It was a warm, sunny Sunday in the early spring – the kind where you feel that summer is not just a cruel myth but is on the verge of melting through the grip of winter. I remember curling onto the couch in my living room for a sun-soaked nap, completely unaware that I was about to be plunged into a winter season of the soul.
The phone awoke me from my slumber. My best friend Katharine had been in a car accident. Coach bus. Airlifted. Serious condition. Words became a jumble in my head. Along with her family and closest friends, I spent the long, dark night at the hospital by her side. The next day we were all ushered into a small room with very white walls, and the doctor told us what we’d all feared: at 19 years old, our Katharine’s vibrant young life was over.
Fast forward five years to just 11 days ago. My husband and I found out that one of our dearest friends, who was a groomsman at our wedding, had just been diagnosed with leukemia. The chemotherapy began the next day, and as I write this our friend is still at the hospital, fighting for his life and trying to stay as positive as possible as we cheer him on and try to help in any way we can.
Life has such heavy burdens, doesn’t it? I think of all the split second moments when life is interrupted, and schedules, routines, and plans fade into the background. Chances are some of you have been though this, and you know exactly what this is like. Whether it’s a scary diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, financial crisis, betrayal, the death of a dream, or even the devastating moment a trafficking victim realizes they are trapped, life is often made up of what ifs and if onlys.
If only she hadn’t gotten into her car that day. If only he hadn’t said that. If only she had eaten healthier. If only I had not believed his promises. If only I’d been a better dad. If only If only, if only, if only.
Our minds and hearts can become so weighed down by the pain and suffering in our own lives, let alone the suffering we hear about all over the world. Human trafficking, poverty, exploitation, war, disease, famine. Discouragement, heartbreak, disappointment, despair. What is our role in all this? How can we, even in the midst of devastating interruptions, live in such a way that we do not get overwhelmed?
I have been learning a lot from Ann Voskamp, author of a book called One Thousand Gifts. I’ve been working through the concept of being more grateful, and here is a quote that really resonates with me:
“I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain the falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks.”
I am the last person who would flippantly tell you to grin and bear it. That suffering is not real. That pain is exaggerated. That grieving is easy. But I know that for myself, the suffering in this world often leaves me burdened and wounded so deeply that all my energy is sapped and I want to quit caring.
Let’s not stop caring.
Let’s start noticing the little joys and the little gifts, intentionally practicing gratefulness, and taking the time to focus on moments that bring life.
Disappointment, interrupted. Fear, interrupted. Anguish, interrupted. Hopelessness, interrupted.
In doing so we can begin to flood light into a world that is so, so broken.