(the essay/memory I mentioned earlier that was going to be a Memorial Day post and morphed into something else entirely--perhaps I've been thinking too much lately.)
I never knew my Uncle Wilson. He died in World War II and was buried in France.
The young man who was a friend of Uncle Wilson’s and was with him when he died is still living and has been a part of our family history for many years now. His name is Raymond.
Raymond came to visit my great grandparents after the death of their son. One of the things my great grandfather asked was whether Uncle Wilson had a nice funeral service. Many years later, Raymond told my mother that was the hardest thing he had ever done, to lie and tell that “old man” his son had had a nice funeral service. Conditions were primitive and times were hard. He said they probably just tossed the body into a gravesite and went on. Went on to deal with the living, I would assume.
What luxury for the innocent and naïve, who are not even aware of the luxury, to believe the protective lies of wartime burial stories. I’m not saying the lie was wrong, my great grandparents were tender people who needed the sensitivity. My great grandparents were also people of faith.
I’m told my great grandmother spent much time after the death of her son sitting silently and wringing her hands. She eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. There were subsequent problems and time spent in mental hospitals and even a few rounds of electric shock therapy. I was protected from this knowledge as a child growing up.
I did not hear it so much from my great grandmother as I did from my great grandfather, but there was always the general admonition to trust the Lord in all things. Once he told me that when I was dating a fine Christian young man, to “just trust the Lord and seek His will”. I was a bit insulted at the time. I thought I was already doing exactly that, and I expected that things would go well with me as a result. Things did not go well with me on that account; the young man broke up with me and the rejection forever altered the way I saw myself, or maybe it just brought out into the open the secret way I had always seen myself. I don’t really know the answer to that question and it does not really matter. The rejection and not getting my way in the matter, those things hurt.
Fast forward several years and witness the circumstances of my life the past few years as I have spent time worrying over a son with addiction problems. Those things hurt too. I am extremely grateful for the progress my son has made, extremely grateful. There were many times I sat in the darkness and practiced the equivalent meditative wringing of my hands. Those words, “just trust the Lord” would often ring through my ears while I knew my son was out there, somewhere in the darkness of addiction, and I did not know whether he would come home alive, or whether I would be called with news that he had harmed someone while driving under the influence. I did learn to trust, most of the time, but it was a long hard process, and it is never completely learned once and for all.
What I truly learned, from experience--and not from my Sunday school teachers, or my great grandfather’s words, which also echo down to me now from my mother’s mouth--What I truly learned is how I want to react to God at the moment when I am not getting my way from Him or life, when things look totally hopeless. I am not always sure exactly what “just trust the Lord” looks like in my life, but I am sure that I want to trust, no matter how dark things might look.
So one thing I know for sure is that I do not want or need to be told to “just trust the Lord” when it looks like the darkness is going to overcome me. That part of the equation I have already decided and committed to.
It is a hard question, but now I wonder, in her time of maddening grief over her lost son, did my great grandfather whisper to her to just trust the Lord in all these things? Is that not the hard side of faith, to be told to just trust the Lord when it looks and feels as if all your hope is gone?
I think that we as people of faith must be very careful with how we use our words, and how we comfort others in their darkness, because sometimes, in the darkest of nights, being reminded to “just trust the Lord” is a searing, red-hot poker applied to an already seething wound. In those times, maybe the Lord does not need for us to state His case to His hurting child. In those times, maybe the kindest thing we can do is to sit silently with the hurting person. Maybe we can attempt to hold the wringing hands so they won’t feel so alone and helpless. But maybe, just maybe, in those times, the words “just trust the Lord” are words that are best left unsaid.