It's true, you'll never walk alone

This article was originally a devotional shared with Bible Society Australia’s staff. Its author, Justine Toh – a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity – has graciously adapted it at Eternity’s request, in light of today being R U OK? Day.

Victorians under extended lockdown can’t freely walk out their front door right now, unless it’s just for an hour, and within five kilometres of home. Given the therapeutic benefits of walking, that restriction is probably ruinous for mental health this RU OK? Day.

But even if you can’t leave the house right now, take heart. It’s not how far you walk that counts, but who walks with you.

Take heart. It’s not how far you walk that counts, but who walks with you.

This was brought home to me when I read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found, which was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

When Cheryl was 26-years-old, she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches some 4,270 kilometres from California up to Canada – longer than walking from Perth to Sydney.

Cheryl hiked to heal herself from many hurts. She’d lost her beloved mother to a vicious bout of lung cancer, her marriage had disintegrated, and she’d picked up a heroin habit – all experiences that had set her on a very different path to the one she expected to be on.

She also encountered other bereaved people on the Trail, like Lou, whose eight-year-old son Luke had died after being hit by a track.

Sensing that Cheryl had also been hollowed out by grief, Lou opens up: “After Luke died, I died too. Inside, I look the same, but I’m not the same in here. I mean, life goes on and all that crap, but Luke dying took it out of me. I try not to act like it, but it did. It took the Lou out of Lou, and I ain’t getting it back. You know what I mean?”

The death of Luke took the Lou out of Lou. Cheryl doesn’t exactly describe her own loss in those terms, but she doesn’t need to. That’s just what death does to the living left behind.

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But if you allow Cheryl’s story to keep pace with another walk – one taken by two disciples on the road to Emmaus, as retold in Luke 24 – there’s a chance that deep sorrow can be turned into deeper joy.

In that story, Jesus’ disciples had been left flummoxed by reports that Jesus had risen from the dead. Women who had gone to Jesus’ grave to dress his body had returned to say he was alive. None of Jesus’ followers knew what to make of such an incredible report.

Later that day, two of the disciples set off on a journey to Emmaus, about 11kms from Jerusalem. On the way, they break down recent events with each other: the crucifixion of their leader, and now this unbelievable story of his coming back to life. You can imagine that, away from the larger group, they’re more able to air their fears and doubts.

Jesus then joins them on the road, though they don’t recognise it’s him. He presses them for detail on what is upsetting them. To comfort them, he takes them on a whirlwind tour of Old Testament events and prophecy to show them that the suffering and death of the Christ – and his resurrection – was always part of the divine plan.

Jesus’ re-narration of events is a particular kindness to his bereaved disciples.

Jesus’ re-narration of events is a particular kindness to his bereaved disciples. They think they’re in a story where their hopes had come to nothing, where the death of Jesus had undone their world.

But they’re actually in a story where death is no longer the end, because the death of the Christ can raise everyone to life.

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Clearly, we know people who struggle to believe that that’s possible. But that doesn’t change the longing we all feel to be reunited with those lost to us.

Cheryl is haunted by her mother on the Pacific Coast Trail. She sees her mother in the wildflowers and herbs that cross her path, and cannot contain her grief that her mother’s boundless love was, in the end, devoured by a hungry, ruthless universe.

For Cheryl, there is no loving God at the centre of all things. Instead, there is a just a void that consumes everything and never gives anything back.

It’s a story that suggests that God walks alongside us, no matter what paths we tread.

But we see a very different picture of God in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We see one who draws near to us in our grief, who is our counsellor and comforter when we are in distress.

The death of our loved ones also kills something inside of us. But the promise of this story is that the Christ who conquers death not only has the power to raise the dead, but revive the living left behind.

The risen Christ, this story suggests, can put the Lou back into Lou, the Cheryl back into Cheryl and, not least of all, the you (yes, you) back into you.

It’s a story that suggests that God walks alongside us, no matter what paths we tread.

Whatever paths you’re on right now – even without being able to leave your house! – be encouraged by this story that the risen Christ walks with you, and is, most certainly, even nearer than you realise.

 

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If any material in this story has disturbed you or relates to someone you know, please consider: 

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact Emergency Services on 000.

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 is a trusted source of information and support on suicide prevention. It provides information to people at risk of suicide or who have attempted to take their life with support options, and gives practical advice for people worried about someone they think might be suicidal on how to help.

Lifeline: 131 114 provides 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Suicide callback service: 1300 659 467 provides free counselling for suicide prevention and mental health via telephone, online and video for anyone affected by suicidal thoughts, 24/7.

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