“I know how you feel.” (Don’t say it. Just don’t say it.)

As I was driving to the home of a Ray and Trish and their 5 kids – Daniel, Andrew, Patrick, Caroline and Stephen – four of whom are or have been part of my student ministry, I kept repeating to myself: “I know how you feel.” (Don’t say it. Just don’t say it.)

Pulling up to the home, I was overwhelmed by the number of people that had already gathered in their front yard. People were crying and embracing, walking around stunned. I immediately walked over to a group of students who looked like they had all taken a slam to the gut by a 2-by-4. It had only been 30 minutes since Trish and her 5 kids learned that their husband and dad, who had been missing for the past 24 hours, had taken his own life in a wooded part of their neighborhood.

“Did someone say Zach’s here? Send him this way immediately. The kids need him inside.”

All the sudden, I was being escorted passed all of the friends and neighbors gathered in the front yard…

Why are they singling me out?

Passed the police officer standing guard at the front door…

I don’t know what to say?

And inside the home where I encountered the unedited shock and raw grief that accompanies tragedy. It was at that moment that my calling became real…and painfully convicting.

Pastors are supposed to have all the answers and know the right things to say and do in any situation and to bring hope in the bleakest times. “God works all things for the good of those who love him”…right?

I can’t say that. I don’t believe that. I’m obviously not a good pastor. I’m a “religious professional” who sometimes loves Jesus but more often struggles with God’s goodness and sovereignty…and knows not to say “I know how you feel.”

Does anyone know how you feel?

Why is saying “I know how you feel” so damaging at times like this? The obvious answer being the people who do say something like that usually have no clue and no desire to know how that person feels. But what if you do?

David’s dad died of cancer in the middle of his sophomore year. It was a long and painful battle that turned brutal at the end. Does David know how it feels to play basketball with his dad one day and next find out his dad had taken his own life? No.

But does David know how it feels to be constantly aware that he will never see his dad again…not here at least? Does he know how it feels to watch everyone around him move on while he still struggles daily with the death of his dad?

David knows how Daniel, Andrew, Patrick, Caroline, and Stephen feel.

During his freshmen year, Evan’s parents divorced and his dad moved across the country to Arizona (and this week will be deployed to Afghanistan for a year). Does Evan know how it feels to have his dad die? No.

But does Evan know how it feels to lose his dad…to not have his dad here? Does he know how it feels to walk off the football field seeing dads throwing their arms around their sons’ shoulders saying “That’s my boy”?

Evan knows how Daniel, Andrew, Patrick, Caroline and Stephen feel.

Maybe Satan’s most ingenious lie during a tragedy is “No one knows how I feel…especially God.”

The other day I was reading John 18 (still working on reading through the Gospels for Lent…as you can see I’m almost done!).

Jesus knows

When Jesus had finished praying, he left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, got up and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said.

When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again, he asked them “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

Ray was a good man. He often called me to talk about his kids and what he could do to be a better daddy to them. His suicide has messed me up.

Maybe a day or two after reading John 18, while sitting in my car at a stoplight, I couldn’t shake the images in my mind of Ray in the woods agonizing over what it would mean to continue living in a fallen world. And then an image of Jesus in the woods popped into my mind…and he was doing the exact same thing. He was crying and sweating and shaking. He was sweating blood.

And before the light turned green, I saw Jesus, “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”, getting up. He got up!

I still can’t quote Romans 8:28 to Daniel, Andrew, Patrick, Caroline and Stephen, but I can say to them with great assurance that when their daddy got to Heaven, Jesus looked at him with deep tenderness and said, “I know how you feel.”

And only because Jesus got up and walked boldly into the pain of not only the cross but also the pain of Hell, Ray and those of us who believe in His name (and love him sometimes) will never be able to say to Him, “I know how you feel.”

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

So glad it’s all about grace.

I included the actual names of these deeply wounded people in hopes that you will join me in praying for them by name.