Saturday, May 26, 2018

Finding Hope in Suffering: Psalm 126:5-6

I recently taught a high school psychology class, and towards the end of the semester, we started a unit on the psychology of emotions. The students were surprised there are psychologists who spend their entire careers focusing on emotions – what they are, how they impact our behaviors and thoughts, and why we have them. I asked the students if they knew why we had emotions, and one kid in the back yelled out, “Because Jesus gave them to us.” It led to an interesting discussion about the complexity of human emotion and the benefits and disadvantages of feelings.

Finding a joyful harvest
We know that emotions can be a wonderful thing. They allow us to feel loved and connected to others. David danced and laughed for joy, Jesus told his disciples, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:14 NLT) and Paul wrote, “How we thank God for you! Because of you, we have great joy as we enter God’s presence” (1 Thess. 3:9 NLT). God created us to experience love, laughter and joy here on Earth.

But Ecclesiastes 3:4 also tells us that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” We know that along with the positive emotions, there are difficult emotions. There is grief, suffering, emotional and physical pain, guilt, addiction, fear, anxiety, depression. And although I know that I treasure laughter more after I’ve wept, and that dancing is more poignant after mourning, those emotions can still feel like such a burden.

One difficulty of being a social worker is knowing that I will have to deal with fear, anxiety, grief and hurt not only in my personal life, but my work life as well. There are nights, driving home from work, where I have seen horrible things and I literally feel my heart in my chest. When I’m an edgy mess, tears behind my eyes, on the verge of falling apart. The emotion is overwhelming. 

I had a client several years ago say, “Why do you even care? I’m sure you go home and forget your day.” There are times where I wish this was the case, when the weight of suffering weighs on my soul. Even after ten years, there are so many moments that I remember vividly – horrible child abuse cases, heart-wrenching conversations with victims of sexual abuse, watching people reject help and resources, conversations with those who have just survived a suicide attempt – and I still see their faces, hear their words and feel an echo of that sorrow and grief. Ask any police officer, nurse, counselor, paramedic, social worker or pastor about their "worst" cases, I promise you, they will remember them in detail.

The answer is not to reach a point where you forget those faces or your heart is so hardened that you can't feel anymore. I’ve always said that when I reach the point as a social worker where I see suffering and feel nothing, I need to find a different line of work. We are called to walk alongside others emotionally. In Romans 12:15, Paul tells us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (ESV). 

But how do we do this without feeling overwhelmed or becoming jaded? How do we weep with others while maintaining healthy boundaries? How do we keep from falling apart?

I recently came across Psalm 126:5-6 and it spoke to me.

“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed, 
but they sing as they return with the harvest” (NLT).

Sometimes we plant in tears. Helping others can be painful. Seeing suffering, evil, sin and the consequences of addiction feels like a weight on our soul. Even more difficult is when we see suffering, but don’t receive closure. We never find out what happened to that child that went into foster care, we never know if that patient ever found sobriety, we don’t know if that teenager managed to survive their chaotic family. That lack of closure and the intensity of emotions with others leaves us vulnerable. It becomes easier to question and doubt God’s justice, His goodness, His plan for other’s lives when we are overwhelmed by grief over the suffering of others.

But reading Psalms 126:5-6 reminds us that planting seeds isn't always a frolic through the farm, singing and throwing seeds. There are times where planting seeds in others is easier, when we laugh and discuss the Bible over coffee, when we worship together and giggle at a retreat. But there are times when the needs of others feels unending, when showing the love of Jesus is back-breaking, emotionally damaging work. When work leaves us broken ourselves, wondering how we can keep helping others when we feel like we are drowning.

We may weep as we plant our seeds in others, but we find hope knowing ultimately, there will be a joyful harvest. We may not see the beauty from ashes in every person we impact, but I know that if I can even plant a few seeds of hope, compassion, and Jesus' love in someone else, it is worth the tears. I have watched God take incredibly depressing situations and make them beautiful. I have seen people survive situations I can’t even imagine and use their suffering to help others. 

I hope that at the end of my life, when God shows me those whose lives I touched, I will shout for joy as well. That my tears for others, my broken heart over the suffering of this world was not in vain.

So the next time I feel despondent, I will remind myself that while it is okay to cry tears, I must also remember to rejoice in the hope that God is a god of justice, compassion, love and He is in control. Psalm 10:14 reminds us:

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; 
you consider their grief and take it in hand. 
The victims commit themselves to you; 
you are the helper of the fatherless" (NIV).

I will continue to obey His call to love and serve, even in dark moments when my heart is breaking. My prayer is that those of you that are serving and also struggling will rest on God's promise that a joyful harvest is coming. That He will help the fatherless, the afflicted, those who are grieving, the captives to their addictions and pain, and because of Him and a few humble seed-planters, the broken will shout for joy.

4 comments:

  1. I totally understand this, as being a nurse for 21 years. Learning to filter healthily is needed. This is great!

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  2. “Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.
    They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest” --What a beautiful promise! It is takes so much to walk through brokenness with others, but I've found it to be a privilege as well--especially when we get to be there for the harvest! But even, when like you said, we may not see it this side of heaven.

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  3. It must be so hard to face the suffering and feel the emotions that come with it so often. My husband and I plan to start fostering this fall, and I fear this. If we run away from the pain, though, who will help those in need? I'm glad you are facing it!

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