Each summer, it seems, the thunderclouds roll in, all dark and full from the west, ready to burst.
And they do. They are hovering and the rains will pour, again.
Each summer, I feel the heaviness of August afternoon heat and humidity beating down. Too soon, weeds seem to have grown three feet, I swear, right in between the vegetables we harvest and eat with thankfulness each night—the zucchini and beans, the lettuces and basil, the tomatoes and peppers—we know the need of dark skies bringing drenching rains for goodness to grow and we know that weeds will grow right along with rest.
And so, there is always a contrast, a bursting in life. Sunrises and sunsets. Clear skies and rainstorms. Joy and tears.
Each summer, for the past few years, my soul feels the dark inside—I’m not quite sure why—a lament for the suffering, others’ and mine. Yet, I am comforted with beauty blooming all around, some planted by my own hands, some planted directly by God, like the milkweed I welcome to cohabitate with my perennials because it brings the monarchs at summer’s end. And the brushstrokes of God are always somewhere to be seen, even in the darkest of places. Our country night sky dazzles with Milky Way and shooting stars—God’s exclamation points of grace.
I am so small here and now. And I have come to like feeling this way, knowing as I do, the great God who holds it all together when I can’t.
Yet, what do I do with the lament? The world cries and I with it, even as we ready for harvest here.
I try to rid myself of feelings I don’t like—affliction—the severe sadness of what is and what is lost in this world, even in my life. I try to balance grief with gratitude, which is necessary to be fully human, I believe—to be fully alive.
But how can we be joyful here, safe under our own midnight skies in our western hemisphere, when we hear of children half way round the world being beheaded and those precious, now dead faces stuck on sticks like trophies in a war deemed holy by some intent on converting or killing? And their mothers? How can one be happy when we sit here, comfortable in our living room chairs and our church pews without threat, yet, of losing both our freedom and our heads?
The storm is moving closer . . .
The sky rumbles . . .
Our brothers and sisters in Christ are fleeing in terror and dying in faith of the One who died for them. And all they want is to LIVE in peace and worship their God.
It would be easy to delete from our minds what we don’t want to see in this world—in ourselves—what we don’t want to feel, wouldn’t it?
And it would be easy to compare our own sufferings each day with others’ and say we have nothing to grieve, wouldn’t it?
Yes, we do violence to ourselves and to those all around. We tell ourselves not to feel what we feel because we have no right when compared to others. And we tell others around us, with our diverted eyes or our flat, searing judgments—we tell those around us not to feel—to get over it—to get over themselves—to get over ourselves—to move on and rise above and plaster on the happy face mask every day so no one will know.
And we think this is the way of Jesus?
How easy it is to forget that our Savior suffered before He even got to the cross. How easy it is to remember our Jesus as a man of peace and calm and to erase from our memories that he was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” He ached for us, the broken by our own sin and the sin of others.
We don’t want to identify with that side of our Savior, do we? We don’t want to be like Him in that way, do we?
Because we want to worship happiness and its pursuit like it’s some inalienable right? We’ve been told so, haven’t we? Isn’t that part of our psychological constitution now, several centuries after having our souls fed with that word “happiness” on the paper that formed us? Do we even question our cultural upbringing, comparing what we’ve become to the whole of our God, in whom we say we trust, because it’s printed on our currency?
Yes, happiness and its pursuit—we’re getting better at perfecting our quest, aren’t we?
Don’t worry, be happy. Don’t grieve, be happy. Don’t suffer—at least not much or too long. Be stoic like your forefathers and help others buck-up too. Make sure to emulate your human fathers more than your divine Father, if it makes you happiest. And while you’re at it, wrap up your thinking with a pretty pink bow of randomly chosen scripture verses to prove your correctness. Tie on the “Be thankful in all things” and remember that “God works everything for good” and, after all, we’re all going to heaven where there will be “no more suffering” and, perhaps that rapturous day is quickly approaching! Just listen to the news!
Lousy, “miserable comforters”, says Job.
I know many who just plain refuse to deal correctly with suffering because it’s so, well, unpleasant and murky and messy. And we don’t like swimming in unclear waters, do we? We like our certainties and our confidences, don’t we?
We don’t deal with our own unpleasant and murky and messy, so how can we deal with anyone else’s unpleasant and murky and messy? By denying our own messy, we become all chewed up and calloused on the inside, unable to help any other sufferer. We wear fake faces with forced smiles.
Some of us can see straight through to the heart. We’re not fooled by faces. We know no one escapes the sorrow of brokenness, unless they’ve lost their minds as well as their hearts and just maybe their souls.
So what do we do about this unpleasant subject of suffering? (Stop reading? Search for another, more up-lifting, inspirational blog post?)
Can we stop deleting, denying, and moving on so quickly? Can we stop shoving down the painful, making us unfit for the work of God’s kingdom?
And can we stop comparing the pain? Because suffering knows no bounds in a broken world. We are called by Christ to face suffering—to deal with it daily—as Christ—to pick up our crosses and follow Him.
We should not judge, Jesus says, even ourselves. We can’t possibly know the intricacies of the human mind and body—of the eternal soul—like He. He suffered and died for all the suffering and dying, for all of us. And I don’t believe Jesus qualified some suffering as better, more worthy of notice and care. Jesus tended to suffering minds and hearts of the living as well as to the physically broken and the dead. Can we become a bit more inclusive in our love and care? Can we stay awhile and pray for all the suffering, like Jesus asked His best friends to do for Him as He bled tears in the Garden of Gethsemane before His blood and His breath leaked out on the cross at Calvary?
Can we choose to live in the constant tension of reality and let reality become our constitution? Really, we live in a broken world in need of constant prayer and compassionate acts. Such tending is far more important than the temporal pursuit of happiness because to spend the majority of our time pursuing happiness comes with the cost of splitting off half of what makes us wholly human and leaves us far from the holy heart of God.
And can we strive to be more like Christ in His dealings with the suffering—even our own suffering—yet not lose hold of joy?
Christ IS our joy, even as tears flow and hearts break. Because He knows. He is Emmanuel. He is with us. And He has overcome. And so will we who believe. No one can take Him from us. Nothing can separate us, even as we suffer now.
So we live with joy and suffering, side-by-side, as Christ, and it is this counterbalance that keeps us sane and moves us forward in faith to serve when days draw dark and hard. When it seems impossible to keep life going because disease has permeated or terrorists have infiltrated—when it seems impossible to smile because of grief running too deep for so many reasons, some which we may never know . . .
Still, we can lean on and into Jesus. He knows. Still, we can lean on and into Jesus. He sees. Still, we can draw from Him strength to serve others weaker than we in the moment. A listening ear. A kind word. A helping hand. Ears and words and hands powered by prayer. This is the way of Christ in this world. This is joy joining hands with suffering.