Over the years, I’ve written quite a bit about what it means to suffer with others. Most of it has been in the context of my experiences in Africa where I’ve seen excruciating poverty rob children of parents and parents the opportunity to provide for their children in even the most basic ways. I have never personally suffered at the hands of poverty, but as human beings, we carry an innate ability to suffer with others as they suffer even if we aren’t experiencing the same circumstance they are. I have shed many tears over the pain that people have had to endure, but I haven’t always wanted to engage in feeling that depth of hurt for others because it’s painful and it costs us. But coming alongside and choosing to suffer with someone else in the midst of their anguish or difficulty is not only a place where beauty is born – it is a privilege of the highest degree.
I was gently reminded of this last week as I spent time with a dear friend whose brother lost his battle with depression last month. There is no describing that kind of pain, honestly. As I drove through four states on my way to see her, I kept wondering how in the world to help her. What do you even say in circumstances where there are just no easy answers? How do you be a good friend when your heart can’t fathom what she must be feeling? I felt small and inadequate – mostly because I was exactly that.
Yet, we go anyway. We show up for each other even if it feels like we have nothing to offer. We run to where the suffering is because that is what God has built us for – engagement with a broken, messy world where things don’t make any sense and we have more questions than answers on most days. We go because we need each other. We don’t necessarily need each other’s words – we need each other’s hearts and presence. And I think more than anything, that’s what I wanted Lindsey to know – that I was there. There are so many, many times where our words need to be limited to “I’m so sorry” and “I love you”, then we need to shut up and throw our arms around our people and just let them get it all out. Because sometimes love looks like letting your friend sob and wail as you hold her on the bathroom floor while your heart feels like it will explode.
I was talking last night with some friends about the mystery of compassion and how our hearts are made to connect with other people’s pain and emotion – in a way, it becomes our own when we choose to connect with it. While sometimes this can feel burdensome simply because of the nature of pain, I am convinced that suffering with others and embracing them in the struggle is actually one of the most important gifts we can (and must) give each other. The thing about pain and suffering is that while the ache never seems to fully go away, it heals. People are permanently marked by whatever they have survived, but they heal. And as we watch the healing process in others, we start to hope just a little bit more. We in fact, might even heal a little bit ourselves. I know my own heart healed a little this past weekend as I spent time with my precious friend.
Lindsey has become an avid gardener over the past few years. I walked with her through her garden as she showed me where certain plants were going to go in, and told me about how her raspberries grew last summer and her kid’s joy at popping them in their mouths.
She bought a greenhouse so she could get her seedlings started before planting season arrived.
The more she talked about what she was going to grow, the more her face lit up. I realized that this garden had quickly gone from a place to simply grow and gather a harvest to a place of hope for her. Last year, a tornado tore through Moore, Oklahoma where Lindsey lives. What a stark reminder that there will always be something that threatens our hope. Always. Yet we build anyway. We bend low and sink our hands into the dirt and we choose to hope. The storms may come. There may be wreckage, but we help each other rebuild. The soil may be frozen, but the cold ground thaws.
Flowers thought long gone make an appearance again.
Life grows out of brown dirt.
I glanced over at her heaping compost pile. Amazing how the rot of our lives is the catalyst for growth and beauty.
We spent hours on Friday moving two tons of mulch and dirt into their proper place. We were making the ground ready and we were doing it together.
As we worked side by side I was keenly aware that flinging that mulch and pouring that dirt was likely the best way I could have loved Lindsey that day. No words necessary. We built a little bit of hope together in that garden on Friday and I learned that no matter what, you always show up. Always. Even when you feel you have nothing to offer, you do.