Things were supposed to get better in 2009. After the chaos of 2008, we had such high hopes…
And now, here we are.
I don’t know about you, but things haven’t improved. If anything, things have gotten worse. The economy tanked, people are despairing to the point of self-destruction, marriages are falling apart due to stress and worry and financial woe, depression rates are soaring… the list goes on and on, and I’m intentionally only describing the happenings in our small Arkansas community. I imagine that things are very much the same around the country and in your churches.
I’ve been trying very hard to keep my spirits up, and the effort was proving mostly successful – at least it was until the “C-Bomb” dropped.
Damn, I hate cancer.
Three weeks ago, my aunt was a perfectly healthy middle-aged woman. She felt fine and her energy level was up, which is a good thing when you need to chase your 2 1/2 year-old grandson around every day. When she went in to have a cyst removed, the doctors sent it off for tests as a matter of course even though they were certain it would prove to be benign.
Three weeks after that little outpatient surgery, our lives are upside down. As it turns out, the cyst was merely the tip of a much larger iceberg. Cancer has taken up residence throughout her body – liver, lungs, pancreas, brain – and fear has taken up residence in all of our hearts. Just as the systems of the body are tied together and affected by the disease, ripples of terror have swiftly spread through the family. She is a mother, a daughter, a sister, a grandmother, an aunt… each role points to another person grieving this bitter news.
And we each grieve in our own way.
One, the classic midwestern stoic, keeps a stiff-upper lip in public and breaks down into puddles when she is alone. Another, rooted in a very particular religious background, plows forward with cheerfulness – certain that any display of grief is a sign of unfaithfulness. My cousin grieves publicly – and feels crazy because “no one else around [her] is grieving”. And here I stand in the middle, like a multifingered sign at a cartoon-crossroads, directing everyone towards the truth that we all grieve differently – AND THAT IS OKAY.
As for me, I am angry. Angry that family members have to deal with this horrible reality. Angry that we haven’t found a cure for cancer. Angry that I can’t ball up my fist and shout at the heavens because, as the minister of the family, it is my job to be that aforementioned road sign.
The good news is, its okay to be angry. Just as it is okay to cry or hide (for a while), it is okay to be mad as hell. God can take it. Sometimes, in the face of tragedy and loss, the most profound and theological thing we can manage to say is: “God, this sucks.”
Why is that profound? Because it is true. This does suck.
And why is it theological? Because it acknowledges that God knows this sucks and that God cares enough to listen to us in our anguish.
No matter what we deal with, no matter how we grieve, God knows our pain and hurts with us. The Good News of the Gospel is not that God will whip out a magic wand and fix everything with a wrist-flick and a little “presto-chango.” Instead, the good news is that when things hurt so bad that all we can do is cry, or hide, or scream, God is there with us.
Sometime this week I will probably take a moment to go outside. As the sun shines down upon my face, I will thrust my fist into the air. With all my breath, I will shriek out my theodicy:
“THIS SUCKS! OH, GOD, THIS REALLY REALLY SUCKS!”
And when I’m done – when my breath is gone, my throat is tattered, and all I can hear is the exhausted rasping of my lungs – I’ll sit down on the curb, wrap my arms around my knees like a child, and rock in time with the Holy who whispers in return:
“I know, and I am here.”