The soft spoken teenage girl had been thrust into sudden adulthood.
Her hair wrapped in a bright turquoise piece of long fabric, she looked young but protective of her newborn baby boy.
She came into our office at the hospital’s crisis pregnancy center. She had given life to a baby boy just a couple of short weeks ago.
He hadn’t been eating and had been fussy lately. She couldn’t explain exactly why, but she knew that something wasn’t right.
I’ll call her Ruth. She’d come to our office months ago for a pregnancy test. She decided to keep her baby and raise him with her boyfriend and his family, in a village area not far from town.
Ruth was brave. In America, you face judgement and criticism as a pregnant teen. Or, conversely, you can be on TV on a reality show. It’s certainly not an easy road, no matter what. But in Nigeria as a pregnant unwed teen, there are more complicated matters. Like another mouth to feed and a high infant mortality rate.
Our center offered medical help for new moms and their babies, so I escorted Ruth over to the pediatric ward. We checked in and she began the long wait to see a doctor. I knew that it would be some time before the baby would be seen, and I headed back to our office.
Lunchtime was near, and I realized that we hadn’t heard anything from Ruth. I walked over to the pediatric ward, and saw Ruth in the waiting room. Her face was drawn and vacant, almost catatonic looking.
I asked her what was wrong and she softly whispered, “He died.” My gut felt like it simultaneously fell a few feet and tied in a knot. I couldn’t believe it. I asked her what happened and she just stared off into the distance, not speaking to answer my horrible question.
I was crushed and shocked at the same time.
Tears began to flow immediately and I felt as if I was crying for this devastated young mom who remained expressionless. I asked the nurse, “Why? What happened?” She didn’t know.
Devastating, those three words. I don’t know.
My heart and mind demanded an answer. Why? What had happened to this beautiful new baby? He hadn’t been eating well, but to come to see the doctor and DIE?! NO!
The nurse sternly pulled me aside and chided me. “You need to stop crying. She doesn’t need to see that. She needs you to be strong!” I don’t remember if I said anything in reply, but in my heart I knew that it was right to cry. This great loss deserved tears to be shed.
As if walking through a bad dream, Ruth and I gathered her baby boy, still wrapped tightly in his pastel blanket, and drove him to the village for burial. Very few words were spoken on the drive. Tears said what I couldn’t say on that day.
I was honored to be with Ruth on the very dark day when she had to bury her newborn son.
Since then I have had other days with friends on dark days, and them with me. Many times I have said stupid, thoughtless things. Sometimes I said things that I hoped would make them feel better.
The reality is that sometimes nothing that we say will make it better at all.
Sometimes the best thing that we can do when our loved one is hurting is to enter in to that sad place with them, and simply grieve alongside them.
I’m thankful for friends and family that do this with me on difficult days.
Jesus knew this and did it well. The account of Lazarus’ death tells us that Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Scriptures, but so profound.
Jesus didn’t weep for Lazarus’ death, because Jesus, being fully God and fully man, knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.
Could it be that Jesus wept out of empathy, compassion and care for his friends who were deeply grieving the loss of their loved one, Lazarus?
I think that this is a great reality for us when we grieve anything in our lives: Death, chronic illness, a prodigal child, divorce, or loss of a job. Jesus enters into our grief with us.
He weeps with us. Not because He is caught by surprise, or powerless to change it.
He enters into our pain with us.
Powerfully, lovingly, and sometimes, as with Lazarus, it may look like he doesn’t come through until it’s too late.
He is more than able. He himself was a man of sorrows and feels compassion with us.
He is Emmanuel,
God with us.
P.S. This is a true story that happened over a decade ago during our time with SIM in Nigeria.
Although I went as a missionary to serve in Africa with all kinds of love and zeal for Jesus, it turns out that I learned much from the people we were to serve.
As with any culture, there is good and bad, but most Nigerian people we know are resilient and joyful, many of whom I call friends and now family.
We are far richer because of them.
Read the entire story of Lazarus here.