Category Archives: Suffering
Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.
The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that. (Melissa Skidmore)
A scripture that has echoed through my mind over the years is the one about getting the log out of our own eyes, instead of judging others. The problem with that is that the log in our eyes keeps us from seeing ourselves. We ALL have blind spots when it comes to seeing our whole selves.
Years ago I began to work with a personality indicator called the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator ( MBTI.) It was spooky to take it and then read the description of my way of being in the world. How could anyone know those things!!
The MBTI helped me become more aware not only that we come into the world with very different ways of being, seeing, understanding, valuing and responding, but that the world needs all of these diverse ways of being. It also needs us to become aware not only of our gifts, but of our blind spots. That’s the only way every ones’ gifts can be valued and work together for good.
The MBTI years ago when I studied and taught it, focused on affirming our gifts. So kind of naturally many of us just focused with relief on our own gifts, not realizing the importance of “gifts differing.” And not using the knowledge to rid ourselves of our blind spots. Belatedly, I recognized that there’s a built in pattern of growth in us where we become more receptive to the gifts we did not have and usually did not value equally to our own natural ones.
There’s a catch to this. To develop in the area opposite to our strongest gift or way of being in the world requires dying temporarily to our own way of being and seeing. It’s a dying to self. Technically, the MBTI doesn’t make any religious claims or statements. But let me tell you, this dying to our most valued gift is a real part of becoming whole, of becoming the best person we have the potential to be.
Unfortunately, dying to our “selves” is never easy or comfortable. By my age, I have seen creative people bog down in misery when their gifts seem to have dried up. I have myself panicked during a time that the Scriptures no longer spoke to me. I have heard others panic when ritual or their life long way of praying no longer works for them. But, I have also seen accountants become “creative” in good ways, artists learn to keep accounts, and engineers open their eyes and hearts to the mystical.
What I have witnessed and experienced convinces me that the universe is designed for opportunities and challenges to come our way at a time in our life when we are called to die to our strongest gift and become not only more balanced and whole, but more humble, and thus more understanding of those “others” that we have judged harshly most of our life.
What I found through sixty years of living with a man who was totally different in every area of being from me, is that only by becoming free to understand and value opposite ways of seeing and being in the world do we become free to truly and humbly love.
Recently I discovered that in the twenty years since I worked with it, the MBTI has been further developed in ways that help this process. It begins by helping us become aware of and accepting of our way of being in the world. Then, it can also help us accept that our way is a gift to the world, but it isn’t enough. We then begin to see how this dying to self can free us to become whole or “holy” and better able to understand and truly value BOTH ourselves and those who are very different from us. It isn’t either/or. And no way is better, because no way is whole without the others.
Many years ago I was taking a turn preaching to a sizable group of Directors of Religious Education from very diverse denominations at a training week for DRE’s. I was going to use Paul’s scriptures on the Body of Christ and how all of the parts were equally important. As I was reflecting on this scripture, suddenly in my mind’s eye I saw a figure coming toward me. It was coming very slowly and jerkily, because the legs were clumsily, tripping over each other and the arms were flying in different directions and the head twisting back and forth. My immediate response was horror. “This is what we have done to the Body of Christ!” And I cried out, “Lord, what can I do?” And into my mind, clear as a warning bell I heard, “Admit what you can’t do.” As I have grappled with many aspects of this challenge over the years, two things have become clear to me, One: The world needs all of us, different political thinking, different religious understandings, different cultures’ values, gender traits, racial strengths, talents, skills, on and on and on. And Two: Only the grace of each of us truly knowing ourselves and knowing with heart and mind that we are loved as we are by God, can we become humble enough to love those very different others, just as we are loved. And that is the only way we can ever live in peace. We need all of us.
The MBTI isn’t gospel. But it can be an amazingly helpful tool for knowing ourselves better, and coming to value ourselves in a way that allows us to equally value others who seem completely different from us.
