Dear Friends in Christ,
I spent my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) summer at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland many decades ago. The insights and wisdom that I received during that time continue to speak to me today. One memory that returned to me recently was a visit to a patient in the Pain Unit. I was accompanying a nurse in that unit while she made her visits. As we entered one room, we could hear crying and wailing. The woman patient was writhing in her bed. She was obviously in great pain. The nurse, Naomi, walked to her bedside and spoke gently and calmly even as the patient continued to wail. “I have nothing to live for!” The patient cried. “Why is God letting me live like this? I will never be rid of this pain!” I stood there wondering what anyone could do to ease this woman’s suffering; her condition seemed beyond hope.
Naomi remained at her bedside, smiling calmly and compassionately while the woman argued with and railed at God. Just when it seemed like we would have to leave the patient without providing any relief, Naomi responded to her despair, “And yet, you still have something to be grateful for.”
The woman asked in true bewilderment, “What? I can’t imagine what that would be.”
“Your tears, dear, you have those wonderful tears that God has given you.” Her words landed gently as the woman was quieted.
We are never so helpless as when we forget that God has given us reasons to be grateful, especially in times of great darkness and distress. This statement may sound superficial, even silly, when we are overwhelmed with suffering, whether our own or another’s. But it only sounds superficial if we have chosen to allow suffering to define our very being. When this happens, our pain and suffering become the lens through which we see. We sort our world between things that offer relief from pain or are sources of pain. This sorting can become a way of life that eventually creates for us a binary worldview. There are those who offer relief from pain = friends, and those who are sources of pain = enemies. The promise of true healing has given way to keeping score, and our lives become increasingly given over to vanquishing the enemy. At its most extreme, the goal becomes vanquishing the enemy at all costs.
Hate will only beget more suffering and pain; there is no life in it.
The essential truth of our faith is the power of God’s love made known on and through the Cross. It is a love that is tempered by forgiveness, confession, and reconciliation. It is a love that multiplies as it transforms us, one by one, in unfathomable ways. It is a love that endures beyond this world. But most importantly for Christians, it is a love that deepens the understanding that we are not called to keep score and then avenge the hurt and pain we suffer. We are called to be healed and to heal – to bring the light of Christ into a broken world.
Let us, therefore, be grateful for the love God has made known to us, and let us make known God’s love even in the darkest of times.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:1-9)