What is that we look forward to as the day begins? Is it a root canal? Nope. Having a heart to heart with a loved one about the likelihood they may have to move? Nope. Dealing with conflict between volunteers? Nope. Engaging persons who are in personal crisis, trying to help navigate them out of same crisis? Nope. I am not complaining, I signed up for this, was trained for this and find great satisfaction in this work. But do I wake up and say to myself, “Wow, I can’t wait to engage a crisis?” No, I don’t! But I also don’t have a pity party for myself, this is my vocation and in a strange way I feel called to this. But for my own spiritual and psychological well-being I need some other things on my mind as I spring from the bed in the morning.
Today my daughter will be volunteering at a foodbank. Today I will be writing a sermon. Today I will help someone find something that might lead to a better tomorrow. Today I will breathe in fresh air, walk with purpose and see trees everywhere. Today I will receive love from my wife and daughter, even my dog will show me affection. Today I will smile at someone’s good humour; a parishioner, a street person, someone on the bus or ferry, the person next to me at the coffee shop. In fact that literally just happened. As I type this blog a woman in a New Scotland hat (Joel Plaskett’s Dartmouth clothing business) just complimented me on my New Scotland hoodie. I didn’t tell her I got mine at Value Village for a fraction of what she paid at the New Scotland store around the corner from this coffee shop.
I am not suggesting that blessings are to crowd out the challenges of the day. There is a kind of denial in that kind of thinking. The human experience includes blessings AND challenges. Both require and demand our attention. To neglect either is a denial of who we are and can be. The challenges keep us humble and deepen our compassion, at least I believe that is God’s intent. Some are embittered and deadened by the experiences of hardship and given my own good life I cannot judge that outcome. I never tell someone in pain, growing increasingly cynical, is wrong to feel as they feel. Instead I listen to that pain, offer to help (perhaps they will see others helping) and try to affirm them when THEY acknowledge a blessing in their midst. In other words I don’t insert a blessing to change the subject. That is not what others need. Instead when THEY organically see or feel a blessing, even in their pain, I celebrate with them, I support their decision to see joy in the sea of sadness.
I believe the balance of these challenges have some intent, even if the intent is not specific to the person. In other words I don’t believe every terrible thing happens for a reason. But I do believe that the possibility of pain and the fragility of life carries with it a possible purpose of compassion. I think that humans carry inside them the possibility for growth in suffering, to care more about others, to find support in others, to be able to celebrate what is truly important when the community and the culture have strayed far away from what humanity is meant to be.
So in the midst of hardship I feel called to be in solidarity with those who suffer and live in pain but also to laugh and celebrate with those same people when life in abundance comes to the fore, when something positive and life-giving arises in our sadness and pain. Life is complex, challenging and never easy to figure out. But it is also carries with it the possibility of belly laughs.