I’m excited to share this guest post today by Cindy Brandt. She’s one of my new online pals whose writing leaves me refreshed. She’s gentle, sensible, and bold – an inspiring combination! She’s also authored the book, “Outside In: Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore.” It’s a book that challenges the Church to intentionally listen to “stories from the edge” and offers practical tips to create richer community. Enjoy this sample of her writing!
I am a city girl. Born and raised in big, bustling city life of Asia. I walked on busy streets, narrowly missing reckless cab drivers, ate noodles with friends in alleyway hole-in-the-walls, and watched the sun rise each morning over thick smog tinged with the pollution of city activity.
Then one day, I found myself in midwestern United States, an upper-middle class suburb of Chicago, home to the alma mater of an evangelical hero: Billy Graham. I pursued this academic institution because I was told it was where I could learn how to learn as a Christian. I shared common faith with this community, but my faith was just about the only thing we shared. I looked different, ate different foods, spoke a different language, valued different things, everything about me was different, different, different. It was, and remains, one of the most lonely and isolating times of my life.
I strove to make connections, desperately needing a balm to soothe my aching homesickness. But as a small minority, it was a struggle for me to find much common ground without losing my distinct cultural identity.
But as we know, difficult times can teach us valuable lessons. And I emerged from that experience with a clear realization about some fundamental needs we have as relational human beings. That we have within us a deep desire to connect with others while maintaining our unique individuality.
I think this need is particularly pronounced in times of profound loss and grief. My friend Iris, who lost her two month old baby boy, said it bothered her when people tried to comfort them using unhelpful cliches. But when people stayed silent it felt like a slap in the face. She says,
Sudden loss or prolonged suffering sends us floundering, desperate to be tethered and held by community. But the community has to hold a space that allows for the diversity of individual grief.
When we offer connection that requires the hurting party to act in a prescribed way, we are further victimizing them by robbing them of their unique expression of their grief.
In this helpful article by Heather Plett, she gives us eight tips on holding space for others. The one piece of advice that jumped out at me was this:
“Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.”
I think suffering is such an intensely isolating experience because none of us experience pain and loss in quite the same way. Death, disease, separation, rejection happen to us at different seasons of our lives, through unique circumstances, to vastly diverse individuals. The only thing universal about suffering is that we all inevitably come face to face with it. And that, the humanity of suffering, is enough to draw us together to hold space in a healing way for one another.
God’s ultimate expression of God’s love was this stunning, revolutionary act of becoming human in Jesus Christ. By becoming human, God joined us in this space of sharing in suffering, holding space for every last one of us. But this love doesn’t come with a how-to script on being human, or on being sad. In his own suffering he went through different phases of pain, racked with emotion while praying in a garden, calm and brave at his arrest, and finally before he breathed his last, he cried the famous cry of dereliction, accusing God his father for abandoning him.
It is because of this beautiful God-Human on a cross, that we are called to hold space for those in grief. But in this space, let’s allow for connection without the conditions of becoming homogeneous. We must hold space for one another to suffer differently than ourselves so that the grieving members among us can fall into the comforting arms of a community with a freedom to be fully who they are, grieving on their own timeline.
The beauty of our communities are that despite our differences, we still long for connection. Suffering brings that paradox poignantly into the light. The brokenness of our world and the brutality of life can threaten to sever us from connection. The isolation of unique suffering makes it easy to retreat into loneliness. But there is this beautiful opportunity for us to bear our crosses together and help lighten the burden. Carrying suffering together doesn’t make things easier. But it is far more hopeful to travel the road of pain with someone by your side telling you you are not alone.
“What is friendship, when all’s said and done, but the giving and taking of wounds?” ~ Frederich Buechner
Click here to find out more about Cindy Brandt’s new book, Outside In, and get it for FREE!
Cindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie.