Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15 TNIV).
A dear friend, James, taught me a life affirming lesson a few days ago — and I am grateful for his lesson and the opportunity it gave me to connect with a dear friend.
The lesson happened when a mutual friend of ours, named Karen, lost the love of her life, suddenly. Being a highly respected and prominent figure in our city, his passing would undoubtedly draw a huge crowd for the family visitation in his honor.
Even though I was almost consumed with thoughts of Karen, her daughter, and their sadness, I felt a sense of insignificance in anything that I could ever do to bring comfort to them. After all, it had been several years since our paths had crossed. We probably wouldn't even know what to say to each other.
I prayed for their broken hearts. I prayed that God would comfort them, but as I thought more and more about the droves of notable and distinguished people who would surely come to the visitation, I talked myself out of going. I didn't think I had any words that could possibly help her, although I so wished I did. So I went about the day, quietly thinking of my friend.
Around 2:00 that afternoon, my phone rang, and it was James. He asked if I was going to the visitation; he asked me as if he already knew the answer was "yes." After all, we had been corresponding by email about the sadness we both felt for Karen. After a long pause, my excuses started to flow. I couldn't believe my own ears, quite frankly.
James, being the understanding person that he is, quietly said, "Well, if it works out for you to go, just call me back and I'll meet you there."
His gentle, non-judgmental words lingered after I hung up the phone. I decided to quickly rearrange the afternoon, threw on a basic black outfit, and called James back. "I can be there in 30 minutes," I told him.
We stood in a long line, and my palms started to sweat as we got closer. What will I say? What could I say that hasn't already been said? I'm just another person for whom Karen, who's already exhausted, will have to muster up some sweet response for the generic, hopefully politically correct, sympathetic phrase that I will probably give.
She stopped. She took a deep breath. Silently she reached out her hands for James and me. And softly, she said, "Give me just a minute." And she began to cry.
I felt my own tears well up as I slipped into that brief, but precious, moment. I saw tears in James' eyes, too. For a few seconds, no one said a word. All the years that had passed just fell away as we stood there, holding the hand of our friend. In that quiet moment, my heart overflowed with gratefulness for the friendships that we're all blessed with in this life. I felt a deep gratefulness to James for reminding me just how incredibly essential those friendships are to living our lives, no matter how many years may separate us.
The most important thing I learned that day was that when a person is hurting, there is always room for one more familiar face. Even if we don't have the right "words," a familiar voice is often enough to comfort a friend in a deep moment of pain. And that same familiar voice is often enough to help comfort them in a lot of the moments that lie ahead of them.
I hope to never again doubt that God has a plan and a way of using us when someone who is close to us is hurting. Thank you, James.