The Fellowship of the Afflicted: Friday Morning Coffee #57

Good morning, friends. 

I've been listening to a new podcast, and since last week's episode with Margaret Feinberg, I've been thinking about the "fellowship of the afflicted." 

Something happens to us when we walk through pain. It can carve deep places out in us - places for a new kind of joy and a deeper sense of compassion. 

It is the doorway to the "fellowship of the afflicted," that invisible group of us who have been marked and shaped by suffering. We are the ones who know what it is like to walk through the valley, who have been brought face to face with the ways our world is broken. We know that life doesn't have easy answers and explanations do not dull pain. We have fought in the trenches for faith and hope and joy, and we've learned that they don't always take the sanitized Sunday-school form. 

I don't know why it is that pain doesn't universally make us better comforters. I suppose it has something to do with our own response or openness to its work. Some become hard and bitter. Some become chronic fixers, explainers, and solvers, convinced their experience will give you the golden ticket. But those precious ones in the fellowship of the afflicted - you'll know them when you find them.

These are the people who refuse to give quick and easy answers. They're okay with the tension of unanswered questions. They're the ones who drop care packages at your house, because they know you need one. They're the ones who continue to check in, not letting you disappear into pain and isolation. They let you show up half-okay and not-okay, and demand no explanation and no show of cheerfulness. They keep company with you in your grief and anger and sorrow. They give the ministry of their presence.

I'm deeply thankful for the fellowship of the afflicted. I'm thankful for the ways they've ministered to me. 

And I'm deeply thankful that our Savior is among them. He knows suffering. He did not talk away our pain or tell us to pull it together. He entered into it. And he gives us His presence in the midst of it. Thanks be to God.

Jesus, The Sorrowing Comforter

There are four simple black frames hanging in our bathroom, each containing a different verse of Scripture. I put them up shortly after we were married, so that each morning as we got ready for the day and each evening as we ended it, we would have little nuggets of truth before our eyes.

A few weeks ago, as I was drying off from a shower, I noticed that they are all from the Gospel of John. Perhaps his words particularly resonate with me. Or perhaps I find him to be particularly quotable.

There is one section of John that is disproportionately represented in these framed verses. It’s a part John’s Gospel I return to again and again because of the comfort and encouragement I have found there. And, because it’s Lent, it has me thinking.

I’m speaking of Jesus’ words in John 13-17. It’s the section of John that biblical commentators call the “Farewell Discourse” and the “High Priestly Prayer.” It begins with Jesus taking on the role of servant and washing his disciples’ feet, and it ends with a prayer. In John, we don’t hear Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for the cup to pass, sweating drops of blood. Instead, we hear Jesus’ prayer for his disciples then—and for all who would believe in him. We hear him praying for us.


In between these two moments, we read the words of Jesus on his last night with his disciples before he is arrested. In just a few hours, he will be handed over to the authorities, betrayed by one of his closest friends. He will be falsely accused, mocked, beaten. He will be sentenced to die a shameful and excruciating death on a Roman cross. He will take on his shoulders the sins of the world and bear the wrath of God.

Jesus knows what is coming, and as he stares down his impending agony, he sits with his friends—and he comforts them. I am overwhelmed by the love in this action. He is about to enter into the worst suffering the world has ever known, but his concern is for his disciples, these same disciples who will abandon him in terror.

Jesus himself would say that night that he was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). He could use some comforting and encouragement himself. But even in this moment, his eyes are on those he loves. He says to them…

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

These words have comforted many of us in our own times of suffering. But how much more precious are they when we remember that Jesus spoke them in loving concern for his friends who were about to see him killed.

In the midst of his own suffering, Jesus continued to serve and love. In these words of peace to his disciples. In his provision for his mother to be cared for, as he hung on the cross. In his words of pardon to a dying criminal, in his words of forgiveness for his executioners. Even as he took on the weight of atoning for sin, even as he fought for the redemption of the cosmos, his eyes were turned with love toward those he came to save. 

