Sunday, June 02, 2013

An Invitation to Suffering

Many of you know that we have officially moved into our house in Orange Mound.  We've been here for three weeks, punctuated by the joy of having family visit from out of town and the celebration of Adelaide turning two years old and the frustration of having all four tires and rims stolen off Donald's truck a week after we moved.  I'm still processing this year of Memphis- with all it's grit and heart and barbecue-fueled dysfunction.  It's already one of my favorite places I have ever lived, but it's certainly one of the more difficult chapters in my life to date.  Because I cannot quite put it in words just yet, here's a short essay from Bob Lupton's book describing his urban ministry in Atlanta, Theirs is the Kingdom.  

"I do not like pain. Not in any form. Loneliness, sickness (my own or another's), anxiety, frustration, disappointment, hurt-- these are not the companions with which I choose to share my life.  I actively avoid them.  I buy drugs from the pharmacist to shield me from physical pain.  I surround myself with people like myself who dispel my loneliness and reassure me that I am okay.  I control my contacts with people who take more than they can give.  I schedule my days to eliminate disruptions and to accomplish the things I think significant or pleasurable  A theology of abundance  peace, and health has an enormous appeal for me.
     Recently, I witnessed a small act in the drama of city live that both moved and troubled me deeply.  It was a familiar situation.  A family with three small children was evicted again for nonpayment of rent.  Their ritual "put me up for just tonight" had been used too often.  With no money for bargaining, the only place they could find to stay was a front porch. The father slept under a bush.  Although I was quite unwilling to give them any more, I wondered what would become of them.
    Then an unbelievable but predictable event occurred.  An unemployed brother whose own family was barely surviving took his evicted relatives in.  Once again, it was those who could least afford extra mouths to feed and were already crowded to the point of eviction who found it in their hearts to help. Even more disturbing to me was the cost of caring, increased hunger; hot sleepless nights made even more uncomfortable by crying babies and wall-to-wall bodies; the stench of inadequate sanitation; short tempers, constant confusion.
     This picture still burns in my mind.  It is a haunting reminder of the energy I spend avoiding the cost of loving others.  I establish an emergency fund instead of inviting hungry families to eat at my table.  I develop housing program to avoid the turmoil of displaced families living in my home.  I create employment projects that distance me from the aggravation of working with undisciplined people.  As a counselor, I maintain detachment with a fifty-minute hour and an emphasis on client self-responsibility.   As I share the gospel with the needy, I secretly hope that God will handle their problems.
     Of course, I don't allow myself to think this way very often.  I choose rather to concentrate on the positive things I am doing for people, the helpful things, right things.  But when I am honest with myself, I must admit that I cannot fully care for one who is suffering without entering into his pain.  The sick must be touched if they are to be healed.  The weak myst be nourished, the wounded embraced.  Care is the bigger part of the cure.
     Yet I fear contagion.  I fear my life will get out of control and I will be overshadowed by the urgent affairs of others.  I fear for my family. I resist the Christ who beckons His followers to lay down their lives for each other.  His talk of a yoke, a cross, of bearing one another's burdens and giving one's self away is not attractive to me.  The implications of entering the world of suffering as a "Christ-one", as yeast absorbed into the loaf of human need, are as terrifying as death itself.  Yet this is the only way to life.  The question is, will I choose life?"


  1. Wow, indeed. Reading things like this (especially some of the things Mother Teresa said), always prick my heart.