Greetings from Latina, Italy!
When I was in my early twenties, I passed up an opportunity to attend a close friend’s wedding because of the cost of getting there, buying a new dress (and probably new shoes, too), and the time to travel there, etc. Then a few years later, my friend was killed in a highway accident. I had passed-up my friend’s biggest life event—and the last. What I didn’t pass-up was my friend’s funeral, and by then I lived even farther away.
The funeral was a sorry substitute for a wedding that I should have been there to celebrate. But I learned from this experience, and I have tried to make it a priority to celebrate life events with those I love.
That decision turned out to be an important part of my ministry of encouragement. When I show up for a surprise birthday party (as I did in August) or a wedding (as today), the surprise and joy at seeing me is priceless. Likewise, my presence at a friend’s funeral or at the funeral of a friend’s close relative (mother, sister, or child) gives comfort that words never could. In fact, in those sad moments, silence and a loving presence is far better than ten million eloquent words. Although I missed the funeral by a couple of days, I went to be with friends after the death of their baby (see Come Now Let us Reason Together). In each case, my presence was not only welcomed, but actually celebrated.
I am reminded of Job’s friends. They had probably celebrated his wedding and the weddings of each of his seven sons and three daughters, so they also came to be with him in his time of loss. They sat with him in silence for seven days and nights as he sat in misery and loss, scraping himself with a shard of pottery (Job 2:13). That kind of friendship has all but disappeared from the world.
Tomorrow I am going to Poland to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). There we will celebrate with 24 hour worship over the entire 7 days of the Feast. The thing that keeps me returning to this little town in Poland year after year, and the thing I long for more than anything is God’s presence. This will be my fourth year at Tabernacles in Poland, and each year God shows up in a marvelous and completely new and unexpected way. God is good!