself together, I nodded and whispered, “Please do. Take as much time as you want. I love this song too.”
Time stopped as this stranger and I shared a sacred moment together. I stood in silence as he took in the song, mouthing the familiar words, as I recited them in my head. When the song was over, tears were streaming down my face as well. Tears of hope. And redemption.
I knew that the song had touched thousands. But I’d never seen it firsthand. Never witnessed its impact. Never seen its power.
I’ll never forget that day. Seeing purpose in my suffering was more redemptive than I ever imagined. Though it didn’t take away the pain, it did take away its sharp sting. Knowing that God was using my loss made it easier to endure. Seeing the way it changed someone else changed me. It brought meaning to what had felt meaningless.
None of my other trials have been memorialized with a song, but God has brought meaning to them all. Every time I share about a tender loss in my life, it makes my burden a little lighter. I walk away feeling encouraged, knowing God is using me.
Sometimes I shy away from sharing. I don’t want to relive the agony. It’s easier to stay on the surface with struggling people. It’s neater. Less painful. But ironically, when I stay on the surface, talking about light and trivial subjects, I feel heavier. My burden increases.
At the same time, when I am willing to shoulder another’s burden, my own load lightens. Perhaps it’s because Jesus is carrying both of us. So when I meet someone who is in the midst of a storm I’ve weathered, I need to be vulnerable. To initiate the conversation. To share my experiences and listen to theirs.
I can offer hope. Show them that God is sufficient. Offer evidence that they will heal, survive and even thrive. I hear others asking the same questions I did: Will I make it through? Will the aching ever stop? Will I laugh again?
The Lord has held me in my grief and comforted me through all my trials. And because of His tender care, I am able to encourage others who are suffering. And when I do, I myself am healed. I get stronger. I gain courage. I feel joy again.