“I am fated to journey hand in hand with my strange heroes and to survey the surging immensity of life, to survey it through the laughter that all can see and through the tears unseen and unknown by anyone.”
― Nikolai Gogol
“Really, God,” I shook my head as I walked. “This is not the week that I want to test out my theories regarding human suffering and life. Don’t you think I’ve learned enough from earlier in the week?”
In spite of my protest, God wasn’t particularly amenable to my excuses. I should have guessed. Although I realise one has to keep growing in their relationship with Christ or such friendship becomes dull and boring, I wasn’t anywhere close to being excited about this “new opportunity”.
“Seriously, God, I’m quite happy not being considered brave or courageous. Heroics aren’t my thing.”
God listened but didn’t change my reality. Sigh. It was worth a try at least. The week hadn’t started out easy. Earlier I’d been discouraged and disheartened by a few “suggestions for improvement” from our community population of clients. I knew the typed critiques were obtained under less-than-ideal circumstances. I knew that sick people, impatient and feeling terrible, are not prime candidates to interview for suggestions on improving…. Still, some of the underlying accusations hurt. They stung.
As Jesus loved and served, it is our mission to serve and love the people of Buea by providing access to world class health services and education; and to encourage our clients to total health: spiritual; physical; emotional; and intellectual.
This is our health centre’s mission statement. It’s a lofty goal. One that I have not attained but one that keeps me focused in the proper direction. Contrary to what some might believe about doctors, we are not immune to discouragement – at least, I’m not. In fact, I’m one of the worst. In the face of numerous encouraging friends and positive feedback, a few negative comments can derail me. I realise they shouldn’t but they do sometimes. In spite of all the sacrifices required working in Cameroon as a missionary doctor – pouring out one’s soul – not everyone is appreciative. And, as much as I despised myself for feeling this way – I let those negativities ruin my joy. The words hurt.
I walked at a rapid step along the main road of Buea. Cars and trucks zoomed past at reckless speeds. Adults and children laughed and gossiped around me. Other than the off-hand remark of ‘white man’ or ‘white man dog’ and the occasional good afternoon… I passed without notice. A similar stream of negative traffic cruised around in my head. Why?! Why?! I try my best. I give my all. I work hard – no off weekends, always on-call for anything that goes wrong in the hospital, and yet… still, people aren’t happy.
Complain and whine. It wasn’t a beautiful symphony but rather a high-pitched irritating grating that did nothing to improve the situation. Rather futile circles of self-reproach and self-pity. I am no hero. I am not perfect. Although I knew it was not the right attitude, I didn’t stop the cycle.
Then, suddenly, a thought surfaced from the recesses of my memory. “ Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20
Christ was the perfect man. He lived perfect love. He was Saviour to the world and went around healing all manner of disease – both mind and body. Yet, not everyone loved Him. He was falsely accused and eventually crucified. In the face of it all, He didn’t even get defensive. The events of the past week; the hurtful reviews from the community began to assume their proper perspective.
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. “ John 17:14
Crisis averted. Then Wednesday came…
Call me. I need to talk with you. It didn’t take a genius detective to read between the lines in the email. They say it is cancer. No one was expecting it. No warning. No clues. Overnight life trajectories altered by a six-letter word.
Back to my earlier conversation. “God, are you sure this is the best week for me to test-drive all those grand philosophies about human suffering?” I doubted His wisdom in the timing.
“I know I write about valuing life and treasuring each moment.” I shook my head at the irony. “I realise that we are all born to die. I’ve written blog stories about how there is no guarantee for tomorrow…. Can’t we test those theories another time… in a different family even? I don’t want the practise. I’m not ready to be that ‘gold – purified in the fiery trials of life’.”
God nodded but didn’t agree.
Illness and threat of death had never hit quite so close to home for me. “Really, God, I get enough practise in my work. I don’t need a more close up experience.”
Certainly, I don’t believe God punishes people with illness. I wasn’t feeling picked on or singled out. I just wasn’t interested in testing my philosophies regarding God and suffering in my own family this week.
However, that was not my choice to make.
You can choose how you will respond -- Hum? The phrase sounded vaguely familiar. Yes, I’d given the same advice to others when they faced similar angst. My stubborn sense of humour couldn’t help but smile wryly at the thought.
I believe the human spirit is generally capable of dealing with almost anything… eventually. People learn to translate tribulations and suffering into something meaningful. It’s a natural coping mechanism. So, perhaps it is the uncertainty, the not knowing, that is actually more difficult. How can the psyche come to grips with shifting uncertainties? Facts can be dealt with. Unknowns are constantly slipping away between our fingers – we try to mould them into something useful or meaningful – we try to categorise them and file them away but then they infuriatingly morph into another silhouette and we’re back to the beginning.
This past week has only been the tip of the iceberg – the small glimpse – into my own human frailties. I am not a brave person. I’m not capable of standing alone against the onslaught of an imperfect world. Thankfully there are heroes around me. They are the people that give me the strength and the courage to smile and look forward to tomorrow. My husband. My family. My friends. My faith. I know that the hurricanes of uncertainly are still coming and when they’re gone, other storms will come. I am grateful, yes, thankful, that I don’t face them alone.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33