Trying to understand suffering is like trying to understand mud. There’s nothing to understand; there’s just a lot of sticky, muck to muddle through. When you look back on your own suffering, you see the vast expanse of the mud and you never quite forget how difficult it was walking through it. But you can’t wish it away, and usually you wouldn’t want to wish it away because somewhere along the way, the mud has brought you something – a new perspective, an appreciation of how much you loved someone special, an understanding of your own strength, a realization of how much you love and need God and/or the people who support you. The mud never goes away though, it’s always in your soul just sitting there. Sometimes you get into a groove and hardly remember or notice it. Other times, you find yourself wandering through it like you were walking down a favorite path.
Fall always reminds me of my own mud. Usually, these mullings end up a part of a sermon, but not this week. This mulling is my experience and will stay mine. I had a best friend once. In fact, I had two best friends once. Then I went through a season of my life when it seemed like everything fell apart. I felt like one of those people who walk the balloons for the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade, except I was the only one holding all the strings for this gigantic balloon. Usually, there was a whole crew of us sharing the load and walking the route together. But suddenly and seemingly irreversibly, I was the only one on my parade route. Time passed, and though the wounds have never quite healed completely, they’re easier to address, talk about, and live with. One of those best friends passed away. And I have regrets that I can never fix, but I also have the memory of that beautiful friend and the very real love we had for one another. One of the biggest regrets is that I allowed my own pain, my own anxiety to isolate me so that I’ve never been able to talk about this with our shared friends. I am someone who prides myself on being emotionally healthy and stable; I am determined to handle conflict and trouble with integrity … now. But I wasn’t then. I can excuse myself for being young, or for being surprised and not-ready. But I cannot excuse myself for the fears that I let rule my life at that point. I’m done crucifying myself, but I will not just let myself off the hook for not being there when I desperately wanted to be there. *there* I said it. That’s what I regret. And that’s my mud.
The other best friend is, amazingly, still my best friend. I don’t know how we made it through that time, and I can’t say that we made it through together. But we found each other on the other side of our muds, and we both feel happy and lucky to be able to call on and depend on one another. Our friendship will never be the same as it was “before the mud” and maybe I would choose to go back and change some things if I could. But I can’t. So, I will remember what I learned from that mud … from all my mud.
My own particular lessons that I’ve learned is this: you are never alone unless you choose to be alone. Never be afraid to reach out, and never stop trying to be a friend and love someone. Even when it gets hard, don’t run away, don’t wait because while tomorrow may be there, it will be one more day of anxiety and one more day of you not doing what you wanted to in the first place. All my life, I have had one goal, and it remains the same goal I have today as a mom, a minister, a wife, a daughter, a friend: be a generous, loving, caring friend. That’s all I need to count my life as a success.
So back to this notion of suffering: sometimes I feel like I’m too young to be counseling my congregation on suffering and on how to stay in touch with God. I know that I am capable of this; I just feel like my witness might be questioned because of my energy and youth. And I don’t want to make light of other people’s pain/suffering. I needed to get this “mud” of mine recorded somewhere. So now, I’ve told my story and told my pain and I can return to being the preacher and pastor that I know I can be.