Hope and suffering: vulnerability at its best

By Rev. Jim Innes

Someone recently said to me, “seems like too many are suffering heart problems or cancer.”

How true is that!

In the last two weeks, two folks close to me have been diagnosed with cancer. And in my job as pastor, I talk with many who are either going for some diagnostic test, or suffering some traumatizing ailment.

One day all can be well, contained and safely organized. Next day, bang, sideswiped by an unavoidable turn of fate. So much is beyond our control, so much, that we tend to suppress, as we ought, the myriad of possibilities. And it is the fate of some that hyper-sensitivity or past trauma heightens anxiety to the point of pathology (diagnosed or not).

It was my experience last year, when fighting cancer, that keeping stable meant surrendering to all the possibilities. It was not something I had to work at either. Because the pragmatics ended any sense that I was in control. And, as in sync with my fear, my faith in God’s good grace developed into a trust that all would be as it should be.

The vulnerability factor was high. The love of my wife, my children, and my larger family made it tolerable. And I began to foster an outlook far less self-protective and self-absorbed then one might think could ever happen under such duress.

The words of the Prayer of St. Francis began to make more sense than they ever had before: “Seek not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.”

It was as though my physical vulnerability morphed into an emotional/spiritual empathy founded on some greater humility than I had experienced to date. And I didn’t need to work at it.

I discovered that with the removal of the power factor (some may call it our ego demands), I became deeply aware that nothing is more important than how I get along with others. And somehow, despite my anxieties, responsiveness became the brightest light inside me.

Can it be true that in times of managing such uncontrollable ailments, or having to manage great trauma, there grows an ‘other-awareness’ that surges stronger than any other aspect of our existence? And, if so, it would be my Hope that such awareness matures into a more soulful existence. If not near immediately, then hopefully, more gradually as one processes over time.

For those of you entering this Lent/Easter season, I offer you a reflection that the suffering of Jesus was buoyed by an inner surge of complete compassion. Almost a power, but most definitely an energy, that enabled the completion of His mission and, most tellingly, the ability to utter the final self-less statement, “forgive them.”

No wall, no way of living, no faith perspective, protects us against suffering. We pray we don’t face it, and we pray those we love and care for don’t face it. And of course, for those who do face it, we pray their suffering ends with quick healing.

Nonetheless, as I see it, Hope lies in what happens inside the person suffering. So, aside the prayer for healing, should we not also pray for their increased soulfulness.

Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the regional Ministry of South Huron.

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