A young woman was left a single mom, widowed when her husband, Necati, was killed by religious extremists for his faith in Jesus. Semse shared with Voice of the Martyrs (August, 2013 newsletter) about some of their (hers and her two children’s) struggles with loneliness and suffering. “But”, she said, “we have a partnership in the Gethsemane garden with Jesus. And I’m so happy for Jesus to take me with him to the Gethsemane garden.
“And if you want to glorify Jesus, I want to encourage you. This story is not a drama. This story is not about death. This story is about victory, about gain and about encouragement. I know GOD showed his love to Turkey, not only on the cross but by Necati’s blood, too. And how can I say, ‘Why? Why do you give me this suffering or the cross?’ Just I’m asking God to help me hold his cross and to lead people to help me to hold his cross with me.”
Amazing. Don’t think she’s too saccharine. She was honest about her struggles. It’s lonely and hard, and she doesn’t sugar coat that. But, she also chooses to be grateful. She is grateful that she has a God who suffered, too. She is grateful for the privilege of knowing Him, joining him, in that place of suffering. She is grateful for the fact that there is partnership there, in the garden of Gethsemane, the time of suffering and sorrow.
Not only is she grateful, but she realizes there is purpose in her story. She uses it as an opportunity to challenge, inspire and encourage others.
Finally, she recognizes what the story is really all about. Have you ever heard a story and thought it was about one thing, only to realize in the end it was really all about something else? I know I have, but at the moment all I can think of by way of specific example is a good con or convincing magic trick, which has obvious negative connotations. This isn’t negative; she isn’t being conned; but there are similarities. She might be tempted to be distracted by her own suffering and pain. She might be tempted to think the story is about her or about her husband’s death, but she knows that it isn’t.
Actually, I take it back. A con is the perfect example. It would be a con if she believed the lie that it was all about her. That’s Satan’s con. Something bad happens and he convinces us to focus there, on the pain, the sorrow, the injustice of it all. We focus there and begin to think that that IS the story. But it isn’t. That’s the distraction. He is getting us to look the other way so we won’t see what’s really going on. He doesn’t want us to see what God is doing, how the story is really all about Him, the cross, HIS glory, the greatness of HIS name. Satan does NOT want us to see that.
Semse isn’t distracted; she isn’t fooled. She knows that even Necati’s death is God showing His love, just as it was with Jesus’ death. Since she knows this is all a result of God’s love being poured out, somehow, someway – she doesn’t ask why. She simply asks God to help her so she can partner with God in showing his love on the cross to the world. “Just I’m asking God to help me hold his cross and to lead people to help me to hold his cross with me.”
What is the suffering in your story? Do you see it as a privilege? An opportunity to join Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane? Can you see that it’s a gift? When the pain of your story overwhelms you, does it distract you from the real story? Do you think that it’s all about you, or do you realize that this is somehow all about God’s glory and His love, being poured out and revealed to you and to the world around you, someway, somehow? Do you ask God to remove the cross, or to help you bear it?
I don’t know what your cross is, but, especially at the holidays, loneliness seems to be a big one for so many people, just as it is for Semse. Whether you’re loneliness stems from singleness, from loss, from an empty nest, or just a loss of connection with those who you should feel connected to… I cannot recommend enough Elisabeth Elliot’s The Path of Loneliness. Perhaps no other book has helped me understand the gift of sorrow and suffering quite like this one has. It’s specific to loneliness, but applicable to any sort of sorrow and suffering you may face. It’s as beautifully written as it is powerful and true. Read it.
Elisabeth Elliot writes this in The Path of Loneliness:
I have come to understand even suffering, through the transforming power of the Cross, as a gift, for in this broken world, in our sorrow, He gives us Himself; in our loneliness, He comes to meet us, … He [comes] as the Love that [will] never let [us] go.
In His death Jesus Christ gave us life. The willingness of the Son of God to commit Himself into the hands of criminals became the greatest gift ever given—the Bread of the world, in mercy broken. Thus the worst thing that ever happened became the best thing that ever happened.
It can happen with us. At the Cross of Jesus our crosses are changed into gifts.
The cross is a gift. It always has been. It may be gruesome, it may be painful, it may be heavy and hard to bear, but it is still a gift. It was a gift when Jesus carried his for our sake. It will be no less a gift when we are given our own to bear…a gift to us, and a gift we give to the world when we do as Jesus did and take it upon ourselves.
PS. One other book that has been instrumental in the way I see sorrow and suffering, and which probably primed me for Elisabeth Elliot’s work (and this one isn’t focused on loneliness) is Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard. It’s brilliant. It’s a classic. It should not be missed. (And you can get it on your e-reader for like less than $1!)