Worshipping God in the Dust: Words from a Hurt Youth Leader
It was a hard week. The kind of week where you cling to wisdom like this from Charles Spurgeon’s Beside Still Waters. My dear friend, when grief presses you to the dust, worship there! . . . When you are bowed down beneath a heavy burden of sorrow, worship and adore God there. In full surrender to His divine will, say with Job, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him’ (Job 13:15). This kind of worship subdues the will, arouses the affections, stirs the whole mind, and presents you to God in solemn consecration. This worship sweetens sorrow and takes away its sting.”
“I’m so sorry, I know you are already going through a lot. And well, I hate doing this, but I actually have something I need to tell you …”
Like I said, it was a hard week. It is amazing how, even in the midst of the joys that come with summer in student ministry, one day has the power to bring it all crashing in. I had actually spent the previous week leading a team of youth and adults on mission in Haiti. The trip had left an impact on me, just as much as my students, and I was still running on the adrenalin of it all.
But bad news never has good timing.
Within only a few hours, I was hit with two separate accounts of “bad news.” The first came as I was sitting with a group of youth, preparing for an event that evening. My mind was hastily taken away from the details of the event as I experienced the physical pain of what is meant by “gut-wrenching news.” From halfway across the world, I learned that a city I once called home in Central Asia – a city that still has my heart – had been attacked by terrorists. I was able to quickly account for several friends, but the whereabouts of many others remained unknown. Most days, my heart longs to be back there, but never more than that day. I was stuck in America. But I had to continue on. After all, we had a big youth event in just a few, short hours.
Then came the phone call.
After learning of the terrorist attack, I went on a drive to clear my mind, make some phone calls to check on friends, and to simply pray. Yet, that time soon turned after answering the phone. My mom had called to check in on me, but she also quickly let me know there was more news I needed to hear. My grandfather had just received the results from his medical tests. By the doctor’s best guess, he had two more years to live…
Spurgeon’s words never rang more true in that moment. There I found myself: pressed by grief into the dust. My heart was heavy with the burden of sorrow and, truthfully, the last thing I wanted to do in that moment was worship my God. Instead, I desired nothing more than to bury my head as far into the dust as possible until I was hidden from the reality of the world around me.
In the hours following that phone call, I felt united to David’s heart in Psalm 42 as he battled against his own fleshly sorrow: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” My sorrow was the same, but my praise was not.
As a child, I used to run from sorrow at all turns. When I experienced suffering, I merely pretended it did not exist – assuming that if I did not talk about it, I would not have to face its pain.
Yet, I can no longer run as a child does. I have been given the weight and the joy of discipling young women day in and day out. With this responsibility, I endeavor to confidently claim with Paul, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 1:11). This means I must bear my life to them, allowing them to share my triumphs and my trials. I cannot expect to lead them well in suffering, if I never walk the valley myself.
So that is what I did. I chose to not hide myself behind the mask of “I’m okay.” Knowing I still had to lead that evening, I chose to bear truth and not mask the pain. I did not simply say, “I’m fine.” Instead, I allowed the heaviness of my suffering to be displayed in light of the hope of future glory. I took the opportunity to show my students that in the midst of a suffering and hurting world, Christ is still enough.
I have been teaching my students to mourn with the mourning and rejoice with the rejoicing – to be community to one another. And this was my chance to live that truth out in front of them.
The question still remains: how do we praise God in our suffering?
I believe we must first acknowledge the truth that is our current reality: This earth is not our true home, and it has been ridden with the effects of sin. Until creation is fully reconciled to its creator, suffering will continue to come.
Second, we affirm the truth that surpasses even the deepest of sorrow. It is the truth that Paul reminds us of in Romans 8:18 when he says: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” It is the truth that we can stand with confidence in the midst of the dust because of the hope we have in the promises of our God. Suffering’s sting is taken away in light of our future glory.
There will be times when the sting of suffering feels stronger than our faith. And continuing on as a leader, much less a fully functioning human, seems impossible. But even there, we can worship, remembering that (even though it seems counterintuitive) “worship sweetens sorrow.”
As I walked through this hard week, covered in the dust of suffering, my mind was eventually turned to Psalm 126: “Those who sow in tears, shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
As we experience a world that is hurting from the reality of sin, may we never desire to hide from suffering, but may we allow our suffering to spur us on into passionate obedience to the call of Christ. Even while we are weeping, may we show our students what it means to bear this seed for sowing.