Nehemiah 1:2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 1:3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, hand its gates are destroyed by fire.”
Nehemiah 1:4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days,
For the last four years my only pet was a cat named Aussie who I had rescued from an animal shelter. Last Thursday morning he was hit by a car and after taking him to the vet it was clear the family pet had internal injuries. Since there was little the doctors could do I had him euthanized that afternoon.
Now although he was only a cat it broke my heart to watch Aussie die, so the ride home was an emotional one which is normal with a pet who had become your companion. That sadness continued for about thirty minutes, but then I forced myself to think about other things and forget about all memories of him.
In some ways this is a healthy response to discouragement since it allows us to think clearly about the situation, and grow because of it instead of descending into self-pity. But most of the time we cover up those emotions (anger, sadness, discouragement, jealousy) because it hurts too much to think about them. The pain of those emotions doesn’t fade over time either, there are embarrassing situations from high school that still humiliate me when I think about them twenty years later! So instead of dealing with the pain we prefer to cover it up with dirt and forget the situation ever happened, but Nehemiah in chapter one verse four does something very different.
After hearing from Jewish friends that the wall around Jerusalem had still not been rebuilt Nehemiah is overwhelmed with sorrow. The wall of protection had been broken down by the Babylonians hundreds of years before this so it probably shouldn’t have been shocking news for him, but its possible that Nehemiah believed the wall had already been rebuilt since Jews were allowed to build their houses and other parts of Jerusalem when the Persian Empire let them return. Maybe their story reminded Nehemiah of just how unprotected the Jews were, perhaps he felt guilty about living in the Kings palace while his own people were in need, or God just placed this great sorrow in his heart. Whatever the reason, Nehemiah was overwhelmed by sadness and sorrow.
What’s interesting about his response is we don’t see any attempts to take that sorrow away or compartmentalize it. Being a high ranking servant in the kingdom of the Persian King Artaxerxes definitely gave Nehemiah many opportunities to alleviate his sadness. There was the kings food and wine, money, honor as the cupbearer, and many other things which could make him forget his sadness. Yet he embraced that sorrow instead of masking it.
Why would he do such a thing? Because Nehemiah knew the sadness in his heart was a gift from God. The Lord uses many things to break us or show our great need for him, and of course sadness is one of those tools, so in most cases those crisis situations which fill our hearts with pain and eyes with tears are God’s way of speaking to us. Sometimes the message is a confrontation of sin (“you shouldn’t have made that choice”) other times its a promise of His presence or blessing, maybe a call for us to go and help others who are experiencing that pain, or simply a command to rely on him more.
The point is if we go out of our way to take away the pain of sorrow of the moment we are also silencing the voice of God. So take a lesson from Nehemiah and embrace the sorrow of suffering, but make sure to listen for God’s voice while your at it.