I don't know if there is anything worse than burying a child. Standing in that grave with a shovel and digging through sweat, sorrow and gravel has a way of making things far from normal. It takes a little bit to register but then the ache reminds me that it's all too real. Like some spell, my mind pulls away from my body and begins to play back my steps to where I stand. When did this become my story? When did the dying and destitute become so tethered to my journey? When did the crucible become the normalcy? I thought the narrative was more about sharing goodness to the poor and binding up the broken-hearted. I thought my life was meant to be more about the miraculous and less about mourning. I thought God was supposed to be in control and erase entropy from my world. It's such a humbling feeling to be in the dirt with the ache and questions, face to face with the families who haven't figured out the thoughts hiding behind my eyes.
I'm not here as someone who has a band-aid to the brokenness. I'm not here as a do-gooder to 'make a difference'. I'm not here to offer anything falsely which I don't have firstly. But Love led to this place, with all of my doubts & insufficiencies, to share in the sufferings and be united in death and rebirth. So I don't proffer any theology to make sense of the tragedy or a pie-in-the-sky answer to placate the pain; but love leads me in the silence- to cry with those who cry, pray with those who pray, believe with those who believe.
When I was younger, I remember how I would try to understand the meaning of something by figuring out its opposite. I figured I was pretty smart to have that figured out. Maybe a lot of us had the same school of thought- to define what is by knowing what it isn't. So for my grade-school mind, I could make sense of heady subjects like hope and beauty and light. But as we get older, deducing meanings to our elementary definitions of antonyms, don't really help us fully understand life and this world. Things aren't always this or that, black or white. There's got to be more to it. There's got to be more to what love is and what love is not. The older I get, I'm beginning to comprehend that the antithesis of love is control. I'm no Dr. Phil, I'm no philosopher, I'm far from an expert especially on something this abstract. But everything that I know about love as a husband, a father and a servant of the poor brings me to these thoughts. Even in unearthing the ground for a tomb on behalf of someone I care, suffering brings me to a place that relinquishes control and shows me a love that looks like surrender.
It is no secret how our society is pretty unashamed in what it promotes as gospel. From whom we should fear, to what we should consume, or to how we can be accepted- our post-modern world is built on the systems of control. So much so that we can buy peace of mind craftily packaged as a policy, we can subscribe to the vanity of immortality with every pill and we can swipe our way to our luxurious lives through a piece of plastic. It's all been made easy and we have all been granted the golden ticket- the control of our lives. We can't come across unprepared for a rainy day- we have apps to check for that. We can't be seen wearing something uncool- we have idols to follow for that. We can't be caught in the unknown in the unfolding journey of our story- we have five-year-plans for that. But there's got to be more than our control (or illusion of such).
Maybe the love that holds the world is nothing like our systems of control. Living in a remote village somewhere above the equator, daily our lives bear witness to the extremes of life through unquenchable joy and unimaginable grief. Maybe purpose and pain coexist in reality because anything otherwise would be fantasy. I'm not sure if I can clap along that "happiness is the truth". There's got to be more to it. Because grace comes free but hope is born in the pain and the cost of suffering. We can't have the rainbow without the storm. We can't have the flower without the thorn. We can't hold the value of life & rebirth without the valley of death. There is no control in love. But thanks to our advances as a human-race and our efforts in being god-like, we live in a time where we can choose convenience without the consequence. We can have the prime-rib without getting our hands bloody. We can have the mansion just by signing the dotted line. We can pick and choose pretty much anything, from our insurance policies to our lunch menus. We have control in our lives. We can even distance ourselves from suffering and those who suffer because our definition of "neighbor" looks a lot like the image in the mirror.
But from everything I've seen and everywhere I've been, my eyes are being opened to a world where God Himself dwells in the neighborhood. The power on my life is not in blessing, not in signs and wonders, but the mercy to see the Eternal in everyone. Against an age that sells increase and preaches avarice, I'm learning that my faith isn't bound on the backs of prosperity but being broken enough to share in the sufferings. I don't know much about theology but maybe there is something wrong with our idea of God if we can only see Him, only where we've seen Him. Here in a place far removed from affluence and surrounded with the afflicted, tears seem to be so tethered in the everyday. But those tears have shown me more of the Kingdom of the Heavens than pearly gates or golden floors. More than control and happiness. Sometimes it feels like my personality was all divinely setup for this story. Because I've never been the bubbly, sprightly, happy-go-lucky-type. My albatross has always been that I feel too deeply. In fact, I've found so much comfort that Scripture would call my Savior a "man of sorrows", acquainted with grief. The older I get, the more I come to accept the liberty on my life is that I've lost it all. For the sake of Love and the life of the world to come, my prayer is to keep counting it all loss because suffering keeps uniting me with those who mourn and to the Man of Sorrows.
As a father, I don't know if my life has a greater teacher in the undoing of control than parenthood. Let alone raising a child in a region of the world where we've seen mortality so vividly. We often get asked what kind of parents would willingly bring a child into such circumstances. We remember repeatedly being told how having our own child would change us. That we'd be a little more cautious about our own and a little less concerned about others. I still remember the eye rolls, I still remember the questions. "What if she comes down with something? What if this...? What if that...?" But being a parent, we now love the sick and the vulnerable we care for more than we could ever before, because we've now come to know a love that is more protective, sacrificial and unconditional. There is love that's deeper and divine that the dust. Love that always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love that beckons us to let go instead of withhold. Yes, sometimes we get waylaid with worry. But that Love shows us how weeds of worry have no place in a garden full of flowers. Love that isn't overcome by 'what ifs' but invites us into a life of 'insteads'. Roses instead of ashes, joy instead of despair, peace instead of fear, trust instead of certitudes, love instead of control.
Every place that love leads us keeps teaching us the praxis of surrender. So much so that we are daily "being given over to death, so life may be at work in us". I'm praying that our life is found between the intersection of the beauty that saves the world and the suffering of the human condition. Between the hope of the age to come and the tension of our becoming. Between heaven and earth. We distanced ourselves from easy long ago, and now the meaning we find on our knees looks less like the empire of control and more like an esoteric surrender. We often get asked about our credentials or our experiences about who we are and what we are doing here. But we have no labels that deem to grant legitimacy to our journey. We aren't aid workers or missionaries or whatever else. There is purpose far deeper than the humanitarian imperative or religious spirit. Instead, it is much like how it was once described about the gospel- I'm just one beggar telling another where the bread was found. So we pray that our life looks like love made flesh, broken like bread and poured out like water. To cry with those who cry, pray with those who pray, believe with those who believe.
From the polarity of the world we are in to the promise of the world to be, it takes faith to fight the aporetic- and believe that there's another world breathing beyond the curtain of wars, avarice and systemic injustice. Though the facts are in our face. Though the distance between reality and finality is discouraging. Though its easier to write off the way things are as the way it's always been- as the way the world spins, my hope is held beyond the veil. And if my trust in the Sovereign and fidelity in what I can't see makes me credulous and foolish- I'd still rather choose faith over fact, imagination over intellect, credence over control. Trusting that this light and momentary suffering is testifying to Life that is at work in the unseen. So even when I see the grave take someone I fought for, I'm taken into wonder for all that I hope for- knowing that letting go is a beautiful thing and that death is just the beginning.