My heart sank as I broke the tragic news to my 35-year-old female patient. She had come to the hospital with abdominal pain and had a comorbid diagnosis of HIV infection. However, no one could have foreseen what we found when we took her in for surgery. Stage 4 cancer had spread into her lungs, liver, and intestines.
A tear ran down her cheek as she stared silently at me in disbelief. What else could I say? Should I wipe away her tears or let her cry it all out? Should I grieve with her in silence or try to comfort her with words of hope (even though I knew that the cancer would soon kill her)? What morsel of hope could I give her that would make sense to her in such a moment? I paused to reflect on the two young children she had left at home. What would become of them?
About a week later I was abruptly pulled aside in the hospital corridor by my colleague. “I’m sorry to inform you that while you were away [on a business trip], we lost Martha.” I froze, as a flood of emotions engulfed me: shock, horror, surprise, grief, sadness, anger, denial, guilt . . .
We have all been acquainted with grief and suffering, in one way or the other. Perhaps the grief of losing a loved one to death. Or the grief of losing a spouse to a divorce. Or the grief of losing health to a terminal illness. Or suffering the loss of mental peace to depression and anxiety. For others it may be the loss of a job, a house, a car . . . or even the loss of a dream, expectation, or aspiration because of unforeseen failure. Often with our grief comes the common question “Why, Lord?”
Consider that it may be that God has a divine purpose for our grief. We see it in Jesus’ suffering. “But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands” (Isa. 53:10, NLT).2 Could it be that our grief on earth is part of God’s good plan to usher us into a prosperous long life in eternity?
When we grieve, it is natural to cry. Tears gush down our cheeks as we embrace the pain of death—be it the death of those we love, or the death of a friendship when we suffer betrayal of trusted allies, or the death of an aspiration when we receive news of a failed application, or the death of a romantic relationship during a breakup. Even though our eyes may grow “dim with grief” (Job 17:7, NIV) like Job’s, I am encouraged by the psalmist who reminds us that none of our tears are wasted, for the Lord collects every single one of them in perfect record. David says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Ps. 56:8, NLT). I still remember the last words I spoke to Martha before her untimely death. “It’s OK to cry. God loves you so much that He has recorded your every tear in His bottle.” In the depths of our grief and suffering, that is the one sure truth we can cling to. He loves us.