When we walk through the hard things in life we often wonder what is the purpose. Why do we have to go through them? Is there any reason for suffering? These questions are honest and valid and real. Too often, as we ask them, we feel shame and guilt because we struggle with the validity of the question. It’s almost as though we don’t think it’s right or OK to ask for meaning in our suffering. Therefore, many of us suffer in silence.
There is nothing wrong with asking the question. There is nothing wrong with searching for meaning in suffering or hardship.
We also sometimes question the validity of our suffering, “I know what I’m going through is not that big of a deal. So, I shouldn’t be feeling this way. What other people are going through is so much worse…”
Whatever it is that you’re going through is a big deal, to you. A friend shared a quote from Brené Brown that resonates deeply here, “Grief cannot be compared.”
So, we enter in and be present in our own griefs and our wounds. It’s OK and healthy to ask the “Why?” question in whatever circumstance you find yourself in.
This morning as I was meditating on the Jesus story, I was reading in Matthew 2 about his family’s flight to Egypt. It is a story of suffering from top to bottom. Jesus’ family suffered as they fled Israel to go to Egypt as refugees. I honestly can’t imagine how that conversation would have gone in Joseph’s home, can you?
“Mary honey, I had a dream. Pack up your stuff and the baby we’re moving to Egypt.”
From what I’ve read elsewhere, Mary is not exacting a wilting flower of a woman. I imagine Joseph and Mary had some long conversations into the night about this one. Not only that but Mary was a teenager, maybe 16. Could you imagine a teen mom leaving her home with a new baby away from friends and family? But, they left. They left all they knew with a young child in tow for an indeterminate amount of time to a place that “their people” had left because they were enslaved. This was not a vacation or an easy time. This was severe and painful on so many levels.
The scene in Israel was even worse. King Herod gave the order to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and younger. The pain and heartache of the parents whose children were murdered would have been beyond anything that we could imagine. The soldiers who committed the murders by simply “following orders” would have been ruined as human beings. The betrayal the people would have felt toward their own country would have been incalcuable. All of it, suffering and pain of the highest magnitude.
And they must have asked, “Why?”
For Mary and Joseph, the answer became clear quickly. Herod started murdering children. They would have been grateful for protection of Jesus. But why didn’t everyone get the warning?
For those whose sons were murdered the “why” would have probably been that King Herod is evil beyond compare. This event probably helped to grow the ranks of those who sought rebellion against Rome and the puppet Herodian government.
Nearly a hundred years later there was more perspective. Matthew saw in these moments fulfillment of ancient prophecies about the coming of the Christ. He understood these historical events in light of his ancient scriptures and that provided meaning from a distance.
When we walk through suffering and hardship we will inevitably ask, “why?” When we do, there may be some quick answers in the moment. There may be others that we don’t grasp until years or even decades down the road.
As we walk through the shadow of pain and suffering let us walk through it together. When we invite others in we will have people to just sit with us in our grief. We will also have others, who at the right time, can give us perspective on our grief. The community of people around us can help with the “why.”
I think the hardest part of the “why” question is that for most or many of us the why is not going to be answered in the moment. We must ask the question, we must not be afraid to ask the question, and we must face the question with faith and all the attendant doubts that come with faith.
As I continue to pastor, I am learning that a why that comes along with all suffering is the opportunity to open ourselves to community and relationship.
For instance, in this time of social distancing, I am seeing people connect via digital platforms in real ways and opening themselves up to new friendships and relationships. I am also seeing folks who are already in relationship with one another go deeper because all they have is communication.
When we begin to look for the why we will eventually see the beauty. It may not come as quickly as we hope but it will come. Friends, never stop searching for the “why.”