Away from Trivial Grief

The particularities of life during a worldwide pandemic have brought some fresh urgency to how many are articulating their faith during this season of Lent and Easter.  Yesterday I recorded my Easter message for school chapel; there’s really no way around acknowledging Our Current Moment.  But it’s interesting to see how so many are responding in so many different ways.

Matthew Loftus, a teacher and doctor in East Africa recently posted his reflections to Plough.  I feel like it strikes the right chord with not just a Christian response but a Christ-like response.  He starts by recounting a story about children and the loss of precious little things as a consequence of living in a politically volatile place.  He talks about the “small sorrows” and the “deeper griefs” of the moment.  Then he writes:

I am not afraid of dying, I don’t think; I know I’ll stand before Jesus and thank him that it was only by his blood that I made it. No, I am afraid of mass pandemonium, of my neighbors starving, of returning home to the food we’ve carefully stockpiled over the last few weeks and filling my belly while it all happens. I am afraid of supplies running out, of our hospital not being able to make payroll because of the unjust structures that do not adequately compensate our institution for the work that we do, of trying to intubate someone and then losing power. I am afraid of watching my colleagues die, of leaving any child without a father, or of simply making a wrong clinical decision that leads to someone’s death. I am afraid of what I will say to my wife in anger and frustration or how I might lash out at one of the nurses when someone we are caring for dies. I am afraid of telling my children that they must isolate themselves from other children, or that we do not know when they’ll see their grandparents again. I might even be afraid of having to tell my children that their Legos are gone forever.

From there he writes about the difficult life of Helen Roseveare, a mission hospital worker who remained faithful to God and to her post even as she was personally ravaged by rebellion and rejected by her students.  She connected her own suffering with the suffering of Jesus, with what the apostle Paul says of his own body “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”  Loftus adds:

What could be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? Only that which his hands and feet – us – have not yet experienced.

All of our griefs, big and small, fit into this. I think of Christ, sighing at unbelief and crying out in agony on the cross. He weeps at his friend’s tomb and gets exasperated by misunderstandings about yeast. He is betrayed by Peter but really saves his anger for a fig tree.

With the virus, for which we are woefully unprepared, flooding towards us in Kenya, I worry I have invested my life in this local healthcare project only to see it washed out in the end. I worry for the lives we will not save. And I still find it in my heart to worry about my son’s Legos.

Loftus concludes his own part of the reflection with this, something that can be a real struggle but also seems very true, Christ-like, amidst the posturing we all are too often guilty of:

Our ability to manage and live with grief depends on how much we are willing to identify with Christ. If we do not make ourselves vulnerable to the pains and sorrows of this world like he did, nor risk what we have for the sake of people who are hurting, then our griefs will be trivial indeed. The degree to which we are united with Christ – in spirit, in prayer, in suffering – is the degree to which he shares the burden of those sufferings with us.

There’s more in the piece definitely worth reading, including a closing quote from Bishop Ken Untener about stepping back and taking a long view.

May God bless your Maundy Thursday.

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