Friday, April 3, 2015

The Unanswered Cry: Understanding Suffering

He walks like a little old man; a limp in his gait and a hitch of his pants. He smiles with no front teeth and looks through me. His eyes beautiful with pain.

He is only five.

His mother is gone. Words like abandoned and abused swirl around him.

He came to our school with confidence and swagger. He sat down in a group of suspicious, newly met children as if they were not there and listened to story time with curiosity and delight.

He liked us.

Unbelievably, he wanted to return to this unknown place with these unknown teachers and children. He was excited to join us. We were captivated by his precocious comments. He was to be mine for five hours a day, five days a week. Mine to watch over and instruct.
I was to be his teacher; he was to be my student.

I learned quickly that he loved the songs, stories, paints, playdo, and learning of preschool. But he did not like change. Do not move his seat. Do not switch the routine. Do not take his favorite car, dress-up uniform, book, or stuffed animal. He does not share. And he does not transition until he is good and ready.

And Oh… the meltdowns.

“This is RE-DIC-A-LIS!” He would scream.
“Miz Cath-room, You’re not the boss of me!”
“I will MAKE you let me”

Sometimes the firestorms would end in him being talked off the ledge by me, in my best calm low teacher voice saying, “Buddy… in our classroom we share with our friends…Sweetie, we must clean up the markers so we can have story time… We don’t talk to teachers like that… 
I am here to keep you safe, buddy…
You are going to be ok.”

Sometimes his screaming was too much for the other children to take and he had to leave our classroom to be comforted and confronted by another teacher. But he always came back repentant, “Miz Cathroom Im sorry I yelled at you"

"I love you Miz Cathroom”

He was always forgiven. Before he even asked.

Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of that broken part he usually kept hidden behind rage and indignation.

It had been a tough day and honestly a difficult week for little man. He was angry. Angry in a deep, deep place in his heart. He clutched at control like a drowning man. He argued with me over everything and became angry with himself at each simple mistake he made.

“Oh, NO! I messed up the ‘S’ again!” he yelled as he struggled to write his name.
“Well, Buddy we can start over…”
“NO, We CAN’T! It’s RUINED!” and sobs of frustration ensued.

After a devastating meltdown as we were leaving the gym, (he was admonished for pushing a friend out of line in anger) we came back to class to eat lunch.

Lunch always took him longer because of his lack of teeth. As he finished up, a child brought out a ball and he was drawn to it like a magnet.

He loves balls and sports with a passion. It almost hurts me to help him put his custom made braces on each ankle. I think it’s the footballs and baseballs and basketballs that decorate the braces that tug at my heart strings most. Almost mocking his love of sports as they try to wrench his twisted legs straight.

So he got up from the table to chase after that ball. Another child jockeyed for a chance to grab it and as they collided, he fell.

He falls often, what with the braces and all, but this time it really hurt.

I went to him quickly. I tried to assess his hurts.
“What happened, buddy? Where does it hurt? Can you show me?”

I looked into his face, wretched with pain. No answer, only screams.

I knew he needed to be held. Just held. As I wrapped him in my arms and drew his head to my shoulder his crying cranked up, louder and louder. I began to simply stroke his head and croon, “It’s going to be ok, buddy. It’s going to be alright.”

That’s when it happened.

His crying turned from temper and tempest. He began to cry from a new place; a place buried way down deep. It changed from a cry caused by a bump on the head into a wail that called forth the pain that had laid itself down within his soul.

 Everything in me stopped as I knew this wasn’t tantrum, this was suffering.

 I heard the whisper of the sweet Spirit of God in my ear,
This is the cry of the infant. This is the cry that always went unanswered”

Tears clouded my sight as I pulled him closer and rocked my body with the ancient mother’s rock. I wanted with my whole everything to heal his wounds with that embrace. I felt so much frustration at the injustice that puts that kind of pain and misery inside such a tiny heart. In the presence of such grief I could only respond with a hug?...A caress?...A kiss on the head? I felt so impotent in the face of such unveiled emotion.

 I said with doubt and conviction,
“It’s going to be alright.”

Slowly his body relaxed and his head fell, heavy on my heart. His sobs slowed and his breathing began to smooth out.

