This morning, after reading aloud with Emma from Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, by Nouwen, McNeill and Morrison, I was brought to a place of deep gratitude for the suffering specifically from my childhood.
Throughout my life I have received the same response when people find out I lost my 12-year old sister to cancer when I was 8; “I’m sorry” or a variation of that sentiment. Every time. The older I get the more difficult it is for me to know how to respond to this empathy because the older I get the more clearly I see the link between my childhood suffering and the relationship I have with Jesus today.
Today I entered back into the hoplessness and fear of my 8, 9, 10, 11 year old whose entire life was shattered and hanging by threads. Those years (yes, years) were deeply formative to the person I am today. As I revisited that place of isolation and confusion, I was overwhelmed by the memory of the presence of God in my young life. Was it because everyone around me was talking about God that I clung to Him? Was it because He really was speaking to me and drawing my young heart to rest in Him? Was it because children seem to sense God more clearly than adults? I don’t know, but I do know that those years were not experienced alone. God WAS with me.
God was with me in the corners of my room as I wept. God was with me in the elementary school bathroom as I hid from reality consumed with hopeless fear. God was with me as I listened to Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men sing “One Sweet Day”, or James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” over and over and over, grieving the senseless loss of my big sister. God was with me.
Sometimes I long for those days of dependence on Jesus’ very presence to help me breathe.
Today as Emma and I prayed, I asked God to allow us to be catalysts for people to re-encounter Immanuel: God With Us. When you live among men and women who have been raised in poverty, abuse, social isolation and rejection, there is no question they have encountered God. I did not move here to bring God. I moved here to help a community of grown up children re-encounter the God who was with them and is still with them.
Along the way, some of them have actually done this for me. Not every poor person I know is hopeless and dejected. Many have a depth of spirituality that I admire and long for in my own life. This is the foundation of the transformational community I think God designed for us; that we constantly remind each other of Immanuel: God With Us.
“We know too well what it means when cures are performed without compassion. We have seen men and women who can walk again, see again, speak again, but whose hearts remain dark and bitter. We know too well that cures not born out of care are false cures leading not to light but to darkness. Let us not fool ourselves with a shortcut to new life. The many cures by Jesus recorded in the Gospels can never be separated from his being with us.”