My little boy, he’s always had nightmares.
He used to wake in the night, crying out in fear.
Would someone jump in the window and grab him while he slept?
Was there a monstrous being in the closet?
As he grew older, his fears became more sophisticated, until, one day, he fretted, “What if I get cancer?”
My heart aches and I cringe upon each remembrance of my answer: “Kids rarely get cancer. That is not going to happen to you.”
I mean, really, what were the odds?
On fear-riddled nights, I would sit by my son’s bedside, encourage him to “bring his fears to God”.
And then came that dreaded day with the sudden limp and the agonizing hospital stay terminating in the horrifying diagnosis.
I was shocked and, frankly, pissed. The child who worried he would “get cancer”, who prayed he wouldn’t, got cancer.
You can bet my dialogues with my children surrounding fear and faith have changed drastically since then.
I had held to this strange notion that if a child petitioned God about something, God would answer in the affirmative, in order to build that child’s faith.
Oh, the lore and the mythology we humans concoct to comfort ourselves…
I realize now how screwed up my thinking was.
How many millions of children have cried out to God as their abusers tormented them, only to have their abusers go on abusing?
To assume God would keep my child from suffering while simultaneously ignoring other children the world ‘round made God out to be an exceedingly dysfunctional deity.
What did I think entitled me or my family or any of my children to receive some sort of extra special divine intervention?
To be fondled by pain is to be human.
God is not my family’s ticket out of suffering either.
The little boy Jesus, the young man Jesus, suffered. He grew tired and weary. Guaranteed, he stubbed his toe, lost his favorite toy.
As a parent I have seen the error in rushing to rescue my children from hardship.
My children are welcome to come to me, of course. But my constant intervention would keep them from tuning in to their own strength, ingenuity and wisdom.
We all have minds and wills, don’t we?
Like, when the weak among us are crying out at the hands of their tormentors, we sure as hell better be using our ingenuity, skills and gifts to ease their suffering, should we not?
Assuming God will hear these least ones and rush to their rescue with fire and brimstone or something, it lets us off the hook.
I mean, we don’t need to do anything if God is doing everything, right?
I asked Aydon recently what he thought of God during cancer and now, after cancer.
He said that on some days he thought God wasn’t real, and on others, he knew God was with him.
We then launched into a deep conversation about suffering and God, in which I apologized to him for the faulty ways I had informed his childhood faith.
I wondered aloud whether God perhaps isn’t about rescuing us out of hardship, because to endure hardship, after all, is to be human. And we are all only human.
I wondered whether that is why Jesus lived a life filled with pain. And perhaps that is why Paul talked about sharing in the hardships of Christ?
The wise man Buddha would say that while pain is universal, suffering occurs when we have trouble letting go of “illusion, false desire, superiority, and separateness” (Richard Rohr in The Universal Christ).
Maybe encountering the pain of cancer pissed me off because I assumed that the path to God and abundant life would be free of thorns, and I found myself angry, not because of the pain, but because I found I was indeed wrestling my illusions and false desires.
Both Christianity and Buddhism are saying that the pattern of transformation, the pattern that connects, the life that Reality offers us is not death avoided, but always death transformed. In other words, the trustworthy pattern of spiritual transformation is death and resurrection. Christians learn to submit to trials because Jesus told us that we must ‘carry the cross’ with him. Buddhists do it because the Buddha very directly said that ‘life is suffering,’ but the real goal is to choose skillful and necessary suffering over what is usually just resented and projected suffering. (Rohr, The Universal Christ)
This is a mystery I have only tentatively tasted, friends.
I wrestle daily, with God and life and pain and what it means. And I’m afraid I usually choose suffering over dying.
My answer to those childhood nightmares now? I’m sorry, child. I get it. And I love you.
That is all.