It’s been an awful week in our community and province.
Nova Scotia is in trauma level shock and soul level pain. Our sister provinces and our country share in the grief. Is there anywhere we can turn to find rest even as we weep and feel the horror of perpetrated evil?
There is Hurt
Over this last week, we continued to see the rise of COVID-19 related deaths in our neighbourhood. Up the street from my house, there is a nursing care facility where currently 60% of all deaths in our province from this virus have been traced. We have people from our church who live in this care complex. The mix of fear and bravery from both people who live and those who work there is tangible in our community. We have been trying to find creative ways to care for those who we can’t even touch or visit.
Loving our city means we enter into the sorrow of those who are sorrowing. Listen to the anguish of those who are in anxiety. Own the brokenness of disease that so easily shows us how vulnerable and truly incapable we are of keeping ourselves safe. Our humanness is exposed right now screaming into our hearts and heads, “We are incredibly limited!”
Then There is Terror Level Hurt
Our whole province is in a state of deep mourning. Our whole country is in shock and asking why questions. Why does someone go on a twelve-hour senseless reign of terror? Why kill neighbours? Whole families? People walking on the side of the road? Burn houses? Use the symbols of peace and order, a police vehicle and uniform, to get access into cars, homes and peoples’ private lives to bring them nothing but pain, sorrow and death? Why?
For many of us, these were our neighbours, our family, our fellow church members. Their families are part of small communities that function often more like small families within the larger family of our province. We join with them in a collective moan and acknowledge that the terrors of death have fallen on us and the horror overwhelms us.
Can Our Hurt Find a Resting Place?
We echo the sentiment of the writer of Psalm 52, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness” (Ps 52:6–7).
If we could only fly away to find rest from this hurt and terror. But we can’t fly away, escape or ignore it. It’s here. We are in pain’s grip. Where will we go to find some sort of meaning or at least be able to mourn with some sense of hope for future rest and complete justice?
There Is No Rest If There Is No Meaning in Our Pain
There is no rest if there is no meaning in our pain, even horrific pain.
Don’t remove meaning from the equation of our suffering. Meaningless statements like “These things happen” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, although said to be helpful, are not in the end. This kind of posture tries to remove deeper purposes in our suffering.
They act as a false comfort giving you permission to deal with pain the best you can. The problem with this approach is it only temporarily takes away the sting. This attitude is unable or inconsistent with the emotions, the will, the posture that suffering causes in us, especially suffering that reaches deep into the very core of our humanness.
If we can cover over deep pain with an attitude of “it’s meaningless to look for reasons,” then why do we lament? Why do we have such deep empathy or righteous anger over suffering? If suffering has no purpose, reason, or meaning, then why long for sympathy, mercy, hope or be soothed by others entering into our pain or want justice or expect that there could be moral responsibilities to be realized on behalf of those who have been victimized?
When faced with the profound pain we are feeling right now, meaninglessness will not be found to be a place of rest for our souls. Don’t hide our pain in the false promises of meaninglessness.
There Is No Rest if We Detach from Our Pain
There is no rest if we simply try to free our thinking from our pain, even deeply traumatic pain.
To think and act as if suffering or evil only holds meaning if we separate ourselves from it, proves in the end to be unhelpful. When we suffer traumatic pain we want to clear our mind, free our thinking from its influence. We even naturally want to make it seem as if it has no reality, never happened. We will just go on as we always were.
We think if we can somehow rise above it, that it won’t touch us anymore. Maybe we can heal our broken hearts by ignoring or spiritualizing the pain? We hope to reach a split plane of some sort where pain can no longer touch us. However, detachment in the long run puts us at greater risk for loss. Those who have suffered deepest trauma need to be connected to the most important commodities of human resources we can find, not detached from them.
We need to feel community and cry with loved ones. We need to be listened to in safe friendships and find help in the meaningful rehearsing of our pain. We need to have places where we can be concerned for and can show concern for others. Hereby a thousand different small links of connection, not detachment, will we begin to find some semblance of joy and hope.
Fellow grievers, we need attachment to fellow grievers. Meaningful sufferers, suffering with other meaningful sufferers is the opposite of detachment. Detachment is a false place of rest, don’t believe the promises of how it will raise you above the pain. Lean into mourning with those who are mourning.
There Is a Place of Rest that Holds Meaning And Offers Strength in Suffering
Before I point you to a third way to deal with pain, let’s agree that there is no simple Wonderland pill that will repair the damage that has been. The damage that has been perpetrated on many families through disease and through evil’s rampage will mark many of us for our life.
Here is what we need to know: Is there a place we can turn to daily for rest, even when grieving friends and well-meaning mourners are not available or prove not enough for our grief? Also, can we find rest for our future hope so that our present struggles hold meaning beyond these moments?
We all experience suffering. It is a common thread across all cultures, generations, and ethnicities. Sure, some have suffered more, longer, and deeper but none of us is immune to suffering. Our lives are on a short time table. Nobody escapes the universal experience of death.
We all have to step-up to this boldface truth. We can’t push it away; it’s self-evident. This universal curse is a large billboard sign to those rushing through life that we need someone outside ourselves who has faced death and is able to offer true rest.
The Bible offers us good news, Gospel news, in response to our suffering. This is not merely some religious garble that seeks to numb the present pain. This is an invitation into a relationship with a fellow sufferer who has gone into the darkest pain of humanity.
Jesus was sent from God. This is God’s response of love to an evil cursed world. Jesus lived with broken people, touching disease, weeping over death, crying over rejection, separation, and betrayal. Jesus placed himself into the hands of terror, unjust hurt and horrific death. Jesus was wept over, cared for and buried by His friends. He is our place of rest and hope.
Jesus’s declaration, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” is not a statement to be used to exclude. It is an invitation to a relationship. “No one comes to the Father except through me”, is spoken by Christ in one of the most tender, loving, and caregiving texts in all of the Gospels (see John 14). It is written to friends who are facing the grim reality of pain and death.
Jesus is God’s offer of meaning and rest in our greatest time of suffering. Jesus is the invitation in our suffering. His work – going to a cruel cross, dying, being buried and rising from the impossible grave- is making the way clear for those who will turn to Him for healing and help.
By faith, we reach out in our admission of brokenness and need. Then we ask Him to be our saving place of rest and weep with the only One who has beaten death and offers eternal life. Jesus is the only One who can be anytime present with us in our deepest, darkest places. Jesus connects us to eternal rest in the reality of hurt.
Mourning, yet not without hope, is made possible because of Christ.
Mourning with my fellow Scotians,
Thanks for reading.
Published in a different form earlier here.