Yesterday I saw two grieving fathers.
The first was Rick Warren. Earlier this week I was at a leadership conference at the Royal Albert Hall where two of the speakers were Rick and Kay Warren. Rick is the author of "The Purpose Driven Life" and the pastor of Saddleback Church in California. Many of you will know that just over a year ago Rick and Kay's son Matthew committed suicide. They spoke incredibly movingly about what Matthew meant to them both, his struggles with mental illness, what it feels like to lose a child, what the last year has been like for them both, how with God they've kept going and what they're learning through it all (I'll post a link to their interview once it's available online). A year on their pain and sadness was still so raw, so real and so obvious to see. Their vulnerability was captivating, humbling and incredibly powerful.
The second grieving father I saw was Bob Geldof. In one of the breaks we went for some food and he was sat on his own outside a cafe with a drink just staring into the distance. I guess we've all seen in the news the tragic death of his daughter Peaches Geldof a month ago today. I've only seen Bob Geldof once before, over 25 years ago at a Boomtown Rats concert. It was hard to imagine that the brash young man fronting his band all those years ago was the same man I saw yesterday.
At this point I could make a load of frankly speculative (and almost certainly crass) comments about the difference faith makes to how Rick Warren and Bob Geldof are handling their grief. I don't know anything about Bob Geldof's faith (although I do know that in the light of Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25 he often seems more in tune with God's heart for the poor and hungry than many of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus). What I do know is that yesterday I saw two grieving fathers, feeling I suspect a very similar set of emotions and going through something I hope and pray I never have to go through.
And I was reminded that so many of us walk through life with deep sorrow. I knew about Rick Warren and Bob Geldof because their loss and grief is very public. But how many other people did I see sat outside cafes, walk past in the street, smile at whilst drinking coffee or sit next to at the conference who were grieving too, and I knew and did nothing about it.
One of the verses which powerfully spoke to me through Kay Warren speaking at the conference was Colossians 1:15 which says
"The Son is the image of the invisible God"
God was largely invisible to the world, but Jesus made him visible, gave God flesh, showed us what God the Father is really like. Kay's comment was that as the church, the body of Christ, "our role in life is to make the invisible God visible to the world we live in". That's an incredible life goal for each one of us to live with, making the invisible God visible.
Part of that is us standing with people in their grief. Not offering them quick fix solutions, or random Bible verses which we think should help. Rick and Kay said some of the least helpul things for them have been people telling them they should be getting over it by now, or saying things like "well at least he was a Christian" or "at least you still have your other children" (they encouraged us to remove the phrase "at least" from any conversations we have with people who are grieving!).
Jesus so powerfully showed us how to grieve with people at the tomb of Lazarus (which just happens to be our chapter of John for today). He knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he'd already told the disciples that, but as he saw the grief of Mary and Martha the Bible simply reports "Jesus wept". God is a God who grieves when we grieve, who feels our sorrow and pain.
Are you in pain right now? Then please turn to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles. And find friends who will weep with you as you weep.
Or are there people around you in pain. Don't feel embarassed such that you draw away from them, don't worry that you don't know what to say. Be the image of the invisible God to them, the God who wept. And maybe, just maybe, having stood with them in their grieving, you'll be part of God's plan to turn their mourning into dancing and their tears of sorrow into tears of joy.
ps I know some of you will want to know if I went and spoke to Bob Geldof. No I didn't, not out of fear but I just didn't feel it was the right thing for me to do - perhaps in the light of what I've written I should have done. I have been praying for him a lot since though, perhaps you could too.