When I was 24 I spent a short time in Amsterdam as a missionary. The city is beautiful, and I loved walking along the canals and sightseeing. As I would walk back to the YWAM base in the evenings I would look in the homes that faced the canal. Almost all would have their drapes drawn back and the lights on and I could see the activities of dinners being made and families going about their business.
There was something comforting about watching these little pictures of life as I walked along, and I always enjoyed the changing scenery.
Facebook seems to be a virtual walk, looking in on the lives of friends, and even of strangers, as they draw back their drapes and live life in front of us. Status updates paint the picture of dinners being and families going about their activities.
The struggle for me is that mixed in with the mundane and the humorous are the many stories of deep suffering.
Stories of babies who are struggling to live when their bodies are not cooperating. Babies who do not survive just after birth. Marriages that are struggling. People who are filled with fear in the face of job losses and struggle. Deaths of acquaintances. Deep griefs and struggles posted in snippets.
I watch from the street, as it were, and wait to see how the story will unfold. I watched along with thousands the story of Lane Goodwin unfold, praying for God’s mercy and grieving with this family I have never met for the loss of a child I never saw in person.
There is enough grief in our “real” life to weigh us down. As I watch my mother continue to lose more of her mind to dementia I am sometimes overwhelmed with grief that she is not able to rejoice in the amazing life of Madeleine…even though she is physically present. I think it is actually more painful that she is physically here…I can hear her voice and talk with her and see her hold my little girl, and yet she is not here. The mourning is not given over to the comfort that comes after because she is not healed or at peace yet.
We live in a broken world, and broken things hurt.
Sometimes I feel the need to have callouses on my soul to protect from the pain of suffering around me. I cannot fathom the depth of grief in losing a child…so I watch and pray, but I strengthen the callous that keeps it at arms length. I invest myself in the pain of those I will never rub shoulders with because I can grieve with restraint, while keeping the grief over those close to me in check with these callouses.
A friend posted this the other day on her Facebook status:
“i am just sick of users. i often want to say to the people that see the beautiful things that God does for me, and want to steal those things: ” do you want to pay the price? it is extremely high. did you have parents, safety? have you been spared the rage of others? have you been Loved deeply? do you have a little child? have you been hugged lately? do you know what it is to feel safe? do you walk without trouble? great. i’ll trade places with you. you can have my life.”
and yet, i say this only to make a point: everything beautiful has a cost. the beauty comes through fire” Gianna Jessen
If we give in to being calloused, we miss the beauty in ourselves and in others. There is beauty in the pain, but oh it hurts to find it sometimes. There is not beauty in callouses. We have to be willing to allow ourselves the freedom to embrace the suffering of others and allow it to impact us because we are on this journey together. God works through our suffering to change us, to soften us and to give us wisdom. Suffering slows us down and filters the inconsequential things out of the way so we can hear differently and we can feel differently and we can see differently.
The wonders of life…the laughter of children, the sound of music, the colors of art and nature…are more vibrant when we’ve been through suffering and grief. I say this knowing that I have suffered very little and my pain is far less than most. I watch through the windows and am drawn into the lives of those around me who walk through great suffering and find that God is in the midst of it and has not forgotten them. That He hears and that our pain and our brokenness hurts because we know that we will be made whole and we long for that day.
We are not made to carry the pain and the suffering alone. We are made to rely on the strength of another:
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls aroundlike a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11
We are able to remain vital and present in suffering because we know that God is present and he will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. We will be changed by the suffering…either we will build up callouses to protect ourselves and in the end become hardened, or we will be changed into something more through the suffering…a beauty that can only come through pain. Amen?