Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What We Need When We Are Suffering

It’s been a dark busy few weeks for me (hence my lack of writing), but I am hoping to start back with a few snippets here and there (always fun to lower my expectations!).

I came across this interview in World Magazine with Joni Earackson Tada (one of my heroes) that gripped my heart. When asked what “helped” her in her suffering, she replied,

When I was a little girl, I remember riding my bike down a steep hill. I made a right-hand turn. My wheels skidded out on gravel and I crashed to the ground. My knee was a bloody mess. My dad comes running out. I’m screaming and crying. Although I didn’t ask why, if I had, how cruel it would have been for my father to stand over me and say, “Well, sweetheart, let me answer that question. The next time you’re going down the hill, watch the steepness, be careful about the trajectory of your turn, be observant of gravel.” Those would all have been good answers to the question, “Why did this happen?” But when people are going through great trauma and great grief, they don’t want to know why. They want Daddy to pick them up, press them against his chest, pat them on the back, and say, “There, there, sweetheart, Daddy’s here. It’s OK.” When we are hurting, that’s what we want. We want God to be Daddy: warm, compassionate, real, in the middle of our suffering. We want fatherly assurance that our world is not spinning out of control.

I shudder how many times I have been the cruel, removed Daddy in this story, especially to my own kids! May I learn to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

We all want and need safe people to sit with us in our suffering, because that is typically the only way we will consider that God is present with us too. When we suffer, we desperately need to connect with our suffering God. One of the most undervalued aspects of the Cross is the revelation it gives us of our God who suffers with (and not just for) us. When safe believers hold us in our suffering without giving advice or easy answers, we begin to connect with the suffering God who sent them and the whole event becomes an invitation to bring our wounds into the cavernous space provided for us in Christ’s wounds. We can experience there a relational knowledge and love of God that goes beyond needing to know “why.”

This reflection is juxtaposed for me by a very painful experience I had over the weekend, an experience of the exact opposite dynamic. I was in the midst of sharing a very painful and personal part of my heart with a small group of believers, and one of them had the nerve to interrupt me with a long diatribe of advice, politely scolding me for not being more biblical and disciplined (like her, of course). I was devastated. I’m still recovering, as I try to fight a parasitic skepticism that there any safe people left in the church.

I return to the Daddy who is there, and whose silent presence speaks volumes to my heart.


Bill Bell said...

I'm so sorry about your experience over the weekend, Scott. Thanks for being open about it. I know that sucks, I know I've been that person before, and I hope that you talking about it openly isn't just cathartic (and I hope it's that), but that it also helps all of us to simply love without jumping into fixing.

Scott said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Bill. I've been that person before too!