Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wife Rule #107: The Shoulders I Cry On

Easter is a celebration of life, with the resurrection of Jesus Christ as its centerpiece. However, the joy of that morning is so much more meaningful when considered in contrast to the days immediately preceding it, which were surely the darkest this world has ever seen. Those are the days I found myself contemplating at Easter time this year.

I think that's okay, too. While the Savior certainly doesn't want us to spend our lives despairing--that's why He suffered for us and broke the bands of death, after all--He is also the one who wept with Mary and Martha when their brother died, knowing full well that mere minutes later he would be reuniting them with a very living Lazarus.

Jesus was always genuine in His feelings, the ultimate example of "mourning with those who mourn." His perfect example in such times of distress is helping me realize how to cope, in a healthy way, with the unwanted "preemptive grief" for the inevitable, unmentionable end of my father's cancer.

A few days before Easter my wife and I had just finished a rather discouraging phone call with my parents. We were in the thick of the Bad News stage of cancer diagnosis, the one where every conversation with medical professionals seemed to bring to light new things to be depressed about. My parents were very down, and that always tends to trigger my sympathetic emotions too.

We hung up the phones, and I wandered over to the sink to do the dishes while my wife sat down at the computer. I was barely three dishes into my task when I suddenly realized I had an opportunity to have it out with some of the pent-up grief that had been boiling just below the spillover point for a few weeks now.

The speed and intensity with which the wave of emotion overcame me almost caused me to drop the dish in my hands. My eyes were a flood of sorrow and my face was consumed with a burning heat. I felt an involuntary, painful weight welling up in my chest, an emotional response that had been foreign to me most of my adult life, save for a few occasions that involved similarly difficult circumstances. I knew I wouldn't last on my feet; the heaviness seemed so great.

I half stumbled to the couch and barely managed to blurt out "I need you right now!" before collapsing in a heap on my astute wife's shoulder, which had been placed in position a second before.

Then the sobs came. Wave after wave of anguish welled up inside and spilled out of me. There were sobs for the pain in my parents' voices. There were selfish sobs for future days I wouldn't have with my father. There were sobs for my children whose days of having a Papa were now numbered so small. There were sobs for my wife, who having lost her own dad a few years ago, was now losing her second father. There were sobs for my mother, who was now facing an uncertain future. There were sobs for my dad, facing painful treatments and the eventual end of his mortality.

Regrettably, there were also sobs for apparent unfairness of it all; sobs for every ornery, careless old man who lived deep into his twilight years, when my father, a literal saint who had been diligently health-conscious his whole life and was in much better shape than me, was cruelly having his days cut short. The irony and injustice seemed like too much to bear.

Wives are made for such times. Mine knew not to speak to me--her own intense experiences of crying into my shirts have provided her with powerful empathy in these moments. She simply stroked my hair between shudders and offered herself as a human hankie to help assuage my grief as it came tumbling out. I can hardly describe the comfort she provided for her very fragile, needy husband.

When I could sense that the stragglers in the pack of sobs were settling down, I ventured to opened my eyes. It just so happened that in the position we were sitting, I could see over her shoulder to the opposite wall where we have hung a picture of the Savior kneeling in Gethsemane. I found my thoughts turned to another place and time, where Another "began to be sorrowful and very heavy."

"Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

"And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." (Matthew 26:37-39, Luke 22:44)

I found my eyes wet with new tears. O Lord, I cried, it's so heavy. How did you do it? How did you suffer so? The pains I feel now seem like they could crush me. How did you suffer these, plus the pains of billions more like me, with much worse problems than mine? It would take so much more than a man; it would truly take a God. O Jesus, Son of God, how did you do this for me and my father?

Please, if Thou be willing, take this burden from us. Please. But nevertheless...

Yes, nevertheless. If Christ could willingly endure His mighty load, surely I could endure my small one. If He could heal a whole world full of sinners, then surely He could heal my single broken heart. He can see my family through this. If He wills my father to suffer for reasons unknown and not understood, then I can trust Him in this thing. After all, He has the wisdom of a God. He is a God.

I have relied on Christ's atonement to find peace in my soul so many times that I have lost count; unfortunately, I am an experienced repenter. But that night, crying on the shoulder of my wife, I feel like I got a more personal glimpse into the tremendous load He carried. Perhaps it's because I wasn't mourning for my own foolishness that night, but mourning (mostly) for the sake of others. Perhaps my heart was positioned to better understand how His heart felt on that dark, cruel, unfair, unjust, night in Gethsemane: the night the one perfect Man to grace this globe shouldered the burdens of all of us, the guilty world, making them His own.

In such a worshipful state of mind, the great relationship triangle between myself, my wife, and my Lord seemed so apparent, so obvious, and so necessary. I need my wife; I need her desperately. She needs me just as desperately. But we would be unable to help each other to even the small extent that we can, without the grace of Christ. When I bury myself in her shoulders, or she in mine, we are in fact both being carried on His shoulders.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.... But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Jesus Christ makes all things possible, including the eventual healing dawn that follows all nights of heavy darkness. That is what we celebrate on Easter.


Lindsay said...

Beautifully written once again, Matt. I recognize that words can mean very little in such a trying time, but I am so sorry for your struggle. Sending cyber hugs and hope for tomorrow your way.

LuckyMatt said...

Thanks, Lindsay. You and Dave are kind and compassionate people; the best kind of friends.

Julie M. said...

Matt, you have such a way with words! I think about you guys all the time, and wish we were closer. I can't imagine all you are going through, but know you are in my thoughts and prayers. We love you!

LuckyMatt said...

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, Julie.

Christy Edgel said...

Matt, to understand the greatness and the character of your dad, one only needs to read one of your posts. Uncle Steve certainly has created a legacy that will bring joy to our Father in Heaven. Your words are so powerful- and once again, your sincerity and honesty with your feelings and depth of you testimony provide such a strength to those who read them. I'm so thankful to call you cousin. My heart and prayers are with you. - and as I, too, have a strong testimony of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us, I am so grateful to have read part of yours.

LuckyMatt said...

Thanks for your kind words and your prayers, Christie. I'm grateful to have you as my cousin too.

Amanda said...

Matt, I wish I had more to say other than I'm so sorry. I love your parents so much. Thank you for your post. It's amazing to be able to read my feelings in other people's words and therein find comfort, though our life experiences and situations are so different. I will be praying for your family.

LuckyMatt said...

Thanks for your prayers, Amanda.