I remember waking in the middle of the night many years ago, sobbing. In my dream, our Lisa had died. I don't know how she died, I only knew that in the dream, she was dead and I was inconsolable.
Once I was fully awake, the sobbing stopped, but the tears continued to flow as the fragments of the dream remained. I've never forgotten that pain and whenever I remember that night, I am filled with dread to think one day, that nightmare could come true. Because life has proven that sometimes dreams, even nightmares, do come true.
For all of our laughter, our dancing, our songs and our joys, this is a hard, cold, dark world, with dangers in every corner. Dangers against which there is no reasonable defense.
When tragedy comes, however, it seems it's easy to assign blame. In fact, we're very good at it. We don our heavy black robes and intone, "If only ... then ..." Usually, we don't have a single clue what we're talking about. We haven't lived anyone's life but our own, but that doesn't stop the Monday morning quarterback from grabbing the bullhorn and proclaiming for all the world to hear, "If only ... then ..."
It's a matter of self-preservation. Not only of life, but of our own little worlds. If we can come up with a rational explanation as to why something tragic has happened to someone else, we can guard against it in our own little corner of the world.
"They shouldn't have ..." or "should have ..."
This argument falls apart if they didn't ... or did ... and our response is to dig deeper. There must be some cause and effect that we can define, thereby discovering a painless path to trod, where tragedy never strikes.
It's a hard truth, but it is truth nonetheless. Tragedy comes. Suffering comes. Trial and tribulations wait for every man. There is no need to seek it out nor is there any need to self-impose some measure of penance to prove one's willingness to suffer, even for the cause of Christ.
Certainly, some suffering is self-imposed in that it is a direct consequence of choices made. Punching the big guy in the corner of bar "just because" could certainly result in the suffering brought about by a broken nose. And anytime anyone is put behind bars, for a day, a week, months, years or even the rest of their lives, they suffer the loss of freedom, usually because of choices they made: to rob, to rape, to murder ... However, if wrongfully convicted, the innocent suffers as a consequence of an over-worked or inept attorney or perhaps at the hands of an over-zealous prosecutor, putting another notch in his six-shooter. Certainly a suffering not of his own making.
A recent story on TV about an armed robbery revealed that the robber was apologetic to the clerk he robbed, explaining that he had to do something to "feed his children."
At last report, he has been arrested. If convicted, he's going to have to trust someone else to feed his children, providing he even has children, while he serves time in prison for armed robbery. So, he won't be the only one to suffer the consequences of his actions. Certainly his children didn't do anything to earn this tribulation, but they will have to find a way to endure it. No if ... then choices for them. Suffering has come to them through no fault of their own.
Trials and tribulations are common to every man. The question of suffering is not "if" it is merely a question of "when." Because nightmares sometimes do come true.
Which raises the question, when it comes, whether to ourselves or to someone we love, how do we deal with it? Especially in the family of faith?
Certainly, there is no comfort found in accusation. Those who are suffering as a result of their own choices are probably pretty cognizant of their personal contribution to their current circumstance and are undoubtedly doing a bang-up job of accusing themselves already. There is no need to add our voice to that chorus, nor to the voice of the "accuser of the brethren."
Every situation is unique, because every person is a unique individual whose life path is truly known only to themselves and to God. So, we come to the sufferer rendering what comfort we can with our presence and with our prayers. Not with accusations and not with empty platitudes, because there is little comfort found in the phrase, "It must be God's will," unless and until the one suffering can see God's will and trust it. (In fact, that particular phrase may cause even more suffering and certain damage to an already wounded soul. At least it did many years ago when far too many well-meaning people offered that phrase as comfort to a 12-year-old whose father had just died.)
But more than anything else, the family of believers should first and foremost be known as those through whom no suffering comes. We are not to be the accusers. We are not to be the abusers, the adulterers, the liars, the thieves, the ones who betray or strike out to wound, whether with weapons or with words. Yes, suffering and trials come to every man. But they do not have to come by our hands.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another ... Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:15, 17, 18 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.