What wondrous love is this, oh my soul. What a Savior.

Rest and a Snow Day: Friday Morning Coffee #56

I'm looking out this morning at a blanket of snow. I wish it could have stayed as it was yesterday in thick clumps on the trees, still white and unstained by salt and exhaust. 

This is typically the time of year when Scott and I begin to look at each other and ask, "Why do we live here again?" But I've been strangely thankful for the quiet insulating beauty of the snow this week. Call me crazy.

It was good to take a partial snow day. To curl up and watch a movie, to fill the house with the smell of cookies baking (I always crave them when it snows), to put a puzzle together. Sometimes we need a day to rest, and thanks to our not-so-diligent plow man and a foot of snow on the driveway, we got it yesterday. And it was lovely.

Wherever you are today, my friends, I hope you find a pocket of rest and a reason for simple, quiet joy. 


Waiting in Lent

Our community group studied the Triumphal Entry a few weeks ago. Many of you know the story. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey, confidently entering the city as its rightful king. News had spread of the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus, and the crowds flocked to see this miracle worker. Surely, if he could restore a man to life, if he could breathe life into a decomposing corpse, surely he could restore life to Israel. Surely he could free them from Roman rule.

The crowd celebrates, waving palm branches in Israelite national fervor. The crowd is excited for a conquering Christ, one who will free them from the tyranny of the Romans, one that will restore the might of Israel, one that will rule.

Tragically, they didn’t know the sort of Messiah who had come to them. He did not enter Jerusalem to wage war or to start a revolution—at least not in the way they understood it. They could not, did not see that this Christ, who truly was their King, was to be the suffering Christ. They did not see that His victory would come through seeming defeat. They did not see that his eyes were not set only on the Romans but on the bondage of the entire cosmos. The “war” he waged was on a scale beyond their comprehension. Their vision was too myopic, too immediate, too victorious.

We aren’t much different. This is why the season of Lent is so powerful.


We need to feel the weight of the statement “Christ has died” before we jump ahead to “Christ has risen.” Instead of crafting a sheeny picture of a victorious, happy world, we need to see clearly Jesus, the God-man, who bowed low to walk with us through our pain, to bear the weight of it, to feel the bitter effects of sin. His victory came through sorrow, through defeat, through suffering. And often ours does as well.

We need space to sit in the sorrow and unanswered questions. We need space to be fully present to the brokenness of the world, the erring of our hearts, the myriad “not-yets” of our present reality. We need a reminder to not dismiss suffering in an attempt to jump to the happy ending.

Easter is coming. I speak not only of the church holiday we will celebrate in a few weeks. There is a Grand Easter coming—the final, complete Resurrection and Restoration, the final Victory. We long for this day.

But today, we sit in Lent—and we sit in the presence of our suffering Christ, the one who invited us to take up our cross and follow. We sit with His sorrow and suffering—and with our own—and we wait.

Were You Faithful?: Friday Morning Coffee #55

Every other week, I make the trek down to Gordon-Conwell to do work in the library. There's a delightful group of people who meet on Tuesdays for lunch. These lunches are never dull. There's a lot of boisterous laughter and passionate conversation. 

A few weeks ago one of this precious Tuesday lunch crew turned to me and asked, "Diana, how's your spiritual life been this week?" 

I paused, my eyes shifting to a spot on the wall behind him as I thought. I wanted to give an honest answer.

"Honestly," I said, "I've been feeling pretty exhausted lately."

He smiled kindly. "It's a trick question, you know. There's only one right answer: 'Faithful.' If things are good or things are bad, that's the only we can hope to be. Faithful."

He stood up to leave, piling trash and dishes from the rest of us on his tray to carry to the dish room, as he always does. As he walked away, he paused to talk to a student's young daughter. I couldn't hear what he said, but it made her smile. 

The professor next to me leaned over closer to my ear. "Some may not see it, but he's truly one of the saints of this place." 

I couldn't help but agree.