I woke up Monday morning, October 2, 2017 in my sister’s recliner, which my nephews had moved into my house so I could sleep after my mastectomy. I couldn’t use my left arm or stomach muscles to move and could not lie down in a bed. The pain was intense, but the mental battles were even worse. The surgeon had found cancer in my lymph node, but he was not the one to form my treatment plan. Other than saying, “There is cancer in your lymph node,” he provided no further information.
Did this mean chemotherapy? What stage cancer did I have? What was my life expectancy? He could answer none of these questions, and my appointment with the oncologist was scheduled for weeks after my surgery. My body had to heal from surgery before they could start any treatment plan, but my mind couldn’t begin to heal until it first knew what it was facing. Those days were tortuous.
That morning, I turned on The Today Show as I often do. I was immediately punched in the gut with the news that a shooter in Las Vegas had gunned down fifty-eight innocent concert goers overnight. As detail after detail emerged, I felt myself pulled deeper and deeper into despair. But I also felt a surprising solidarity.
My body wasn’t the only broken thing in this world.
There is no joy in such solidarity, but there is help. We never rejoice that someone else is suffering as much as we are. Yet, I found the suffering in Las Vegas gave perspective to the suffering I experienced in my recliner, and the suffering I experienced in my head.
The pain in my body wasn’t unique. Neither was the pain in my mind. Though the suffering in Las Vegas differed from the suffering in my own body, I found solidarity with the folks crying on the screen, processing their newfound circumstances—their shock, their fear, and, in the morning after, their new normal. We cried together. We mourned together. We tried to understand why together. We figured out our new normal together.
Today’s pain, three years later, is much different. Yet today’s pain is all too familiar. I venture out to have a biopsy on a new lump in my breast (it wasn’t cancerous, for which I thank the Lord). I stand in a waiting area full of people in masks, many bald from months of chemo, watching news of anguished protests in areas already in crisis from Covid-19. There is so much pain in the world.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.” Romans 8:22
The interesting thing in Romans 8:22 is that the single Greek word for groaning means groaning together. There is something about solidarity in suffering that is actually hopeful and freeing. We all ache. We all hurt. We all lament. We all mourn.
I haven’t yet had a close family member on a ventilator, fighting for their life against Covid-19. But I have sat by a loved one in the ICU, watching him struggle to breath after his lung was punctured. I feel the weight of grief as family members can’t be with their loved ones as they die and nurses are run ragged trying to be both medical professionals and personal support.
I haven’t experienced my son or daughter being murdered at the hands of police, but I recognize the agony in the faces of the moms and aunts and sisters that I see on TV. The source for our depth of grief is different, but the agony it causes us to feel is similar. We lament together. This is not right. This is not what God created us to be. This is not how he created the world to work.
I was struck by the sounds of “Amazing Grace” at George Floyd’s memorial service through my television speakers—“how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” At my worst moments in the hospital, I would sing to myself “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him!
How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust him more!
This has been my prayer again and again. Oh for grace to trust him more.
As the sounds of lament, hope, and even praise of God at George Floyd’s service wafted into my living room, I felt solidarity. Grace to trust God more. Grace to believe this is not what he intended, and he is at work to save the world. Grace to believe there is a better day coming. Grace to believe that our groans will end in glory.
Covid-19, acts of violence against innocent Black people, cancer, broken relationships, political unrest—all the pain in the world morphs in my head into one giant ball of suffering. But our hope in each morphs as well. May the unified nature of the pain we see in the world help us bear with those who are suffering in different ways than us and help us set our minds on a hope bigger than our own individual circumstances. Most of all, may the unified nature of our pain and subsequent hope fuel us to get up and do the next right thing. I have hope for myself, but I also have hope for the world. The same power that rose Christ from the grave raises us up too.
“For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; he will guide them to springs of the waters of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17
Cover image by Niel Thomas.