The Surface Area of Sorrow – Hayden Hefner

Recently, my city was hit by a once-in-a-generation ice storm. These types of storms are not an uncommon occurrence in Oklahoma. Compared to the aftermath of previous storms, though, the damage this year was catastrophic. Virtually every tree in our city sustained damage. It was a botanical catastrophe, broken limbs everywhere. Even my car was hit by a large falling limb while I was driving back from checking on my parents’ home. 

What made this year’s ice storm so much worse than previous storms? Leaves.

Ice storms usually roll through well after the trees have shed their foliage. This was not the case in 2020 (go figure). As a result, normally resilient trees were unable to hold up under the added weight of ice-covered leaves.

Relationships Are Like Leaves

The last couple years have been especially hard for our family. Last winter, my wife and I lost a baby at 20 weeks’ gestation. And now, over the course of the last four months, my wife has been diagnosed with epilepsy, tore her shoulder during a seizure, and doctors have yet to get the seizures under control (and God has yet to answer our prayers for miraculous healing). 

In the midst of these difficulties, I have occasionally pined for “simpler” times when I was less burdened by others’ needs, decisions, and sorrows. Please do not misunderstand me. I am totally committed to my wife and would not trade a moment of life with her for any earthly gain. On my most worn-down days, though, I sometimes wonder how much easier things would be if my life were not tethered to the well-being of others.

If we’re honest, I think most of us would admit to feeling this way at times. 

Wouldn’t this week be easier if you didn’t have to take food to that person in your small group who just had surgery? Wouldn’t life be more comfortable if you didn’t have to walk with your sister through her battle with depression? And, I’m sure, some parents reading this have even quietly wondered, Why did I ever want to have these kids?

Why do we feel this way? More precisely, why does our vulnerability to the brokenness of this world increase with the number of meaningful relationships we have?

It’s because relationships increase the surface area of sorrow.

Heavy Limbs, Heavy Hearts

The same thing that made the icy rain so harmful to our trees makes brokenness so pervasively painful in our relationally embedded lives: more surface area.

With every meaningful relationship we establish, we increase the surface area within the canopy of our hearts. Every new friendship is another leaf upon which the frozen crystals of sorrow can attach. In unseasonably sorrowful times (such as a global pandemic), the icy weight may seem too much to bear. The limbs of our joy become heavy and creak under a thick layer of accumulating brokenness.

The same thing that made the icy rain so harmful to our trees makes brokenness so pervasively painful in our relationally embedded lives: more surface area.

How can the canopy of one’s life keep from splintering under an unseasonably heavy weight of pain? How can we survive the icy rain of widespread suffering? Some might say we should emotionally detach from meaningful relationships or, worse still, avoid caring for others altogether. But this is not an option our Savior has given us. We are to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), and “lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

Self-preserving isolation is not an option for the believer. Healthy boundaries are valuable, but removing relational leaves and cutting branches off entirely is not the way Christians protect themselves from the surface area of sorrow. Instead, we survive the ice by fixing our eyes on the dawn.

Remember the Dawn

In Lamentations 3, the author responds to the calamitous destruction of Jerusalem with these words: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22–23).

Surely, the greatest and most definitive example of God’s every-morning mercy is witnessed by the eternal dawning of resurrection morning. Zechariah forecasted the infant Christ’s work in terms of “the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness” (Luke 1:78–79).

In the birth, death, and rising of the Savior, definitive dawn has come. The light is eternally shining over the darkness. No icy branch will long be frozen in its merciful warmth.

In the birth, death, and rising of the Savior, definitive dawn has come. The light is eternally shining over the darkness. No icy branch will long be frozen in its merciful warmth.

In light of the empty tomb, we need not fear the surface area of sorrow. Yes, at times, love for others may weigh us down with extraordinary sadness. Yet because of God’s “tender mercy,” this weight will never crush. This is because Christ, the “sunrise from on high,” was weighed down and crushed in our place (Isa. 53:5). In the same way that Christ was raised after laying down his life for others, we too are promised an eternal rising as we lay down our rights, resources, and lives for others, however painful it is (John 12:24–26).

In Christ, the winter of sorrow is only ever a passing season. Because the sunrise is eternally alive, every frozen branch is promised an eternal springtime.

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