Suffering and thankfulness? It’s how we’re all connected

By William

Why do bad things happen to good people? It is one of the most written about problems in religious writing. I can’t answer for you, I can only answer for me. But I can tell you how I answer this question for myself.

I have suffered a great deal over the 29 years I have lived with Bipolar Depression I. At times, I have lost more than many people have ever had in their lives. And I am not a saint; not by a very long-shot. Yet I try to help people in thoughtful ways, when I can. At times, I have been called an angel. There have been a couple of occasions when I think people may have believed this in a literal way. At times, I can be a bit of an enigma to people, which may have added some mystery to the events. Partially, I think it is because my particular religious beliefs don’t fit in any box that people construct. As well they shouldn’t. That’s reality, I believe. God “Himself,” who is the pure love at the center of my belief, doesn’t fit in any religious box either. Even we humans don’t fit into neat little boxes. If God did, I think He (or She or It) would have to be smaller than man to be contained by man’s religious thinking.

Yet, I often feel as if I have nothing at all to show for helping. When do I just get a single break? For me? I answer this with the following: we are not in Eden or the Kingdom of God that the scriptures suggest will come here to Earth. Yet, Jesus said the Kingdom is not here or there, it is in our midst, here, now. How do I read this? Both are right, I believe. It is here among us but it takes us opening our eyes to it.

How do I open my eyes to the Kingdom of God among us? It’s not here or there, but yet it is in our midst, right? How can this be? It is very hard to see. The darkness just seems to get deeper and deeper these days. I find the Kingdom here in glimpses from time to time when I reach out, take the risk (and sometimes it is very risky,) and help another human being (or animal or any living thing, really) through the personal connection I forge with them. It provides, in return, thankfulness given to me. Sometimes it doesn’t happen immediately. Sometimes the thankfulness comes through another source. Sometimes, I believe, it comes through a coincidence that I must have the eyes to see. But even that thanks from the universe can bolster me. It carries me on. It doesn’t always work out. God tells me He’s sorry about that and for all I’ve been through. And it’s no cheap apology: He suffers as I suffer. I believe He suffers right alongside me, because He is intimately vested in how things turn out for me. But He is not a controlling God: what He would do that is good, for me, may be detrimental to others. He, through restraint, must let the story unfold. And often I suffer very deeply. Sometimes hitting the bottom is excruciatingly hard…and then that bottom falls out. 

But my suffering has granted me a gift of deep empathy for those I see suffering around me. And He suffers as those people I help suffer. Just as I have. And in my own suffering lies my personal connection with them. I believe the concept in scripture that says we are made in His likeness, so I think He does suffer at our suffering, very deeply. Just as we, made in His image, suffer and therefore can connect with some understanding when those around us are suffering. God helps me to help others, and in doing so, to help myself. Only in cultivating within myself a posture of thankfulness born in the trenches, can I still see the gifts so lavishly given to me. And as the darkness gets deeper, we can shine, at times, all the more brilliantly (and almost strangely) more easily.  

I believe, based on my reading and experience in the Judeo-Christian religions I borrow from, that He has given it into our charge as humans to make this world into what it was meant to be. As the light grows dimmer and the trenches grow darker, so the soldiers who come to the aid of their brother and sister humans become more experienced and stronger. And they burn ever so much brighter. I believe Humankind has the seed, born in adversity, with which we can, with help, cultivate a better place. Yes, I have had a very hard life, but I see in the people around me that it could be worse. Perhaps it is my “madness” that sees the divinity behind the human arms that have pulled me from the wreckage. I refuse to believe that is madness. And I see that those same human arms can pull others out of theirs. Those arms could be my arms. Now what will I do with them?

William lives in mid-Michigan. He has a five-year-old daughter. He has written poetry for 28 years, wrote for a spiritual blog for five years, and writes for various blogs and newsletters.

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