In the midst of all the planning and preparation for Easter in 2012, I was confronted with the reality of a dear friend's death. He had been ill for years and at the end, fought and lost his almost constant battle against a body that kept trying to betray him. He was 56. I miss him.
What I admired, is that while his body failed, his suffering never conquered him. He had bouts of depression, but he never gave up. His faith kept him whole. Even when he was hanging by a thread, he knew that God was with him. He kept his faith, kept his trust, at times when others would have given up. He knew most of those things Paul writes about suffering and pain, and yet knew the persistent grace and love of God through them.
What I learned from him is that there is something in suffering that can refine us. It pares away the silliness of our lives and brings us to the elemental things. Life, love, faith. honesty. It can make us real. Like that old story of the velveteen rabbit, whose parts have been worn away and who isn’t whole anymore, but who is more real than can be understood—my friend was that kind of real. His suffering, his pain, brought him to the basic things, the eternal things. It taught him, and those who paid attention to him and the way he lived, to look beyond the surface, beyond the struggle, to see what is right and true and lasting and pure. No matter the varnish he put on it, the jokes he told, the way he deflected the attention, the man under the surface was that kind of real, the kind that comes only when one has tasted and touched suffering and seen the grace of God through it.
Paul said to the Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God. For us, that means not disease or dialysis or depression. Not lymphoma or pneumonia or hospitalization, or medications or infections or medical technology. Our friend knew it, felt it, lived it, and it made him who he was. I hope I have the ears to hear and the eyes to see and the heart to live it too. May we all…. -originally written 04.2012
Michelle Bogue-Trost is a devoted follower of Jesus, a pastor, preacher, leader, teacher, and mentor, committed to the health of individuals and congregations.