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.
Keeping our hearts soft is so, so hard. It requires careful tending of the fire that softens the wax, the fire that comes from God. We can pray our gratitude for the miraculous gifts in our lives and the miraculous gift of our lives. We can let go of worry and allow the Spirit to guide us moment to moment. We can be present with suffering instead of avoiding it. We can pray for help in times of darkness. We can ask for faith and welcome our faith with hospitality when it seems impossible to have faith. We can rest in God’s presence when we feel disconnected.
And if we can do those things, then we can live more fully in the present, becoming who we are called to be, God’s instruments in this world. And we can treasure the joy and embrace the suffering, both those moments that feel unfathomably bigger than us and also all of the ordinary joys and ordinary sufferings that fill our day-to-day lives. And all of those moments that are both and. Like...
The knee-slapping, belly laugh of a child playing but whose whole life is completely uncertain and who may never see his father again.
Each day of freedom and peace for someone who has suffered from addiction but is still facing so much pain and uncertainty.
Strangers surrounding a woman, who has experienced more trauma than any individual should ever know, with love and comfort and prayers.
The way that we know our kids and each other so much better now than we did a year ago even though we have suffered so much loss from this pandemic in so many ways.
A moment of laughter and connection and looking each other in the eye for someone who has been told by our country that they aren’t important, that they don’t have value.
All of these moments are treasures. The joys are gifts and the sufferings are borne together. All of these moments remind us of what is important. And God is present in all of them. And if we can allow ourselves to feel them fully and open ourselves up to both the joy and the heartache, then we can be there with God each and every moment.
by Dianne Garcia, Pastor of Family Ministry