By Rev. Jim Innes
Where do we turn for comfort, for reassurance… for repair? And what do we do when overcome by the immediate experience of suffering?
On Feb 21 of this year, near Orangeville, a female driver’s van was swept away by flooding. As she was exiting the vehicle, her three-year-old boy was swept out of her arms and was gone. In the same Grand River flooding, a state of emergency was called and many were evacuated from their homes.
At any given moment our life can be turned upside down. Security can be torn away by circumstance. And what felt like an orderly, well executed lifestyle, can become completely dismantled. Our ability to focus becomes fuzzy (to say the least) and our established priorities are rattled.
In some cases, the disturbing circumstances are temporary. Even still, though life may return to some semblance of “normal”, there often remains a scar. And too many scars can lead to emotional and physical problems.
What do we do when overcome by the immediate experience of suffering? And where, after all is said and done, do we turn for comfort, for reassurance… for repair?
I’d like to share two preliminary thoughts on this. First… tragedy is out of our control, and its painful distress is unavoidable. Secondly… when such tragedy strikes, there is no straightforward method for relieving the inevitable suffering.
In the aftermath of tragedy, and relative to the level of distress experienced, we can be out of our minds with fear and confusion. For many of us, when we are flooded by such emotion, we stop thinking rationally and fall prey to panic. An overwhelming sense of isolation and helplessness undermines our “normal” coping strategies. And all we are left with is our tears.
One of my bones of contention is that too often, and almost disrespectfully, people suffering are told to “have faith”, or to” trust the process.” Such advice, as sincere as it might be, requires a cognitive rationality that, in the aftermath of a tragedy, is disabled by the spinning juices of our central nervous system.
Even if we could muster the wherewithal to mind our faith in the face of tragedy, faith can paint the sky blue or it can paint the sky black. God can be seen as much a foe as a friend, and consequently, faith can lead to even greater despair. For example, one might get lost in the shame of the question, “Why did God do this to me… what did I do wrong?”
As I see it, whether we brought on the tragedy or not, at the point of suffering we are in need of consolation, not consultation. Our central nervous system needs relief not answers. We need to be held in a sympathetic embrace… whether this be emotional or physical or both. What we don’t need so much is advice and opinion.
Suffering is life at work within us. We try to avoid it, but we can’t. Tragedy calls us to break down before we rebuild… to hurt before we find new peace.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”
Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the regional Ministry of South Huron.
Featured photo: Louis Blythe, Unsplash