Discovering the Mystery of God in Pain & Suffering
As a chaplain, I have had countless conversations, heard many stories of pain and suffering, and watched as family and friends struggled with finding God in some hard situations. These experiences started me on a journey to discover where I am in the turbulent waters of pain, suffering and loss. When grief takes over, the loss can be so all-encompassing that life’s spark is all but gone. We struggle to try to make sense of it all. Terese Rando described this period of grief as a "time of angry sadness," when we experience what craziness is like because our whole world is being re-configured.
I have noticed that there is one concern that surfaces quite often, regardless of whether it is voiced out loud: "Where is God in all of this?" Some try to offer answers quickly, but those answers may not be sufficient for us. It is hard to live in the mystery of God because we have to deal with questions like: Is God only what our theologies say God can be? Can God only work like we think God should act?
As I sat holding the hand of a dying patient who was unable to respond, I experienced a sense of the Divine unlike I have anywhere else. It was a sacred space. I believe the patient felt it too. So, although you have to discover for yourself where God is, I can only offer what I have experienced. When you are grieving, the Divine is with you, closer and more intensely than ever.
On my journey to discover the mystery of God in suffering and loss, I found a copy of some words from William Sloan Coffin, pastor of Riverside Church in New York City in 1982. His words regarding the loss of his 21-year-old son, who drove off a bridge into Boston Harbor and drowned, speak most profoundly of my experience thus far. Around the time of his son’s funeral, he said, "I don’t think that it was the will of God that Alex was drinking and driving too fast in a storm, no more than it is God’s will that people suffer and die from terminal illnesses." Pastor Coffin said of God in his grief, "My consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex died, but that when the waves closed in over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all hearts to break."
There is a lot of suffering and loss in the world, but I truly believe that the Divine is there. It is my role as a person of faith to be with the pain and suffering of others, as a witness to the presence of God. That is what I get to do, as a chaplain, almost every day. Thanks be to God!
But your journey of grief is yours, and you must make your way through it the best you can. One way God provides is through those who will listen patiently and walk with you gently, just as God is doing, allowing you to experience your true feelings and to journey through your hurt feelings and beyond. You may need to reach out to those who can soothe, listen patiently and assist you in moving to helpful places. Most of all, be patient with yourself, because that is what God is doing — waiting with you right where you are, when you are numb, grieving, fragile, coping, and out of sync with all you believed before.
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." —Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
—Beverly Hatcher, Chaplain (Mount Airy Office)
Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today at 336-789-2922 (toll-free 1-888-789-2922).
Tags: Grief Support