I pulled him from my arms to look into his eyes. Tear soaked, he nodded his head with strength that I could not understand, and stood up and said,

“Im ok now.”

Oh, sweet brave boy I want that for you with all my heart. Be ok.

If I did not understand the grace that grows from suffering; if I did not know in my inmost heart that God’s redemption lives and flourishes within pain, I don’t think I could bear seeing this child’s struggle.

Pain can be redeemed. 
Even pain inflicted on the most undeserving innocent soul.

There is a mystery that Christians don’t talk about. We know we can’t understand everything God knows and gives us. We do know we have unmerited grace that forgives everything. We do know we have joy that supersedes our circumstances. We do know we have wisdom that could never be contained in a classroom or a book. But the mystery that haunts us is the mystery of suffering. 
Why in God’s name do the innocent suffer? Why does injustice seem to prevail?

Paul tries to unravel this idea when he wrote to the Philippians. He saw the way the power of resurrection was inextricably wound around suffering. He saw that resurrection is not only for the end of life but also the beginning and middle.

He writes,  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” Philippians 3:10

I want.
I strive and long for power, he writes.
Don’t we all?

Especially this power he refers to: the power of resurrection. The power to rise up, to rise up from death and to live eternally with the Lord. Paul implies even more meaning than we can understand in English to the word resurrection. He doesn't simply write resurrection with this meaning: Anastasis from ana = up, again + histemi = to cause to stand. Instead he writes  ξανάστασις  ex-anastasis  or “out-rising- up”. And that little bit changes everything.
The way I see it Paul is reaching for more than the assurance that his body will someday rise up to meet God but that he will know now the rising up… the coming out… of resurrection. The moving out of sin life and the agony it is to continue to live in it. It is a chance to live out for Christ in wholeness and peace from today until I am in a resident of Heaven.

But how can one attain that power?

Through suffering.

I know no one likes to think like that but I didn’t write it first.

Paul did. Jesus did. God did.

The mystery that is suffering can release such power in a life for good or devastation. It can wrench the joy and compassion completely away from a life bowed down by pain or it can hold that drowning soul aloft like a life boat. A life yielded to God’s will, and obedient to suffering will attain resurrection, escape from death into life.

I am not glorifying suffering or saying you should, like The Scarlet Letter’s  Rev.Dimmesdale, create or sustain suffering in order to be closer to God. I am only trying to crack open God’s Word and gain some understanding into that cry of desolation and loss I heard from that sweet child’s mouth.

What I glean from this passage is that Paul himself struggled with this. His vulnerable “somehow” leaves the door open for us to see his very human like desire to be free of pain and his very sacred cry to be more like Christ.

 It is a fathomable and intangible mystery.

It is like this: it's through refining that rough materials are brought to their purest state. It is through desolate wild fires that new life is brought to the wilderness.  The problem is that we run from pain and we rebuke disease and distress and discontent. We aren't willing to lay ourselves down in suffering as Christ did. We distance ourselves from pain and grief. It is uncomfortable to think about babies being abandoned, abused, and calculatingly debased over and over. We like to throw money at words like orphans, genocide, sex slave trade, foster children, and addicts.

Suffering won’t be your sacrament unless it is lived and touched and felt.

But we cant live it. It isn’t Christian to suffer.

We have this unspoken code as Christians: we won’t say that we are judging you if your life is suddenly in chaos… but we wonder if somehow… maybe… you deserve it. We view suffering as ungodly and just. We have compassion on your pain but we tremble a little as we wonder if our sins will find us out too.

I have come to the conclusion that I welcome whatever God may bring to me. After some very great pain in my own life I have come to call for that Out- Resurrection with all my heart. I long for not only His unspeakable joy but also His sufferings. I want to not only see the pain of a street kid but touch her hand and walk beside her as she finds God’s grace. I want to lean in and smell the decay of cancer and hold that soul through the valley of the shadow. 

I want to daily reassure a five year old boy that he is loved and wanted and heard, no matter how much he screams.

Because I want to suffer?  Because I want pain?

No, I cower away from it just like you do. But I do want know Him and the power of His resurrection. To be more like Him. And I know I can trust Him with my everything.

I long for more Jesus every day.

Really, what more is there?