Anguish has been poignantly felt this week around the world. Paris. Beirut. Egypt. Syria. I can only imagine the depth of sorrow people close to the pain must feel. Yet many of us have felt a kind of all-consuming anguish at some point in our lives. Even today, here in Chestermere, there are those who feel like the bottom of their lives have fallen out. Maybe they have been winded by their painful experiences feel that they can’t catch their breath. Death, divorce, job loss, school yard bullies, flooding or bankruptcy. Some pain feels impossible to bear.
As people who care deeply about our neighbourhoods, we soon come to discover the corners of our city where people are hurting. Whether they mourn with another, or face deep pain themselves, the anguish we face is real. There’s a myth that exists in our culture that says that we should not experience pain, sorrow, or anguish. It says that we should, as quickly as possible, deal with our sadness. So we come up with ways of dismissing it, hiding it, or covering it up.
Nearly a decade ago I went through a very traumatic, painful, and de-humanizing experience. In the midst of my hurt I wanted nothing better than to get rid of the pain. I wanted to run away from it with everything in me. As friend of mine who quietly sat with me during my darkest times said something profound. He said that I should not run from my anguish, but that I should step into it. He said that it’s in the depths of our sorrow that we find the depths of God’s loving presence. During that time I read this portion of the Bible, Psalm 34, that says, “Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” I read that section over and over again. In time I found that Psalm 34 rang true; I found that God was right there helping me to breathe again. Today I live with the sense that God’s presence goes deeper than my deepest hurt and God’s love reaches further still.
My two year old daughter is an explorer extraordinaire. She is climbing couches, leaping off steps, and running under tables. When she finally falls down or smacks her head on something (which is common, these days), there’s a moment of breathlessness. It’s a silent few seconds – Five. Four. Three. Two. One. – before the wailing begins. As a dad, I have one task: to hold her close and help her catch her tearful first few breaths.
During times of anguish glib answers or easy fixes won’t do. When a neighbour faces loss there is little we can say. A book about suffering or a Hallmark card feels trite in the face of this kind of pain. Here is the good news. It’s in those times where words fail us that we can still step courageously forward. We can be the kind of people who can be close to those who are facing pain. We are invited to reflect God’s love to a world that is “kicked in the gut” and we can be there to help others catch their breath.
The pain in our world is real. Will we be the people of peace who step courageously into anguish and pain? Will we help others catch their breath? The compassion we show to our neighbours and to a hurting world may seem small in the moment, but our care reflects the beautiful and life-changing grace that God has shown to each of us. We can breathe again.