Thursday, October 30, 2014

Working the Night Shift

"ғaiтнleѕѕ iѕ нe тнaт ѕayѕ ғarewell wнen тнe road darĸenѕ." J. R. R. Tolkien

Tolkien and his contemporary, C. S. Lewis, brilliantly used the ancient means of story to transport truth to children and adults alike. They infused their works with images and narratives that blend reason and the vivid imagination for which each is known, conferring on their characters the power to communicate ideas of faith. In looking at the world around them they sought flashes of insight into what they saw as the fundamental nature of things.

Fundamental. What is fundamental anymore?

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are among the unalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.  We seem to have elevated achieving perpetual happiness to the gold medal position on the podium. Many strive to maintain the illusion of happiness and success, as though any alternative is tantamount to failure.

We may coast through some days in life, but sooner or later we are put on the night shift.  The night shift--that season when life presents what we never dreamed would happen or that which we feared to face.

Our days and nights are not our own anymore on the night shift. They’ve been usurped, taken captive by that new thing, that no longer mythical monster that holds us in its grip. Cancer does it for some. Any sudden interruption of our lives will do this.

Crises have a way of reordering our priorities. They reveal our character. They give us the chance to step up to the podium and present ourselves authentically as wounded but walking, as pierced but persevering. We may choose to be honest and press on, accepting this new life experience as an opportunity to grow—to grow in ways we would rather not but find we must. But we need help, companions on the journey.

"O Lord, do not be far from me," the psalmist says.

There is so much about sickness and pain we do not understand. C. S. Lewis wrote from his deep loss about suffering and its value. Some would dismiss the refining fire of suffering as pure myth, but not Lewis. The witness of many is that we experience redeeming grace during what I call the night shift.

We may never understand suffering; I can accept that as a limitation of our human condition. But there are some things we can know as bedrock:
That God is always good.
That God is always loving

May I dare say that suffering is one of those things that is transformative when we encounter it: We are changed in it. Fundamentally. I have come to believe it, but do I have the guts to write it here, in this place where I am sitting up writing in the night watch feeling healthy while some of our friends or family members are in the fight of their lives? How dare I say such without sounding glib and utterly insensitive?

Because I have seen it done. Writers give us examples to point to a truth until we may accept it for ourselves; Real life examples shine brightly for me.

I have seen the example up close when a friend chose to allow God to move in her life in the presence of intense suffering and pain. She gave us glimpses of grace, pictures of what suffering looks like over a period of years.  She remained full of grace and faithfulness because she refused to give into bitterness. She denied a place for the bitter seed to take root every time it raised its persistent tendril. I want to face adversity like that!

For the faithful, that's what we do: 

We carry the Light when the road gets dark. 
We hold the lantern for one another.  
We learn to walk faithfully the path we have even when we would rather take another road of our own choosing.

In prayer we can freely offer the desires of our heart and then trust in God's provision. The trusting part can be hardest. It is the task of a lifetime. And it is not the American way of self-sufficiency and prideful independence. But when we understand another bedrock truth—that God is always trustworthy—we can rest in the care of the One who created us and loves us and will never let us go.  

Offer God our pain and broken dreams when the road is dark. Pain only festers when buried and denied.

Offer suffering so that it is shared, and then we can learn how to bear it. “Pain that is not transformed is pain transferred,” writes Fr. Richard Rohr. We pass it on.

Pursuing happiness for itself is ephemeral, not fundamental. The love of God is deep and wide, reaching to times and places we do not see and holding us fast in the embrace.