Keeping up with the Advent theme using the Carmelite nun’s approach (that I heard about from Sarah Bessey), this week’s value is Acceptance.
I have never been a fan of the odd years, and 2019 was no exception. I felt surrounded by a lot of suffering this year, which partly drove me to start writing this blog. I needed a place to process everything going on, both in my personal life and in the world around me.
As I’ve witnessed the suffering of my family, friends, and community at large this year, I’ve wondered about the best way to handle it. How can we deal with suffering in a healthy way? Because it is here and it isn’t going anywhere. People like to think that “the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket” in every era. Every generation thinks the next generation is messed up and broken (how easy to point out the flaws of others), when realistically, the world has been messed up since day two. The world used to be a much more violent, tribal, cruel place than it is today. Supposedly, we are living in the safest time Earth has ever seen ( https://www.ijpr.org/post/world-actually-safer-ever-and-heres-data-prove#stream/0 ), but it certainly doesn’t feel like that when you watch the news and see the 385+ reports of mass shootings in America from this year alone.
Suffering is all around us, whether in society at large or within our own, personal lives. Poor health, broken relationships, loss of jobs, death of loved ones, chronic pain. So how do we deal with it?
One thing that has been helpful for me is a kind of acceptance. Instead of thinking “woe is me” and wondering why bad things happen to good people, it has been freeing for me to realize that suffering is simply here. It is woven into the fabric of the earth, and wishing it away won’t do any good. Bad things happen to good and bad people, as do good things. An attitude of acceptance at least gets me off the hook of wondering “why me” or trying to analyze what went wrong. Suffering simply is, and it’s here to stay.
This is not to say that I won’t try to improve my lot or work for the betterment of society. I am appalled at some of the very present evils I see. I won’t be the one to cure cancer or kill white supremacy once and for all, but I can do my small part. I can use my awareness of societal ills (racism, income inequality, misogyny, environmental threats etc ) and try to educate others, to speak up to my representatives, and vote my concerns into office. I can use my daily life to honor the dignity of each human life I meet, whether that’s my neighbors, my patients, or the homeless person on the street corner. I can raise my kids to be activists and allies and to stand up for the rights of others.
Acceptance can feel like a passive, weak reaction. To see a problem and sit down and take it. When really, I think acceptance is actually setting us up for a strong, healthy response and reaction. When we’re not distracted with our misery and wallowing in the “why me” suffering loop, when we’ve accepted that something tragic has happened to us simply because that is life, then we are free to move toward health. We are free to take a big picture approach and see our whole life as full of both joy and suffering. Acceptance lets us sit in our grief, acknowlege it in a healthy way, process it all the way through, and then move on again.
In the Advent story, Mary is held up to showcase this value of Acceptance, as she humbly accepted her calling to be the Mother of the Son of God. This was a bold, brave, radical act. She was knowingly taking on the derision of others, the vicious gossip (not even married but pregnant?), the scorn of her community, the unimaginable weight of being an actual mother to a human baby that is God incarnate?? Mary was likely around 13 years old when she was engaged to be married (the norm for that time and culture). I CANNOT EVEN fathom being mature enough to handle motherhood, let alone of this special variety, at that age. Yet she accepted her calling and rose to the occasion, and stood by her son until his death, probably the most difficult torture any parent could face. Mary accepted that her life was not going to be normal or easy, and she tackled it head on.
We can all take comfort from Mary’s words as she rejoiced in God joining humanity as one of us:
“His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.”
God is on the side of the oppressed, the powerless, the hungry and the poor. God cares about people who are suffering. God cares about the victims of tyrants, about the girls in sex-trafficking, about the immigrants in cages at our border, about the victims of income inequality who are worried about their next meal. God cares about families affected by the Muslim ban, the transgender ban, the discriminated against, about cultural minority groups who are profiled and whose stories go unnoticed. God’s mercy flows in wave after wave, which is good news to us all.
Accept that suffering is very much here. It is a piece of this world as it is, this side of the Kingdom of God. And take comfort knowing that God came to be with us, and is working through us to bring God’s Kingdom, “where the last shall be first and the first last,” here to Earth.