There’s a site on line called “16personalities.com that offers greater understanding of “going with the flow” of our developing selves until the day we die. I am finding it both challenging and helpful in learning to go with the flow of scary changes becoming opportunities for my new life at eighty-one as a widow.
Four ways of being: Thinking,feeling, doing, creating.
Thinking usually involves questioning and problem solving.
Feeling, whether positive or negative, is usually in relationship to someone or something.
Doing often involves care taking of things or care giving of people.
Creating is about possibilities and may involve any or all of the other three.
Life involves all of these and though none of us does all of them equally well, I’ve noticed that through the stages of our lives we seem to eventually be challenged by life to develop in the areas we don’t have natural gifts for. This applies to our spiritual lives also.
At different times in my life I have found grace through very different resources. In my twenties I began to question my religious upbringing and for a few years I made the world and its pleasures my focus, but my questions finally took me on a journey of studying various religions in a search for meaning. Then in my thirties, a friend helped me begin to relate to Jesus, not only as a Savior and Lord, but as a best friend, and prayer became a conversation with him. Starting to read the scriptures to get to know him better brought them alive for me and I began to see their connections to even small things in my daily life. Gradually, they opened my eyes to the struggles of people around me and I began to recognize ways I could help them. Then to my consternation, the Scriptures ceased to speak to me and health issues kept me from helping others, but then rote prayer suddenly became my way to inner peace and a sense of the presence of God. Taking up art as a hobby continued to bring me the freedom to live in the present moment creatively. Somehow, all of these ways of being came together and I felt a hunger to share my sense of the love of God expressed in Jesus, the presence of God in all things, and our oneness with God and each other. That led me to worship where I could give what I call my sermons from the molehill at Sunday worship services. We are all on a Spiritual journey whether we know it of not. But it does not go in the same order or timing or tidy little stages for us. We are all different, so our journeys will be different. And the places best for us to grow and learn spiritually will be different. But I’ve become convinced that over our lives we will experience growth in all of these ways of being. And eventually we become able to recognize God in everything and each other. This is very oversimplified, but is the essence of what I’ve experienced in my spiritual journey.
Young, tender, vulnerable.
Funny and fun loving.
A crooked boyish smile.
Blue eyes with a Christmas morning sparkle.
Slow dancing, holding me gently, like I was fragile and precious. Love poems before we ever even kissed. Dozens of roses and one time a black orchid.
Cutting in at dances when I went with someone else.
Dancing, I only come up to his chin.
I often ask: “Are you still up there?”
And every time he answers: “Always.”
And he meant it.
I look at you through memories
of running in the rain,
of funny children’s stories
and haunted Halloweens.
Of how you learned to hold me
and simply let me cry,
listening to my fears
to heal me of my fright.
Of you overcoming phobias,
so I wouldn’t be alone
while camping in the woods
or giving talks on Type.
Of nightmare trips in broken cars
and cabins full of scouts,
houses filled with strangers
and jeep rides in the night.
Letters shared in parking lots
and rooms full of golden flowers,
the kaleidoscope of memories
that fill my heart with love.
Psalm of Fifty-eight Years
All these years of tenderness and love, of fears and frustration and laughter
there has been you.
Your love has always been my strength because I knew you would be with me, any where I went. Now, in this new heartbreaking time of fearing the ocean of loneliness that lies ahead. I struggle to let go, to set you free, to not make it harder to accept whatever comes. Grace comes at night when I turn to God , who has been with us always in both the pain and joy. Then I know we’ll be together once more with tenderness, and laughter, and love at home with God.
I Miss You
In the silent nighttime loneliness,
even in the sunshine’s warmth
and cheerful chatter of the birds,
there’s still an emptiness.
I miss you.
I even miss your morning frown
from reading that day’s news,
when I would try to get a smile
by showing you the comic strips.
I miss your laugh.
In the busyness of daily chores
I often turn toward your door
to ask you someone’s number,
then catch myself, suddenly in tears
from missing you.
You always were so softly quiet,
I’d wonder if you’d gone out.
