Living in the Tension as a Community
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
A few weeks ago, I had one of those moments in life that blatantly reminded me that the world is not black and white. As my wife and I were packing up the car to head to a wedding, I received a text that a childhood friend had tragically died.
It’s hard to describe what you feel in those moments. I’ve heard people tell similar stories of having their child in the hospital while a parent or relative is dying in a separate hospital. We know that life is fleeting - we know death and pain are inevitable - but when it comes, it’s always so shocking. It’s like the air gets sucked out of a room and you’re still trying to breathe.
As we drove to the wedding, I wrestled with being excited to celebrate this couple while also grieving the loss. People at the wedding would certainly feel the same imbalance. How do we live in these tensions as a community?
I don’t have any hard and fast answers because I don’t think there are any. I think Scripture tells us that celebration and grieving are both integral parts of life, and we see how people do this culturally throughout the Bible. But, I think my propensity to want to do it ‘well’ actually represents a deeper desire to want to ‘understand it fully.’ And I don’t think I’m ever guaranteed that.
We often live with a zero-sum mentality. Our desire to explain the tragedy and still feel the excitement of celebration means one must outweigh the other. It’s almost as if we expect there to be a balance - ‘it’s been a hard few months, but that means it should start looking up soon.’ But, I think this is clouding how we interact with each other in the midst of these times and pushing away from what could be most valuable.
Have you ever found out some terrible news and walked into a room where people are joking and laughing and maybe even say something directly to you that seems incredibly insensitive? It’s one of the most isolating feelings. You don’t want to be the ‘debby downer’ but you also have to deal with the emotions inside of you...we’re living in that zero-sum game.
The problem with this is that it’s not true to human experience. There are a lot of people who have been waiting a long time for things to ‘look up.’ I have heard stories in counseling situations where you can start to see why some people don’t have hope. I’ve also met people who, for lack of a better way of saying it, have had very few tragedies or hardships in their life. If it’s about things being in balance, real life doesn’t seem to support that.
So, what does it look like to hold this tension in the balance as a community? I imagine it takes a lot of time and grace and effort. The theme for me over the past few months has been ‘process.’ Understanding that we are all in the process - always. Nobody has arrived. We have certainly experienced victories and growth - but until Christ returns we’re all going to be in the process of becoming more like Him. Our experiences of real joy appearing as through a dark veil, our sorrows reminding us that this is not our permanent home. The process of grief and celebration are often mixed the more life we experience. Our attempts sometimes of separating them miss the opportunity to connect with someone else’s reality - especially when that reality is not what we would have chosen or expected.
I want to be someone in a community that can be joyful while also recognizing someone else’s sorrow. I want to be able to grieve with our members while looking toward the promise of hope. I want us to all leave behind this zero-sum mentality and begin embracing each other exactly where we are in the process.
How can you treat people as “in process” better this week?