Updated: Dec 2, 2020
This past Saturday, when the election was called, I was at the church. I was feeling relieved and happy, I think it’s fair to admit. The colors of the sky and the plants seemed a little bit more vibrant as I walked over to La Casa to fetch something from the shed. In the parking area, I met a woman from Guatemala who has been staying here. The first thing she did was show me a video on her phone of a family, the children crying audibly in the background, stranded by floodwaters on the roof of their home in Honduras. They have no real hope of rescue. Suddenly, I felt like crying.
It feels so unfair that we can’t just get rid of suffering, that we can’t just have joy all of the time. I want to believe that now, this time, everything is going to be fine and no one is going to have to suffer anymore. But in our lifetimes, the suffering is going to keep coming, even though we will have many moments of joy, we will return to suffering and the people around us will.
Both joy and suffering exist around us all the time. Living on this earth means that individually and communally we have moments of brilliant joy and trials of terrible suffering and sometimes we have both at the same time. (As our sister Lodie likes to say, it’s both and.) The one truth about our lives, is that right now someone is experiencing heartbreaking suffering. The one truth about our lives, is that right now someone is experiencing God’s miracles.
What can happen to us over time, as we go through these moments of joy and then falling down into suffering over and over again, is that when we have the gift of joy, we are distracted by the suffering that has happened or by the suffering to come. And when we are in suffering or experiencing other people’s suffering, then we feel like it will never end and we feel like we are completely powerless. Our hearts can become hardened in such a way that we become numb to the joy and apathetic or completely despairing about the suffering.
When our hearts are hard, they crack easily. They break under pressure. They resist change and they can’t transform. What we need instead, is to have hearts like softened wax (or hearts of flesh as we were reading about in Ezekiel). When our hearts are softened, we experience the fullness of joy. We experience the terribleness of suffering. We feel true gratitude and we feel deep pain. But with our malleable hearts, with each turn around and around, God can mold us into who we are meant to be and what we are meant to do and we can live more fully and truly in the present moment.