Sunday, February 14, 2010

Haiti and (Why) Me

In the instance of a disaster on a massive scale – like the earthquake in Haiti – we ask how such terrible events can happen. We wonder where the justice is in tragedies. I think that regardless of what your particular religious beliefs are, we question where God is in the midst of such overwhelming human anguish. Some curtly conclude that there couldn't be a God that would allow so much pain. Those that believe in God struggle with how he could be so dispassionate, or worse, such an angry and vengeful God.

On a personal level, even when it comes to "less severe" setbacks we may ask "why me?" Why was I the one to get fired? Why is my roof leaking? Why did she leave me? Why did I get cancer? When circumstances seem to be conspiring against you and the punches are raining down on you, it is not unusual to wonder what you did to deserve such punishment. I know that I've had that thought very many times regarding the connections between my life history and my cancer. I wondered whether or how I was responsible for what happened. Mostly it is in the sense of my physical actions that could have led to a tumor growing on my pancreas. Of course, I also considered my many moral failures in life – the many times I had hurt those that I loved, lacked heart, or rejected a Christian response.

So, whether it is a personal or global tragedy, we find ourselves asking the same questions about God, his heart, who deserves such consequences and where's the justice. Often, the scale of the catastrophe is such that it begs an explanation. We try our best to cobble one together even in the absence of any sense. Which may be why we turn to God on such occasions - he's the perfect fall guy. Our personal perspective is allowed validation regardless. If you don't believe in a God, a massive undeserved misfortune might prove just that for you. If you do, you at least have a place to vent your anger or the soothing option of writing off the tragedy to God's will.

[Though it's not something we can even consider in the midst of living through a calamity, the alternatives are worth considering during quieter moments. It may sound ideal at first glance, but what kind of life would it be if we all did live in good health, with some certainty to 80 years of age? Even with my lowered odds of making it there, I don't know that I'd choose that.]

Interestingly, I can't say that I've questioned God's existence more throughout my ordeal. If anything, I have felt his presence and so have come to believe in him more strongly. I see him much more evidently in my life now. I feel his presence when I am struggling (though I'd like to call upon God more readily with my daily challenges). I see his face in my joys – whether that first-light warmth on a new morning or the pure-joy laughter of my babies. And since I have kept God around more lately, I have certainly pleaded and bargained with him. True to form, he's kept up his end of the deal better than I have. I'm still here even though I've regularly fallen short of being the new and improved me that I've promised. Finally, I can't say that I haven't been angry with him from time to time.

Also in the interests of fairness, isn't it curious that we don't ask the "why me?" question when things are going well. It's as if, deep down we have an expectation of our ship coming in or our lottery numbers being drawn regardless of our merits. If the outrageous blessings are going to flow to someone, it might as well be us, right? We count on God being somewhat liberal when handing out the prizes and conservatively judicious with the punishments. We're funny like that.

Ultimately, the "why me?" question gets at the heart of our hopes and beliefs. Without knowing the mind of God, it's a question that we can't answer. God-willing, we'll find out one day when we are in a better place and the whys matter much less.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Relativity & Connectedness

Challenges bring opportunities to learn and grow. I've learned a lot about myself, about life and others in the past year. I hoped to reflect on those three linked aspects of my experience for a couple of paragraphs.

I expected to be able to make a list of what I learned about myself, but couldn't very readily. I can say that from a very small circle/me sense, I am now willing to sacrifice much of what I once valued to live longer. All else about me these days ultimately relates to that.

What I learned is that, "life" for me boils down to the space between me and others. Via the abrupt revaluation of what's important that a serious illness offers, I developed my very own theory of relativity. It's actually beyond a theory, having been proven repeatedly. The fact is that it is all relative for me. I am part of an intricate and beautiful web. The same principle applies to my priorities in life – they exist in relation to those I love most.

In the spirit of connectedness, one huge discovery I made is that if you put things out there, they will come. Most of us have been taught to (and thus so often) keep our struggles to ourselves. I know that that's how I was raised, and it's what I did. We keep our failures under wraps, our misfortunes secret and tragedies hushed. Unfortunately, that leaves us very alone exactly when we most need the support of others. What worked best for me was exactly the opposite of what I'd been led to believe. It turns out that one person's painful experiences can become the shared concern of a much larger caring circle. The concern of others, in turn, taught me about strengths that I never knew I had. All those that responded to me in their compassion helped me to develop further and made me stronger.

Then there is a whole other level of spiritual support available to us. Given that we are all God's children, he is there in our pain. First, he accompanies us through the challenges – never leaving our side, whether we welcome him or not. To recognize that opportunity for grace and strength is an amazing blessing. Also, we find him in the struggles of others – if we are willing to look and others are willing to let us see him. This is why it is so important to put it out there. It is an invitation to each other and so, to God, to travel our most difficult roads with us.

The greatest lesson of all has been what I learned about you, those around me. My friends and family have shared their faith and fears with me. I am more intimately familiar with people's triumphs and trials. I know my friends better and have more one-time acquaintances I can now call friends. As a lovely complement, I also have more friends with whom I can share. Some of you have experienced both ends of that firsthand. [This entry was prompted, in fact, by a recent conversation with someone I am sharing more with now than I have in 25 years.]

I've found that the compartments I had set up when beginning to write this were false. The me/life/others construct represents an old, flawed approach. They are all intertwined and keeping them separate is both laborious and fruitless. My ultimate learned lesson about me, others and the space in between is that I am loved by God and his children in so many ways. We all are – in all of our tragic and hopeful brokenness.