May 25, 2012

Spectrum of Suffering, Communal Comfort & the Divine Conspiracy of Goodness

"She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'  That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered." Genesis 16:13,14



I am waiting for our second, much-prayed for baby girl, to come. Though I know not the day or the hour, it is the season and she can come any moment. Somehow, I am managing to write, right now.

I know not everyone that desires biological children can have them. My friend, Anna Broadway, reflects on this from the perspective of a single woman approaching "late maternal age" in her article, "Banking on God Alone: Why I Won't Be Freezing My Eggs."

Shawn and I were told that we probably couldn't have another child either (see my review of Jennifer Grant's book: Love You More for further details).

Each of us goes through different wildernesses of suffering throughout our lifetimes, and we often feel all alone. God and friends may seem cruel, distant and uncaring. Sometimes with the loneliness there's a loud silence that threatens to drown out our very being (Lesa Engelthaler has a great article on Growing in the Darkness and God's silence). I've felt lonely even in my much-prayed for pregnancy, because for most of it, I've been sick and immobile and isolated  (though I live on a college campus) and unable to write much (even on this blog). Thus, the fewer posts. Do forgive me.

This experience though has led to me some of these thoughts:

It is true: wilderness (there is a spectrum of suffering within it) is often isolating and alienating. I am not saying that God causes the suffering, only that he can use it, even suffering we've brought upon ourselves. And while no one can really go through sickness and disease or depression or divorce or loss or unfulfilled dreams for us, we can lovingly come alongside one another and offer the comfort of our gentle presence. And that we must do. When we are in a bad way, almost paralyzed by suffering, every second can seem like an eternity. That's why we need one another.

Here are some good resources written by those who have suffered in various degrees. Perhaps they'll come alongside you in this moment:

1. Ellen Painter Dollar's work and reflection on love, disease and suffering 

2. Amy-Julia Becker's reflections on suffering: disability and downsyndrome and perfectionism

3. Elizabeth Corcoran on divorce/loneliness

4. Ed Dobson facing death and rethinking what it means to be a Christian

5. Trina Pockett on finding out during her fourth month of pregnancy that she had cancer spreading throughout her body

6. Jenny Rae Armstrong's Christian Primer on Emotional Abuse

7. Ben Witherington on losing his daughter

8. My reflection on the death of a dream

9. Amy Simpson on being real when we are in pain

10. My reflection on depression and depression among college students

11. Judy Douglass on "Conversations With My Prodigal"

Though we'd never wish our suffering upon someone else, there is some comfort in knowing that we alone do not suffer and that God can and does and will redeem that suffering. That myth, that we alone have gone or are going through this, often keeps us from sharing and sometimes ends in suicide because of the despair we spiral into when we believe there is no hope. (If you are reading this and are in such a state, I beg you to reach out to another person. God deeply loves you and will move heaven and earth to show you--often through the aid of others.)

Not everyone is in the wilderness of suffering; but there are all sorts of people in it at the same time and unaware of the presence of others. Sometimes, we have not the energy to get up and offer the little yeast, oil, and water that we have left to these other travelers. We can maybe pray that someone else will be generous with what they have when we are curled up, expecting to die where we are. Sometimes we can't even pray that because we don't have the energy.

But if God has not appointed us to physically die in this moment and thereby enter the eternal rest in the rest of eternal life, it might be that we just need to rest from our toil and striving (I will soon post my friend Natasha Robinson's post about wilderness rest). We need to let God take care of us and he will, as I've said before, send ravens, perhaps in the form of people or even angels, to minister to us. It's okay to rest and to be--even if our souls are sour and in despair. God remembers we are human.

I believe this is true, even for those who are in the most impoverished and loneliest of places and circumstances. Did not God alone come to Hagar and Ishmael when they were expecting to die all alone in the desert, with no one else around (Genesis 16) ?  God hears and sees those who cry out to him.

Often I pray for those somewhere in the world who are all alone, in pain or despair, being abused, crying out to God. I pray that he would hear them, that he would send angels or others to minister to them. That good would overcome evil. If I see them in person, I try to do what I can--though I know that in this too I fall short of the glory of God--of what Christ calls me to do. I fail often. God, forgive me.

Even now Lord, please, through me or others, send your help because you are the God who sees!

A person obviously need not be a Christian to do good unto others. God uses all sorts of people to overcome evil in the world. Remember Cyrus in the Old Testament? God's attitude and actions in overcoming evil with good in this world is what Dallas Willard calls The Divine Conspiracy (one of the best books I've ever read and will have to reread about ten times). God calls us to join the divine conspiracy and if we're honest, we are daily recipients of this conspiracy. Christians should be leading the way in goodness so that all might glorify our Father in Heaven and perhaps turn to him. If we're able, while we're in the wilderness, let us give of what we can and also receive what is given to us. Let us not hesitate to take the rest we need or to enjoy what comes our way. Such things are good gifts of God.

The Lord bless you and may you receive his comfort. And perhaps in this suffering you can manage to, what my friend Caryn calls, Grumble Hallelujah. If you cannot, remember, God knows we are human and he will not kick us when we are down or condemn us. A bruised reed he will not break nor a flickering wick will he cruelly (or at all) blow out (Isaiah 42:3).

*In the following weeks, I'll be posting some guest articles from friends who have gone through one wilderness or another.



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1 comment:

bellaverita said...

I love your heart in this, Marlena. Wise words - that as we go through suffering we may be waiting for someone else to reach out, without realizing they are going through suffering, too. Grateful for God's mercy & that "A bruised reed he will not break nor a flickering wick will he cruelly (or at all) blow out." Thanks!