True confession: I’m not very good with suffering. I don’t like it. And, whether it’s my suffering or others’, I invest quite a lot of energy in avoiding it. I turn off the news. I hide the sad things on Facebook. I take Ambien to sleep at night. I eat all the french fries. And I shudder whenever I hear Christians say, as Christians often do, “I pray that my heart will be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.”
I get it.
I understand what they’re trying to say in praying to be people of compassion and people of Love and people who see the suffering of others and thus respond.
But I shudder because my heart is already broken by these things.
And I avoid sadness because I’m not sure my heart will keep beating if it’s broken any more.
I plug my ears and squeeze my eyes closed and say LALALALA very loudly to drown out the suffering din because I feel helpless and like there’s nothing I can do, anyway — there is only one of me and so many who hurt — so it feels like an exercise in futility to continue to offer my heart to be pulverized.
The truth is I don’t intend to stop shutting down the news and hiding the “too sad to bear” items in my Facebook feed, because it’s OK to have coping mechanisms and to know how much on any given day I can take before breaking utterly, beyond repair.
I took pictures the past few days in refugee camps where mamas and their babies sat in nutrition and feeding classes taught by Medical Teams International. Mamas who fled South Sudan only the day before, afraid for their lives and the lives of their children.
I held hands with small kids and waved to the big ones.
I walked through hospital wards and met men recovering from gun shot wounds, women recovering from rape, children recovering from malaria.
And, friends, many smiled.
Mommies are proud of their babies everywhere. All over the world. And when you coo at the little ones and tell the mama her baby is beautiful, she shines, because she knows it’s true. It’s like she’s been in on the secret from the beginning — this baby is everything, this baby is precious and perfect, this baby carries light and life, this baby is made in the very image of divinity and Love — and so, when you see it, too, and show the mama with your eyes and your smile and your hand on her baby’s brow, you quite literally share a piece of her soul.
And she smiles.
And in that smile is hope.
I’ve spent the last few days walking dusty ground, sweating and smiling with people who are sweating and smiling and sobbing with me. And I’ve been reminded that entering into suffering is also entering into hope. Entering in. The reminder that we don’t walk dusty ground alone. The reminder that our highest calling is to learn the ways of Love and to love each other as we love ourselves. The reminder that we are here to bear witness to each other’s lives. The reminder that entering in is also an action as vital as food and medicine.
And I am glad — truly glad — to be here.
Sending love… and hope in the middle of pain… with feet on dusty ground,
P.S. The photo above is of our momrade, Margaret, and her son Christopher whose life was saved by Medical Teams International (MTI). Margaret is a mama of twin boys, just like me; Christopher’s twin is John Baptist, not pictured. I’ll be writing more of Margaret and Christopher’s story in the days ahead and sharing via MTI. You can follow MTI’s work at their website, www.medicalteams.org, or on Facebook here.
P.P.S. MTI is not sponsoring this post, nor paying me for this opinion. All thoughts shared on this blog are my own. Obviously. Or I’d be a lot more careful about what I say. Heh heh heh.
P.P.P.S. By mistake, I only packed one pair of socks for this trip. I have now become an expert at handwashing socks in Africa and drying them by the next morning. Totally putting that on my resume for the future. This is why travel is important; because LIFE SKILLS.
P.P.P.P.S. I also have spilled something at nearly every meal and also in the car on long, back-country drives. Because I’m traveling with me, and my skill set is Expert Level in Spilling Everything. To date, I have spilled milk, coffee, passion fruit juice, and mango juice, some of those all over myself. HOWEVER, I only spilled on the CEO ONCE, and that was a bag of beef jerky which doesn’t soak in, so I’m considering that a win.