Over the past three years, I have noticed that people like to make excuses for suffering in their lives. They are usually similar, like “well it’s hard, but it will work out for the best,” or “I just have to stay positive.” We even have our Christianized excuse: “God will work good out of it.” However, the vacuous look in peoples’ eyes as they share something horrendously painful, while excusing or explaining it away, tells me that a dreamily-positive response is not always helpful. It seems that the substance has almost been sucked out of this important area of someone’s life.
I don’t intend to give you a brilliant psychological/therapeutic remedy for pain in our lives. Your best bet would be to talk to the ‘resident counselor’ for that. There is, however, an important part of our spirituality that speaks to struggle in our lives, and even though it is somewhat subversive to how our culture tells us to think during the dark times of life, I have found that it is always well appreciated.
Suffering is suffering. Struggle is struggle. Pain is pain. Ignoring it will not make it go away, and positive thinking by itself will not change the fact that we hurt. Be honest about it. As I began to get used to life as a cancer patient, I found a lot of strength is saying “terrible” to someone who asked how I was doing. It felt good because it was the reality of the situation, and it usually frightened the person that asked. An honest, raw answer is not very common in polite conversation.
But but but….
There is more to the story. The power in Christian spirituality that I hinted at above does not come from us moping around all the time telling people how terrible life is. That kind of brutalizing view of life is all too common around us, and it never represents the full picture. Neither does our faith have us pretending that everything is “peachy.” Sentimentalized living is a fairly empty existence. Instead, the Christian life is all about Redemption. Our God redeems. As I struggled with cancer and the depression that came with it, I noticed that a byproduct developed: a strong relationship with part of my family with whom I had not generally interacted during my adult life. And until insurance and related issues were resolved, the manufacturer of the chemo drug that saved my life shipped it to us for free. At $3000 a month, that was a significant help! In other words, God redeemed a tremendously difficult time in my life, because that is what He does.
I love explaining this to people, because the idea of redemption is so attractive. During the dark times in life, honesty and the hope of redemption reaches out to people in powerful ways. Outreach is all about living, after all…