I’m fighting a nasty cold, which always makes me grumpy. I get very annoyed when I get sick. I try to eat a low-fat healthy diet with plenty of fruits and veggies (although Christmas goodies were def a part of the past few weeks!!) I exercise regularly (even in the holiday season!). I take a multi-vitamin plus additional calcium every day. And yet, here I am, stuffed up head, bleary eyes, achy, coughing – the whole Nyquil ad in the flesh. How dare my body, which I treat so well, pay me back like this?! It’s simply not fair, and I’m not happy.
People laugh at me when I get indignant about being sick. I’ll admit, it is rather silly. Lots of people are fighting the ‘flu right now. People with even better habits than mine! And honestly, as icky as I feel, compared to those with real pain, this is nothing. How fair is it that someone is battling cancer for the third time in five years? Or unable to defeat an addiction? Or watching a spouse drift further away?
It’s not fair. So, what do we do? Confronted by an agonized, “Why?” we can be tempted to give a pat ‘spiritual’ answer. I know it can be just not knowing what to say. We get overwhelmed by the person’s tangible pain, and so we make some vague comment about all things working for good or not being given more than we can handle. Yes, I know, in the shadow of Eternity, my few years here on earth are like withering grass. But, you know what, that doesn’t actually help!
One of the best gifts I was ever given was after two of my three staff resigned in two days. I was in shock and even though it wasn’t because of me, I still took it personally. A dear friend did not try and cheer me up and tell me it was all going to be okay. She simply said, Today really sucks. I so needed someone to understand that and name it!
I do believe, with all that is in me, God can and will work out His will, in spite of, and even through suffering. In my own life I have seen beauty and hope come from the ugliness of sickness, divorce, brokenness. But, while it was going on, what I needed, what I think we all need, is not someone to cheer us up, and explain why we shouldn’t feel so bad, but someone to first sit with us right where we are.
Let’s be honest. Being around those in pain is tough. Truly meeting others in their broken places takes something out of us, too. Maybe that’s why we try and spiritualize things. It keeps it at a safe distance. But, as a Christ-follower, I’m not called to live at arms’ length. I’m not called to give deep, wise answers while keeping my hands clean. I’m called to get down in the mess. To allow tears and screams and anger to impact my life. To open my life to another’s heartbreak and despair and shattering pain. To sit with the Why’s and be willing to admit I don’t have an answer.
I think we all know people suffering right now. People whose lives resemble a warzone. Jesus calls me to die for Him. How can I do that if I never enter the battle? It’s scary. But, if I believe that my life is hidden in Christ, I can take a deep breath, put on His armor, and step into the fray of someone else’s messy life. From that place, with Jesus’ help, perhaps we will one day move on to see some beauty bloom. Until then, when someone is in pain, I want to say Today really sucks, and be in it with them.