Authors note: This post talks about some highly sensitive topics, including miscarriage & divorce.
When was the last time you sat down and had a conversation that made you deeply uncomfortable?
It seems to me that most of my conversations in life are about simple things, and I’m often not aware of something going wrong until well after the point. To this end, in New Zealand and Australia, when someone greets you and says “How you going?”, there is only one acceptable answer:
Really? You see, recently I’ve been thinking about what we don’t talk about. I’m now at an interesting stage of life, filled with people having babies, raising families, and generally settling down. In all of this hubbub, it sometimes seems like we attempt to maintain a veneer of “goodness” about life. It’s as if we do our utmost to avoid engagement with grief and suffering.
What is it about suffering that makes us deeply uncomfortable? Is it the stark reality of the cold, harsh world we live in? Is it the reminder that for all our modern comforts, we constantly live just a few steps away from pain? We love to celebrate things: baby showers, weddings, and birthday parties. We get together and party, as we rightly should. But there isn’t a system in place for when it all goes wrong.
You see, I know many wonderful women who have experienced miscarriages. In fact, we all know many women who have been through this. But how would we know? From the ultrasound glamour shots to the “second baby announced by the first one” photos, we love to shout about it when a new life is on the way. If that life doesn’t tragically doesn’t make it to this world, we quietly shut up shop, and we don’t talk about it. But that person who was pregnant yesterday and is devastated today is still the same person. And at the point when those who know them should rally the most, we have no system in place to help them in their direst need. Understandably, it’s a silent form of suffering known only to an intimate few.
Similarly, we love to shout about marriage. From the “ring shot” to the engagement party and the big day, our lives are filled with images of a joyous future. But when things don’t go well either during an engagement or after a couple gets married, things tend to get swept away pretty damn quickly. Suddenly one person’s not showing up to church, and no one’s saying much; then through a third party there’s a whisper that something happened. It can be difficult to know what to do.
These are two very heavy topics, and I make no apologies for bringing them up: I want us to talk about it. I’m not prescribing an insensitive approach where we ask people deeply personal questions, I’m just wanting to get a dialogue going: what could we do when someone we care about is suffering? We don’t have a system for things going wrong because it’s not the way things “should” be. I’ve witnessed enough things going wrong during my life that I’m convinced we need to find a way to deal with suffering in a more corporate way.
It’s easy to outsource compassion to an NGO, or someone who has the “job” of caring, but Christ calls us to show compassion to those near to us. No one is beyond kindness, and those nearest to us might be suffering in ways we don’t even know today. A little love will light their world.
If you’ve been through any of the things I’ve talked about in this post, I want to validate your pain. It might be so raw right now, and you might feel like you’re alone – but you’re not. That pain you’re feeling is real, wretched, and wicked: but remember that your suffering goes right to the heart of the Gospel, to a God who didn’t shy away from a world full of hurt and pain, and chose to associate forever with human suffering. The Bible carries a promise: one day, your suffering will turn to joy.
Because there’s another side to suffering: where no one suffers, no one cares. So what will you do today? Who do you know in your world that needs to chat, or who you simply haven’t caught up with in a while? You don’t have to chat about the issue at hand; you could just have a coffee and a talk about the footy, or that good book you’ve been reading. Let people know they’re not alone in this world, even when suffering is isolating them.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
– C. S. Lewis
Let’s find hope in hopelessness today. Let’s talk about what we don’t talk about.