Posts Tagged ‘suffering’
These are the two things that I know about suffering.
Recently my husband and I suffered a painful, shattering rejection. And I won’t try to speak for him, but for myself it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever suffered emotionally.
I suffered having things said of me by people I greatly respect that were painfully untrue and unjust. But worse than that, I suffered the pain of doubt and despair because I felt like God had abandoned me. I was following, to the best of my knowledge and ability what God had told me to do and he allowed this misjudging, this rejection. I felt like I had been deluding myself thinking that I was hearing the voice of God in the first place.
And I don’t understand.
But, in the middle of the pain, I had a thought. If I’m suffering injustice, I’m in good company. My Lord Jesus also had painful things said of him that were unjust and untrue. And, while I felt like God had abandoned me, I knew in my heart of hearts that was untrue, that God was still with me, will always be with me. But Jesus, who had known complete and perfect fellowship with his Father suffered the withdrawal of that communion on the cross.
And in my suffering, I get to be a little more like Jesus. And if I suffer quietly, I get to be more like Jesus. And if I don’t try to justify myself or defend myself, but rest in what I know God feels about me, I get to be more like Jesus.
But anything that I have suffered is paltry compared to the suffering of my boy everyday of his life. Everyday he suffers a body that is broken. Everyday he suffers a mind that is confused. Everyday he suffers pain and indignity and frustration and chaos.
And I think of what Jesus said of the man who was born blind, . . . this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
And I don’t understand.
But I believe. I believe that somehow God is glorified in Isaac’s life, that somehow he is glorifying himself by not healing. And I believe that God has plans for Isaac, plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future.
And I know that anything my son suffers is paltry compared to what the Son suffered.
And I think that one of the ways that God is glorifying himself is in us believing when we don’t understand. And I think in the getting to be like Jesus part of suffering God is glorifying himself in us. The more quietly I suffer, the louder is Christ in me.
I don’t understand.
But I believe.
When I was in elementary school, my parents dressed me in a gray, three-piece suit every Sunday. I was frequently referred to as preacher-boy. I hated that moniker. Besides, it was a very itchy wool suit.
When I was in high school (in the ‘60′s), I carried my Bible to school – right there on top of the stack of books I carried everyday. It was a part of my “witness” – a way of stating that I was a Christ-follower. My “witness” did more to separate me from the crowd than it did to attract others to Christ. While I believe I genuinely had the respect of many in my class, I was not invited to most parties or other gatherings of my peers.
As a college student I worked part-time in a supermarket. My “witness” was more effective. I was able to have numerous spiritually meaningful conversations with co-workers but I also knew I was not a part of the crowd and often felt marginalized.
I sat alone at the bedside of my dad as he died. Eighteen months later I stood with my sister over my mother’s bed as she breathed her last.
I have experienced the uncertainty that comes when losing a job. I also know something of doing with little. I began working away from home at the age of 13 in order to by my own clothes.
I have experienced loss, disappointment, sadness, and grief. Those are the common experiences of life – the experiences that all people face – painful but they can hardly be associated with suffering. A friend of ours lost a son (age 11) to leukemia; her husband died at 55; her daughter is going through a bitter divorce from an abusive husband. She would certainly tell you that she has experience pain but not suffering.
Perhaps suffering is somewhat relative. When I think of suffering, I think of stories of believers in China who have been imprisoned and in some cases executed for their faith. Or I think of those who have endured enslavement or those in parts of Africa who have been driven from their homes, separated from loved ones, women raped and millions wounded and killed.
Then there are the images from the Passion of the Christ that are still quite vivid in my mind. I only know of suffering through stories and news accounts.
Today, my wife and I were talking about some things we wish we could do. Then we both said, “But, we are incredibly blessed.”
I remember listening to a Chinese pastor who had spent more of his ministry in prison than behind a pulpit. He looked in the camera that was filming his story and told of the growing number of believers. With a big smile he said, “Persecution, good!”
I rejoice that I have only experienced sadness, disappointment, loss and grief. Here was a pastor rejoicing in persecution. I think I am blessed in the absence of persecution. He feels blessed in spite of the persecution because he sees the faith of others sprouting a growing.
April 24, 2003
I knew she was alive. I could hear her arguing with the paramedics, but I couldn’t quite make out my sister’s words.
Each time I tried to move closer to the tangled twist of metal that had been her minivan, an emergency worker would prevent me. “You have to stand back, ma’am.”
“No, I have to be with them,” I wanted to cry out.
Somehow I tamped down the scream and watched helplessly as two EMTs loaded a stretcher carrying my 78-year-old mother into the ambulance. They’d told me she was conscious; that’s all I knew. But they’d had to cut her out of the passenger side, which had taken a direct hit from a pickup traveling about 60 mph. The door was crumpled, the headlight and right front quarter panel were gone, and the wheel was bent at a 45-degree angle.
