He Comes Close


The way that enormous flag looked hanging from the overpass still lingers in my memory. The breeze was still that afternoon, even if our emotions were not. That row of firefighters stood and saluted along the bridge with solemn expressions. They knew full well that we were coming that way. And they hung that beautiful flag down low over the highway to let us know we were not alone.

We had lost soldiers to the war on terror…again.

As we gathered together, our hearts were raw with the reality of this calling that is both honorable and desperately hard. They were soldiers, yes, but they are always more than that. These men were husbands, sons, fathers, and friends. Those firefighters, lined up on that overpass, did not know our names, but they understood the calling to put your life on the line so that others may live.

For those few moments, as we slowly drove underneath the waving red, white, and blue, they showed us that their lives, and sacrifice, mattered.

As the trail of vehicles caravanned slowly and respectfully down the highway, we all caught our breath as we drove underneath it…the waving colors of our American flag. Somehow those stripes felt a bit more red that day, for sure.

Even in such deep and tender sorrow, His oh-so-tender mercies are still coming new.

We all felt it that awful day. We witnessed, in so many shades of red, white, and blue, the Presence of our wounded and sacrificed Savior. Yes, I was reminded that He, too, died so that others may live.

So, under the canopied grave site, we watched in silence as they painstakingly folded yet another flag. While we watched, they smoothed every crease. While we watched, with tears falling hot and wet, they worked to make it just right. But how do you make this horrible honorable? How can you hope to soften the blow of such incredible, indescribable loss?

You can’t.

Truth is, you shouldn’t even try. You see, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha as they grieved the death of their beloved brother, Lazarus. Think about it. The King of Heaven gave Himself permission to experience grief. He saw their grief and He wept in response. And in doing so, He tenderly joined them in their sorrow. I believe that as they watched His tears fall, they felt His close proximity to their own grief.

Because that’s what Jesus does in every hard and broken space…He comes in close.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

The questions that Mary and Martha asked revealed their rising hurt and accusation.

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'”  

John 11:32 (NIV)

Isn’t that the question that lurks in the recesses of so many of our minds when what we love is stripped away? “Where were you, Lord?” Listen, friends, He is not intimidated by your questioning or your broken heart. He sees you. Know that He comes close and weeps with you.

“When Jesus saw her weeping…he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.  ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.”

John 11:33-35

It was in those moments when Jesus’ tears fell from His face that their hearts were softened into trusting, and perhaps even hoping, again. They felt His close proximity to what they were suffering…and by His closeness, they were comforted.

As are we.  

Beloved, you and I are designed with a great and mighty heart, complete with the ability to love, to laugh, to celebrate…and to deeply grieve. Yet, I have come to realize that grieving isn’t an emotion many of us know how to process – in ourselves or in others.

Sometimes life is just plain messy and hard. As much as I wish it wasn’t, exemption from those spaces just isn’t an option. So why not give yourself (and others) the same permission to be real, to hurt, to grieve this often broken life?

Those firefighters did that for our unit that day. I’ll never forget it. Their solemn acknowledgement was a gift to each of our hearts that day, a little reminder of Jesus coming close.

From memorial services to service on care teams that come in shortly after a family has been notified of the loss of their soldier, I have found that those I have walked alongside in the deepest spaces of grief have not wanted solutions or remedies from me.

They just wanted someone to come close and reassure them that they were not alone.

So, if you find yourself face-to-face with a heart that is wounded and grieving, do them a favor and just stay. You don’t have to say something special, just be willing to look them in the eye and tell them you see them. They may just need you to stand on that awful wall with them and remind them that their broken hearts are being held.

My experience is that our culture, in general, is super uncomfortable with grief and loss. Tragically, it is in that awkwardness that our hearts can back away from someone who is grieving. Resist the temptation to do that (unless they ask for it).

Love moves toward another person.

Jesus always moved toward those who were hurting.

The song I want to share with you today is by KXC, entitled, “With Me (David’s Song).” Make sure you listen all the way to the bridge of the song…it’s worth the wait. Trust me. It is a simple song about reminding yourself, as did King David in the Bible, of who is with us and who arms us with strength and joy, perspective and peace…even in the hardest of spaces.

Because sometimes the darkest spaces just need a little bit of light to remind us we are not alone. Jesus always comes close. I pray that as you listen, you will feel His close proximity to exactly where you are and be reminded that He sees you…and loves you.

And if you have the time, stay tuned all the way to the end as the artists share their personal story behind this beautiful song of declaration. Praying you catch glimpses of His Presence with you wherever you find yourself today.


With joy for the journey,