Friday, December 21, 2012

Thoughts on Responding to Suffering

Sitting down to the keyboard to see if I can't sort through some thoughts.

I'm thinking about how I respond to the suffering of friends, particularly suffering that gets verbalized in conversation. I suppose my primary response is to listen. I do this because I tend to be a quieter person, and because I find consolation in someone listening to me. It seems the first right thing to do. However, even within that there might be a time where the listener intuits that, while the person could go on and on with the details of suffering, more talk might not be leading the speaker towards the light.

There is also the point of wanting to share something to help the person. For decades I have told God that I want to have the power to bring healing to people whose hearts are crushed with pain. Isn't that a normal reaction? You see someone in pain, and you wish for it to stop so that they will not suffer, because suffering is evil. Eliminate evil. Simple.

What isn't simple is the connection between desiring their peace and wanting to say or do something. I am faced with the fact that my best-intentioned words or actions might go far wide of the point of need. They might be rejected for a variety of valid reasons.

At this point, I realize that God calls me to share in His humility. I can't be so caught up in the rightness of my idea, the power of my own experience, my good intention that I miss honoring the person present to me and her pain. When Jesus healed someone, He focused on that someone. He didn't sit them down to a theological lecture about His divinity or about the pascal mystery. He said "Go in peace and be freed of your suffering," or "Go in peace, your faith has saved you," or "Go show yourselves to the priest." He saw and addressed their deepest need. He did not use the healing as a platform for meeting His own needs.

I also find myself, in conversation, how shall I say... being a little embarrassed for God. This is a call to share in His humility also. If I have no magic words to say, if I can't produce a bottle with the right fix-it stuff in it, and I am still faced with a person suffering, I have to say "It isn't in our power, but it is in God's. Ask Him, and He will come to you with what you need." Saying this to someone who has been praying the best they know how for years, and suffering only all the more does feel a bit like standing in front of an army tank that barrels down on you with only a daisy as your defense.

But that daisy, as I see it, is these truths: God is real, and God is good. There is much I don't know, and much I can't answer, but these things I know for sure. God is real, and God is good. The prayers I repeat a thousand times a day, if necessary, are "Jesus, I trust in You" and "Lord, have mercy."

I guess the other thing I have learned is that being brought to the end of yourself (which I don't believe is a one-time deal, since we are like onions) is a gift. A painful gift. A gift that feels like it should be fought against. A gift that can violate every fiber of religious feeling, every fiber of my estimation of myself as a good person, as a faithful person. Humility in suffering is, I think, powerful. Pride sucks any time. I think pride is essentially a response of the heart that says "There is not enough love to help me, so I won't be open." But pride can become a habit, too. A habitual way of seeing the world. And a habitual way of pushing God away, even when we think we aren't because we think we are as open to God as anyone can be. We need to constantly learn that God's love is always more than we think it is. It's like living at a precipice of trust and presumption, maybe...

Rambling thoughts....

The most exquisite moments of God breaking through my suffering have simply been when someone was there -- I knew I wasn't alone. But the power, the presence was definitely God's orchestration.

For me then, I guess the need is to be surrendered daily to God, and to act in love in the smallest things. My love, flawed as it is by being mine, originates from God, and as such is the connection with Him I can offer to the world. I can't "make" God do anything, heal, or be profoundly present. I can't bring about healing. God can, and most of the time He only needs an instrument. Better to focus on His love flowing through me than on my solutions to people's pain.

As my pastor always tells us, we can always pray. That's like turning from the suffering back to God, rendering the heart wide open, and asking for help. Lord, make my heart a busy highway for your graces and the needs of people to meet up.

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