“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Luke 24: 13-16
I wonder all the time about this passage. I think about the roads I have been on, when my entire vision of my future has been buried in the ground. The moments of shock quickly morph into the stark reality of what my life would now be, disastrously altered. For years after our first son, Caleb, died I would be overcome with waves of reality: this really happened. Again, and again, my brain would have to try to incorporate this tragedy into my identity.
This passage from Luke 24, the Road to Emmaus, reminds me of my grief roads. Why were two of Jesus’ disciples leaving Jerusalem? The other disciples were in hiding, believing at any moment they would be dragged away and nailed to a cross. Who wouldn’t believe that if their Lord, Son of God, could be killed, that His followers were next on the hit list? Their entire vision of a future with Christ as Messiah had dissolved as His spirit ascended. The safety, certainty, and hope that inspired them to leave all that they knew and follow Jesus now lay in ruins. What was there to hope in now?
When you have given your all to God, grief comes as not only a shock but also as a torment. Am I crazy? Have I imagined this connection to a God I cannot see, whom I have built my life around, stood up and claimed, been unafraid of being labeled a fool for? Where are you now, God? I imagine these two disciples walking together on their grief-filled, lonely road, quizzing each other . . . do you remember when He did this? Wasn’t that proof? Remember when he turned water to wine, raised Lazarus, caused the blind to see? What did we miss? Are we fools?
I have stood outside on my front porch in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, chain-smoking and praying . . . okay, it was a conversation with the sky. I was demanding answers, begging for a re-do, refusing to believe I had been given anything but a “screw you” from the God I loved. But, I wasn’t looking for Him. My grief clouded my ability to see Him, in all the moments He came to me, drew close and walked beside me.
A year later, when our family was knocked sideways with the tragic and untimely loss of my father in law, I again screamed and shouted over cigarettes with God. We endured months nothing less than confusion, frustration, and anger. We were bowled over by loss, unable to see anything but the blinding hurt we were enduring.
But, God has a way of walking beside us. We can look back on those dark journeys and see how He brought family together, strengthened bonds, created a new and lasting legacy in our families. We see the friendships made and the deep channels of empathy carved in our beings, making us better to love others and serve them in their crisis. We also see the children born since, the life that continues to be resurrected, the hope we live with.
The biblical commentaries suggest that God blinded the disciples from seeing Him as they walked their road. This doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t think He ever blinds us from seeing Him. I think immaturity and lack of faith blind us. I think when bad things happen we forget to look for Jesus. I think we are so overwhelmed with the realities of the funeral plans and what do we do for Christmas this year that we forget every step, every moment is filled and held and carried by Him. At least, that is what I have done. I get so caught up in my human despair that I forget to look for the Christ next to me.
When our third son, Samuel, was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, we were again overcome with grief. However, I had learned from years of shaking my fists and chain smoking while screaming prayers to heaven, that I couldn’t survive another road to Emmaus without having the God I loved being present and real next to me. In my deepest prayer, in my worst moments, all I could utter to Him was “don’t let me lose you again, help me to hang onto you because without you carrying me, I won’t be able to keep my eyes on You.”
I still couldn’t sleep. I didn’t chain smoke because I was pregnant. But I did pray, and I filled my head with music that called me to continuously look for Him. And guess what? We walked the next 15 weeks, a week in the hospital with high blood pressure and magnesium treatments, his birth, his two and a half weeks in the NICU, and the last thirteen months with a Jesus real and present, making Himself visible over and over again. I have never in my life known more that God was present. And I have never needed Him more to continue to breathe, live, and survive for my family.
My friends, life is hard and we are all so human. Don’t give in to despair. Don’t believe you can hold on by yourselves. Simply pray: hold on to me, Lord, and don’t let me go! Guess what? He will appear. Just keep your eyes open.