A few years ago I learned to stop asking “why” about suffering. A Jesuit priest said simply, “It is part of the human condition.” When he said that, it was not a revelation to me, but rather an awakening or acceptance of that truth. I am thinking about that truth again as I watch friends suffer with serious illnesses.
All of them are young, under fifty. Two have cancer and one has a host of chronic illnesses that defy treatment and dumbfound doctors.
This week my friend with chronic illnesses had to be admitted to the hospital with mild pneumonia. We had a long visit with tears and laughter. What struck me is how she told me how many people have a standard for her feelings and do not want to hear about feelings which they do not think she should express.
Right now she is angry and very tired. For the last year she has spent most of her time in hospitals and in bed. She is suffering and trying so very hard to make the best of it, be positive, and figure out what God wants her to learn from all of this. She stays close to Mary in prayer and draws comfort from her. She has a Mary statue that lights up by her bedside, even in the hospital.
While I don’t ask “why,” I do ask God how I can help ease her burdens. I provide comic relief, a shoulder to cry on, and a glimpse into my “normal” life. It is not always easy or convenient to be with my friend, but it is always important.
In my humanness I want to turn away and avoid the pain. Her suffering reminds me to be grateful. When a person says, “All I want to do is go to the grocery store and cook dinner for my family”, I am reminded to be thankful for ability to tackle the long to-do list. My complaining over my life pales in the face of her true suffering.
Suffering often makes us uncomfortable. We want a quick fix, a pat comment, and we want to move on to the next thing. Sadly, suffering cannot be fixed with Band-Aids. It requires our presence.
Walking with someone in their suffering helps us to be become better people if we let them lead us. It requires patience and the putting aside of self to be present to those in need.
Maybe the test of a Christian is not to ask “Why” in the face of suffering, but “How can I help?”