Romans 5:1-5; II Corinthians 12:8-10
The Rev. Tom Herbek
August 6, 2017
During WWII, a story circulated that a woman went to her minister after her son was killed in the fighting, demanding that her minister tell her where God was when her son died. The minister replied: “I suppose God was in the same place that God was, when God’s own son died.” For most of us, suffering is the place where we experience the absence of God. Even Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Richard Rohr comments:
If religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, humanity is in major trouble. All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.
If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter. Indeed, there are bitter people everywhere, inside and outside of the church. As they go through life, the hurts, disappointments, betrayals, abandonments, the burden of their own brokenness all pile up, and they do not know where to put it.
If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somehow in it, we will normally close up and close down. The natural movement of the ego is to protect itself so as not to be hurt again.
Biblical revelation is about transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing the pain on to the next generation. That tit-for-tat, quid-pro-quo mentality has controlled most of human history. Exporting our unresolved hurt is almost the underlying story line of human history, so you see why people need healthy spirituality and healthy religion.
If all these human crucifixions are leading to some possible resurrection, and are not dead-end tragedies, this changes everything. If God is somehow participating in human suffering, instead of just passively tolerating it and observing it, that also changes everything.
- Things Happen
The challenge for each of us, in our suffering (for each of us will go through suffering in our lives), is to find some way to find a sense of meaning in our suffering. And, as we do begin to find some meaning in it, it won’t necessarily take the pain away, but it will allow us to get up off the ground and begin moving again. The first thing we may find is that there are actually people who will offer a hand without trying to impose their own sense of meaning on us. They may not say much of anything, but they give us a hand to get up.
It is often in our suffering that we connect with one another. In our reading from Romans, Paul says that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces hope. Part of that hope comes from knowing that, even in our suffering, we are not alone. And in our attempts to endure, we sometimes find resources within ourselves that allow us to continue on- resources we never knew were there.
In II Corinthians, Paul writes that “whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” It is this strange idea that our weaknesses often turn into powerful strengths at some point in life. Our suffering may end up helping us to become more caring and more compassionate. I rarely meet someone who doesn’t have some sense of woundedness. The only real way to heal our woundedness, is to try to find in our woundedness something redemptive, some way to use our woundedness to help others, something that allows us to go beyond the pain, the hurt, the suffering.
One way that this happens is when we discover that our woundedness, our suffering, allows us to connect with the pain and suffering of those around us. And we are able to become more of a healer for others and with others because of our own woundedness. It is out of our own suffering and painful experiences that we often make more of a difference in life than ever would have been possible if we had had no suffering, no painful experiences- which, of course is not possible in life for anyone. Our challenge is to find ways to use our woundedness to reach out to others. Certainly, I am not calling for some grand old “pity party.” But often, the first step in using our woundedness is to reach beyond ourselves. And in doing so, we sometimes are surprised that we can find ways to move beyond woundedness to find redemption.
Rachel Remen tells the story of Jeanne, a psychologist who came to Dr. Remen for counseling:
Jeanne was a shy person, a little apologetic and sometimes hesitant in finding the right words. She was also just the slightest bit clumsy. All this made her very endearing. You felt somehow at home with her and safe. Her patients adored her.
One day at lunch, she told me that she was moving from her present office. Pleased, I asked her why she had decided to leave. “They do not have wheelchair access,” she said. I looked at her in surprise. She looked away. “Rachel,” she said, “I have not told you everything about myself. Years ago when I was young, I had a very serious stroke. I was not expected to recover.” I was astonished. “I had no idea,” I said. She nodded. “I know,” she replied. “Nobody does.”
I had noticed her occasional troubles with words and her awkwardness. But even with my training, I had not guessed. Jeanne was a miracle. I could barely imagine the focus and determination she had drawn upon all these years, that she drew upon still, to live her life every day. “But why have you kept this a secret, Jeanne?” I asked, astounded.
Almost in tears, she said that for years she had felt damaged and ashamed. “I wanted to put it behind me,” she said. “I thought if I could be seen as normal, I would be more than I was.” And so she had guarded her secret closely. Neither her colleagues nor her patients knew. She had felt certain that others would not refer to her or want to come to her for care if they knew. She was no longer sure this was true.
“And what do you plan to do now?” I asked her. She looked down at her hands clasped in her lap. “I think I will just be myself,” she told me. “I will see people like myself. People who are not like others. People who have had strokes and other brain injuries. People who can never be normal again. I think I can help them be whole.”
-Kitchen Table Wisdom
As we discover that our own suffering, our woundedness, is one of the most genuine and powerful ways we can connect with those around us, then it also enables a part of our own healing. And, as we begin to find some sense of meaning, even in the awfulness of our pain, we begin to recognize that we are not alone.
So let us each determine to use our woundedness to reach out to others, to find a way to redeem our wounds so that they might become a source of healing for ourselves and for those who need us.
And then, the God we worship, who is still with us, will be revealed as the God who was with us throughout our journey through suffering, just as God was with God’s own son, Jesus Christ.