by Ron Hutchcraft
Missy lost her mother yesterday. Andy’s wife filed for divorce today. A friend texted recently, heartbroken over his sister-in-law’s cancer verdict. Reservation friends are grieving one young suicide after another.
Always, we seem to know someone who’s walking their own personal “trail of tears.” Some weeks, we could be sending a sympathy card virtually every day.
We’ve taken our turn. No family is immune. Bad news from the doctor. Burying someone we dearly love. A broken heart over a life that’s broken.
And we never forget the person who was there when it was dark.
My wife and I are honored to call many wonderful Cherokee friends our brothers and sisters. Some are truly like family. And you can’t be with Cherokees for very long without recollections of their darkest hour. One of the most infamous chapters in our nation’s history is the Trail of Tears.
The forced removal from their ancestral homelands. The brutal stockade imprisonments, the 800-mile Trail of Tears under military guard. A horrific six-month walk through one of this country’s fiercest winters. An estimated ¼ of the Cherokee Nation died on or because of the Trail of Tears.
I’ve stood with Cherokee friends at unmarked graves where some of those people are buried. I’ve wiped my eyes as they sang in Cherokee, the hymn that sustained their people amid all the dying: “Amazing Grace.”
There were people on that trail who didn’t have to be there. Missionaries who loved the Cherokee people, who represented Jesus among the Cherokees. And now, who chose to be by their side, sharing their suffering.
There’s a nearly 200-year-old mission church on Cherokee land in Oklahoma today. But it wasn’t built in Oklahoma. It was first in Georgia. And I’m told that the missionaries had so won the respect of the people that the chief ordered that the mission be moved with the people.
You never forget the person who walked with you on your trail of tears.
Because everyone’s so busy. So stressed. Too preoccupied to enter into someone else’s grief.
But if you’ve walked your own trail of tears, you’re uniquely qualified to walk with someone else on theirs. And in so doing, find meaning in your pain.
In his recent book, Rob Moll says it well: “When suffering turns to compassion, the questions provoked by suffering can find resolution.” A reviewer commented, “Pain breaks us open, allowing us to become kinder and more generous toward others who suffer.”
Or, as the Bible says, “God…the source of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
No one had more to do – or more important things to do – than Jesus in His world-changing three-year ministry. But He stopped for the blind man by the side of the road. For the mother who had just lost her son. For the leper no one else would touch.
And He’s stopped for me. Again and again, He has “carried” me “as a father carries his son” (Deut. 1:31). When I couldn’t walk another step. When all I could do was reach up and cry, “Daddy, carry me!”
Those of us who have been so loved by Jesus are to be, as Oswald Chambers says, “not one who merely proclaims the Gospel but one who becomes broken bread and poured-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.”
As you walk with them through their pain, you win the right to tell them about your Jesus. He gets our suffering. Because no one has ever suffered as He has.
Your “Hope Story” of a Savior, a cross and a love that have anchored you in your darkest hours is the most powerful tool you have to open a door. That could lead them into the heart-healing, sin-forgiving, eternity-changing arms of your Jesus.
Your own trail of tears has qualified you to be His face, His voice, His arms, His hands. So someone doesn’t ever again have to walk their trail of tears alone.
Ron Hutchcraft (@ronhutchcraft) is an international speaker, radio host, and bestselling author. As president of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, Ron and his team specialize in developing, authentic, relevant, and creative tools to reach people with the message of Jesus. Ron’s closest partner in life and work is his wife, Karen. They are the parents of three grown children and have nine grandchildren.