“. . .we also rejoice in our sufferings . . .” – Romans 5:3
Anyone who has ever gone through boot camp in any branch of the military would probably agree that part of its design is to expose recruits to a certain level of suffering and misery. It so happens that exactly fifty years ago this very summer I shipped out to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for that grueling experience myself. Funny, though, after all these years I don’t remember much about the misery we suffered. What I do remember are my boot camp buddies and how we laughed together and supported each other, finding joy in our suffering rather than misery.
Recently, a gentleman we know lost his home to a devastating fire that burned it to the ground, the home he had lived in his entire life, fifty-three years he said. When he first shared the story it had just happened and he was deeply distraught as you can imagine. But several days later when we saw him his whole demeaner had changed. First of all, he explained, everyone got out safely and no one was hurt, and other family members had taken them in, so they had places to stay. Then, almost tearfully, he began to describe the outpouring of generosity from neighbors, friends, and even strangers, overwhelming kindness that he and his family would never have expected.
Fred Rogers (of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame) told how his mother had once consoled him when he became distressed over the sufferings of other people he saw in the news. Look for the helpers, she encouraged him, look for the helpers.
Rejoicing hardly seems a natural response to suffering, does it? But I think Fred Rogers’ mom was on to something, maybe what the Apostle Paul was referring to, that the rejoicing is not on the suffering itself, but in the Helper who lives among us, and the band of helpers he sends to our aid. With the COVID-19 pandemic we are witnessing world-wide suffering the likes of which most of us have never seen, and we’re all affected by it even if we are not infected by it. Bad news dominates the media. But I wonder what we will remember one day when we look back on this time in history. Will we remember the sufferings, or will we remember the laughter and the generosity and unexpected kindnesses, the helpers who pulled us through – and the Helper who lives among us?