Uses For Tragedy
There are a few things in this world that I hate more than church shopping. Truth be told I think I would rather be hung upside down on my toenails than work for a place of worship. Sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of church can often be one of the most excruciating things about being disabled, particularly since everyone wants to lay hands on me in an effort to heal my disability. As a rule, the more traditional the church and the older the church, the more this embarrassing behavior occurs until eventually I feel sorry for the want to be faith healers that their God is so small that he can only work amongst able bodied people.
So when I felt the need to find a church in London I made a deal with God. I prefer to be known as one of Gods more petulant children and I informed him that I would visit one church. God had one shot to impress me with a congregation of church folk to keep me committed to going back every Sunday. If he couldn’t, I wasn’t going back and I would give up going to church for another three years.
When I first lay eyes on the pastor of my now adopted congregation, I was leery to say the least. His button up cardigan, sandy brown hair, and confident smile immediately made me think of past members of congregations who tried to encourage me when I needed not encouragement, thereby providing discouragement or attempted to put God in their own image. I was not repulsed, so I promised that I would come back a second time. By the following Sunday, I did just that and was alarmed when I discovered, without requesting it from anyone, a ramp laid down to cover the single step it took to get into the church building. They saw that a member of their congregation would be helped by providing wheelchair access and unassumingly they immediately did just that. It was the first time a church had ever done such a thing for me.
A few Sundays later the pastor told a sermon which heavily featured his mother who had died a number of years before from motor neuron disease, otherwise known in America as ALS. In the sermon he talked about being a young man and fighting off faith healers with a broomstick to get them to leave his mother alone. For him, the disease was not necessarily something to be healed as it was something that could provide a better understanding to who God is and what life is all about.
To say that something good would come out of something tragic is at best a cliché. Whenever I’m feeling depressed and someone said that God will change my pain into something that would glorify him, I honestly want nothing more than to punch that individual in the face. Sufferers sometimes can’t hear about the great joys which can inevitably come from suffering, nor should that be forced upon them during a time of mourning. When one has just experienced tragedy, it tests first of all an individual’s patience. We feel that we will be sad forever; that life will never move on and we will be forever stuck in mourning. I am sure there were many hours of desperation my pastor felt while watching his mother slip away from him. Being faced with suffering of course, begs us to question things about God and life which we would be more comfortable ignoring.
To say that it was because of his suffering mother that I decided to join my church and become an active member of it would be a underestimate of the rest of the congregation. Truth is, I was attracted to the church not for the charisma of the pastor, but because during my times o visiting no one had attempted to heal me. This proved that the congregation understood that life shouldn’t be simple and rather the value of life is much deeper than our shallow limitations of what it ought to be or ought to look like.
There is something immensely comforting and wonderful about experiencing healing from a person who has once been wounded himself. It means not only do they have a genuine desire to see a condition improve, but that they have also been through the darkest night and know when it is appropriate to cheer you up and when it is more appropriate to just hold you while you are suffering because there is little else that can be done with any amount of sincerity.
“The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.”
—Edward Shillito in the poem “Jesus of the Scars”
Having someone who has suffered as a confidant and friend as well as a leader means that he knows about the difficult questions which inevitably pop up when one is miserable. With the answers he provides I know that he isn’t simply faking a positive response that the problem will go away on it’s own. When he was a young man, his mother said to me when some able body woman he grew up with and declined into what that was completely dependent on anyone for anything. Having a spiritual leader who knows the way such a life is in the frustration that comes from it, who knows pain and suffering as well as death and joy which are brought out from situations that one would prefer to avoid mean that there is a level of genuineness in the help he offers to give. It also means that he fully knows that this world is not how any of us would like to live it. However, he will tell me whenever I am in the middle of such frustrations due to my own disability now that the pain I feel is just for the time being.