When Closeness is Agony

Michael Beck

“And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.” (Genesis 21:16 )

There is no more enjoyable experience on earth than being near those we love. Special occasions like birthdays and weddings and holidays bring us together to share each other’s joy.

On the other hand, there is nothing so agonizing as being near a loved one when they are suffering and being unable to stop their pain. The natural reaction is to move away from them, not because we are without pity, but because it hurts us too much to see them suffer.

Hagar did just this when her son was nearing death. She went “a good way off” from him, because she could not bear to see him die. For the same reason perhaps the friends of Jesus “stood afar off” while He bore the agonies of the cross. “And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.” (Luke 23:49)

What mother or father can easily bear the pleading cries of a child in pain, “Help me Mommy! Help me Daddy!” We may be able to provide some small relief, but a time comes for each of us when “the water is spent in the bottle.” There is that agonizing moment when we realize, “I have done all I know to do and it is not enough.” But there is something more we can do. Never under-estimate the value of your simple presence at the side of a suffering loved one. God says to His beloved child: “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15)

Mary did not stand afar off from the cross. She came near to her Son in His suffering. When Jesus looked up and could no longer see Father’s face, nor sense His presence, He was able to look down and see the dear face of His mother, suffering with Him. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother …” (John 19:25) When Mary heard His words, “Into Thy hands I commit My Spirit,” they may have echoed a prayer of her own, “Into Thy hands I commit My Son.” Hands, that can do no more, need to release their loved one into stronger hands. So it is that Abraham sent Ishmael away with a water bottle, but God provided him a well.

Give the gift of your presence to those who are suffering. Don’t turn away in sorrow and grief. Stand with them and by them. Stand in God’s presence for them. Ultimately, He alone is their salvation.

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.