Saturday, November 3, 2018

God Is Present: Reflections on Who Is God When We Hurt

I've been reading a lot lately. I made a decision a few months ago to always have a book that I'm reading and to carry it around with me in my giant mom bag. As a result, I've read a lot of books and have spent plenty of time digesting what they mean for me. Also as a result, I have become a collector of books I want to read and now have a stack of them still to be read by my bed. Never do I finish one without having the next lined up. Over the past month, I've read some great ones including Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, The Happiness Project, The Magic of Thinking Big and most recently Who Is God When We Hurt?

Who Is God...was a special one and I couldn't wait to dig in. There's just something about seeing the smiling face of someone you know and love in the author spot that sends the act of sitting down to read a book over the top. That was all kinds of true with this one written by Beth Scibienski.

When I finally looked at the finished copy of Who Is God When We Hurt? A Pastor-Caregiver wrestles with loss, grief, faith, & doubt I remember thinking...Oh, this is something I know a lot about. Perhaps even everything there is to know. I did, after all, care for a cancer patient and a newborn at the same time - my husband of one and a half years and our newborn to be precise. If I'm honest, somewhere in my mind as I first sat down to read Beth's book I was thinking "I could have written this book myself."

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Almost instantly I found that, as a pastor, Beth brings a unique perspective to her journey as a caregiver. Not only does she bring a unique perspective, but she does it in a way that allowed me, as the reader, to both enter into her journey and reflect on my own. From the first chapter on wedding vows to the epilogue wrestling with "lasts", it resonated. There was much head nodding and "Mmm-hmmms" as I made my way through the book, but it was not a re-telling of my own story. And I think that is what brought me the most comfort. 

Since my own experience with caregiving and grief, I have noticed a strong desire on my part when speaking with those also in the midst of caregiving and grief to look for the similarities I have with that person and to immediately latch on to them. Recently, I have been noticing more my own tendency to briefly listen to someone else's loss and then immediately jump in to talking about my own and what I may find to be similar. 

It makes sense. We are all searching for connection and validation and in some ways it is more comfortable to talk about our own experiences than to sit with someone else through theirs. But what I have come to notice, especially over the last few months, is that the longer I listen and hold back from jumping in to my own story right away, the more likely it is that two beautiful things will happen - I learn more about my own caregiving and grief journey and I allow for a much deeper connection with the person to whom I am speaking.

Certainly, there were places and spaces where I saw my own caregiving and grief journey reflected in Beth's writing, but what I valued most was the ability to "listen" to someone else's unique story and insights without the temptation to interrupt the flow with my own. In the end, it meant that I felt her story and all that surrounded it in a powerful way, which in turn meant I could think in ways I had not previously about my own journey and how I relate to those around me who are also struggling.

Beth was the pastor present with us the night before my husband died. She shares about it in a chapter in this book, but even as I read that section I didn't know it all. I couldn't have written it in the same way and that, I think, is a beautiful thing. She ends that chapter by referring to a plaque in her office with words that have been circling around in my head and heart since I read them in this book. It was the power that I experienced that night before Joe died, but expressed in a way that helped me understand it on a new level:

"Bidden or not, God is present. Called or not, God is present. Summoned or not summoned, God is present. Invoked or not invoked, God is present. For us, holding hands in a circle around Joe's bed, with the Giants playing in the background, God was with us."

I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to step in to Beth's wrestling match with loss, grief, faith, and doubt through this book. And unlike the last few books I've read after which I've immediately dived into the next one, I find myself lingering with this one a bit. And I think that's just fine.