Our friend who stayed with us two weeks ago (was it really just two weeks ago?) told us about a ministry that helps Christians grieve in war torn places of Africa. African Christianity tends to be optimistic to the point of denying sorrow, but the ramifications of them burying their pain never works out in the long run. This ministry encourages them that it's okay to lament, to poor out their sorrow, that they don't have to smile and praise God after their daughters and wife are raped in front of them and then murdered, or when their entire village is burned down, or any of the other horrific, unspeakable things that have happened.
We all have things that we wrestle with God over. I suspect the person who doesn't, has given up, and not necessarily in a good way. We'd have to toss out whole parts of Romans if we think that being a Christian means never struggling, never doubting, never messing up. We're to be encouraged to contentment and joy that He's got it under control, that He loves us, and bigger things are afoot, but I don't think it means that God turns His back on us when we feel pain or doubt. He is greater than our hearts. He doesn't condemn us.
As I recently read the journey of Frodo and Sam through Mordor all the way to Mt. Doom, I was struck with how kind and loving Sam was towards Frodo. Sam doesn't condemn Frodo for becoming apathetic, for losing all hope, and for wanting to just lie down and die. Sam gently urges Frodo on. Although Sam hasn't lost faith, he doesn't look down on Frodo for his despair. He just encourages him to go along with his ideas, to take another step, to press on up the mountain. And after it's all done and the lava is pouring out of Mt. Doom and Sam knows it might not make a difference, Sam still encourages Frodo to keep on until they reach an outcropping that becomes an island of refuge for them. They go on until they are exhausted. It's such a rush of joy to read when the Eagles swoop down and rescue them.
Everyone gets a turn at being Frodo at some point in their lives. We all get wounded, not one of us is spared a cross to bear. My husband pointed out that for all Frodo's despair he never blamed anyone, not Gandalf nor Bilbo nor anyone for his plight of being the ring bearer! Frodo stayed on task as much as he was able, and it was essential that he listen to Sam and accept his help.
We all get a chance to be Sam, too. But it's not easy being Sam, either. Sam's heart was broken for his friend. Frodo would snap at him and accuse him. Frodo wasn't always easy to love or forgive or encourage. Sam pressed on because of faith, not that Tolkien used those words. (Notice how Sam thinks of Galadriel and asks for water, a breeze, and light, and sure enough he gets all three!) Sam didn't get mad at Frodo for being such a bummer. He didn't criticize Frodo or give him long lectures on the benefits of being optimistic or how his thinking was all wrong. And can we ever forget Sam carrying Frodo? Can you imagine if Sam instead kicked Frodo in the side and said, "Forget you! You're a loser! If you can't walk, then crawl, you wimp! I've helped and helped and all you can do is lie there?!"?
The worst people in Mordor are the orcs. They literally devour one another. They are constantly putting one another down. There is no love. They are self-seeking and hateful. There is no true lamenting because no one cares. There is no real sorrow, only anger.
Our friend's comments about this ministry in Africa were just made in passing from one topic to another, but it has stayed with me. It has solidified my feeling of my need to be careful when others are hurting. I always intend to encourage with my words, but often the best encouragement I can give is to simply walk beside them and let them lament.