When I was a little girl I would stand at the shore and dream of a whale that could swallow sorrow. I think I had just learned the story of Jonah in Sunday school as well as the misery of Nineveh, and I thought– surely, was it too far fetched to think that the whale could swallow the the sadness of the world, too? Even as I grew I sought the ocean as a place of comfort, as if digging my toes deep into the sand and breathing salt air could soothe the broken places of my life. I would slip far enough into water so that the current would slide over my shoulders and that the weight of sorrow would, just for a moment, disappear under the weight of the waves.
I remember the first time I saw a whale. For years I had prayed for just a glimpse. I had always wondered, “where are they?” I would scour the skyline for their breath. They were mystery and magic: sliding beneath the waves darkly into a realm I could not see, one that I could not fully understand– an orca leaping out of Washington waves, a fin whale sliding its fluke over grey glass, the humpback arching out of its Atlantic home. Always, they were more marvelous than I could comprehend. I stood and watched through the sea darkly, transfixed, decentered, fascinated. All the while: I could not help but think of God. He is always good, but through the glass darkly, His ways are mystery. They are too wide and deep and long and far for me to know. Even the weight of suffering, especially the weight of suffering: I cannot understand. Now that I am grown I know: there is no whale to swallow it. No pill to heal. No eraser to remove. No map to interpret. No words to fix. The answers are not ours. They do not belong to us. Some weeks it’s so hard– so hard to face a world so steeped in sadness. People are unfair, unkind. Children pass before their time. Health declines. Relationships fade. Terror strikes. Cancer wrecks. Storms destroy. Dogs die. Jealousy stirs. Faith wavers. Doubt creeps. But hope– hope stirs in the promises of God. Hope that we can trust what we know to be true, not necessarily what we feel to be true. Hope that He will mend the broken places. Hope that our sorrows aren’t wasted; hope that He catches our tears: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8). Hope that we are loved and never alone. And God, He suffered too. He did not spare Himself sadness. He did not exempt Himself from hurt. His sorrow saved the world. His hand will hold you through the worst of it: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2).