What is Suffering?

The slim little book, LAMENT FOR A SON, by Nicolas Wolterstorff was a lifeline for me in the first few weeks after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

It wasn’t just because both of our young adult sons died in an accident.

It was mostly because Wolterstorff refused to distill the experience down to one-liners.  

He admitted that (even ten years later-which was the copy of the book I received) he was still struggling to make sense of all the feelings and spiritual implications of child loss.

And I love, love, love that he picks out every single thread and follows it as far as it goes.

Here is an excerpt on suffering:  

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted — work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain — that is suffering.
Or rather, that is when suffering happens. What it IS, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I understand nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.
We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright; some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.


This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.


~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

My heart receives two truths from his words: 

  • that if I love, I WILL suffer.  That’s the nature of love-risking all for the benefit of another means that my heart is ultimately in their hands; and
  • pain is part of but not all of suffering.  Pain can often be dulled, dealt with, the source remedied.  Suffering is a state of the heart, mind, soul and spirit.  It can rarely be undone.  It must simply be endured.  

Understanding that the only way I could never suffer would be to never love helped me embrace this blow with a willing heart.  Even if I had known it was coming, I would still have chosen to love my son.  All the years I had are worth all the years I will carry this burden.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

And understanding that there is no cure for suffering changes my perspective from looking for a way out to looking for a way to persevere.  

Nicholas Wolterstorff will never know my name but I will never forget his.

I am so grateful for Wolterstorff’s words.  

So thankful that he chose to share them with others.

Forever in his debt for being one of the first hands proffered to me on this journey.  

 

Repost: My Heart Hurts

Oh, how my heart hurts!

Deep down where no one can touch it-it aches for my missing child, the family I used to have, the lost opportunities, the missed moments.

And there is no cure.

Yes, there is  a Balm in Gilead-there is hope in the Person of Jesus Christ.

And it soothes the pain, takes the edge off, makes it bearable.

But it does not take it away.

Read the rest here:  My Heart Hurts

Love in Action: Some Things Hurt

Bereavement has not made me a perfectly compassionate person.  I still say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and sometimes don’t do the right thing.

But it HAS made me more aware that what I do/don’t do/say/don’t say can either speak life or death to a struggling heart.

And I so want to speak life and courage to everyone I meet.

Before I lost Dominic, I know that I, like others who had never experienced the death of a child, undoubtedly said and did things that were hurtful instead of helpful.

I painfully remember sharing at a Thanksgiving women’s gathering and, meaning to encourage the ladies, said something like, “I think we are able to better face the big disappointments or trials in life, but find the daily drip, drip, drip of unfulfilled expectations to be a greater challenge.”  A bereaved mom in attendance set me straight (in a very kind and gracious manner!).

That exchange has come often to my mind in these months after burying my son. I wish I could go back and have a do-over.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Some Things Hurt

Repost: Sacred Spaces

I wrote this last year because I realized that even three years (now it is four) after my son’s sudden departure, I was absolutely unwilling to wipe away the evidence that he had once been here.

I could not (cannot) bring myself to put his cup in the cupboard or in a shadow box or on a high shelf like a museum piece testifying to a long ago personality that is interesting but hardly pertinent today.

Because Dominic is STILL part of my life.  Every. single. moment.

Just like my living children, his heart beats inside of mine.

Always.

That place where you hung your jacket, tossed your shoes, left your backpack-it’s still here.

Foolish, really, to hold space for someone who will never need it again.

But it belongs to YOU and leaving it bare means that it is still yours.

And it is- Still. Yours.

Read the rest here:  Sacred Spaces

Chronic: Continuing, Ceaseless, Unabating

Chronic:  (of a problem) long-lasting and difficult to eradicate.
Synonyms:  constant, continuing, ceaseless, unabating, unending, persistent, long-lasting, severe, serious, grave, dire

If you’ve followed the blog for long, you know I have Rheumatoid Arthritis.  What you may not know is that it is not at all like the arthritis most people experience as they age.  Instead of a gradual wearing out of joints due to use and, sometimes, injury, RA is the result of my body attacking itself.

I was 44 when diagnosed after both ankles suddenly swelled so that I could barely walk. 

I’ve been living with it for over ten years. 

It’s a chronic disease.  It can be treated with greater or lesser success to modify and mediate symptoms, but it is always, always, always there.  And it affects every aspect of my life-from getting dressed to driving a car.

I find that most folks just don’t understand that.  

We are used to getting sick, going to the doctor and being prescribed a drug or treatment or even surgery and getting well (after some period of time).

But some things can’t be “fixed” and must simply be “managed” and endured.

endurance is patience concentrated

Child loss is like that.  

It cannot be fixed. 

It cannot be healed. 

It cannot be undone or ignored or sequestered so that it doesn’t impact daily life.

And that is hard for people to understand if they’ve never dealt with a chronic illness or other circumstance that defies remedy.

Every morning I walk down my stairs one step at a time like a toddler because my joints are too stiff to bend until I’ve been up for a few hours-that’s how I have to accommodate my arthritis.

Every morning I sit in my rocking chair and journal and talk to other bereaved parents before daybreak-that’s how I have to accommodate my grief.

Neither of these conditions is a choice.  

Each of them happened TO me-not because of anything I did or did not do.

And they are life-long.  

Continuing.

Ceaseless.

Unabating.

Exhausting.
grief and pain and forever

Repost: Trust After Loss: Admit the Pain

Child loss is Unnatural-no way around it.

Out of order death is devastating.

When my perfectly healthy, strong and gifted son was killed instantly in a motorcycle accident on April 12. 2014 my world fell apart.  My heart shattered into a million pieces.  And after three and a half years, I’ve yet to even FINDall of those pieces much less put them back together.

So what does a heart do when that happens? 

Read the rest here:  Trust After Loss: Admit the Pain

Too Scared to Stay

How many reading this enjoy roller coasters?  Or scary movies? Or action films?

My guess is that most like one or the other or all three.

Why?  Because it’s fun to dip our emotional toe into deep water when we know we can take it out at any moment.

We experience a sort of “high” when the “fight or flight” adrenaline pumps through our veins but our minds know full well that we are in no real danger.

What’s much more difficult is to commit to experience in real time with real people the real emotional roller coaster of hard situations and unending sorrow or pain.

Then people tend to withdraw because they are too scared to stay.

I am so sorry that broken hearts are wounded further when friends or family just can’t bear the pain of watching us hurt and run away instead of walking with us.

leaf heart

They are afraid.  I used to be afraid too.  But I’m not afraid now.

My new bravery was purchased at great cost.  And I don’t want to waste it.

This Valley is teaching my heart to reach out further, quicker, more often and to stick around longer than I was willing to before.

hands-passing-heart

I want to stand with and speak courage to wounded hearts.  

I want to help healed hearts that choose to be brave and commit to walk with those in pain. 

And I am learning to extend grace to the hearts who choose to run away.   

Fear is powerful and I can’t blame them.

But for those who remain, I am so, so grateful.  

always leave people better than you found them