There is a painfully awkward moment when you run into a person who has experienced a tragedy or great loss and you think, “What do I say to them?” You truly want to be helpful. Plus, you need to make sense of their catastrophe in your own head. Why did this happen? So, you say some variation of…
“I’m sure there was a reason for this.”
Please don’t say that.
In my opinion it could only compound their grief. The idea that the unseen hand of God, or fate, had struck horror into their life for some bigger purpose can do great damage to your friend’s sense of well-being and certainly their belief system. That their love for their dear one, for instance, was less important in the grand scheme of things, or their health was a lesser priority than some other goal of God can be debilitating.
So what SHOULD you say? I suggest you stick with “I am so sorry for your pain.” And, should the day come and the time be right for a deeper conversation about their journey of grief, a much better question to address might be “I wonder what might come from this?” or “Do you see anything constructive that might arise out of your struggle?” or “I wonder if God can redeem this pain?”
Redemption is something that can develop out of tragedy. It is not the goal of tragedy. After proper grief, appropriate time and eventual epiphany, redemption is the phoenix that can rise out of the ashes.
Redemption isn’t just rescue from tragedy – it is repurposing of tragedy. Redemption isn’t merely a deliverance from pain – it is an enlistment to heal pain. Here’s what redemption looks like:
Redemption looks like a woman who grew up in poverty struggling with her own special needs, now throwing her life into caring for children who live in similar brokenness.
Redemption looks like a man whose father abandoned him as a 6-year-old, now a valued mentor to many relationally hungry young men.
Redemption looks like the husband and wife who, much earlier in their relationship, chose to terminate the life of their unborn child, now gently counseling young women and men in crisis pregnancies on how to keep and love their baby.
Redemption looks like a skilled neurosurgeon saving the lives of many people who have the same cancer that took the life of his own father.
These are all real redemption stories.
Here is another. This one’s from biblical history. The man formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, turned Paul the Apostle, faced an outrageous amount of personal suffering, including near-drowning, starvation, beatings and even a stoning in his work representing God to the masses. Here’s a paraphrase of a portion of Paul’s writing describing the redemption of his suffering…
Praise be to the God of all comfort, who comforted me in all my troubles, so that I can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort I myself received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
It’s almost as if when we tragically have to face pain or loss, the clock starts ticking until the day our wounds become scars and we have the wisdom, experience and empathy to comfort others facing the same agony.
I should, however, offer a caveat. Redemption does not come to the permanently bitter or perpetually aggrieved. In that state, people stay stuck in the moment of their tragedy with their still-open wounds. They don’t empathize – they exasperate. They don’t comfort others – they agitate others.
Likewise, redemption does not come to those who have stuffed or buried their pain. Similarly stuck with still-open wounds, they avoid “going there” with others. They can’t bear the thought of talking about it. They are a closed book.
Redemption comes to those who lamented and lamented hard. They vented their fury at God. They poured out their story to others. They slowly, steadily worked through all the stages of grief. And when they came to acceptance, they were wiser, they were tenderized, they were observant, and they were courageous. They became wounded healers, offering hope to those with none.
That is their redemption… recompense delivered though the stories of those they comforted.
My heart hurts for you who have been to hell and back, or those currently in a hell not of your own choosing. The struggle is, indeed, real. But so is redemption. It awaits as do the people in your future who will need your hugs and your sage advice.
If you long for redemption, then may I gently suggest you begin to change the way you consider your pain…don’t ask “why?” Ask “what now?”