It had been a pretty rough week. Missy lost her mother the day before and Andy’s wife filed for divorce that day. And a friend had texted recently, heartbroken over his sister-in-law’s cancer verdict. And then we had some reservation friends of ours that were grieving over one young suicide after another.
It just seems that we always know someone who’s walking their own personal “trail of tears.” Some weeks I think we could be sending a sympathy card like every day. And we’ve taken our turn. No family is immune. Bad news from the doctor. Burying the person we love. A broken heart over a life that’s broken. And you know what? We never forgot the person who was there when it was dark.
I’m Ron Hutchcraft and I want to have A Word With You today about “How to be the Person They’ll Never Forget.”
My wife and I are honored to call many Cherokee friends our brothers and sisters. Some are really like family. And you can’t be with Cherokees for very long without recollections of their people’s darkest hour; one of the most infamous chapters in our nation’s history. You’ve probably heard of it – The Trail of Tears.
The forced removal from their ancestral homelands. The brutal stockade imprisonments, and then the 800-mile Trail of Tears under military guard in a horrific six-month walk through one of the fiercest winters in American history. An estimated one-fourth of the Cherokee Nation died on or because of the Trail of Tears. I’ve stood with Cherokee brothers at unmarked graves where some of those people are buried. I’ll tell you what, I’ve wiped my eyes as they sang in Cherokee, the hymn that helped sustain their people amid all the dying – “Amazing Grace.”
There were people on that trail who didn’t have to be there; missionaries who loved the Cherokee people, who represented Jesus among the Cherokees. And now, who chose to be by their side, sharing their suffering.
There’s a nearly 200-year-old mission church on Cherokee land in Oklahoma today. But it wasn’t built in Oklahoma. It was built in Georgia. And I’m told that the missionaries had so won the respect of the people that the chief actually ordered that that mission be dismantled and moved with the people. Well, you see, you never forget the person who walked with you on your trail of tears. Because everyone’s so busy, so stressed, so preoccupied to enter into someone else’s grief. But if you’ve walked your own trail of tears, you are uniquely qualified to walk with someone else on theirs. And in so doing, you can find meaning in your pain.
In his recent book, Rob Moll says it well: “When suffering turns to compassion, the questions provoked by suffering can find resolution.” A reviewer of that book commented, “Pain breaks us open, allowing us to become kinder and more generous toward others who suffer.”
Or, as the Bible says in our word for today from the Word of God in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “God…the source of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.”
No one had more important things to do than Jesus did in His world-changing three-year ministry. But He stopped for the blind man by the side of the road. He stopped for the mother who had just lost her son, for the leper no one else would touch. And He’s stopped for me. Again and again, He has “carried me.” In the words of the Bible, “as a father carries his son” (Deuteronomy 1:31) when I couldn’t walk another step. When all I could do was reach up and cry, “Daddy, carry me!”
So I am to be, as Oswald Chambers says, “not one who merely proclaims the gospel, but one who becomes broken bread and poured-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.”
Showing up when they’re falling down as Jesus has shown up for me. He didn’t stay in the comfort of His heaven. He came to us as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with the deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3) carrying my burden all the way to the cross.
Now I am called. I am privileged to be His face, His voice, His arms, His hands so someone else doesn’t have to walk their trail of tears alone.