Yet silence now is so profound,
it has the very solemn sound
On Fridays, our party night,
I fix our usual picnic supper
and find my favorite TV show,
but you’re not here to snuggle.
I miss your snore.
Even church is not the same.
I keep waiting for you to come
and fill the empty spot beside me.
Then my tears begin to blind me,
because I miss you.
I remember that I complained
about how little we just talked.
Now, it would seem enough
If I could just hold your hand.
I miss you so.
I ‘m truly happy you now have joy.
I trust there’s a reason I’m still here
and that grace will get me through
until we’re together once more.
But I still miss you.
once upon a time
in a land far away
no one got old
and no one died
very few people
ever even cried
life was simple
people were kind
no one seemed
to need very much
living was so easy
no one had to struggle
but after a few decades
they all turned to mush.
Repentance is now considered a negative word. It implies sin, guilt and shame to the modern mind. Yet, the truth of the biblical quote, “All fall short of the glory of God” (which is perfect love) is pretty obvious.
The problem seems to me that somewhere along the way, we decided that seven was old enough to recognize right from wrong and twenty-one was old enough to take responsibility for our choices. End of story. The reality that we not only can grow in our understanding of and capability to love ( of morality), but were designed to do this at least to the day we die, got lost in the shuffle between Adam and Eve and their apple of damnation and Jesus Christ and the cross of salvation.
What if we use the word “unfinished” to describe our falling short? What if we use the word “growth” for the change implied by the word “repentance.” And then recognize that grace is simply “unconditional love ” in many different guises. And that is the fertilizer, the good soil, that enables growth and change.
Important note: Love does not protect us from the pain of natural consequences from our imperfect human choices. But love/grace stays with us through the whole learning process and has the power to free us to change when we recognize our need for it.
What percentage of the world’s population experiences perfect love from birth to seven? More, probably, than between seven and twenty-one. But where in the world do children experience only that kind of love? In an imperfect world of disease, hunger, greed, war, and TV is it even possible to protect children from knowledge of the fear, pain, and hunger in the world?
Even in a loving family, in affluent circumstances, traumas can still happen at critical stages of a child’s development. I knew a family who had several children and when the youngest was a toddler, the mother stayed with the oldest who had to be in the hospital for a week. After they returned, the youngest would have a panic attack if the mother even went out the front door and could no longer go to sleep except in bed with the parents. Up until a certain age, a child experiences “out of sight” as “gone forever.” By school age, the child seemed to outgrow the fears, but years later, in retrospect, the mother recognized that a profound fear of abandonment has been a strong influence even into adulthood.
We probably all experience the crippling effects of forgotten, even innocently caused traumas, unaware of how they influence our responses and choices in adulthood. The key to freedom is recognizing them, feeling sorrow for how they have wounded us and caused us to misuse others, and then by taking responsibility for seeking healing. Recognition is the beginning of the process. Sometimes awareness alone can free us to break a pattern of response. Other times, it takes time and we can only replace the destructive response with a less harmful one, during the process.
We are terribly vulnerable human beings in a scary and confusing world in a humongous unknown universe. Both, addictions to pleasures and to behaviors that give us the delusion that we are in control, dull the pain of awareness of our human vulnerability. I personally am not into housekeeping. Dust reappears the next day; no feeling of control there. But sorting and organizing lasts a lot longer and is much more satisfying. But sorry you will be, if you come along and disturb my order. And when dealing with painful realities in the middle of the night, but too tired to organize anything, I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter and eat half of a peach pie. These are not terribly destructive painkillers, unless I use them to indefinitely avoid looking at what is the root of my particular pain at that time.
I’ve never known anyone that thought this life is heaven. Though there have been times I thought it might be hell. I am definitely no longer a Pollyanna, who saw only the good, because I felt too fragile to deal with the pain of life. Nor am I my midlife self that became a cynic, who expected and tried to prepare for the worst. With grace, I’ve become able to see both in each day; to experience the deep sorrow of loss and the joy of beauty all around me at almost anytime.
