One year ago today this journey began. How different our lives are now. Ron has come so far despite the severity of his stroke, and yet his gains lag behind our hopes. We feel this weight of grief for what’s been lost from both our lives. Perhaps we always will. But we soldier on. What other options do we have? “Curse God and die” is not our preference. With Job we believe, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him [God].”
And like Job, we have experienced the good intentions of friends. Anyone who has been through difficult situations knows that sometimes folks offer gifts of words that do not help. I have been tumbling some of these common sayings, trying to see if their jagged edges would smooth with time, but I still find them painful. I think most folks facing hard circumstances would agree. I’ll tackle a few knee-jerk responses offered as comfort in posts over the next few weeks.
Here is one example of what NOT to say when lives are plunged into pain and grief:
“Everything happens for a reason.” In other words, you are telling me God made this stroke happen in order to accomplish some goal? I just can’t buy that, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel better though I’m too polite to tell you so. I know you mean well. But no, Ron’s stroke was not decreed by a purposive universe in order that we or others could learn something positive. How twisted would that theology be?
When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he began with the phrase, “By chance a man went down to Jericho.” BY CHANCE. In other words, God wouldn’t send a man on a doomed journey on a dangerous road in order to make a point. Bad things happen. Life is risky business. Arteries get sticky places where plaque builds up even when your cholesterol levels are under control. So, you see, I refuse to believe Ron’s stroke is part of some divine plan. Clogged carotids are just one of the myriad ways physical life is threatened. Because . . . Well, we don’t know why, but essentially because physical life is designed to be temporary at best.
Our only hope is to believe that the Universe is conspiring to help us despite the dangers, despite the myriad threats to life. And one form of that help is through the kindness of passers by. In our extremity, so many folks have offered prayers, sent food, written notes, and just showed up to help. Even the Pharisees listening to Jesus’ story recognized who was fulfilling the divine plan – not the fellow Jew who had fallen on hard times, but the outcast Samaritan who responded with compassion. Neighborliness is a way to “pay it forward,” knowing that we all will experience the chance to be in need of another’s aid.
Perhaps a better way to turn this first phrase is, “Everything happens as an opportunity.” That’s a belief I can live with through difficult times. Things happen. The secret is that we can choose how we react to those things. We are so grateful for everyone who has seized the opportunity to prove a neighbor to us. Such a loving response is certainly part of a divine plan. And we can still choose to pay it forward to those we pass by in hallways and waiting rooms, to those whose sufferings are greater than our own. Even in extremity we can find opportunity. This past year has been our chance not just to mouth words of faith, but to live them. And that is apparently the ultimate Divine Plan for us all.