Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Fellowship of Suffering

Several times on this blog, I believe, we have mentioned that people should not 'compare' their trials, their sorrows. We are all in the same boat; we all have hurts, we all have pain that we want to be taken away. Well, I today I came across a way to verbalize why this is. It is because it is not about our separate, individual sufferings - it is not about exhibiting your own personal trials, telling people "I've been through the same things as you, if not worse ones!" However, it is about striking the chord of suffering in people's hearts, which is an integral part of being a human. It is about understanding that all human beings have this thing called suffering in common. This chord is struck simply by our presence with people. Henri Nouwen says this about the role of the healing minister:

"A minister who talks in the pulpit about his own personal problems is of no help to his congregation, for no suffering human being is helped by someone who tells him that he has the same problems. Remarks such as," Don't worry because I suffer from the same depression, confusion and anxiety as you do," help no one. This spiritual exhibitionism adds little faith to little faith and creates narrow-mindedness instead of new perspectives. Open wound stink and do not heal.
Making one's own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to see one's own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all men share." (Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer).

It is a simple yet provocative thought. This is not to say that confession and sharing are to be avoided. In fact, they are essential. But our individual, specific trials are not the focal point. The focus of communing with people in healing love is that we are ALL able to recognize the pain, the suffering and the sorrow in our own lives and in those around us, that we truly are all fallen humans who are crying for restoration.

"A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings for occasions for a new vision. Mutual confession then becomes a mutual deepening of hope, and sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength."
(Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer).

Just as we would bandage wounds, our sorrows and griefs are to be protected. They are fragile, almost unbearable, and the Lord cares about them and for them. So protect them. But also have the courage to recognize that pain. Do not ignore it. Unwrap the bandage occasionally, by recognizing the pain and tragedy in your life, and you will find it startling that your open wound can begin a healing process for others. Be brutally honest with God. It is all you can do.

This is exactly what the Psalmist does. If you have time read all of Psalm 69. I will paraphrase it. The Psalmist does not go into explicit details of the events in his life - but he explicitly opens up the emotions of sorrow and grief and shame that he feels, he is brutally real in a beautifully poetic way.
-He depicts himself as sinking in mire, in the midst of an overwhelming flood. (vs. 1-3)
-He complains about haters. (vs. 4-5)
-He asks that, because of his lack of hope and lack of trust, that he would not lead others astray, who do hope in God. He feels shame that he feels these feelings, and ask that others would not feel the same on account of him.(vs. 6-12)
-He begs the Lord to save him from this sinking mire, to stop the pain and restore his soul. (vs. 13-21)
-He feels contempt for those who act against him, against those who afflict him. And he is real with God about this. He does not avoid telling God that he wants these people to die. To be smitten. But instead of seeking his own revenge, he turns this anger over to God. (vs. 22-28)
-And at the end, he seems to revert into an unplaced chorus of praise. (vs. 34-36).

The psalmist does not sugarcoat his feelings. He lays it all out before God. He admits his deepest feelings to God, feelings that many of us are so often afraid to pray because it doesn't sound good or loving or righteous. But what can we do, other than offer these darkened sorrows to God?

This is something that is worked out in community. It is about our pain, not my afflictions. We must not wrap ourselves in self-pity. I encourage you to explore how this is worked out in community. It is a daily discovery, and it is always new and refreshing and hard and painful and awkward and embarrassing. How can we come to a fresh vision, a new tomorrow, through our pain?

A song called "Awakening" by The Glorious Unseen:

Have you turned your face from us?
Have we hurt you far too much?
Do you still look down in love?
Is your grace still strong enough?

God, we would ask that your kingdom would come;
and be poured out on earth as we stand here in awe.
God, hear our cry for awakening here.
Will you take away pain?
Will you take away fear?

Is your love for us in vain?
Do you look at us in shame?
Do you hear when we curse your name?
How can you still love us the same?

God, we would ask that your kingdom would come;
and be poured out on earth as we stand here in awe.
God, hear our cry for awakening here.
Will you take away pain?
Will you take away fear?

Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

-Robbie (Jake's brother)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are truly a blessing to others and an encouragement and light of hope!
I know the Lord is shining down on your family in so many ways!
Keep the faith glowing for others see and begin growing!
Peace and Blessings
Leslie

Anonymous said...

Robbie:
I hope that you and your family do compile these blogs and even put them into a book... if you do not find a publisher, maybe our church could help you. You and your dad are not only great wordsmiths, but your thoughts on suffering are non-cliche, they are provocative, and they are profoundly biblical in ways that many "church-y" responses are not. I say this because there are so many in the fellowship of suffering who would benefit from the way you process your pain so articulately, since most people are unable to do so. Reading your thoughts at different stages would be very cathartic for them.
I am always challenged in good, deep ways every time I read this blog. And most importantly, it enables me to pray more precisely and wisely for Jacob. Our family prays for him every day.
In fact, you are all in our thoughts daily,
Rene

Anonymous said...

Tom and Robbie,
I am one of those folks out here who have never met you but my thoughts are totally summed up by Rene above. I have been thinking about how you should seriously and prayerfully consider putting your blog entries into book form. There are people out there who would really benefit from the very real way you talk about your suffering. Your thoughts are both challenging and deeply comforting. I think "your book" would be a huge blessing to others. Please take this before the Lord and see where he might lead you.