2 Corinthians 1:3-7 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
I recall several years ago, a lunch in a park. It was fall. The leaves were at the peak of color. The climate was mild, and not a cloud in the sky. The breeze kissed my face and brushed my hair out of my eyes, begging me to notice its consolation. I could not appreciate the setting that day. It merely served as a tolerable opportunity for lunch in a park.
I brought my own cloud. It went everywhere with me. It would not lift no matter how much I read Scripture, prayed, or pleaded with the Lord to take it away. I was a Bible teacher. Where I come from, depression is unbecoming, if not sinful for Bible teachers. Who could I turn to if I got fired from my job: my marriage was crumbling: trusted family and friends betrayed me: disease overtook my body: or, if even I wasn’t sure I believed what I taught others from the Bible?
For the “sake of my testimony” I kept my suffering hidden, and with my silence, protected the reputations of those who injured me. I did not seek help, other than continued efforts to persuade the Lord to remove the thorns from my bloodied soul. Perhaps subconsciously I was afraid I might hear some of the same “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” crap I had given others in their seasons of suffering. It does not work and it is not the gospel. I know that now.
That day in Suck-tober (as we have come to call it) my sweet Vadra and I had lunch in a park. Vadra is 10 years younger than me. Even though I was the “older woman,” she did not require me to counsel her through her problems. Nor did she seek to impress me with “what she was doing for Jesus” like many would-be friends do when they get the Bible teacher alone. She did not probe, nor question the strength of my faith. We were real. Though I could not give her the details of my darkness, she carried a piece of my burden that day by being comfortable with melancholy, and having no expectations of me. Our friendship grew after that.
As months passed, my cloud lifted along with many burdensome circumstances, and the exodus of a few toxic people from my life (Admittedly, in some cases, I was the toxic person). Vadra had become one of my most trusted friends, as well as a gifted ministry partner. When Suck-tober rolled around again, she called with news that her husband’s job had been transferred to Russia. Loyal friends are hard to come by. I was devastated and so was she.
The good news was that it was a short-term assignment, and they would come home after three years. We made a plan to Skype regularly. It was at that time that I was beginning to write a Bible study on the Gospel of John for our women’s Bible study at church. Vadra agreed to work as the content editor. This would keep her involved in our ministry, even from half way around the world. Thus began our labor of love and tears. We had no idea the anchor this gospel would become in our lives, and in our friendship.
Life in Russia is hard. For starters, the weather is frigid most of the time. The language and culture barriers made it hard to make friends. Vadra’s husband worked long hours, came home in time to kiss their three little girls, and fell into bed exhausted each night. Vadra eventually sent each of her daughters to school there, and spent her days inside a lonely apartment with Jesus—deep in the gospel of John.
Life in Nashville was hard in a different way. Like a crack that surfaces along the foundation of a building and spreads into many devastating fractures, murmurings and gossip revealed the early stages of a church split that we could have never imagined in our close-knit community. Having had my share of Christian bullies, I hid from most of the conflict and spent my days at home with Jesus—deep in the gospel of John.
Vadra and I Skyped for hours. We joked about how we spent more time together while she lived in Russia, than when she lived here. We worked through theology, and life, and Bible study questions, and transparency, and this author’s take on grace, and that author’s take on sanctification. We disagreed some and wrestled with convincing each other. Sometimes she won. Sometimes I did. Either way, it was joyful debate, and our love for one another was never compromised by our disagreements. We spent two years like this—working through the gospel of John alone and then together.
In the middle of the third year, Vadra came home before her husband to set up the house, get the kids in school, and of course, help me lead the women at our church through the gospel of John. We relished our time together, eating, hugging, talking face to face, and being in the same time zone. It was an amazing summer. Unfortunately, Suck-tober was looming.
Only a few days after her husband returned home (in October of course), Vadra called at 10:30 p.m. She was to speak at a women’s event the following day about life in Russia. She couldn’t do it. Would I cover for her? She was crying so hard, her words were unintelligible.
“What happened?” I sat up in bed.
She managed to choke it out; her husband had been having an affair with a woman in Russia. “I think he still loves her.”
Vadra lives forty-five minutes away. The drive time gave me opportunity to process and pray. I had learned that suffering, in its many forms, was my friend who returned every now and then to grab me by the hand and take me back to Jesus. She did not need to hear that from me now, but she did need hope.
I remembered that Vadra had been preparing to teach on John chapter 11, where Jesus comforted Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb. We had fought over which one of us would teach that one. I guess I would teach it after all.
I picked her up and we sat in my car and wept together. She talked. I prayed. We sat silent. I had an argument with the Lord in my heart. As usual, He won, and I began to spell out some of the details that I had kept from her that day in the park—things I had not told anyone. I knew in this moment the Lord was using my pain to comfort her with the comfort I had received from Him (2 Cor 1:4-5).
Over the next few months Vadra, the elders of our church, and I experienced the violence of a man torn from the clutches of his sin and exposed—to finally be set free from its power. Through the whirlwind of divorce papers, angry threats, and a brazen mistress, Vadra clung to the anchor of grace. Truths from the gospel of John poured out with her tears. I sat helplessly by, unable to fix anything, unable to heal my friend. All I could do was to be present when most people ran away, as if this kind of suffering is contagious, and they were fearful of contamination.
Suffice it to say, Vadra now knows about a friend named Suffering, who leads us, often unwillingly, to freedom in Jesus. She did teach the lesson of Mary and Martha at the tomb. Her wounds were so fresh, but there was no way I could wrangle it out of her hands. She would have shouted it from the rooftops, and this BEFORE she received her husband back. She had been prepared by the Lord to teach it. It may have been the most powerful sermon I have ever heard.
Now you know a little piece of the road Vadra and I traveled in the writing of our Bible study on the book of John. At His Feet was sown in the brokenness of the writer, and harvested in the shattered heart of its editor. It has been a labor of love and tears.