During morning prayer today we considered the darkness in which we all live a good part of the time, but rarely talk honestly about. So many of the things privileged people think they know do not hold up over time. We felt we knew so much for one thing! And we imagined that somehow we might be the ones to “get it right,” to live in such a way that we would be spared some of the suffering we see in others. What bittersweet knowledge we gain over time – that life is actually full of suffering, that no one “deserves” it, that no one escapes it. I came across this quote from Mark Vonnegut (son of author Kurt Vonnegut) during a particularly dark time in my own life and clung to its wisdom and hope:
“We are here to help each other through it, whatever it is.”
As much as we may rail against it, life is sometimes very hard. We all will feel the rug pulled out from under us at some point – when the life we thought was solid suddenly melts away and we find ourselves grappling with a new reality. Recognizing that it is like that for us all can bring a strange comfort; we are not alone. And we are at the same time empowered to help someone else feel less lonely in their suffering.
Several of my friends are about to spend their first Christmas without a loved one – a son who died of cancer after many years fighting it every way he could; the old college friend who was always there and is suddenly gone; the co-worker with the gift of listening to whom so many of us shared our troubles, and who died alone near Thanksgiving. This time of year is often so hard on people who are suffering. Grief and loss stand out in sharp contrast during a season of supposed “joy.”
This darkness we experience comes and goes in our lives. The season of Advent promises a Creator who suffers with us, who made the world ultimately “good.” We can “help each other through it,” even as we struggle to see the light ourselves.
In our secret yearnings
we wait for your coming,
and in our grinding despair
we doubt that you will.
And in this privileged place
we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than we do
and by those who despair more deeply than do we.
Look upon us
in this season of hope
which runs so quickly to fatigue
and in this season of yearning
which becomes so easily quarrelsome.
Give us the grace and the impatience.
to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,
to the edge of our fingertips.
We do not want our several worlds to end.
Come in your power
and come in your weakness
in any case
make all things new.
– prayer from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth – Prayers by Walter Brueggemann