With adrenaline pumping, I observed the scene in that detached yet hyperinvolved way where time seems to expand as your brain endeavors to process too much information at once. Even with the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, the intersection was dark, and I carefully inched toward the streetlight to lean against the pole. My right foot was throbbing; I’d fallen and fractured the little toe just moments before I received word that my mother and sister had been injured on their way home from the grocery store.
Closer now, I could distinguish Laurie’s words. My sister, still in the driver’s seat, was refusing to let them place her on a back board, the rigid plastic board ambulance crews use to immobilize a person with a possible spine or neck injury before transporting them to the hospital.
“You don’t understand,” Laurie said, her voice firm even though she was crying. “My neck was like this before the wreck. It doesn’t bend.”
For several long, agonizing minutes she argued with the paramedics. She explained that she’d had rheumatoid arthritis since she was four, and that the vertebrae in her neck had fused on their own by the time she was a teenager.
Ultimately, she had to give in because they would not remove her from the car without putting her on the back board. It was on her terms, though. “Atta girl,” I thought as Laurie gave them orders about how to handle her.
I’m sure they tried to be gentle. Still, she screamed as they laid her on the board and tried to straighten her body enough to strap her down. She was just too bent to lie flat on her back. I held my breath until they finally closed the back door of the ambulance, turned on the siren, and sped away from the scene.
When I first saw Laurie in the emergency room, I gasped. As she had tried to tell them, the cervical brace would not fit, so they had placed a rolled-up towel under her neck, another one across her forehead, and then used duct tape to secure her head to the board. Her face was red and swollen from the force of the airbag when it deployed.
While I dealt with the admissions paperwork, a nurse began to take a medical history and check Laurie for injuries. Besides the neck trauma, her right elbow and one of her fingers appeared to be broken. They brought ice packs. X-rays and lab tests were ordered. Several times Laurie asked for something for pain, but the answer was always that the doctor had to see her first.
And all this time she was still lying flat on her back, still strapped to the board, muscles freezing in place, the number of broken bones yet to be determined.
After more than an hour without seeing a doctor, I became the squeaky wheel, trying to get the attention of somebody with the authority to get Laurie something for pain. It takes a lot for my sister to cry–she has a high pain threshold–and it was killing me to stand by her side, dry her tears, and watch her suffer.
Another nurse came in and began to go over the same territory we’d already covered. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” she asked Laurie, “how bad is the pain?”
Laurie lost it and began to sob. “It’s excruciating!”
Amazingly, the nurse paused just long enough to look up from her notes, then repeated the question.
“Twelve!” Laurie shouted.
Evidently a number, even though it was outside the required range, was the right answer. She left the room and went to get the doctor. I helped Laurie blow her nose and wiped her eyes.
She surprised me when she spoke again. “I shouldn’t have said ‘excruciating.’”
“Huh?” My own pain and fatigue were setting in. I’d been standing on a broken toe for a couple of hours by this time.
“It means ‘out of the cross.’” Her voice was soft, her tone reflective. “His pain was excruciating, not mine.”
Four days after Easter Sunday, while suffering intensely, my sister put her own pain in perspective by remembering the passion of Christ.
I have never understood my sister’s ability to cope with pain, other than as a gift of God’s grace. That she spoke disparagingly of broken bones and what turned out to be a bad whiplash humbled me at that moment and to this day.
The following day Laurie was on the cell phone, trying to work from her hospital bed, with me hobbling around and fussing at her. Mother had a punctured lung and more than a dozen rib fractures. Miraculously, her legs were not broken even though they had been jammed into the dashboard.
In a week they were both home from the hospital.
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
My father prepared me for his death from the time I was 7 years old. When, at 15, it happened, I still could not contain my screams which echoed off the walls of a hospital waiting room filled with aunts and uncles and my mother. I know nothing of suffering.
I demanded to see him, to feel his body one last time. I needed to touch him to believe it. I helped to choose his coffin and he was buried three days later, mourned by daughter, wife, friends he touched, and a son. I know nothing of suffering.
I am a father now and imagine the terror of my father sensing death’s immanence, about to leave a wife, a daughter, a son. I imagine the shear sadness of knowing you are dying and it is not the idea of your own death, but the idea of not being with those whom you love. I know nothing of suffering.
I have stood in the room with my wife’s dying father. I have watched death transform the glittering gaze of my spouse into a dull, drawn, darkness directly descended from the deceased. I know nothing of suffering.
I have laid beside my wife’s sadness watching her soul ebb and flow with memory and longing for her father, as I churned with memories of my own. I know nothing of suffering.
I have watched my family’s sudden and subtle shifts as a grandmother, a friend, an uncle, a grandmother, a grandfather, pass away with each year. Death’s disorganization requires re-alignment of rote roles. I know nothing of suffering.
I know of sadness, of deep, abiding sadness and whether 40 days or 40 months, I know I should let go and allow each to ascend so the Spirit can arrive and anoint me.
“then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Acts 4:10