Since writing on this theme a few days back, several further things have come to me that I wish to record. There is another quality of life that is given to us beyond suffering. Not all suffering, not all of us, not all the time: but there is something very special here. Three different friends have shared their own experiences along these same lines. It is truly wonderful to share in this way, and even more exciting to find a similar passage in a book I am reading.
Yesterday I received an email from a student from one of my classes last year, who wanted to thank me for that class. He also expressed shock at learning of my cancer diagnosis, and then added:
'My journey of faith and journey with cancer commenced in 2000 after being diagnosed with lymphoma. It's certainly not a journey I would have chosen, but at the same time it allowed me to see God in a way I might not have seen otherwise.'
Here is something I have sensed in all these encounters: none of us would choose this experience. Who wants to have cancer? Who wants to experience trauma, such as the tsunami, or earthquake, or bushfire? Of course we don't. No one is celebrating suffering! And yet there is something about the growth we have experienced, the deepening of life and appreciation of others, and self, that makes us say that we are so grateful for this experience. Somehow it has become a blessing—at least at times! And we would not want to go back to how life was before.
These were the comments of another friend with whom I spoke this week. His struggles are not 'over'. A part of his anguish includes the degree to which his growth through suffering has left him feeling a bit out of touch with the church—in which he had been very deeply involved. It's not that he has lost faith. Rather he hungers for a deeper quality of community than seems to be on offer. And yet he feels that he has that quality of community already, with the universe, with God, with some groups of people …
I record these thoughts precisely because they are mine too. I identify with every thing he has said here. This is part of what I tried to say in my post, 'What the wave brought me': there is a paradoxical sense of belonging and yet separation in this experience.
Another friend emailed to thank me for these posts and to add his comment: it, too, was about his own journey of very deep suffering, within his family. I will not disclose details, but here is part of what he said:
I appreciated the thoughts that you have expressed in your blog post. In a different way it resonates with the challenges and struggles we have faced in the wake of XXXXXXX and continuing challenges. Life turned a corner for us that day, and the road which seemed to be ahead disappeared. We now explore an entirely different landscape, unexpected, and hitherto unknown.
I have been thankful for the XXXXXX church which stood with us through the early tumultuous years … I am thankful even more for the heritage which is ours in Scripture, to which you have made reference in your post. Suffering IS. It is explored. It is endured. It is questioned. It sits under God's purpose and grace. And it leaves its marks, for good or ill.
These are superb insights. 'Suffering IS.' That is so important: heaven protect us from those who are always trying to explain it away, with their 'comforts'. Here in fact is one area where the heritage of the Scripture can help: if it is not misused to deny the reality of suffering. Job's comforters eventually are shown to speak falsehood. It was Job who spoke the truth about God, not them (Job 42.8).
Today I read this fabulous paragraph in the Moltmann biography, with which I am still journeying. Some longer posts will be coming from this book, but just now this delightful paragraph, a gift to me as I am celebrating turning a new decade (getting old, in other words). It also expresses this lovely sense of a new quality of life. The Spirit of God invites us to new life, new every morning, but also a sense of youthfulness despite age, energy in the face of fatigue and struggle—in short, the creative power of hope.
This, from Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, pp.285-6:
In those years years I experienced this personally too. Behind the life that has been lived there is always the wealth of possible life still unlived. The older one becomes, the more one senses this wealth. Whether we are young in years or are growing older, we are always standing on the threshold of our possibilities. Sometimes it takes a little longer to become young and to seize the possibilities with delight and love. But to do so is to feel as if newborn, and in this sense 'young' and full of hope. These are the challenges of the life that has not yet been lived. The possibilities really demand nothing, but are an invitation to go out of ourselves and to live out the fulness of life which is in us and round about. If one becomes older in terms of years, this can even help one to become younger, for one loses the fear for one's self, and threats from outside cease to be threatening.
This is spot on! It gives some wonderful depth to that scripture in Isaiah 40. 31: 'those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.'
You can't make this happen. You can't create this 'youth' or renewal. But you can be there: endure, stick with the reality of your situation, 'wait on the Lord'. Hope is born and gives birth, to a new time and quality of life.