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No shame in tears

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By David Whitlock

This particular emergency room is all too familiar to me. I know the room numbers and their location almost by memory now, having been called upon to pray here more times than I care to recall.

But every situation is a bit different; this one caught me by the throat.

I had known Colin since he was a pup, baptized him, watched him grow to young adulthood, and prayed over him when he left home on the way to fulfilling his dream of a military career.

Along the way, he filled in as our church's assistant custodian; a nice part time job for a high school kid. When I arrived at church early one Sunday morning and found a bat hanging outside my office door, I called (OK, maybe I screamed) for Colin. Being a good five inches taller than me, the job was his, or so I told him. "I can't stand on your shoulders to get that bat."  He grinned and removed the bat with such gallantry that I nick named Colin, Bat Man.

So, that day, when I arrived at the emergency room, the news of Colin's sudden death hit me like someone had just slugged me in the stomach, knocking the wind from me. Just the week before I had announced during Sunday's service that Colin would be home from basic training the next Sunday, so "make sure to welcome him back," I had said.

He died in a car wreck only a few miles from his house.

When I told his mom the sad news, she collapsed in my arms. A tiny measure of her pain was transfused from her heart to mine, and even that little drop of anguish was almost more than I could bear.

And so, taking in her agony into mine, I cried too.

Some time later, I can't gauge how long, I attempted a prayer. The words stuck like gravel in my throat.

I tried again, hoping no one had noticed. "Keep your composure," I said to myself, repeating words I had spoken so many years ago in a football huddle when our team was in a tight spot.

The words did come, but not before tears had splashed the pages of the scripture from which I read.

They were words from Jesus. A priest had joined me to minister to this family, some of whom were Baptist and some Catholic. As he graciously included me in the sacrament of last rites, I read from the passage where Jesus arrived too late on the death scene. Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, but not before Lazarus' grieving sisters, Martha and Mary, well-nigh blamed the whole thing on Jesus' tardiness.

And then I read it, the shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept."

"Jesus wept," I slowly repeated aloud the words one more time, as much for my benefit as for those standing around me. I let the simple sentence sink in: Jesus really did weep.

Now, I'd read that passage dozens of times, and even had fun quoting it, playing my own version of Bible trivia.

"Do you know the shortest verse in the Bible?" I would ask.

And I would quickly answer: "Jesus wept," ha-ha. "You didn't know? Gotcha on that one," ha-ha.

But this was no ha-ha moment. Neither had it been for Jesus.

The heartache that poured through his tears some two thousand years ago in a village called Bethany, flowed over me, soothing me at my point of pain in the ER at that moment on that day.

Before the joy of the miracle, Jesus wept out loud with the grieving family. And no one was foolish enough to tell him to get ahold of himself or to pray in a different way.

Walking to my car in the dismal rain, a distant hope drew me into its embrace, shedding a light that warmed and revived my soul, reminding me that we are often healed by the wounds of those who love us, cleansed by their tears, and comforted by their sorrow.

And there in no shame in that.