Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Being a Knucklehead

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

I read once that human nature needs suffering to make it useful. “Clever,” I thought right before I sent the book sailing across the room. I’ve done that a few times—thrown a book while in a pique. It’s becoming a bad habit; plays havoc with the pages.

But today I’m inclined to agree with that unremembered author whom I sent sailing across my living room a year or so ago. I remain astounded at the heartlessness of those of us who claim to care about the suffering of others but are not the least embarrassed or uncomfortable in offering an unsolicited opinion that will tell one friend exactly why her child was born with Down’s Syndrome, another exactly why he has Cancer, and yet another exactly why their spouse was unfaithful.

I meet regularly with others who, like myself, have stage 4 cancer. We have all seen the books, TV programs and magazine articles that declare

Eat this

Don’t eat this

Do this

Don’t do this

and troubles will wonderfully disappear or, worse, would never have occurred in the first place. Most everyone seems to have an opinion on the how and why and what of disease and afflictions and heartache, particularly that which happens to someone else.

If I listened to all who would advise me regarding my cancer, I would be a chicken and fish eating vegetarian crushing apricot seeds in a dry climate for my seaweed-animal protein drink, cross-training in a moist climate for hours in order to power nap because of mercury poisoning and sad beyond measure because it’s all my fault in the first place.

But all of that is just confusing media overload and I can work through it. The deeper frustration and the hurt comes when it gets personal—when an opinionated knucklehead, sometimes dressed in friendship garb, will lay an impossible guilt at one’s feet with an arrogance that demonstrates their belief that whatever-it-is that has happened to you wouldn’t happen to them in a billion trillion years.

“Spare no mercy,” I say. Hire all neighborhood kids to doorbell-ditch said knucklehead’s house, lure all dogs and cats to visit said knucklehead’s gardens, contact all politicians hinting that said knucklehead might donate to their campaign if asked - by phone and at dinner time.

“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.” C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

And there, at least in part, might be an explanation for our arrogant behaviors. Our self-will, our grand ego, particularly in those of us who have not yet suffered, assumes that we somehow or other have high ground which compels the right to speak uninvited into the pain of another. Read Job.

So I must agree with that formerly irritating reminder, “human nature needs suffering to make it useful.” Perhaps we have all been knuckleheads at one time or another - probably me more than anyone. But I will confess, I will bear witness to the truth that my own suffering has been useful as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity of my soul, crosses hairs with Me, Myself and I, the preferred trinity of my will. Mercifully, suffering has humbled me.

While there will always be much work to do in the ongoing course of humility learning, I have no delusions regarding my place under the sun as Lewis’ “all not being right with my spirit” has taught me to not think higher of myself than others. Suffering has served to help me want more of God and less of myself while thinking less of myself and more of others.

For the remaining time that I still have most of my marbles and my proverbial elevator still goes all the way to the top, may it be deeply embedded in my heart to never approach another in pain without invitation and humility. May I remember James’ excellent admonition that we be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19)

And now that I’m thinking of the rest of that verse “...and slow to anger,” I best take a short walk and make long confessions of my own.