Newsletter, April 9, 2020
The Conundrum of Suffering
The world all around us and within us is suffering. Some are ill with the virus and with family members unable to be near to bring them comfort. Others are out of work and in financial stress of one form or another. Still others are homeless or alone with no one to aid them in this moment. Many are overwhelmed by worry and loneliness. All are suffering.
When my mother labored in pain to birth me, her fears, pain, and exhaustion lifted when she held me and poured into her newborn son a love beyond measure. That very love has sustained me to this day. I know the same is true for my sisters and brothers, just as it may be for each one of us. This reality causes me to wonder: “Is there a relationship between suffering and love?”
As I live these days in Charlestown and virtually with so many others, there is something happening: yes, people are suffering. Yet they are also many who are speaking about love. Relationships with family and friends, colleagues and neighbors, have taken on a new dimension. Appreciation, at least, but more like admiration, fondness, respect, and caring have surfaced in places heretofore unnoticed.
To become aware of this happening, one must step out of oneself. If this time of suffering turns one inward so that everything is about oneself, the suffering is amplified and the “Woe is me” becomes destructive. However, if one looks around, listens, and takes note, beyond the nonstop news bulletins which are overwhelming, there are persons of all ages acting, speaking, writing, and living with beauty and love.
I am coming to think we are all enrolled inescapably in this COVID-19 “School of Suffering”. However, what if this School of Suffering is also a School of Love? The curriculum, of course, is Love, something we all know about, each from our own stories and dreams. Nonetheless, we may still be stymied about this course we are in, afraid of how to get through it. Don’t be afraid. We happen to have a Master Teacher in Jesus Christ. In this holiest of weeks, Jesus shows us exactly how we are to Love – selflessly – and in so doing, to come to live ever more fully.
In this sweet and bitter experience called life, we are all enrolled in this course with an explicit plan of God that we pass it – with distinction! Just so happens this COVID-19 era makes the course more intense than ever, but then, don’t worry, so are the resources to succeed – they are everywhere. Be attuned to them and, especially, to our Master Teacher, who is Jesus.
If a dog is a part of your life’s routine, you are out walking even in these most challenging times. In fact, these walks are some of the most pleasant times of the day, especially as springtime sneaks up on us. Ambling along with Lily, who cannot be convinced to keep social distance from other dogs, offers a chance to greet others all over town. Usually the greeting begins with some kind of a salutation like, “How you doing Father?” I confess, in these times, I am unsure how to respond.
Of course, normally, the response is “Good or fine — and how are you?” So, I am stumped. Do I answer with descriptives like, worried or scared or anxious? It makes me think. Honestly, how do I really feel?
Maybe COVID-19 is precisely the time for some honest reflection, not just about the moment of a greeting on a walk, but about everything. What happens if, now, I look at all aspects of my life through a lens of pure honesty. Think about it: your career, your family, your health, your friendships, your community, your church, your faith, your finances, your routines, your plans, your home, and on and on. When I do this, in the reality of COVID-19, I find everything starts to stack, so to speak, with the most important areas quickly becoming of highest priority.
Within this new ordering, brought about through honest assessment, I find myself valuing, appreciating, even gratefully celebrating, parts of my life that today I see as more precious than ever. Honesty can do this. Gratitude emerges in this new honesty as a blessed reminder of God’s generosity. It is not just in this moment, of course. The generosity of God’s lavish love has always been active, in fact, has never been absent. Allowing one’s heart to be infused with this awareness, namely of recognition of God’s goodness, kindness, and generosity, transforms these moments of anguish.
In fact, for me, everything changes when I allow gratitude to define my honest awareness of all within and around me. Even in the midst of this most frightening time, looking into our lives with honesty, over all the years, yields a humble recognition of being Blessed.
So let’s accept the opportunity during this COVID-19 moment and beyond, to unplug as best we can and reflect – reflect on our lives in the most honest of ways. Let’s prioritize what is of true value in our lives and hold onto those priorities each day. Let’s take the time to develop an awareness that is to be greatly embedded in our hearts and minds for all time that, truly, God has greatly blessed us, especially with all those who are so precious to us. Let’s walk each day with hearts filled with gratitude to God for these blessings. Believe it or not, that is a joyful place to live.