I don’t think I suffer well.
When I’m hurting, I tend to make a joke.
Or change the topic.
Or pretend it’s not that bad.
Or create an elaborate diversion involving pulleys, levers, and a series of intricately places marbles…
See? I’m doing it again…
But the truth is there have been days my heart hurt so much that I struggled to even get out of bed. It’s true.
Maybe worse, though – I don’t think I suffer with others well either.
But beneath the mountains of hashtags and blog posts are people who, today, this very moment, are in the darkest pit of despair, absolutely crushed beneath the weight of unimaginable heartache and loss. Maybe you’re one of them. You are not alone.
We need to feel this.
And we need to feel it deeply. We need to learn how to mourn with those who mourn, to grieve deeply with those who feel as though healing will never come. We must see lives, not just data.
Often, when we tell stories, suffering is merely a footnote on the way to victory and triumph. We rarely enter fully in to the “dark night of the soul” – where nothing makes any sense at all.
But we must.
I think we must learn to give new weight to a God who is “Emmanuel – God with us.” It is that sacred “withness” that many of us have forgotten. Somewhere along the way our arms became unlinked with people of suffering and in so doing we’ve become referees instead of comrades. We’ve grown in greater affection for policies than people.
We don’t love others in the midst of pain by pretending that it isn’t that bad or trying to quickly fix it with simple sanctimonies. We love them by first weeping with them. It is when we enter into their pain and are ourselves changed by it that we can heal.
Platitudes can’t hold a flame to presence.
I think that it is through grief that we carve depth into our souls and create space to be filled with comfort from and for one another. And that is profoundly beautiful.
One of the things that I find so compelling about Scripture is that it feels no need to hide or circumvent stories of suffering. Which means, you and I don’t have to either. We can enter into them.
In fact, after Jesus rose from the dead, he showed his wounds. Why then, would we insist on hiding ours? For this next year, perhaps all of us need to remember:
“The most painful part of your story may very well be the most life-giving part of someone else's.”
And there is such beauty in that! We don’t have to waste our suffering.
Christ comes and not only lives near but suffers with broken humanity. This Rabbi Jesus, comes not simply to offer perspective or enact change, but to come close. He steps from infinity into humanity and lives this sacred “withness” all the way to a cross. He, being fully God and fully man, still weeps, mourns, and tastes the salt of our tears.
May it be so of us.
- Ian Simkins
For me - when suffering feels ever-present, there’s nothing quite like sharing a meal with friends. So we’re going to start this year’s journey the same way we started last year’s.
With a “Grilled Cheese Party”
I know, I know - try to contain your elation. Here’s how it works.
Invite a bunch of chums over and instruct everyone to bring three things:
1. A type of bread
2. A type of cheese
3. A topping of some kind
Lay it all out, get a few griddles or Panini presses going - and then the fun begins. As people start mixin’ and matchin’, laughing at the weird options that people brought – soak those moments in. Tell stories, laugh deeply, be fully present. Turn your phones off and share a simple meal together. Hold hands, give thanks, and enjoy the beauty of a table gathered.
As we say with the ancient mystics, “every table is an altar” - every surface an opportunity to see beauty, even in suffering.
Oh, God (Citizens)
I’ve always so loved how this song begins:
“In the valley, oh God You're near
In the quiet, oh God You're near
In the shadow, oh God You're near
At my breaking, oh God You're near”
I would challenge you to, each morning this week – wake up, lean your back against a wall, close your eyes, and meditate on the lyrics of this song – the closeness of God in every circumstance. Focus on slowly, intentionally breathing and don’t open your eyes until the song is over. You can do it.
For today and as you begin your journey of beauty in the common, I invite you to breathe deeply three times and complete these sentences:
God you are ____________________
God thank you for ____________________
God please ____________________
When you do, sit with your hands open, palms facing upward. This is a posture that beautifully declares two things:
1. POSTURE OF RELEASING. We let go of whatever type of day or week we’re having. We release any baggage, stress, anger, or pain we may be feeling.
2. POSTURE OF RECEIVING. Whether you have high expectations or no expectations at all, this posture is an invitation that says, “God, if you’re real - whatever you have for me today, I receive it. Help me to see the beauty in it.”
Repeat these every Monday to yourself, whether you feel like you’re on top of a mountain or in the shadows of a valley and record the words that come to mind each week.
Alright – so this is a bit cheesy, but given the dairy-centered nature of my “meal” suggestion – I think this might be fitting
Get an empty jar and designate a visible spot for it to stay the next twelve months. Then, each Monday when you receive and read a new TCY narrative, jot down one thing that you are grateful for or that you need help to see the beauty in - and then put it in this jar.
When 2017 comes to a close, spend some time reflecting on these notes and the moments they represent – the good, bad, and ugly. These notes, these glimpses, will be like audacious, courageous breadcrumbs that point to a much grander composition – one that we can begin to invite others to partake in as well as we learn to see the beauty and grace all around us – in every season.
I am so excited and deeply humbled to be on this journey with all of you.