Friday, December 27, 2013

We Really Aren't Alone: Making Sense of Suffering by Dr. Edwin Leap

Everyone has trials.  However, they often seem more painful at Christmas, don’t they?  
I know that as a physician, everything painful, everything hurtful and terrifying that 
happens to my patients has a sharper edge this time of year.  Perhaps it’s because we 
market the wonders of the holiday so beautifully. It always seems that when families 
struggle that they not only have to face their personal pain or loss; they have to endure 
the highly polished and almost toxic message that everyone else is having a grand time!  
The rest of the world, it seems, is shopping, playing in thick snow drifts, eating too much, spending oodles of money, mindlessly repositioning their ‘Elf on a Shelf,’ and sleeping 
beside roaring fires surrounded by healthy, happy loved ones.  It’s a lovely idea, as 
fiction goes.  But reality always wins out.
I think about this a lot.  Suffering is very real and however we may wish it away, it is 
extremely democratic.  For instance, according to the American Cancer Society, there 
were about 1.6 million new cancer diagnoses in 2012.  If you were one of them, you were 
hardly alone.  It was you, and a group of people equal to the entire population of Manhattan.
Or this:  there are, according to the American Red Cross, some 800 persons each day in the 
US who suffer a cardiac arrest!  If your loved one had sudden cardiac death, I’m sorry; 
so sorry.  And sorry for all of the other families each day who face that horrible, crushing 
and unexpected tragedy that changes families forever.
Not all pain is medical.  Since the financial crisis began, 4.4 million families have lost 
homes through foreclosure.  Losing one’s home is rather a kind of death; death of 
comfort, stability, investment or safety.
It would be easy to go on and on about the commonalities of suffering, but one thing 
remains true about all of it. When we suffer, it’s much easier to suffer when we aren’t 
alone.  And while we don’t really want others to suffer, there is a kind of comfort to 
being with someone else who is facing, or has faced, the same thing.  And it’s especially 
wonderful when they come to us with tales of how they coped, successfully, with disease, 
death, pain or loss.  It is a powerful encouragement to press on.
On a lighter side, we see the same thing at work in small children.  How many times have 
our children said ‘will you walk with me?’  Whether it’s across the hall or across the 
bedroom, to see a flower or meet a friend, our children want their hands in ours.  
There is strength, and comfort of many kinds, in numbers.  There is healing in the words, 
‘I’m here with you. Don’t worry.’
Is this, maybe, the message of Christmas?  Things were the same in Bethlehem as they 
are in the world today.  Families lost children and spouses, parents and siblings.  Homes 
were taken.  War took lives and led to slavery. Pain, without the benefit of modern therapies, 
went unrelieved. Diseases which we simply shrug off today led to lifelong disability and 
premature death. Doubtless those who saw the gravid belly of Mary shook their heads, 
wondering if she would die in childbirth like so many they had known.
But into Bethlehem of Judea came the one who could say to us, ‘I’m here, I’m with you.  
I’ll walk the path by your side and experience the troubles you face.  I’ll heal you now for 
a while, but forever in the end.  I’ll take away not only your illness but your fear of death; 
not only your sorrow but your guilt.’ The infant Jesus came to the place where suffering 
was everywhere, and as he grew the man Jesus reassured everyone ‘I’m here.  And when 
I leave, I’ll make a way for you and a place for you, with me, always.’
It is no different now.  With every tragedy we feel alone; certain that nobody else 
understands.  With every fear and doubt, every failure, every mistake, we so easily 
consider ourselves unloveable.  But at Christmas, Jesus comes.  From the manger in 
a crowded town to the cross on a crowded hill to the empty tomb in the lonely garden, 
he tells us, ‘You are not alone! I’m here now. It’s alright.  I understand and I love you.’
Yes, Christmas can seem lonely when troubles surround and isolate us.  But the Christ 
child refutes it all.  He is here and we are not alone.  Merry Christmas!

*******
You can read more articles by Dr. Leap at his website www.edwinleap.com.  Be sure to 
check it out!