Easing Into Easter (or how to help those who are suffering)
What Can Easter Teach Us About Suffering?
Easter is upon us. Bunnies, eggs, and candy are a plenty. Pretty dresses with all of the finery are displayed in shop windows. People are making plans with friends and family for the holiday. Even the weather where I live is cooperating: warm, bright, and sunny. Perfect for a sunrise service and stroll on the beach — far away from the depths of Jesus’s suffering and his message about suffering.
This past week, I spent some time with a young, heroin addict. Still addicted, she’s fighting a noble fight to get sober and find her way in life, or find the life she lost to her addiction. She is pretty but her struggle isn’t. Her life is very hard and parts of it so ugly you’d want to look away. She’s filled with pain. She cannot speak without crying. Yet she clings to hope.
The last time I spent any meaningful amount of time with a young, heroin addict was when I worked in an inpatient treatment center. My job was to take patients for walks and encourage them to talk about their future: plans for when treatment ended. Assigned to me was a young girl. She was the youngest person in the center. Everyone else was over twenty five. The majority were male. But Becky [not her real name] nineteen, worn and weary—bone thin with skin marked by scars and bruises— was mine for what the center called “walk and talks.” Yet she refused to talk. And her silence made her suffering all the more tangible: so tangible it made me uncomfortable.
I think it is fair to say most people do not like to spend any real and authentic amount of time with suffering people. We send emails or messages, bring a meal, stop by for a visit or two, and then move on.
Research on responses to grieving, suffering people report most people will not abide with the suffering longer than a couple weeks or a few months. Why? Because supporting someone who is suffering is not pleasant and it’s hard.
Jesus found his own suffering so hard he had to rely upon a friend to help him carry his cross. And surely carrying Jesus's cross was incredibly hard.
It is easier to ease into Easter, to acknowledge the suffering, but not to stop and stay with it for very long. It’s easier to slide by and move on to the end of the story, where Jesus is alive and transformed in all his glory. But the only way to truly know and understand his glory, at least according to him, is to “put your hands in his wounds.” Jesus’s suffering is his glory.
This past week I spent some time with a young, heroin addict who feels, and perhaps truly is, all alone in the world. Yes, people have shown up to judge her or offer advice. They tell her to stop making excuses (she has had a really hard life), get clean, stay sober, make some new friends, get a job, go to school, stop wasting her life, and so on. Easy answers to a very complex situation.
When I worked in the inpatient treatment center, if someone had asked me what to say or how to help someone who was suffering so very much, I probably would have offered an easy answer too. But I don’t anymore. I’ve since discovered the answer is difficult: promise you will help them carry their cross. Then keep your promise.
And I promise, if you do this, it will not only transform them, but you too.
Grace & Peace to you ...