One minute you're sitting in a Nigerian classroom or you're running a half marathon or your family is joyfully anticipating the birth of a baby and then... everything changes for you and those who you love...

  • You're brutally kidnapped from your Nigerian classroom.
  • You collapse in a heart attack at the end of the half marathon even though you were in shape.
  • Your son-in-law, the father of the baby, is diagnosed with acute MS.

The thing about sorrow is that sometimes it comes from nowhere.

No, that's not true. It comes from somewhere — a fallen world and "the ruler of the kingdom of the air" (Ephesians 2:2) who still messes with creation and the Creator's children in horrible ways.

The thing about sorrow is that no one can take the place of the person who is experiencing that particular sorrow. Each person occupies a singular space with God alone. Only those young abducted Nigerian girls know what it is to be kidnapped, threatened, and exploited — and even for each of them the experience is not exactly the same experience. Only those girls' mothers know what it is like to have her daughter taken — and for each of them, it is their own personal horrific experience. The same goes for the young girls' fathers. The same goes for the woman who collapsed at the end of her race and her husband. The same goes for her children — and each of her children will experience it differently.

I cannot occupy the space my son-in-law occupies — a young married man about to be a father whose life has taken a radical detour with the diagnosis of MS. And I cannot occupy the space my daughter occupies. With any future MS relapse, even they will not experience their own experience in the same way.

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." ~ Heraclitus
I want to occupy these spaces for them, or at least with them, but the best I can do is come alongside flush of them and offer an abundance of love, practical support, and prayers.

I picture this "coming alongside flush of them" like a honeycomb — we each have our own space, but we come along to buttress one another, love one another — and that has a way of helping our temporal bodies feel connected instead of lonely and our emotional selves supported and not abandoned.

The thing about sorrow is that sometimes people on the periphery wittingly, or even unwittingly, exploit it for personal aggrandizement, political gain, or financial opportunity. At the same time, sorrow also gives those of us on the periphery — those of us who truly care — the opportunity to practice selflessness. It's not about me. It's not about what once happened to me. It's about being one of the surrounding chambers of the honeycomb that buttresses, supports, and serves the person whose walls are caving in from stress, shock, grief, or loss.

The thing about sorrow is that it doesn't last forever — even if it feels that way right now and even if our time on earth ends with the sorrow unresolved.

The thing about sorrow is it flows, eventually giving way to the joys of God's fulfilled promises.

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31:8).