“I want names,” he said. I remember his words. I remember his eyes, red and swollen. I remember his face, creased with grief and pain, there on the nightly news.
His young wife had been struck with malignant melanoma while carrying their unborn daughter. She was considered brain dead, but was kept on life support for three months in the hopes of the saving the baby. The baby was born and lived for a few weeks, bringing joy in the place of sorrow. But then the baby also died.
“They say God has a plan, that He can use our suffering for good. That it can help others. But I want a list of names. I want details. I want to know exactly what good will come from this…”
“I want names.“ Although it’s been many years, his words have come back to me recently. It is easy, when in the throes of suffering, to question, to wonder just how such pain can come from a loving God. Theology tells us that all things work for our good, but abstractions don’t comfort. We know to trust, to hope, but how does one exercise this, practically, in the midst of darkness?
There is a game the kids play called, “Would you rather…?” It is a conversation game, in which questions are posed: Would you rather be able to fly, or be able to change shape? Would you rather be an elephant or a lion? Would you rather have a pool full of chocolate pudding, or a pool full of skittles?
The questions suggested are silly and innocuous, but in my experience, they usually turn a bit darker (or maybe I know morbid kids). Would you rather be buried alive, or burnt at the stake? Would you rather go blind, or go deaf? Would you rather be eaten by a lion, or by sharks? But I have found that the real question is not “What you would suffer?” but “Why?” or, “For Whom?”
When my mother was first in the hospital in 2016, and I spent my days looking around for the adult in the room, for someone else to take over what I could not handle, it was my little orphan babies that gave me the strength. Certainly the prayers of the six that I held, all baptized, before they went to heaven. But it was the memory of little faces, little arms reaching up, little eyes questioning, seeking love, seeking to know they were not alone, not ultimately abandoned—these little ones carried me. “Would you suffer this, for them?” a voice inside would ask. “Yes!” was the only answer.
I had prayed to stay in China. I had asked to give my life to rescue more little ones like these, to be love for the abandoned. God said No. But in the mystery of suffering, the economy of grace, He answered my prayer to help them in a different way. To learn to intercede from afar.
More recently other suffering in the world, in the Church, has been splashed across headlines, across social media. “Lord, something has to be done. Help me be part of the solution.”
Would I suffer this (whatever I am going through)…to save a child from abuse? Would I…to ease the trauma of someone who left the church because of unspeakable crimes by her clergy? Would I…to stem the rising hate across the political spectrum? Would I…to heal my friend from her disease, to save him from cancer, to stop the one about to commit suicide?
“The interesting thing about the Scriptures,” said the priest in a recent homily, “Is that they don’t speak of suffering as something that comes down. They speak of it as something that is lifted UP, that is offered.”
The real offering of course, is Jesus on the Cross, Jesus lifted up for us. But we with our little mustard seeds of love, can offer our little crosses in union with His. And He can grow them, magnify them, until the smallest of seeds becomes the largest of shrubs, in which all the birds of the air come and find rest.
Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons