Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gracing Past the Uncomfortable

This past Monday we celebrated Martin Luther King day. Many of us saw this as a welcome 3 day weekend. It was a pause from our structured and compensated work. However, this day was so rich with symbolism.

It is the story of how a courageous Christian man responded to suffering with a vision and endured through suffering. He paved the way to a richer joy by transforming our view of the world and healing us. It's true, we all can't be Martin Luther King nor would many of us want to be:-) Yet, we all do encounter suffering in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. The question becomes how do we respond? In this query I will focus on how we respond to others suffering. Although, how we respond to others suffering may be a reflection of how we respond to our own.

Our faith and belief system tend to focus on the positive and happy in life. Curiously, we often want to pretend or wish away not only challenges but downright suffering in life. Perhaps the challenge that has weaved in and out of my life the most is how to respond to suffering. Suffering can range from the homeless person who begs for money to a long lost friend who throws you a huge curve when they display their pain.

A friend I recently made had the insight to say that one of the reactions we have in order to shield ourselves from this suffering is to get angry and categorize people who are in unfortunate circumstances. I certainly have done this at times. Especially when it involves someone I know, and I see the folly in their ways. I tell them to pick themselves up and march on and do the right thing. I compare them to myself and say if I have done it in my circumstances then they surely can.

In this journey with God, two opportunities recently came to respond in a different way. Both were friends whom I had either little or no contact with. Before Christmas, I sent out a mass email to friends asking for their home addresses so I could send Christmas cards. One friend responded with an email that I will assign the pithy title of "life sucks" to. In this email, he elaborated that because of his mental health issues his wife and children wanted nothing to do with him and that he had no friends and can't afford the money for meds. Too, he believed that God was not helping despite his pleas. Ironically he also did not believe in hell.

I vividly remember reading this unwanted email and at first thinking..what the hec WHO is this?! Then upon realizing who it was, my wall came up and I thought..oh know I don't have time to deal with this. It's futile anyway, and he needs to get past this. With God's grace these initial thoughts melted away, and I responded by getting involved in his cry for help.

One thing led to another and I sent him a spiritual prescription for mental health. He informed me it was just his luck, that his printer couldn't print it up despite it being technically in perfect working order. I stepped it up and printed it myself and mailed that along with a book I thought he would enjoy as a Christmas gift. I also promptly enlisted the prayers of a friend and requested that her order add him by name to their prayer list. Recently, he has told me he feels he has been healed with the appropriate caveat that only time will tell. He also realized his family needed to heal before they could be reunited. It was heartwarming to be able to see him be able to say this.

The next friend emailed me out of the blue after 7 or 8 years apologizing for getting mad at me. Quite franciscally (feminine version of frankly), I couldn't recall what the incident was but knew it had something to do with my faith. I surmised he was going through some spiritual awakening. If I had thought further about at the time, I would have realized that these type of things don't just happen to an atheist unless grace through suffering has entered the picture.

As we exchanged some emails, he finally disclosed he had suffered a stroke a year and half ago and was not the man I knew. The judgements in my mind came. His disconnected emails and queries where a nuisance but I kept responding. We finally talked on the phone, and I realized his lonely plight and need. He had very limited family but plenty of money. With these circumstances, he had lots of interested helpers but few real friends. My heart opened and the communication flowed more easily. His recovery map is long and unpredictable but with prayers and grace, I have hope he will recover sooner rather later.

In developing friendships with those that were initially uncomfortable for me, I am finding transformation. What I thought would be too difficult is proving not only to be easier than I anticipated, but joyful in a very unique way. The bonds are special because the need opens a place in both hearts rarely reached in other ways. Consequently, we both are profoundly influenced.

Ironically, we deepen our joy as we recognize and embrace suffering. Certainly there is no joy in trying to ignore it. It may also be that the design of our wonderful world has ways to yield beautiful fruit even in things we find initially distasteful. May Jesus help us recognize Him in all of us, and especially when HE and we suffer. Joy awaits us as we are gracing past the uncomfortable.


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