It happened so fast. I turned just as a goat jumped against the unlatched gate slamming the latch into my elbow and hitting a nerve that sent a wave of pain down my arm. My hand suddenly went numb and my fingers lost their grip on the empty milk pail and sent it clattering to the floor. I whirled and angrily slammed the gate shut. Then I stood and flexed my fingers as I rubbed my elbow. In a few seconds the feeling returned; however it took a few minutes for the pain…or perhaps the memory of pain… to completely subside.
As I sat down to milk, the slight tingling that lingered in my fingers for a few minutes reminded me of another kind of numbness caused by pain. The pain my brother and his family are probably still experiencing…the pain that slams your whole world out of balance and sends everything you hold tightly clattering to the floor…the pain that leaves you numb and unsure whether you really want the feeling to come back or not…the heartache and emptiness that is left when the one you’ve lost is never coming back.
I remember the night my son died. I stood at the window a long time while a spring rain splattered from the eves and little rivulets ran off the porch into the dark night. I thought I should feel sad, broken, angry…something…anything. But I felt nothing…nothing but numbness. I felt swallowed up by an emptiness that made it difficult to focus or function…an emptiness that seemed void of even air and made it difficult to breathe. And the numbness lingered…for awhile.
Tears did eventually fall, but much of the time I just felt empty. For many, many months, numbness and heartache coexisted in my heart as I walked through a season of grief. Grief is like a meat tenderizing mallet pounding our hearts; it hits us hard and heavy and rips and tears as it pelts us in waves. But as we surrender our numb and pelted hearts to our Heavenly Father – when we surrender our questions to His sovereignty – we find grace is more abundant than our tears. Surrendered wounded hearts become softened hearts and grace a healing balm that comforts and then flows out of a pain softened heart to offer comfort and compassion to those who are numb.
Paul tells the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
And sometimes the greatest act of compassion…the comfort we can offer to those who cannot be comforted… may simply be an extension of grace. When we remember what is like to be numb and empty…when we remember that nothing flows from an empty vessel… we can offer grace to the hurting without expectation. Grace…there is no greater gift for the numb and unfeeling.