Last week we attended the monthly Childhood Cancer Connection support group at our local children’s hospital.
I think it’s funny how I feel more at home with the people in this cancer support group (that I haven’t known that long!) than with practically anyone else I know. I couldn’t tell you what each member does for a living or where they live, but I can tell you about their children. I could tell you about about two beautiful teenagers who are no longer dealing with their failing bodies and treatment side effects.
I could speak of kids and preteens and teenagers partying up a storm with heaven’s angels. I could tell you about a handsome preschool boy who’s now making funny faces with Jesus. I could tell you stories of valiant fighters, stories of kids who are taking their toxic treatments in stride, who are being strong for their devastated families, who are going to school and receiving chemotherapy at the same time. I can tell you stories of relapse, remission, and recovery.
And they know about my son Vincent. I don’t need to explain anything to them, or be afraid of sobbing, or put on a happy face, or watch my language. They have all looked death in the face and seen, if only in their imagination, life without their beloved children. They have all faced the chaos of diagnosis and unrelenting treatment. Some of us have seen our children slowly slip away. Others have witnessed wondrous steps toward recovery. No wonder we have an amazing bond.
Our Childhood Cancer Connection group feels like a little bit of heaven. It's safe. It’s a place where you don’t have to have any “right” answers, where you can vent, cry, laugh, tease, plan, eat, celebrate and remember. There is an aura of compassion and openness in the room.
Shouldn’t our churches be like this? Places where we can vent, cry, laugh, tease, plan, eat, celebrate and remember? Has our 21st century Western church become so far removed from pain and suffering that it’s hard for us to know how to treat those of us in our midst that are hurting? Our family was blessed to have individuals in our church that helped us carry our cross, and were with us every week until the end of Vincent’s life, but that’s more the exception than the norm.
We laugh and cry easily at our group meetings. We wear our emotions on our sleeve, and somehow, through the pain, we actually have fun. How can we as believers (or nonbelievers) become more in touch with our pain, and through that, to our shared joy? How can we tap into the communality of the shared sorrow of our human existence?
Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Perhaps the real problem is not that we don’t know how to tap into our shared sorrow but more that we’re unwilling to do it. We don’t want to have our hearts broken. We keep them safely guarded while we entertain ourselves with games, work, TV, food, sex, fashion, religiosity, Apple products (that’s me), and other good-yet-not-meant-to-be-ultimate things. I’ve turned off the TV countless times to avoid hearing stories of devastation around the globe. Why? Because I didn't want to feel anything, and I knew if I watched it I would feel pain. So I simply closed my ears and chose another activity.
So I don’t blame you if you don’t want to cry with me or with someone else close to you who is suffering. Perhaps you can’t. Perhaps you’re afraid that if your heart breaks your life will be ruined. And it might.
But maybe if you’re willing to lose your life, you’ll find it handed to you instead. Maybe, if you sow in tears you’ll reap in joy. Maybe you will even weep all night.
But when the morning dawns, so will joy.