When we believe we are loved at our worst and still unfinished at our best, most days we are able to try to be open to how our lives are challenging us to grow. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, my theme song is “I Won’t Grow Up!” But then I remember that life does not give up challenging us, which means I’m just dragging out the process.
We are all a work in progress. Awareness is the key to progress. And that comes in different ways: discomfort within, overloaded responses to people and events, even just something we seem to suddenly read or hear all around us. We will be able to perceive the cues in different ways through different stages of our own life. When I got brave enough to make the leap from agnosticism to faith in grace, I could suddenly make sense of the scripture in spite of all its anomalies. But I met many life long Christians that admitted sadly that they did not really find meaning there. Then later in life, they suddenly found great joy in it. I had loved the Scripture from my early thirties, but during my fifties and sixties it simply became like reading the back of cereal boxes. We all go through stages, but they differ in timing because of our various personalities. So, don’t assume because you have never enjoyed or understood something, that you never will. Like it or not, we grow and change with both losses and gains during the process.
All of this can be seen as psychological or spiritual or both. Mostly, it’s just the way life is, but how we perceive it can make a huge difference in becoming the people in process that we were created to be.
Obviously, we don’t become perfect in this life. I know a lot of dead people and many of them were very altruistic, but none of them were perfect.
Even if you believe in reincarnation, I don’t know anyone alive claiming they’ve reached the ultimate in human possibility.
Christians generally believe they are called to become like Jesus, though accepting His saving grace is the ticket to heaven, not reaching perfection.
Catholic Christians used to see life as unfinished on earth for most of us, leaving us dependent on those left behind to pray us the rest of the way. I think that may be being reevaluated these days. I don’t have a theology that would make sense to everyone, but personally, I think we are all dealt a different hand, so the finished product won’t be the same. Only God will know if we’ve done the best we can with what we have. And in my own life discovering Jesus as not only a model, but a source of grace for growth made a difference in my persevering in playing the hand I was dealt. As to reincarnation, maybe I just don’t want to go around and around again, but somehow I think the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And that means I just have to become the best imperfect me, that I was created to be. Like a jigsaw puzzle, I just have to fit a particular small space to become part of the perfect whole. It’s about growing into the unique, irregular shape to fill my designated space, which won’t require me to be anyone else’s idea of perfect. And all of life, the good, bad, easy, and difficult shape me. Again personally, without Jesus fleshing out the unconditional love of the Creator, I think both some of the blows that life has dealt me and some of the mistakes I’ve made would have shattered me beyond repair. So, for me Jesus is my source, my way, my Savior. But also, many things that are true and good in non-Christian religions have been used by God to affirm my faith and clarify my vision of God’s plan for my life. And actually, the mystics of all the world’s major religions say the same thing. That we are all parts of a greater reality. We literally are all one. So, what we do to anyone, we do to Jesus and the whole puzzle, which includes ourselves and everyone else. Can’t you just picture yourself making it out of this life and finally “getting the whole picture.” I can just see me slapping the side of my head and shouting,”WHAT WAS I THINKING?!!”
It is a prayer of faith when someone struggling with depression continues to face each painful day by clinging to God even in their desert night.
The act of hope of parents who lose children and risk loving again is prayer given flesh.
The breadwinner who quietly quits their job rather than go along with corruption is a light on the path to the Kingdom of God.
Couples that struggle to forgive and rebuild relationships that have crumbled under human failure are living prayers of love.
The many sitting vigils at the foot of a suffering loved one write bright prayers across a winter sky of faith that does not have to see.
And when a rough hewn, weary farmer speaks softly of a moment when twilight mists in freshly mown fields fill his heart with awe, I see that, for that moment, creation and creator have become as one.
Perhaps the purest prayer of all is when an autumn breeze swirls golden leaves like sudden showers and a tiny toddler spontaneously and joyfully applauds. Then the praise of angels has touched us here on earth.
Prayers have flesh and bone and walk among us every day. There are myriad ways to pray.